The Surprising Histories of 10 Common Wedding Traditions

#1 - The Diamond Engagement Ring

Anthropologists believe that the engagement ring originated as a Roman custom, where women wore a simple band attached to small keys to symbolize their husband's ownership of them. It wasn't until Archduke Maximilian of Austria gave a diamond ring to his betrothed - Mary of Burgundy - in 1477 that the diamond engagement ring was introduced. At the time, the trend only spread among European nobles and aristocrats.

It was 470 years later, in 1947, when jewelry business De Beers opened a new African diamond mine that diamonds became more readily available to the public. To increase demand, De Beers came up with the slogan "A Diamond Is Forever" and challenged men to spend at least a month's salary on a diamond engagement ring to prove their love to their fiances.

The purity and the sparkle of a diamond have now grown synonymous with the depth of a man's love. In today's market, the average cost of a diamond engagement ring is approximately $4,000.

#2 - The Ring Finger

Now that we understand the history behind the ring, let's learn a little about why we wear it on our left ring finger.

Similarly to the engagement ring, this custom dates make to Ancient Rome but has a much more romantic meaning behind it. The Romans believed that the fourth finger on the left hand contained the "vena amoris" - or the "vein of love" - that ran directly to a person's heart. Therefore, to symbolize the love of their partnership, the engagement ring was placed on the one finger they believed symbolized their heart-to-heart connection.

Of course, we now know that all fingers have veins that run to the heart, but let's not ruin this beautiful sentiment with facts and science.

#3 - The White Wedding Dress

For most brides, it is impossible to imagine wearing any color other than white to the altar. After all, it is the color synonymous with purity and innocence, and what other image would we want to exhibit on our wedding day? However, one needs only to look at historic art to realize that white was not always the wedding-day trend, as brides were more likely to wear a multitude of rich, vibrant hues. So, where did the tradition of the white wedding dress begin?

It wasn't until 1840 when Queen Victoria donned a white wedding gown that the look caught a buzz - but it wasn't immediately loved by all. Many were looking forward to the pomp-and-circumstance of a royal wedding and were underwhelmed by the Queen's simple dress. However, it remained the talk of newspapers in Europe and in the U.S. colonies alike for months.

It wasn't until 1849 that the color white grew to be the symbol of purity that we know it as today, when Godey's Lady's Book, the Vogue of the Victorian world, declared: "Custom has decided, from the earliest ages, that white is the most fitting hue, whatever may be the material. It is an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one."

However, that was not exactly why the white wedding dress caught on. At the time, the working class simply wore whatever good dress they owned and - since they were work clothes as well - they seldom owned white. Instead, the white wedding dress was seen as a statement of wealth, as only the wealthy could afford a white dress specifically for their wedding day.

#4 - The Groom On The Right

This is another wedding tradition that everyone probably knows: the groom stands on the right. But why?

The custom dates back to the days of "marriage by capture" when it was common for the bride to be kidnapped and claimed by another man. Traditionally, a groom wore a sword and - since most grooms are right-handed - he needed to have his right hand and side free to defend his bride should someone come to try to steal her away.

#5 - The First Kiss

The history behind the bride and groom's first kiss is a little muddied.

Some believe it is the remnants of the "Bedding Ceremony" of the Roman Empire, when guests would literally tuck the couple into bed and either watch them consummate their marriage, or leave just before. This was not only to ensure that the marriage contract was binding, but was symbolic of the community's involvement in the success of their marriage.

Another theory is that - in times where many were illiterate - a kiss was a legally binding way of singing a contract. This is where we get the term "sealed with a kiss". In this way, the bride and groom seal the contract of their marriage with a kiss.

Still another school of thought is that this kiss is symbolic of the "holy kiss" that priests would give during wedding ceremonies when he would give the "kiss of peace" to the groom who would then pass this on to his bride.

#6 - The Groomsmen

Remember how I said the groom stood on the right in instances of "marriage by capture"? Well, during the 16th century, while the groom was getting ready for his big day, it was the best man's job to kidnap the bride and the groomsmen's job to carry her to the altar. Sometimes, this was a romantic way for star-crossed lovers to leave their disapproving relatives behind but there were other cases where the bride was kidnapped and married against her will.

#7 - The Bridesmaids

The history of bridesmaids is a long one. According to the Bible's Book of Genesis, Jacob's two wives each brought one of their own maids to the ceremony to attend to them, thus literally making them each the "Bride's maids."

Later in history, bridesmaids dressed identically to the bride and followed her down the aisle in an effort to confuse evil spirits who might want to do her harm or other suitors who might try to capture her on her wedding day.

It wasn't until marriage laws were established that the trend for bridesmaids turned away from necessity and more towards symbolism.

#8 - The Wedding Cake

Silly as it may sound, the wedding cake finds it's origins in the ancient Roman tradition of a groom breaking a loaf of barley bread over his new wife's head to facilitate fertility.

As wedding desserts are concerned, the most popular item used to be a large pie filed with meats and herbs and spices.

Cakes eventually grew in popularity, and it was once again Queen Victoria who introduced us to the white wedding cake as we know it today.

#9 - Tossing the Bouquet & Garter

Brides began wearing a garter as early as the 14th century England and were believed to bring the bride and groom luck. Unfortunately, rowdy guests often wanted pieces of this luck for themselves and would often rip and tear at the bride and groom's clothing hoping to obtain a piece.

In an effort to save their clothing, the bride began pinning her garter to the hem of her dress to make it easier for someone to snatch off and when this proved to not be enough to stop the masses from attacking, the groom began throwing it at them as a diversion tactic.

The story of the bouquet toss is much the same - the bride began throwing her bouquet to her ladies in waiting, hoping to distract them for a quick getaway.

10 - Throwing Rice

Once again we have a tradition that dates back to Ancient Rome. Guests wanted to shower the newlyweds with good luck and - at the time - rice was considered a symbol of wealth and fertility so it made a lot of sense.

In the late 20th century, a rumor began circulating that the uncooked rice was killing birds, and other bird-friendly alternatives started, such as throwing birdseed, blowing bubbles, or using sparklers to send the couple off.

However, scientists have now confirmed that there is no truth to the belief that the rice will kill local birds, so happy rice-throwing!

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