A wedding is a moment to express your taste and style. But for many, it’s also a time to honor tradition.

With some thought, you can find your own balance between old and new (“borrowed and blue”). Tradition deepens the day, calling up buried emotions as guests remember other weddings, and think about love and commitment throughout their lives. Tradition can keep families together. Perhaps you were a flower girl and never forgot it. How sweet to give this honor to another child.

Wedding traditions can celebrate particular cultures and religions. A wedding in Hawaii may begin with the sound of a conch horn and a specific chant. In India, a groom might ride to the event on a decorated white horse, and his bride might arrive with her palms and feet painted in elaborate patterns. A bride in a traditional Jewish wedding circles the groom seven times to symbolize the creation of a new family circle. The groom breaks a glass under his foot, originally to scare away demons.

wedding traditions hero

In the United States, you might be surprised at the origins of some familiar wedding traditions.

1. Flower girl

In ancient Greece and Rome, the flower girl walked before the bride, as she does today, but carrying sheaves of wheat and herb bouquets, symbolizing prosperity. The hope was that the child would bring fertility to the marriage. By medieval times, flower girls carried strands of garlic to scare away evil spirits and disease. Some flower girls followed musicians and carried a silver bride’s cup adorned with ribbons.

The flower girl in Victorian times wore a simple white dress with a colored sash and carried a basket of blooms or a hoop.

Today, most couples choose a relative or the child of close friends and dress her in white, with a sash to match the bridesmaids’ outfits. She represents the bride’s movement through life. Once a little girl, the bride now is a woman who will be a wife and, if so desired, a mother.

Flower girls often scatter red rose petals, suggesting fertility for the bride.

Some couples give a role to several children; one girl can carry the train of the dress and another strew petals. A gift will help your adorable helpers remember the day.

wedding traditions ring bearer

2. Ring bearer

The tradition of assigning one person — nowadays, a young boy — to carry the couple’s wedding rings probably arose from many customs regarding wedding jewelry. In ancient Egypt, sources suggest that slaves carried treasured jewels on ornamental pillows during weddings, symbolizing the wealth of either party. In later times, in northern Europe, a bride could receive her ring on the tip of a sword.

That sword tip may be why we pick boys to bear rings and girls to carry flowers (though there’s no reason you can’t mix it up!). When it comes to gifts, your ring bearer’s parents will get a kick out of these personalized toddler socks.

3. White dress

No, wedding dresses weren’t always white. Before the 1840 wedding of Queen Victoria, British and American brides wore dresses of any color. A bride might also wear fur or other expensive fabrics to demonstrate wealth.

Queen Victoria changed that when she wore a white gown trimmed with orange blossoms. The white color symbolized purity or virginity. A white bouquet further emphasizes this theme.

wedding traditions cutting cake

4. Wearing a veil

The idea of a veil goes back to ancient Rome, where the bride covered her beauty to ward off evil spirits that would envy her happiness.

5. Matching bridesmaid gowns

It’s those pesky demons again! The ancient Roman bride wore the same dress as her bridesmaids so no demon would know who she was before she wed. The camouflage could also confuse a rival suitor bent on kidnapping her.

If you opt to follow tradition, remember that your girlfriends may not be thrilled about dressing like identical twins. Personalized gifts could demonstrate that you see them as individuals.

6. “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue”

This oft-repeated rhyme comes from Victorian England. The “old” and “new” items symbolize the bride’s transition from one life to another. The borrowed item traditionally came from a happily married woman — to lend the bride her good fortune — and the blue item symbolized faithfulness.

7. The bride and groom not seeing each other on the wedding day

In old-style arranged marriages, a bride and groom might see each other for the very first time at the altar. The fear was that an early look might tempt a man to bow out. Arranged marriages still exist in India and parts of Asia and Africa, but the wedding is less likely to be a blind date.

wedding traditions champagne flutes winter

8. Toasting each other

Wedding toasts date back to ancient Greece, where guests drank wine as part of a prayer to the gods for good health. The story of why we call these speeches a “toast” arises much later, in Shakespeare’s day, when hosts left a piece of stale toast soaking in wine to cut its acidity.

While it’s best to have decent wine at a wedding, you really don’t have to serve Champagne. You also don’t need special glasses, but a pair of engraved wedding flutes can make a treasured memento, especially if your courtship involved an appreciation of wine.

9. Putting wedding cake in your partner’s face

After a serious ceremony, smashing cake in your new spouse’s face can make your guests laugh and break the solemn spell — but the goal wasn’t always humor.

In the past, the groom would break barley bread over his newlywed’s head, demonstrating prosperity, and guests would pick up the crumbs. Once cake became the main dessert at weddings, a tradition arose of giving guests slices of cake that they were meant to put under their pillow at night for good luck.

wedding traditions cake table

10. Throwing the bouquet

The ancient Greeks thought bouquets or corsages warded off demons. But how did brides begin tossing them?

At one time, hopeful single girls would rush at the bride to touch her, thinking that a touch could bring them good fortune. Some even tried to take a bit of her dress. To escape, the bride might toss her bouquet as a kind of decoy.

Nowadays, the bride turns away and tosses the bouquet over her shoulder. That way, no one can suspect her of playing favorites and tossing the bouquet to her chosen guest.

11. Throwing the garter

In the Middle Ages, when brides were expected to be virgins, family and friends would wait outside a newlywed couple’s bedchamber and expect to see items, such as stockings or a garter, tossed out the door to prove that the couple had done the deed. This practice evolved into the modern tradition in which the groom throws the garter to a group of single men. The lucky man who catches it may be the next to marry.

12. Throwing rice as the couple leaves

Sheaves of wheat, oats, and corn have also been thrown at weddings — always at the bride — as far back as ancient Rome to promote her fertility.

13. Carrying a bride over the threshold

This was another safeguard the ancient Romans had against evil spirits, which might attach themselves to the bride’s feet in a devious attempt to enter the newlyweds’ home.


Temma Ehrenfeld has been a writer for more than 30 years. Her novel "Morgan" is available at bookstores.

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