5 Bizarre Wedding Traditions From History
When you really think about it, modern wedding traditions are weird. Wearing something borrowed and blue? Getting our garters publicly pulled out from under our dresses by our partner's teeth? Throwing a bouquet backwards at a bunch of our female loved ones? But in fact, wedding traditions throughout history have always been nonsensical and downright astonishing. People have done everything from throwing honeyed bread while whipping windows to being hit off their horses by a medieval jousting-practice mechanism called a quintain. (Throwing rice seems seriously benign in comparison, doesn't it?)
Many wedding traditions from around the world are somewhat universal. For example, the idea of "bridal kidnapping," (where the bride's family holds her "hostage" until the groom's family meets the required challenges, or pays the necessary fines, to "free" her) has been documented everywhere from Mexico to Africa. And firing guns in riotous happiness is so common in many wedding celebrations across the globe that parts of Chechnya have actually banned it. Other wedding traditions, like auctioning off brides in a bridal market, (no, seriously) were unique to the civilizations that practiced them. And, for that, we should all be grateful.
So the next time you're lamenting the concept of boutonnieres or wondering why on earth you have to have a cake-cutting photo at your reception, give this article a read. Hopefully, hearing about how weird wedding traditions have been throughout history will cheer you up.
1. Brides Could Be Auctioned Off At Mass Markets
Ancient Mesopotamia had a lot of legal and social customs about marriage, many of which included strict laws about dowries, engagements, and property division. The Roman historian Herodotus, while chronically unreliable in a lot of other ways, seems to have correctly recounted one particularly troubling tradition of the culture: bridal auctions.
In his Histories , Herodotus documents a custom that has now "fallen into disuse," where young, marriageable women were auctioned off in an annual bridal market. The women considered most beautiful were the first put on the block, and the "uglier" girls were sold along with "monetary compensation," presumably to make up for their lack of looks. Modern commentators have pointed out that this auction is weird for a number of reasons — it's even the basis of a theory called The Herodotus Paradox which is all about economic strategy and games. Mostly, though, it just makes me feel really, really sorry for everybody involved.
2. "Wedding Baths" Were A Really Big Deal In Ancient Greece
The ancient Greeks had a variety of wedding traditions that seem kind of ridiculous to us now, but in their time, they were taken dead seriously — and I mean that literally. A key part of the pre-wedding ceremony for brides was the "bridal bath." Evidently, water was carried in a vessel called a loutrophoros to the bride's chamber and used for a ritual bath. The ritual was so important that even women who died single were given the ceremonial baths post-mortemly.
The loutrophoros was a highly decorated, beautiful vessel, and many of them have actually been found on the tombs of young women who died unwed. The bridal bath was seen as one of the most important and symbolic parts of a girl's journey into adulthood. Because of this, a vase for bridal water would be put on the graves of women who never had the opportunity to marry.
3. In Rural Bulgaria, Entire Villages Of Couples Would Get Married At Once
Mercia MacDermott records an extremely efficient way of handling weddings in rural Bulgarian tradition: pick a suitable day, and then get everybody married at once. Of course, the celebration wasn't complete without gold-wrapped apples and an indignant rooster.
Apparently, an entire village would decide on the most auspicious day for all prospective marriages to take place, and the houses of the participants would be identified by red banners with gold-covered apples hoisted from the roof. On the chosen day, shots were fired in the air to signal "Go!" Then, all the couples would go to the church at once, accompanied by their banners and a ritualistic, good-luck rooster covered in strings of popcorn and peppercorns. The couples would all get married in succession, dance a group jig in the village square, then go home. How practical is that?
4. Couples Had To Bribe Children To Let Them Out Of Their Wedding Chapel
This one isn't actually all that ancient: George Monger records it happening as recently as 1953. But it's one of the many existing wedding traditions of "barring the way" that continue to happen in multiple cultures all over the world, from Kyrgystan's now-famous bride kidnapping to the Welsh tradition of laying obstacles in the road of bridal parties. However, the English version was arguably the most hilarious, because it involved bribing kids.
According to Monger, children were supposed to physically prevent the couple from leaving the church after they'd been married by locking the gates, putting obstacles against them, or just being general nuisances. The couple would only be let past once the groom had paid a "toll."
In Scotland, this tradition still goes on today as the ba'siller, a custom where money is given to boys who gather around the couple as they leave the church. The money is supposed to be used to "buy a football," but really it's just incentive for the boys to get the hell out of the way.
5. Bridesmaids Were Supposed To Protect The Bride From Evil & Test The Groom's Memory
Considering the amount of superstition surrounding weddings, it's not surprising that precautions were taken in many ancient societies to protect the bride from evil. One theory hypothesizes that this is why the bridesmaid position was created. Bridesmaids dressed identically to the bride so that evil spirits would be confused about which woman to curse.
Bridesmaids weren't only supposed to confuse the devil, though. In some societies, wedding games were played where the groom had to guess which of the identically-dressed women of the bridal party was his actual bride. One version documented in France in the 1850s explains that if his selection was incorrect, he wasn't allowed to talk to or dance with his actual bride for the duration of the night. In other cultures, he had to marry that woman instead of his betrothed. Yikes.