Today I want to share some of my favorite origins behind wedding traditions. The traditions themselves aren’t my favorites, but I’m very tickled by their roots. These traditions have to do with the wedding party and originated in medieval Europe.
It’s easy enough to imagine why a bride is surrounded by bridesmaids; they often spent the night with the bride before her wedding to make sure that she wasn’t visited by any men before becoming a wife. But that’s not the only reason for their presence.
Centuries ago brides and their maids all dressed alike (which is why bridesmaids still often do); in addition to the same dresses they also all wore a veil. These two traditions share the same origin: the bride was disguised among her maids so that evil spirits couldn’t pick her out from the others. That way the spirits couldn’t enter her and ruin the marriage; the thought was that if all of the women were identical, features obscured, evil spirits couldn’t find the bride.
I know such ideas are ridiculous, but I wonder about them when I try to put myself in the medieval mindset. Thinking from that point of view, I have to wonder: was the idea that stymied spirits would leave all of the women alone, or did the people think that one of the bridesmaids was offered up in sacrifice in place of the bride? It’s a funny thought.
The reason for groomsmen is even more amusing. Today grooms pick their brothers or best friends to be the best man; the position is presumably reserved for the closest male friend or family member to the groom. Back then, it wasn’t the case.
Even if a man were a member of the nobility (medieval peasant weddings were tiny, if at all existent, and most wedding traditions don’t trace to them) he might not be the most important guy around. He might have to get married in the king’s castle, or at the estate of a nobleman outranking him.
There was always the possibility that the lord of the manor might take a liking to the bride, and he could interrupt the ceremony. So as his best man the groom would choose the strongest swordsman out of his friends. The rest of the party was rounded out by the other best swordsmen the groom knew, basically making sure that the groom had some guys at his back in case he needed to fight for his bride.
That’s also why the groom stands to the right and the bride to the left for the wedding ceremony. By standing on the right, the groom is free to draw his sword, if necessary, during the ceremony. That’s a bit biased toward right-handed people, but what can you do.
There are just so many great stories behind our wedding traditions. These might have been my favorites, but there are many more interesting origins to learn when I return to the topic.
*(The above image by Rosen Georgiev is from freedigitalphotos.net).