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A look at the source for words and expressions about weddings – The Jerusalem Post

6 minutes, 36 seconds Read

“June is bustin’ out all over” as Nettie Fowler (Christine Johnson) sang in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1945 Broadway musical Carousel. Traditionally, June is regarded as wedding season, the time when couples take the plunge and tie the knot.

Why June? The name of the month is derived from Juno, the Roman goddess of marriage, who was associated with fertility and vitality. Families believed that when a couple married in June, they would be blessed with lifelong happiness.

The idiom “to tie the knot” refers to the ancient Celtic practice of binding couples together with a ribbon or cord tied around their hands to represent their commitment to each other. This symbolic act, called handfasting, took place during the wedding ceremony, accompanied by poetry or music

Across the cultures, there are a myriad of rites and rituals connected to entering into the bonds of holy matrimony, but here we will focus on the traditions that are most familiar to us. So let’s take a walk down the bridal path and explore some of the age-old customs we encounter along the way. But make room – because here comes the bride.

A history of wedding terms

All dressed in white. It was a royal wedding that sparked the trend of white bridal wear. In 1840, Queen Victoria chose to forgo the royal tradition of wearing coronation robes when she married Prince Albert. Instead, she wore a lavish white gown made from heavy silk satin, trimmed with Honiton lace. Featured in newspapers and magazines around the world, the white wedding gown became very popular with the Victorian era elite – and the generations of blushing brides thereafter. White is also regarded as a symbol of purity.

A tiered wedding cake. (credit: Flickr/Wikipedia)

The wedding veil traces its roots back to ancient Greece and Rome, where a bride would walk down the aisle with a veil over her face to protect herself from any evil spirits that wanted to stand in the way of her happiness. Over time, the veil became another emblem of modesty and purity, evolving as a symbol of innocence and reverence.

Four other accoutrements accompany the wedding gown, owing their origin to the Victorian era English rhyme “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” People believed that these items would augur a happy marriage and ward off the evil eye, which could make a bride infertile. “Something old” was regarded as a sure way to avert the evil eye and protect any children the couple might have; in addition, its represents continuity. “Something new” offers optimism for the future as the bride enters a new chapter in life. “Something borrowed” portends happiness. By borrowing something from a happily married friend or relative, the bride hopes that good fortune will rub off on her and her husband. “Something blue” represents love, purity, and fidelity which the Victorians regarded as three key elements of a solid marriage. The traditional item was a blue garter worn under the wedding gown.

As she walks down the aisle, the bride carries a bouquet of flowers. The origin of the bridal bouquet stems from ancient Rome, where couples would weave greenery and blooms into garlands and crowns scented with roses or orange blossoms to symbolize fertility and new beginnings. As roses are the symbol of love and purity, they are often the featured flora in the bouquet.

The aisle itself symbolizes the start of the marital journey. Traditionally, the bride’s father escorts her down the aisle. This custom dates back to the days of arranged marriages when the father would “give the bride away” to the groom.

As father and daughter proceed down the aisle, one of two pieces of music might be heard. “The Wedding March” was written by Felix Mendelssohn for an 1842 production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And “Here Comes the Bride” is the Bridal Chorus from Richard Wagner’s 1850 opera Lohengrin.

Standing at the altar or under the huppah, the bride and groom exchange wedding vows. And wedding rings. The tradition of exchanging wedding rings dates back to ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. The circular shape of the rings symbolizes eternity, as well as the cyclical nature of life and the universe. The wedding ring is worn on the fourth finger of the left hand because it is believed that there is a vein in that finger that goes directly to the heart. The ring is a symbol of the bond between the couple and a constant reminder of their vows to each other.

After the ceremony, it was traditional to throw rice at the newlyweds as they walked together back down the aisle. That tradition originated with the ancient Romans. Tossing rice at the bride and groom was thought to bring them fertility, wealth, and good luck. However, the relatively recent rumor that it was injurious to birds to eat uncooked rice became so problematic that a Connecticut state legislator passed a bill in 1985 banning throwing rice at weddings. But ornithologists have since assessed that the rice doesn’t harm birds at all. Nonetheless, some wedding venues ban the throwing of rice or confetti. One reason may be that, while they may “clean up” financially from hosting the wedding, the fee doesn’t include cleaning up the rice or confetti mess left after the event.

What is still tossed at weddings is the bridal bouquet. In this tradition, the newly married bride turns her back and tosses her bouquet over her shoulder into a group of single women. Whoever catches the bouquet is supposedly “next” to walk down the aisle. In the past, it was considered good luck to touch the bride on her wedding day, so the bouquet toss tradition was created to bestow luck on the guests.

Another symbol of good luck, as well as prosperity and fertility, is the wedding cake. For centuries, making a wedding cake with the highest quality ingredients was intended to ensure a long and happy married life, with many children. In the late 1700s, the tiered wedding cake was inspired by the spire of St. Bride’s Church on Fleet Street in The City of London. As the story goes, an apprentice baker named William Rich fell in love with his boss’s daughter. To impress her – and his future father-in-law – he wanted to make an elaborate cake for his nuptials. Looking around for inspiration, he caught sight of the nearby St. Bride’s multi-level steeple, and the scrumptious, sumptuously structured sweet was born.

The custom of the bride and groom cutting the wedding cake together represents the first activity that they do as a couple. The second act of the traditional cake cutting ceremony is when the newlyweds feed each other a small bite of cake. This symbolizes a commitment to provide for each other and is a demonstration of love and affection.

With the wedding over, it’s time for the honeymoon. The word “honeymoon” is thought to have originated in medieval times. In those days, it was common for newlywed couples to drink a fermented beverage made from honey called mead for a moon cycle (30 days) after their wedding. This tradition was designed to bring the couple good luck and fertility, as mead was believed to have aphrodisiac properties to help with conception. The custom of going away on a honeymoon originated in 19th-century Britain, but it wasn’t the romantic getaway it is today. While it did consist of the newlyweds traveling together, they essentially went on a trip to visit family members and friends who couldn’t make it to the wedding. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that honeymoons began to take on the idyllic aspect they have now.

Back from their honeymoon, as the groom carries his bride over the threshold of the new home they will share together, we wish them well, and may they live – in wedded bliss – happily ever after. ■

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