Wedding Traditions and Their Meanings

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There are a lot of traditions associated with weddings – and while many of them seem like we do them “just because,” all of these traditions actually started for a reason! Everything from carrying a bouquet to which finger wedding rings are worn on has an origin, has some significance behind it. When you plan your wedding day, you can incorporate all the traditions, none of them, or, like most couples do, you can pick a few that feel important to you and skip the rest! Knowing common wedding traditions and meanings can help you decide what feels right for your day, so in this guide, we’ll go over some of the popular customs! 

Wedding Traditions and Their Meanings

Here are some wedding traditions, and what they mean!

Giving the Bride Away

It’s super common for brides to be walked down the aisle by their fathers – and while this tradition has shifted from its original meaning, its history is kind of dark. Not too long ago, marriages were more about money and power, rather than love, and women were pretty much used as collateral, literally given away by their fathers, transferring ownership to the new husband.

While this wedding tradition’s meaning isn’t exactly a positive one, today, being walked down the aisle by your dad can be a lovely moment and a symbol of his impact on your life! 

A bride being walked down the aisle by her father, which is one of the common wedding traditions.

The Ring Finger

The ring finger gets its name from the fact that it’s the one you wear your wedding ring on! But, why? The tradition of putting your wedding band on the ring finger of your left hand has been around for centuries, and it started because the Romans (and possibly other cultures before them) believed that the ring finger was connected directly to the heart by a vein. This connection led to the symbolism of the left hand ring finger being the ideal place to put a wedding ring as a symbol of love!

Modern science has since proved that every single finger has veins connecting to the heart, but this wedding tradition is one that we still follow today. 

A bride showing the ring on her ring finger - wearing it this way is one of the most common wedding traditions!

Something Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue

The phrase “something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue” is more than a clever rhyme – each part of this wedding tradition has a meaning! These four objects are considered to be good luck. 

The “something old” is a symbol of your past lives – a testament to the “before” you got married. “Something new” complements that to symbolize a happy future together. Traditionally, the something you borrow was supposed to belong to someone who is already happily married, so that their good luck rubs off on you! And because the color blue is said to represent love and loyalty, it’s the color that you want on your wedding day.

The Garter

A garter is a narrow band of fabric, typically worn by brides under their dress. This wedding tradition has been around for a long time, and its meaning has changed a ton! 

At first, the garter tradition was seen in the Dark Ages. At this time, it was good luck for wedding guests to take home a piece of the bride’s clothing – so pieces of the dress would be ripped off at the end of the night. This wedding tradition evolved a little, and instead of ripping the dress apart, the bride would wear a garter and give it to a guest at the end of the wedding.

Later, in the 18th century, the old tradition of the garter faded away, and it became a more practical item, worn by both brides and grooms to hold up their stockings! This is also the time when the garter toss became a wedding tradition. At the end of the night, unmarried wedding guests would remove the couple’s stockings, and they would be tossed over their shoulders. If the stockings landed on the married couple, then the couple and whoever threw them would have good luck in marriage!

The games continued into the 19th century, when unmarried men would run to the bride’s house after the wedding ceremony, and the first one there would be the winner, and would receive the garter. The garter toss we see today also emerged during this time, where the groom tosses his bride’s garter to the unmarried men! And this is how we got to the garter toss tradition we still see at many weddings – interestingly, this is also how we got the bouquet toss – in the UK, the garter was seen as scandalous, so brides started throwing their flowers instead.

Carrying a Bouquet

Brides often carry a bouquet down the aisle. While these bouquets are typically made of sweet smelling flowers, this wedding tradition started with bundles of herbs! Strong smells like garlic were thought to keep evil spirits away, so brides would carry stinky bouquets. As we became less concerned about evil spirits, this wedding tradition has evolved into much better smelling bouquets.

A bride holding a wedding bouquet of flower, which is one of the biggest wedding traditions!
A bride holding a wedding bouquet of flower, which is one of the biggest wedding traditions!

Handfasting and Tying the Knot

“Tying the knot” is a really common phrase that means getting married – and this meaning comes from the old wedding tradition of handfasting. Handfasting is a Celtic ritual, where during the ceremony, the couple’s hands are tied together to symbolize their commitment and bond with each other. Many cultures have their own version of this, and this wedding tradition of literally tying a knot is where we get the phrase!

Which Wedding Traditions are Right for You?

Some wedding traditions can be fun, while others may feel outdated or not quite right for you – and that completely depends on the couple! Planning a wedding often comes with a lot of pressure and expectations, but I encourage you to let go of those “shoulds” and get married your own way. Keep the traditions you like, and ditch the ones that don’t suit you!

As a wedding photographer, my job is to be your hype woman, cheering you on with every decision you make. So no matter what kind of wedding day you’re planning and what wedding traditions you are, or aren’t incorporation, I’ve got you covered! Contact me, and let’s talk about your dream day.

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