Wedding Traditions: How to include wedding traditions in your authentic wedding day.
When I was growing up, my father made a big deal about how the proudest day of his life would be when he walked my sister and I down the aisle. This was the same man that didn’t pay a penny of maintenance or offer a moment of support to our mother to help with our upbringing, later making it abundantly clear when I was 17 and considering going to university that he could not help me with living costs and that I’d have to get a part time job to fund any further studies after finishing my A levels. He’s a man who felt the “tradition” of providing for his children was not necessary to him. But yet, he still thought it was his job/right to “give me away” on my wedding day. He is not unusual for a man of his generation and time, and to be fair, he did retain regular contact with us throughout our childhoods after my parents divorced. But it’s an interesting example of how we humans evolve our traditions through to generations to suit our narrative, with people picking what they feel is acceptable to them, whilst throwing to one side those that do not serve them.
So what are wedding traditions so enduring? The seeds of expectations for what our wedding days will/should look like are sown early through attending family weddings, parents/grandparents’ views and stories shared from an early age, the (fairy) stories we were read during our formative years and that are then solidified by the pagentry and tradition of the royal and celebrity weddings. Then everyone gets to judge weddings on social media which is awash with click bait hungry styled shoots designed to reel you in, unintentionally reinforcing traditional values alongside authentic weddings which are more real, and as a consequence less alluring in our online world. It’s like we are conditioned at every juncture to know what makes a “good wedding” versus a “poor wedding”. A generous application of preconcieved ideas and prejudice in any part of life never ends well in my humble lived-experience.
This got me thinking about our wedding day prescription from society, and where some of these traditions originate. Also, why are so many of these blatantly sexist traditions still popular? And finally, what do forward thinking feminist couples do instead or how do they adapt these traditions to give a nod to history but yet more accurately reflect their values and their relationship on their wedding day.
Bride(s) wearing a white dress
This only became a tradition in the mid-19th Century in western culture. We have Queen Victoria to thank for this. A white cake and dress were initially a sign of wealth (it was expensive to create pure white material and icing). However, Victorians evolved this thinking in with what we now call “Victorian values”: the white dress became a symbol of a bride’s purity.
It’s fair to say that most people would agree that a white dress no longer reflects a bride’s purity nor her wealth (afterall why should we care?), yet white still represents innocence in modern culture.
What’s the alternative to a white dress?
If you feel strongly about wearing white on your wedding day for your own reasons you should go right ahead and do this. If you feel this is not for you there are loads of alternatives that are equally suited to the occasion. Imagine wearing a wedding style dress but in a different colour – if you’re feel cautious maybe blush pink or blue, if you’re bold why not go for gold or red which is customary in eatern cultures. Another great look is a white dress embroidered with flowers.
Bear in mind, as a bride you don’t have to wear a dress. Wear a trouser suit like the one Biance Jagger made iconic in her 1970s marriage to Mick. A crop top and maxi skirt can look stunning too. And if it’s jeans and a t-shirt for you, great! Go for whatever makes you feel great on your wedding day.
Asking the father’s permission
There was a time when daughters were considered the property of their fathers, with fathers having to provide for their daughters financial until they were married. This is where this tradition stems from.
Today, some people feel that getting the blessing of the bride's parents is respectful. If that’s the case then consider asking both sets of parents for their consent – afterall what’s the difference? Failing to ask both set of parents out of respect implies that you're making sure the bride's parents approve of your ability to support a wife when women can support themselves just fine.
What’s the alternative?
You could just not ask for permission. Make your parents feel respected and involved by making them the first to know about your engagement – maybe meeting up with both sets of parents to share the news together before going “public”.
But, if you truly feel asking for your fianceé’s father’s permission is appropriate to your relationship (and your future relationship with your parents/in-laws) then at the very least make sure that you have asked your partner first and that they actually do want to marry you. Nothing more awkward than a refused proposal after dad has agreed…
Bride’s parents pay for the wedding
This tradition stems from dowrys that would have been paid historically by the bride’s parents to the groom. Now days it’s viewed as sexist and presumptious. What’s more, the average wedding in the UK cost £30,000 last year – a large amount of money for anyone to find.
What’s the alternative?
Some couples pay for their own weddings, whilst others have both sets of parents contribute to the costs. Some couples go even further with guests contributing towards the costs of their wedding rather than buying gifts. This makes a lot of sense given that most couples live together these days before marrying and likely don’t need a whole bunch of gifts, but do want to celebrate their union with thier chosen guests.
The traditional first look, when thecouple wouldn’t see each other at all until the bride walked down the aisle originated from the history of arranged marriage. The couple were prevented from seeing each other until the know was tied as the families feared they may back out of the ceremony.
Today’s first look is very different and a realtively new tradition that’s as much to do with social media as it is wedding album content. It may seem a thoroughly modern tradition and one we should be comfortable embracing. When the staged first look takes place, we’ve all seen the reels and images on social media of the groom going gooey-eyed over the bride. What you don’t see so much (ever?) is the bride looking in awe at her husband. This tradition encourages objectification of the bride whose main role on the wedding day is to look beautiful and desirable in an expensive gown.
What’s the alternative?
