Wedding traditions and superstitions from around the world
The white wedding dress is a Victorian invention, before then women just married in their best dresses – whatever colour they might be. The following little ditty dates itself by the use of the word fellow, which became a common term for a fiancé or sweetheart only around the 1850s and by the fact that several modern dress colours simply don’t appear in the list:
Married in White, you have chosen right,
Married in Blue, your love will always be true,
Married in Pearl, you will live in a whirl,
Married in Brown, you will live in town,
Married in Red, you will wish yourself dead,
Married in Yellow, ashamed of your fellow,
Married in Green, ashamed to be seen,
Married in Pink, your spirit will sink,
Married in Grey, you will go far away,
Married in Black, you will wish yourself back.
In many parts of England there is a folk belief that the bride or groom who is first to buy something after the wedding will be the boss in the relationship. In Lancashire a bride often makes sure she’s going to be ‘in charge’ by purchasing a pin from her chief bridesmaid or matron of honour on her way out of the church porch.
Jewish weddings traditionally end with the breaking of a glass, often wrapped in a napkin and put under the groom’s foot. There are several competing explanations for this tradition. The first is that back in the Talmudic days, a rabbi felt his followers were becoming too rowdy when the celebrated the wedding of the rabbi’s son. It is said that the rabbi seized a costly goblet and shattered it on the floor; this sobered up the guests and reminded them that in every such celebration there should be a moment of awe. Another version is that every Jewish couple should pause and think about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, symbolised by the broken glass. A third version is that smashing a glass or a dish was a symbolic way of smashing the powers of any demons and ill-wishers. Finally it is believed that the number of happy years in a marriage will match the number of fragments the glass breaks into.
Hindu weddings are replete with many complex rituals but the most important is the Saat Pheras, known in Southern India as Saptapadi. The ceremony is only finalised when bride and group take seven steps around a fire. The steps are treated differently in different regions; sometimes the groom holds the toe of the bride and walks the seven steps in time with the chanting of sacred phrases called mantras. Sometimes the groom holds the bride’s sash or belt and leads her round the fire and at other times, he holds the bride’s hands and they pace around the sacred fire seven times. The seven steps each contain a request to the gods.
With the first step the couple ask for good food and a respectful life.
With the second step they pray for physical and mental strength.
The third step is used to invoke spiritual strength to fulfil religious obligations.
The fourth step calls on the gods for happiness and harmony through love and trust in marriage.
The fifth begs the gods to grant welfare to all living things, and to give the couple noble children.
The sixth step requests prosperous seasons and good harvests worldwide, and that the couple will go through the good seasons as well as the bad, sharing their joys and sorrows.
The final step is used to petition the gods for a life in which loyalty and companionship are granted to the newlyweds and to the whole world.
Italians believe May weddings are unlucky as the month should be set aside for the worship of the Virgin Mary. August is also unpopular because in ancient times it was the month when plagues would sweep through Italy, so it is seen as bringing bad luck and illness.
Rain on the wedding day brings good luck "Sposa bagnata, sposa fortunate”; a wet spouse is a lucky spouse!
The bridegroom should have a piece of iron in his pocket on his way to church in order to avoid the evil eye which might be put on him by jealous neighbours before he attains the safety of consecrated ground. The bride is safe because you can only put the evil eye on someone you can see, and her veil protects her by giving the curse no image to attach to.
The custom of tying shoes to the honeymoon car harks back to the medieval period, when a father would give the bridegroom a pair of the bride’s shoes to symbolise that she had passed from her father’s control to her husband’s. The groom would then tap her on the forehead with her own shoe to show that she accepted his dominance!
In Scotland a breastfeeding woman would be invited to help make the honeymoon bed, because it was believed her fertility would transfer to the bride.
An old Irish tradition was less restful: a laying hen was tethered to the honeymoon bed so that some of its fertility would pass to the couple. They might also be fed double-yolked eggs at the wedding dinner or breakfast, to bring on the conception of twins.