Love is patient, love is kind. And apparently, love requires a diamond engagement ring to seal the deal.
Some of our wedding traditions help bond us to our families and to our culture -- maybe we're borrowing something old from our beloved grandmother, for instance. But be honest: Some of those traditions are straight up strange, don't you think? Dressing several adult women in the same dress on purpose? And some of our wedding traditions, such as marrying during the month of June, actually add more to the cost of nuptials than if we picked, say, November or May. Diamond rings, wedding dresses, and even the cost of marrying during official "wedding season" all add up -- have you ever wondered where those traditions come from? Let's begin with when and how a diamond ring became the pivotal part of a marriage proposal.
The Diamond Engagement Ring
Today it takes the average would-be groom three months to find the perfect diamond engagement ring -- and it'll probably take him significantly longer to pay it off. The average cost of a diamond engagement ring is $5,200 for American brides (and as many as 12 percent of engaged couples admit they spent more than $8,000 just on the ring). And the most popular type? One with at least 1 carat for the center stone, in round or princess shape, set in a white gold band [source: XO group].
But before the 1900s, a diamond engagement ring was a luxury item; in fact, engagement rings even without a diamond setting were considered extravagant. The Archduke Maximilian of Austria gave one to Mary of Burgundy in 1477, but it was hardly commonplace. It was a diamond company that would change that. In the late 1800s, the diamond market was flooded when big diamond mines were found in South Africa, and that new influx of gems drove the prices down. In 1939, De Beers hired N.W. Ayer & Son as their ad agency to help them rebound from the slump in sales they'd had as a result of the South African mines. And a new wedding tradition was born: Diamond sales rose 55 percent between 1938 and 1941, and by 1948 America was introduced to the "A Diamond Is Forever" ad campaign -- and a new engagement tradition swept the U.S.
Marrying During 'Wedding Season'
There were more than 2.1 million weddings in the U.S. in 2012, and on average each one cost $25,656, making the business of American weddings a $55 billion industry [source: The Wedding Report].
And 17 percent of those couples married in June, at least in the U.S., making it the most popular month in which to get hitched [source: Hall]. In fact, we have a season for weddings, June through October, (although it varies depending on local climate), which is typically when the weather is likely to cooperate with your event. But you often end up paying a premium for those days of good weather -- ah, the laws of supply and demand -- and tying the knot during peak wedding season may also mean steep prices. In fact, a wedding during peak months can cost as much as 20 to 30 percent more than an off-season ceremony [source: Deutsch].
Even if you absolutely must get married in June, consider working with what you can: For example, avoid booking your reception hall for 7 p.m. Saturday evening; it's notoriously the most-costly time to party [source: Money Allocator].
Queen Victoria Wore White ... Now It's Tradition
When Queen Victoria wore a white wedding gown, it was considered stylish but a rather conservative fashion choice. (And when she married her cousin Albert in 1840, it was also a color you'd wear while in mourning.) Trends at the time were toward colorful dresses, or, for many women, wearing their best dress along with all their best accessories. Victoria's white dress adorned with orange blossoms, however, was an immediate fashion hit, inspiring women to wear white; the color quickly became a symbol of purity, innocence and chastity.
Bridesmaids: Your Matching Dresses Make You Decoys
While it may feel like cruel and unusual punishment for several women to show up to the same event expected to wear the same dress -- not only in the same color but in the same style -- there's a reason behind the tradition. Or, at least, there's a superstition that started this whole matching thing.
If you've never been able to reuse a bridesmaid dress, you're not alone, but the wedding tradition didn't take hold to make you look bad (and the bride even better). Really. Instead of blaming the bride, blame the Romans. Because of Roman superstition, Roman law required 10 wedding guests to dress similarly to the bride and groom (groomsmen, your matching tuxes also fit here) for good luck -- the matching outfits were thought to confuse any evil spirits who might want to curse the couple [source: Gordon].
Old, New, Borrowed, Blue
"Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue ... and a silver sixpence in your shoe." It's a Victorian rhyme listing popular wedding traditions that were thought to bring a bride good luck -- and each piece of the rhyme has roots in its own superstition. For instance, something old ties the bride to her family and her past, while something new is supposed to give the new couple a happy future. The bride should borrow something from a happily married wife to bring happiness, health and longevity to the newlyweds. The something blue is supposed to represent love and fidelity. And a silver sixpence in my shoe? Sure, it's cold hard cash, but superstition suggests fortune will smile upon a bride with some small change in her slipper.
