Although weddings and wedding celebrations occur in some form or fashion all over the world and have since people began organizing themselves into societies, most of the history and traditions associated with modern marriages are actually fairly recent. Unlike holidays like New Years, which has been celebrated for at least 4,000 years, wedding day traditions like the white dress are not quite so old. However, there are some of the traditions that are very old, many of which we get from those forbearers of our civilization, the Greeks and the Romans.
One example of this is the wedding ring. The wedding ring is one of the oldest traditions associated with marriage. History suggests that the first people to wear wedding rings were Egyptians. The bride and groom would wear rings made of straw, grass, or hay on their left hand as a symbol of their marriage. The ring is traditionally worn on the left hand because the ancient Egyptians believed that there was a vein that ran directly from the left hand to the heart. The Romans continued on with the tradition of having a wedding band and also believed that there was a vein that went from the left hand to the heart. The Romans were probably the first people to wear wedding bands made out of metal, in this case, usually iron.
We also get the tradition of the wedding cake from the Romans. The wedding cake actually began as loaves of bread. At the wedding, the bread would be broken over the bride’s head to guarantee a long life and lots of healthy children. Over the years, this tradition evolved and changed. By the medieval ages in Europe, wedding guests were bringing miniature cakes to the wedding as gifts for the bride and groom. People would put the cakes on top of each other, making as tall of a stack as they possibly could so that the bride and the groom couldn’t kiss each other over the wedding cake. If they could kiss each other over the cake, that was thought to be a sign of good fortune. Over the years, people began making tall and tiered wedding cakes with a little figurine of the bride and groom on top that were iced and actually meant to be eaten.
The wedding dress as we know it today is a much more recent tradition. Depending on who you ask, there are several different explanations for how the wedding dress got to be the way it is. According to some, the white wedding dress was made popular by a woman named Anne of Britany. She wore a white gown when she married in 1499. Today we associate white with purity and virginity, but in 1499, the color white would have most been associated with joy. A competing story holds that Queen Victoria of England started the trend of wearing white to weddings by wearing a white dress to her own wedding in 1840. In this case, the white really was used to symbolize virginity. Whichever story you choose to believe, it is the case that the bridesmaids are to dress up so that they will be beautiful like the bride. This is supposed to confuse the evil spirits that may want to harm the bride.
Another modern tradition that started much later is the wedding invitation. The wedding invitation, with its decorations and calligraphy, were used by aristocrats and nobles beginning in 18th century England. The invitations were a signal of wealth and were used as a fancy way to announce the marriage of a child. It was reserved for wealthy people until the early part of the 20th century, when people started making invitations on printing presses instead of by hand.