It can make perfect sense logistically to have your “couple shots” taken before your ceremony as this means there’s no gap between your ceremony and reception.
Even more romantic, consider writing each other a letter that you exchange before your ceremony or if you are able, write your own vows. Be warned, both of these alternatives are heart wrenchingly emotional and also give you something beautiful to treasure forever alongside your wedding photography.
Feathers and Flutters alternative bouquet
Throwing the bouquet
Throwing the bouquet originates from a time where the marriage was consumated after the ceremony, often with an audience. In the rush to get to the bridal bed, the flowers were thrown to the guests and, tradition has it that the single woman that catches the flowers in the scramble will be next in line to be married. The bridal bouquet was said to represent the bride’s fertility and in “throwing away her flowers” ahead of her “deflowering” you can see how this all becomes sexist: think sex-crazed man who cannot wait to bed his wife and her desperate single friends vying to catch the flowers so they too can be lucky enough to marry a man. Too much!
The bouquet is still tossed at many weddings today, but with a bit more decorum and not in haste to the wedding bed. This feels rather outmoded as many single women (and men) do not want to get married; bouquets are often very expensive and it feels frivolous to throw it around rather than preserve it in some way; and, do you really want to pull out all your single friends in a humiliating group to stand behind you whilst you toss your flowers at them?
You just don’t need to do this is you feel it’s out of line with your values. If you do choose to toss your bouquet invite all your guests together behind you - it's a great photo opportunity and inclusive.
Otherwise, why not preserve your wedding flowers by having them professionally dried so you can keep them forever, or have the petals set in jewellery to give to your friends and relations who supported you on your wedding day? Or maybe have the petals made into confetti so that you can throw this on your next friend or relatives wedding?
Taking your husband’s name
Where do I start with this. A name is not just a name, it’s a record of your family lineage and it’s what you are identified with from the moment your parents name you. The reason for a bride traditionally changing their surname to the groom’s on their wedding day was one of ownership. You were owned by your father and now you are the property of your husband. It can set a bad precident for married life – are willing to sacrifice your own identity to merge into someone elses?
For some couples this is no big deal. For alternatives we look to our forward thinking same-sex marriage friends who don’t have the same shackles of wedding traditions to wrestle with in the same way. Keep your own names; hyphenate your surnames to form a double-barrelled surname; the groom takes the bride’s surname. Or just make up a new surname altogether.
Carrying the bride over the threshold
Part of the wedding tradition in ancient Rome was for the groom to carry their new bride by force into their home after the wedding ceremony. Roman mythology (The Rape of Sabine Women) cites that this tradition was adopted by Roman men after returning home from foray of abduction and rape of the women in neighboring towns. At times the whole town ‘helped’ forcing the struggling bride into her new home. Brides who were reluctant to marry fought back in earnest, but brides were expected to act out this struggle as a sign of their purity and resistance to losing their virginity.
Most couples have no idea of the legacy of this tradition. Somehow, we’ve managed to turn this custom into something romantic with couples even take turns to carry each other (or riding piggyback) over threshold in good humour. But for some, the gesture just won’t work.
Why not just cross the threshold holding hands as equals? Savour the moment, and include your dog!
Wedding veils and the lifting of the veil
Historically, weddings were most often arranged between families and couples didn’t meet before their wedding day, arriving at the ceremony as total strangers. Veils served two purposes. First, the bride’s parents were afraid the groom would refuse to marry their daughters if they got a good look at her first. And secondly, the modesty of covering a woman from head to toe (in a veil and a dress) symbolised that she was a virgin and untouched. Hardly a tradition that serves modern-day couples.
A veil is dramatic and adds a little sense of mystery to the bride’s appearance. But if the historic connatations don’t sit well with you, you may want to consider alternatives. It’s true that a head dress of some sort adds a wonderful flourish to any outfor or occasion. Why not consider hair flowers, beaded in your “updo”, headband or fascinator, tiara, hat or statement bow?
Molly Ausland Photograph, Treseren
The best man
Historically, best men weren't chosen for their friendship but their strength. This was so that they could man handle the bride and fight off her family if she decided to flee during the wedding.
Th best man is a tradition that comes from forcing women to be married — essentially, to enable kidnapping, in a time in which 'marriage by capture' was practiced. Effectively, close friends of the groom would assist him in removing the bride from her family. They'd form a small army to fight off angry relatives so that he could escape with her.
Alternatives The history of this role shouldn’t stop you involving your best friends in your wedding day. You could consider doing away with gender-based roles. Have female ushers or a best woman or groomswoman. Consider a bridesman or you could ignore gender altogether and create one desegregated wedding party.
So, did our father get to walk either of us down the aisle? No, he didn’t. We both has non-traditional weddings and were glad we did things our way and made our choices in line with our values and beliefs.
It’s for you to decide how much tradition you include or exclude in your own wedding day, but by understanding the history behind these traditions you can make an informed choice and perhaps be armed with very good reasons for ditching those that don’t serve you and embracing your own variant of those that do. Having the backstory to these traditions may also help you explain your decision to friends and family who have other ideas. Feel empowered to make deliberate choices because they mean something to you, and result in a wedding day that feels authentic to you both, whatever that looks like.
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