Grooms: Don't Look at the Bride Before the Ceremony
The superstition that it's bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding dates back to the time when it was more common for marriages to be arranged by families -- more business transaction, less love. Because it would be embarrassing for everyone involved if the groom backed out before the ceremony if he didn't like what he saw, the pair were kept separate.
Today couples interpret this tradition in their own way; some honor it, while others prefer to shake off their pre-ceremony nerves together -- and it's a great time to take at least some of your photos because no one (likely) has cried yet.
Trashing the Dress
The average cost of a wedding dress for an American bride is just about $1,200, not including designer fashions or alterations, so the trend to deliberately ruin a wedding dress after the deed is done may sound strange. Should a wedding dress be an heirloom, to be worn by your daughter, her daughter and (possibly) so on? Some brides think no; rather, it should be trashed to the point that it can never be worn again. And in the process, you'll get some great photos. You see, the point of trashing the dress is for the stunning photos; this style of photography, originating in Las Vegas, Nev. is about the juxtaposition of elegance against an environment where that elegance is out of place (such as an urban playground or an abandoned building) -- and may or may not include mud, fire, paint, or any fabric abuse the bride (or photographer) can think up.
Carrying the Bride Across the Threshold
This tradition is thought to come from a few different roots. For example, let's begin our bride-toting origins tour in medieval Europe. This story goes something like this; during the Middle Ages, it would have been improper for a bride to show any eagerness or desire to consummate her marriage -- and therefore she needed to be carried over the threshold by her groom.
Virginity aside, most other origins of this tradition come from superstition and belief in evil spirits. Carrying the bride across the threshold in Western Europe, for example, was once thought to help keep away evil spirits. You wouldn't want a clumsy bride to trip as she walked through the threshold and bring bad luck to the marriage, nor would you want the evil spirits hidden in the soles of her feet to curse the house as she walks through the doorway.
Today the tradition is considered a romantic gesture rather than a result of superstition or modesty.
Charivari, aka Disturbing the Newlyweds
There's knowing when and how to toast the happy couple, and most newlyweds would likely agree it's not after-hours at their home on their wedding night.
Charivari -- also called chivaree or shivaree -- likely began during the Middle Ages, and whatever name you happen to call it by, it's all the same bunch of wedding night crashers. Consider this tradition something like caroling during the holiday season, but in this case you're gathering at the home of a newly-married couple on their wedding night with the sole purpose of disturbing their peace (usually with some sort of ruckus such as discordant music, horns or other loud noises) in an effort to be invited inside to toast the happy couple. Ignored? Being ignored by the newlyweds is unacceptable, and over the years, stories not only of noise and hooliganism have been told, but also tales of kidnapping the bride or groom for the night.
Freezing the Top Tier of the Wedding Cake
It used to be that newly married couples were expected to have their first baby before their first anniversary, and as a result of that, weddings and christenings were much more tightly linked to each other than they are today -- and, as it turned out, both occasions called for cake. During the 1800s when multi-tiered wedding cakes became fashionable, brides began saving the leftover top tier of the wedding cake to be used for the christening instead of buying a separate cake -- to be defrosted in what many a 19th-century bride hoped would be about a year. Today, couples freeze wedding cake for sentiment.
There's more to freezing the top tier of your wedding cake than a zip-top bag or food storage container -- or, we can barely imagine, in a cardboard box. The better prepped, the less chance your cake will suffer freezer burn. For example, before wrapping your cake, some recommend giving it a little time to chill uncovered in the freezer -- this is to help firm up the cake and frosting before you wrap it for storage. Wrap it with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and zip-top freezer bags (and if you gently squeeze the air out of the bag before storing it will help reduce the number of cake-ruining ice crystals that form). When the time comes, thaw your cake slowly in the refrigerator before eating.
Despite your best efforts, year-old frozen cake can lack a certain freshness, no matter how much care you give it beforehand, and modern couples have been known to celebrate the tradition with a freshly-baked -- and top tier-sized -- version of their wedding cake.
HowStuffWorks travels to England to find out just how fried fish and chips got together and became so beloved in the U.K.
Author's Note: 10 Strange Wedding Traditions
Before researching and writing this article I had never considered how many of our wedding traditions come out of superstitions and the desire to keep evil spirits from ruining the day; and I'd never head of charivari, which sounds like a truly rotten way to spend your wedding night -- way worse than those jangly cans tied to the back of the newlyweds' getaway car.
