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Anyone who's sat through a long ceremony, followed by a brief, dry reception can easily take weddings for granted. Brides and grooms, too, their minds lent almost exclusively to planning and celebrating their weddings, can overlook the themes inherent within the ceremony. Amid the flowers, limousines, gowns and honeymoons, common threads wind together to form the underlying traditions found in some form or fashion in just about every wedding.
These traditions are often ancient ones: The joining of two people as a married couple is filled with symbolic gestures drawn from cultures around the world and far back in time. Consider the rings. Ancient Greeks and Romans suspected the ring finger was connected to the heart via a nerve. This gave rise to the tradition of wearing wedding rings on that finger as a symbol of a bride and groom's possession of each other's heart [source: Old Farmer's Almanac].
The tradition of the groom selecting a best man to help him carry out the wedding traces its lineage back to Germanic tribes. Rather than helping carry out the wedding, the best man originally was tapped to help carry off an unwilling bride-elect, if necessary. The best man's position beside the groom during the ceremony was meant to situate him as a shield between the groom and angry members of the bride's family [source: World Wedding Traditions].
Other traditions evolved from earlier customs. To ensure a marriage was actually consummated at early medieval weddings, some guests served as witnesses around the marriage bed. They took the garter from the bride as proof of the consummation. This act was later replaced by the groom simply removing the garter from his bride and tossing it to eligible bachelors.
There's another tradition that can be found in cultures around the world and sometimes with different explanations for its origins. The custom of the groom carrying the bride across the threshold is a very old one. Find out why couples engage in this odd ritual on the next page.