8 Bizarre Marriage Rituals From The Past That Make Smushing Cake Into Each Other's Faces Seem Totally Normal
Getting married is amazing, but getting married (sometimes) comes with a wedding, and a wedding comes with all sorts of expectations and traditions that can feel oppressive, even when you’re fully aware that those traditions are really, really dumb. It’s easy to say, “Screw tradition!” before you’ve started planning a wedding, but somehow, when you’re in the midst of it, it’s easy to get bogged down in thoughts like, “But if I don’t have a bouquet toss, will my Great Aunt Winifred be appalled??” Having been there, I have two pieces of advice: First, you don’t have to follow tradition. AT ALL. No, really, you don’t. No one will care if you change things up. (And if someone does have a problem with the fact that you’re forgoing the public garter removal, that’s their own problem.) Second, it might make you feel a bit better to realize that contemporary wedding traditions are a walk in the part compared to some of the strange customs that took place during weddings throughout history.
Keep reading for 8 odd, uncomfortable, and generally wacky traditions that brides and grooms of the past had to deal with. Some of these traditions are actually the basis for our current ones, while others were just weird.
Reading the banns, special licenses, and eloping to Scotland
The Marriage Act of 1753 instituted a law in England and Wales that required parental consent for people under the age of 21 to marry. Everyone, regardless of age, was required to marry in a church after publishing the banns, which took a number of weeks. The only other option was to get a special license, which could be procured from a high ranking church official (so to get one, you had to have ~connections~). This law was enforced in England and Wales, which meant that, naturally, Scotland became the Las Vegas of 18th and 19th-century England. If people wanted quickie weddings, without getting parental consent or having to wait for the banns, they eloped to Gretna Green, the town closest to the Scottish border. (People eloping to Gretna Green and/or getting special licenses are also essential plot points to approximately one gajillion historical romance novels.)
Best Men were supposed to fend off rivals
According to a 1910 book called The Origins of Popular Superstitions and Customs by T. Sharper Knowlson, the best man’s original purpose was not simply to make sure that the groom didn’t get too drunk to attend the wedding. Sometimes called a “bride knight,” the best man was there to defend the bride and groom against any rivals who might take it into their heads to try to kidnap the bride.
If you want to find a husband, sleep with cake
At one point, it was popular in Eastern European countries and other places for young women to sleep with slices of wedding cake under their pillows, with the belief that doing so would help them find husbands. (Those must have been some messy beds.)
Our ring finger is special because…
Knowlson catalogues two difference possible reasons for why the fourth finger on the left hand has been designated as the “ring finger” for a very long time. Some “ancients,” he suggests, believed that an artery from the heart ran to that finger only, so the ring was thus connected to the heart. Another, more practical theory, is that people started putting the ring on their left hands because they use their left hands less, and that they chose the fourth finger particularly because it doesn’t get a lot of use, either. There’s also an advantage in the fact that the fourth finger can’t lift without the other fingers, meaning that a ring on that finger would have a bit of extra protection.
There was a whole thing with shoes
According to Knowlson, at Anglo Saxon weddings, it was standard for the bride’s father to give one of her shoes to the groom. The groom would tap her on the head with it “in token of his authority.” In an article for Mental Floss, Jen Doll, author of Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest, explains that, instead of a bouquet, brides would throw shoes at their bridesmaids to determine who would be the next to marry. (I dislike bouquet tosses on principle, but if the bride was throwing kickass shoes instead of flowers, I might have to get board.)
If you liked your marriage, you got bacon
Knowlson describes an English tradition which dictated that if you were happy in your marriage after a year and a day, and publicly declared it, you would get a “flitch” (a slab) of bacon. He explains that one writer “traced [the custom] to an ancient institution of the lord Fitzwalter, in the reign of King Henry III. [1216 – 1272], who ordered that ‘whatever married man did not repent of his marriage, or quarrel with his wife, in a year and a day after it, should go to his priory and demand the bacon, on his swearing to the truth, kneeling on two stones in the churchyard.’” Knowlson seems appalled by the tradition and finds the whole thing vulgar. He asks, “But why bacon, the curious reader will ask? To that question there is no answer available.” Um, dude. It’s BACON.
If you were “always a bridesmaid, never a bride,” you were literally cursed
Doll explains that, historically, there were significant superstitions attached to being a bridesmaid. If you served as a bridesmaid three times without finding a husband in the 16th century, “it was believed that evil spirits had cursed you.” To get rid of the curse, you’d have to be a bridesmaid at another four weddings. That’s a lot of ugly sea foam gowns.
The wedding party got very…up close and personal
In medieval France and England, the wedding party had the job of “fingering the stocking,” a completely obscene sounding phrase that refers to checking the bride’s stockings for proof that she and the groom had consummated the marriage. I know. Eww.
Images: 20th Century Fox; Giphy (5)