More Great Links
- Allen, Kelsie. "The Surprising Truths Behind Common Wedding Superstitions." Bridal Guide. (Sept. 8, 2013) http://www.bridalguide.com/planning/wedding-ceremony-traditions/wedding-superstitions?page=0,0
- Czajka, Christopher W. "Frontier Life: How the West was fun: Recreation and leisure time on the frontier." PBS. (Sept. 8, 2013) http://www.pbs.org/wnet/frontierhouse/frontierlife/essay9_3.html
- Deutsch, Gail. "20 From '20/20': 20 Ways to Cut Wedding Costs." ABC News. Jan. 16, 2013. (Sept. 8, 2013) http://abcnews.go.com/Business/20-2020-20-ways-cut-wedding-costs/story?id=18224623
- Editors of Martha Stewart Weddings. "11 wedding superstitions and traditions explained." CNN. Sept. 6, 2013. (Sept. 8, 2013) http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/06/living/matrimony-superstitions/
- Flock, Elizabeth. "Queen Victoria was the first to get married in white." The Washington Post. April 29, 2011. (Sept. 8, 2013) http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/royal-wedding-watch/post/queen-victoria-was-the-first-to-get-married-in-white/2011/04/29/AFIYPmDF_blog.html
- Gordon, Carey. "Are You A Control Freak Bride? It's Time To Break The Rules." The Huffington Post. March 14, 2012. (Sept. 8, 2013) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carey-gordon/are-you-a-control-freak-b_b_1343437.html
- Grabenstetter, Jenn. "The Bizarre Origins of 8 Wedding Traditions." Mental Floss. June 23, 2008. (Sept. 8, 2013) http://mentalfloss.com/article/18915/bizarre-origins-8-wedding-traditions
- Hall, Michell; and Lizzie Jury. "I do ... cost a lot: Weddings by the numbers." CNN. Aug. 9, 2013. (Sept. 8, 2013) http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/09/living/matrimony-by-the-numbers
- In Love with Weddings. "Save the Cake -- Freezing Your Wedding Cake." Aug. 6, 2009. (Sept. 8, 2013) http://www.inlovewithweddings.com/save-the-cake/
- Kirkova, Deni. "Would you wreck your wedding gown for a photo shoot? Trash The Dress trend hits the UK." Mail Online. Aug. 2, 2013. (Sept. 8, 2013) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2383220/TrashThe-Dress-Photography-trend-brides-wrecking-wedding-gowns-love-arrives-UK.html
- Money Allocator. "11 Tips on cutting wedding cost." (Sept. 8, 2013) http://www.moneyallocator.com/articles/wedding_expenses.asp
- O'Rourke, Meghan. "Diamonds Are a Girl's Worst Friend." Slate. June 11, 2007. (Sept. 8, 2013) http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/weddings/2007/06/diamonds_are_a_girls_worst_friend.html
- The Wedding Report. "United States Complete Market Report: 2012 Wedding Statistics Summary for United States." (Sept. 8, 2013) http://www.theweddingreport.com/wmdb/index.cfm?action=db.viewdetail&t=s&lc=00&setloc=y
- The Wedding Report -- Cost of Wedding. "Wedding budget vs Real Wedding Cost." (Sept. 8, 2013) http://www.costofwedding.com/
- Trex, Ethan. "Why Engagement Rings Are Made With Diamonds." Mental Floss. Dec. 14, 2010. (Sept. 8, 2013) http://mentalfloss.com/article/26619/why-engagement-rings-are-made-diamonds
- Weddings by Wells. "Charivari." (Sept. 8, 2013) http://www.weddingsbywells.com/charivari/
- Wilton. "Storing The Top Tier Of Wedding Cake." (Sept. 8, 2013) http://www.wilton.com/cakes/displaying-cakes/storing-top-tier-wedding-cake.cfm
- XO Group. "2011 Engagement & Jewelry Statistics Released By TheKnot.com & WeddingChannel.com." Aug. 30, 2011. (Sept. 8, 2013) http://www.xogroupinc.com/press-releases-home/2011-press-releases/2011-08-30-2011-engagement-and-jewelry-statistics-released.aspx
- Zerzan, Rebecca. "5 Beloved Traditions Invented to Make You Buy Stuff." Mental Floss. (Sept. 8, 2013) http://blogs.static.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/21211.html