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.
Carrying the Bride: Exactly Why?
As it turns out, weddings in the days of yore sometimes followed kidnappings. This explains not only the role of the best man but also why the bride and groom customarily leave the wedding celebration before everyone else. It's symbolic of the groom stealing away with his bride, whisking her from her family and into a new life with him. The kidnapping theme also explains why grooms carry their brides over the threshold in some cultures. In Medieval Europe, carrying a bride into her new home prevented her from seeming too enthusiastic about losing her virginity. By picking her up and taking her into their home, the groom provided an alibi for his wife's chastity [source: Nickerson].
Interestingly, this isn't the only origin and rationale for a groom carrying his bride across the threshold after their wedding. It appears that this custom also developed in other cultures for different reasons. Chief among these reasons was to thwart bad luck and evil spirits.
Superstitious Western Europeans believed that a bride who tripped over the threshold of her new home would irrevocably bring bad luck to her home and marriage. Since the husband appears to have been immune from such happenstance, the groom carrying the bride into the home proved a good way to avoid such a mishap altogether [source: World Wedding Traditions]. This fear of tripping appears to have its roots in ancient Roman culture, which held a similar belief [source: Nickerson].
Pan-culturally, brides seem to be considered lightning rods for misfortune. In addition to being susceptible to bad luck, brides' bodies also supposedly provide great havens for unattached spirits. Spirit intrusion is the notion that the spirits of the dead or living can live on unattached to their physical bodies and are thus able to enter the bodies of others [source: Ember and Ember]. Once inside, a spirit can wreak havoc on the possessed, generating physical and mental illness.
Belief in spirit intrusion continues in some cultures today, although it was much more widespread in the ancient world. In many of these early cultures, the threshold of the home was thought to be rife with unattached spirits. A bride was considered particularly vulnerable to spirit intrusion, especially through the soles of her feet. By carrying her into their home, the groom was covering all his bases by ensuring his new wife didn't bring along any unwanted spiritual guests into the house [source: The Knot].
Much, if not all, of the original meaning behind a groom carrying his bride across the threshold has been lost in modern Western weddings. It's remarkable that the practice continues, even if a newly wed couple isn't entirely sure why to do it. It's almost as if a collective memory of the danger with which a threshold may be fraught remains. And after all, it's better to be safe than sorry.
For more information on customs and other related topics, visit the next page.
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More Great Links
- Ember, Carol R. and Ember, Melvin. "Encyclopedia of Medical Anthropology." Springer. 2004. http://books.google.com/books?id=r50_mOSXlr0C&pg=PT129&lpg=PT129&dq=anthropology+spirit+intrusion&source=web&ots=xwGpAy9K9W&sig=yOmkdGHIRIA06W389yYXAkDmNbA&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result
- Nickerson, Linda Ann. "Hefting your honey - why a bridegroom carries his bride across the threshold." Associated Content. August 21, 2007. http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/350264/hefting_your_honey_why_a_bridegroom.html?cat=23
- "Bizarre origins of wedding traditions." June 27, 2008. http://www.cnn.com/2008/LIVING/wayoflife/06/27/wedding.traditions/
- "Czech wedding traditions." Moravian Weddings. 2007. http://www.moravianweddings.com/?Navigation_Node_Id=784&ModuleEntrance_Code=mArticleTree_eDetail&ME%5BmArticleTree_eDetail%5D%5BArticle_Id%5D=608
- "Q&A: Wedding traditions: carrying the bride over the threshold? The Knot. http://wedding.theknot.com/wedding-questions/wedding-tradition-questions/ qa/carrying-the-bride-over-the-threshold.aspx
- "Questions and answers." Old Farmer's Almanac. http://www.almanac.com/question/oneanswer.php?questionnumber=13581
- "Wedding $eason." CNN Money. February 10, 2006. http://money.cnn.com/2006/02/10/pf/weddings_costs/index.htm
- "Western European wedding traditions." World Wedding Traditions. http://www.worldweddingtraditions.com/locations/west_europe_traditions.html