By Jennifer C. Frakes
Some decisions you make when planning your wedding are just a matter of logistics- of course you are going to have a rehearsal dinner, exchange rings, go on a honeymoon–you just need to decide the who, where, what and when. But have you ever wondered why we perform certain customs and rituals? Here is a brief history of some possible origins of wedding customs so common we don’t even think about how they began.
Now we think of rehearsal dinners as a run-down of the ceremony and a way for the families and wedding party to get to know each other before the big day. But rehearsal dinners historically were parties held on the eve of the wedding day to chase away all the evil spirits that wanted to descend upon a couple and effectively jinx any hope they had of starting a good life together. The idea was for the affair to be very loud and rowdy; the more noise, the better. Evil spirits, apparently, were scared off by that type of chaos.
Toasts are given at many celebrations, not just weddings, but why is it called a ‘toast”? There was an ancient French custom of putting a burnt piece of bread in the bottom of wineglasses—back when wine still needed to be decanted because of all the heavy residue. The pieces of bread would absorb what was at the bottom of the glass so you could enjoy what it was you were meant to enjoy. The French called this process “toasted.”
Bride and Groom Not Seeing Other After Midnight
This custom is not as common as it once was, and considering its roots, it seems like it’s an OK one to do away with. The night before marriage was believed to be the night the bride stopped being a girl. In fact, ancient Greeks took that idea literally and seized all of the bride’s old toys and belongings. They even cut off her hair if it was long, the idea being to strip her of everything that didn’t have to do with her future life as someone’s wife. What was the groom supposed to be doing during his last night of singledom? Whatever he wanted, of course.
We all probably have a bridesmaid dress that we would not have picked out ourselves, but at least we didn’t have to dress exactly like the bride, as they did many years ago. Blame it on those evil spirits again—the idea was that by setting up lookalikes, any threatening spirits hanging around could not hone in on the bride. Victorian times gave way to bridesmaids with white dresses more plain than the bride’s with short veils. Then as commercial dyes became available and society’s fears of evil spirits subsided, bridesmaids were able to wear the lovely lime green, harvest gold, tangerine and fuchsia that we enjoy today.
The first flower girl served brides and grooms of Ancient Rome, carrying wheat and herbs for blessings of fertility and prosperity. Hundreds of years later, Elizabethan brides and grooms would have a flower girl following a group of merry musicians, carrying a silver bride’s cup decorated with ribbons and holding a branch of rosemary. The entire path from the bride’s home to the officiating church was carpeted in rose petals and soft greenery.
The Victorian vision of the flower girl carried an ornate basket full of fresh florals to welcome the newly married couple from the wedding altar. The flower girl was seen as thesentimental connection between childhood and womanhood and suggested how beautiful it is to have children and love within the family.
The Ring Bearer
In medieval times, Northern Europeans presented the ring to the bride on the tip of a sword. The inclusion of a ring bearer began in Victorian England and spread throughout the world. A ring bearer was first called a pageboy, and it is said that he originally carried the bride’s train and a prayer book along with the rings. He also used to wear a white lace collar and sash, which today’s ring bearers might have an issue with.
Engagement and Wedding Rings
Whether engagement and wedding rings is a legitimate long-held tradition or driven by the jewelry industry is up for some debate. Some say the Romans and Egyptians recorded the use of wedding rings, and a 12th century pope decreed that brides were to receive rings upon marriage. Those rings did not have diamonds, however. A ring with a diamond is widely attributed to the DeBeers jewelry company and their 1938 ad campaign that resulted in the slogan “A Diamond is Forever.” That campaign positioned diamonds as the ultimate symbol of love and commitment (and all for just two month’s salary)! Not all their advertising worked, however—the industry tried to push an engagement ring for men that never took off.
The whole idea of taking a trip right after getting married grew out of a much simpler tradition in Northern Europe of drinking a certain kind of mead and honey wine post-ceremony that was supposed to bring good luck. You were supposed to keep drinking it for a month-or a “moon,” which was where the term honeymoon came from. While enjoying this concoction, the bride and groom went into hiding for 30 days.
Old Tradition: Sand Ceremony
The origins of the Sand Ceremony are not clear-some point to Native American tradition, others claim it has its beginnings in Hawaii. It is commonly thought to have evolved from the Unity Candle ceremony, where members of each family light one candle to symbolize the joining of the two. One thing is certain, though—the Sand Ceremony started before 2004, when Trista Rehn and Ryan Sutter blended sand during their wedding on The Bachelorette. But with 25 million viewers watching, it marked an upswing in its popularity. And considering that Trista and Ryan are still happily married and the most successful Bachelorette story yet, they must have been onto something.
But there is an alternative that is every bit as symbolic, and perhaps more beautiful, than the Sand Ceremony, and offered at two studios in the St. Louis area—the Glass Ceremony. Couples choose colored glass crystals, called “frit” and combine the glass crystals during their ceremony. Often couples choose their wedding colors, usually two to five colors. They choose what item they would like their glass fumed into, and a one-of-a kind piece is produced in the studio’s “hotshop” and returned to the couple one to two weeks later.
Lisa Becker, co-owner of Art Glass Array in St. Charles, says the glass pieces produced in their shop are truly representative of the couple, whether they choose a bowl, plate, platter or sculptural piece in the shape of a square, rectangle, circle or free-standing wave. “The glass is captured and melted just as the couple poured it,” Becker said. “A fast pour results in a thick ribbon of color. If colors are alternated more frequently, there are more gradual ribbons of color. The couple has created it—we just finish it.”
At Art Glass Array, the couple stops by beforehand to choose their glass colors, and the studio has an attendant at the ceremony or reception, wherever they decide to perform the Glass Ceremony. “Once a couple chose to perform their glass ceremony with their immediate family between the ceremony and reception. When they want to do it is completely up to them,” said Becker.
Some pieces produce leftover tidbits of glass called “off-cuts.” Becker and her team will let you know if your piece has off-cuts, and will offer suggestions of items that can be produced from them, such as small dishes and pendants, ideal for gifts for parents or your wedding party.
The Third Degree Glass Factory in St. Louis has been performing glass ceremonies for two years, and created over 100 original pieces since then. Third Degree is near the Central West End and is also a unique space that holds special events, including weddings and receptions. So a glass ceremony is a natural part of a wedding at a glass factory, but they also offer glass ceremonies to couples across the country. “Out-of-town couples can pick out their colors from a color chart,” said Rachel McCalla, event director at Third Degree. “We mail them their vessel and the glass crystals, and they pour it and mail it back. Glass is a perfect symbol of a marriage—beautiful, infinitely renewable and can never be separated. We’ve has some couples cry when they see their
Bowls, platters, vases and sculptured pieces, such as a double helix are some items that the bride and groom can choose at Third Degree. “Couples can create multiple pieces with their combined frit, gifts like Christmas ornaments or wine-stoppers,” McCalla said.
The glass pieces become a true heirloom for the couple, and for their family to come. Becker said, “Your creation will always have a story, and will always be as unique as you are.”