Where Do Those English Wedding Traditions Come From?


Today's weddings follow many superstitions and traditions that date back literally hundreds of years. Ever surprised where they came from and why? Many of these traditions were originally based on fertility, wealth, evil and good fortune.

In Anglo-Saxon times a man would select a wife and move her into his home for producing children, cooking and cleaning. Pathhers soon recognized the value of their daughters and introduced a 'fee', if you like. Suiters had to offer the family gifts to show they were able to provide for their daughters. Hundreds of years later, this reversed when fathers began to offer a dowry to the prospective husband. The theory behind it being that the marriage would last as the women had brought something into the marriage. If the marriage broke down, then the husband no longer had control over the dowry.


In the 6th Century early engagements were an agreement between the groom and the bride's father that a marriage would take place. By Victorian times the groom would request permission from the bride's father for his 'daughter's hand in marriage'. Once the permission had been granted, the groom would propose to the prospective bride by asking on bended knee. If accepted, the groom would then have a legal obligation to marry his fiancee and if he jilted her she could sue for a break of promise. Thes days there is no legal obligation to marry from an engagement. In most cases it was the responsibility of the men to propose, but tradition did permit women to propose on February 29th. The engagement ring is worn on the third finger of the left hand, due to the Greek belief that this finger connects to the heart.

Which Day

Upto the 17th Century Sunday was the most popular wedding day as people did not have to work. However, the Puritans put a stop to this believing that it was improper to celebrate on the Sabbath. Saturday is the most popular day in present times, although more couples are choosing mid week, and eithe side of the weekend to save on costs. If you believed this rhyme, you would never get married on a Saturday.

Monday for health, Tuesday for wealth, Wednesday best of all,

Thursday for losses, Friday for crosses, Saturday for no luck at all

Having got the day sorted, what about the time of the year. The old saying, 'Marry in the month of May, and you'll live to regret the day' goes back to the pagans. In the Nineteenth Century there was a rush to get married on April 30th because brides refused to marry during May.

Married when the year is new, he'll be loving, kind & true,

When February birds do mate, You wed nor dread your fate.

If you wed when March winds blow, joy and sorrow both you'll know.

Marry in April when you can, Joy for Maiden & for Man.

Marry in the month of May, and you'll certainly rue the day.

Marry when June roses grow, over land and sea you'll go.

Those who in July do wed, must labor for their daily bred.

Whoever wed in August be, many a change is sure to see

Marry in September's shrine, your living will be rich and fine.

If in October you do marry, love will come but riches tarry.

If you wed in bleak November, only joys will come, remember.

When December snows fall fast, marry and true love will last.

The Bridal Gown

Married in:

White – You've chosen all right

Blue – Your love is true

Pearl – You'll live in a whirl

Brown – You'll live out of town

Red – You will wish yourself dead

Yellow – You're ashamed of your fellow

Green – Ashamed to be seen

Pink – Your fortunes / spirits will sink

Gray – You'll live far away

Black – You'll wish yourself back

The Groom

The groom, best man and male family should wear similar outfits in order to confuse the evil spirits as to the real identity of the groom. The best man also has the job of giving good luck to the groom by ensuring that: –

  • The groom must carry a lucky mascot in his pocket
  • The groom must not return home for any reason after leaving for the ceremony
  • The minister should be given an odd sum of money for his fee

The Horseshoe

Why brides carry horseshoes is not clear. If you are Greek it symbolizes the moon which is regarded as a symbol of fertility. The 10th Century links it to the legendary St.. Dunstan who brought the devil and extracted a promise never to enter a Christian's house, to be recognized by a horseshoe above the door. Here the term "Lucky Horseshoe". The horseshoe is U shaped and to have good luck forever, the horseshoe should have ribbons attached to its shoulders. It is deemed unlucky to turn the horseshoe upside down.

Something old, Somthing New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, a Sixpence in your Shoe!

This superstition is still in favor today, although it originated in Victorian times. The sixpence in your shoe, seems to have been lost along the way.

  • 'Something old' – a piece of family jewelery or accessory is often used.
  • 'Something new' presents future health, happiness and success.
  • 'Something borrowed' could be a small trinket borrowed from family or a friend. It must be returned to ensure good luck.
  • 'Something blue' – In Israel, the bride used to wear a blue ribbon as a sign of her fidelity – these days it is usually the bride's garter.
  • Good wealth was wished for by placing 'a silver sixpence in your shoe'.

The Wedding Day

It is considered good luck for the Bride to look in her mirror just once before leaving for her wedding, but it is bad luck to look in the mirror after she has left the bedroom to commence her journey to the ceremony.

It is bad luck for the Groom to see the bride in her wedding gown before they are married.

Throwing of 'confetti' dates back to ancient times, confetti changing from rice, nuts, sweets and flower petals. It was used to enhance fertility, wealth and good luck.

Flowers at weddings dates from medieval times, when a knight would wear his Lady's colors declaring his love for her. Some flowers have meanings, – red chrysanthemum mean 'I love you'

It is the tradition for the bride to throw her bouquet over her shoulder towards the female guests when she leaves for the honeymoon. The one who catches it is supposed to be the one who will get married next.

Church bells are rung as the bride and groom enter and leave the church. It is thought the sound of bells drives away evil spirits.

The Wedding cake is very much a big part of the wedding reception. The shape of the three tiered cake is associated with the spire of St.. Bride's Church in London. The groom places his right hand over the right hand of his bride and her left hand is then placed on top. The cake is slowly cut helped by the groom. Tradition is they should cut a slice and share it between them. The bridesmaids should keep their slices and place it under their pillows to dream of their future.

Historically the top tier of the cake was kept for the christening of their first child – although nowdays, the child may already be born and baptised!