The facts behind wedding superstitions
There are some things many brides and grooms do to bring their marriage luck.
In one way there's no such thing as a single wedding day. So many customs, beliefs and superstitions surround weddings that they cannot possibly all be fitted into a single 24 hours.
The History of Wedding Superstitions
A little history will illuminate some of these customs and superstitions. Marriage based strictly on love is a recent invention, emerging from the 19th Century's romantic assertions of the rights of individuals to control their own destinies.
Before then in Western culture, and still remaining as a concern in some other cultures today, marriages were parental decisions, related to economic, political and even national power. Unmarried sons and daughters figured largely as bargaining chips in powerful families. The head-spinning sequences of royal marriages like those of Henry VIII of England cemented political alliances and were based on the hopes of heirs to perpetuate hard-won holds on property, armies and conquered territories.
The son in a powerful family might have no more knowledge of his bride before the wedding than the painted miniature portrait sent with other gifts to his parents. A bride might be equally ignorant. A good marriage depended on a good property settlement, and she, as a prospective bearer of heirs, was part of the property.
Among more ordinary people marriage might take a while. Under the rule of the medieval church, there were only certain times of the year to marry. In rural areas including the American West marriage occurred only when a minister came to town. People lived as man and wife until the preacher could be found. While American pioneer wives lived on a more equal basis with their husbands than wives before them had, their position depended on the enormous amount of work required by all family members to maintain a new homestead.
The notion of women as productive property took a long time to diminish even in America. The 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, was not adopted until 1920. Women in Louisiana lacked the right of direct inheritance of property until 1982. For many centuries a an economically-sound marriage was a woman's only protection from poverty and servitude.
Bridal showers are a remnant of dowry days. A woman was expected to bring property and money to her husband as part of the marriage arrangement. Showers remember the time when friends tried to help equip a woman with goods she would need in her new home even though the goods would no longer belong to her.
Not Seeing the Bride Until the Ceremony
A bride as property was guarded by her family until the deal was done. This prevented kidnapping by other men who found her desirable. The description of a no-longer-virgin woman as spoiled or soiled goods was not an idle turn of phrase. Today we perpetuate the superstition so that the groom can enjoy his first look at his beloved in beautiful finery.
Long ago the altar might be the place where a bride and groom first met face to face. Either might or might not like the looks of a new mate, so veiling the bride both implied that she had been kept fresh by her protectors. This postponed the groom's first look until it was too late to back out of the arrangement.
The dress is often the focus of more hope and anguish than almost any other wedding symbol. And for once, the matter of a bride as fresh and virginal goods can be set aside. Queen Victoria popularized the white dress when she chose white rather than the more traditional royal silver for her wedding. White, in the days before dry cleaning, was a confident statement of affluence. The bride could afford a luxurious white dress that she would wear only on a single day, which is a far cry from the state of most women in the days when all clothes were sewn by hand. Hollywood movies played a large part in crystallizing the desire of all brides for an opulent-looking white dress.
Throwing rice is a happy superstition to wish the bride and groom prosperity. In these environmentally-aware days, real or fake rose-petals or confetti may have replaced the rice.
Rainy Wedding Day
A rainy wedding day is also interpreted as a sign of prosperity with wealth literally raining down.
Catching a Bouquet
Catching a bouquet constitutes a way in which the wedding couple can wish that others share in their happiness.
Why do superstitions persist, even when we know they're nonsense? Probably the best explanation is that in choosing to marry we all join centuries of other brides and grooms who came to the wedding sharing a hope for a happy future.