While it's fun to look back on weird old traditions of decades and centuries gone by, it's important to remember that some celebrations — even though they might seem super strange — were important and meaningful to those who celebrated them. "Traditions are meant to bring people together and celebrate, as odd as some of these may seem," lifestyle expert and author of Vibration Healing: Attain Balance & Wholeness * Understand Your Energetic Type, Jaya Jaya Myra tells Bustle. "All in all, they are supposed to bring good luck and prosperity, and who doesn't need more of that?"
But there were also plenty of traditions that were just straight up creepy, and, of course, sexist, even by old-fashioned standards. Think along the lines of "virgin tests," hazing practices, and harmful wedding traditions. The fact these are in the past is a totally good thing. And laughing at them in retrospect? Well, maybe that's all we can do.
It also helps to remember them, so that we can learn from past mistakes, and avoid similar creepy celebrations that were considered common in the communities of yesteryear. I mean, nobody needs to bring hazing back (and thank goodness it's being outlawed on many college campuses.) And nobody needs to hang their bloody sheets on their window to prove they were a virgin. (Yes, that really did happen.) Here are more creepy and hilarious things people used to celebrate, and get ready to cringe.
Back in the day, if someone didn't approve of a wedding, they would "celebrate" the marriage by trying to drive the couple mad, in what was known as a shivaree. Because that's one way to do it.
"Shivarees had their origins in medieval times and came to American several centuries later," psychic and spiritual counselor Davida Rappaport tells Bustle. "It was originally used as a protest of a marriage and people tried to break up the newly married couple. It later evolved into a hazing of a newlywed couple."
Usually the shivaree would take place on the couple's wedding night. "Their wedding guests would interrupt the couple’s wedding night yelling, singing, and banging pots and pans so the couple could not get any sleep or be able to consummate their marriage that night," Rappaport says. "In some cases, a couple might discover their hotel room was sabotaged — they may find gravel or rice in their bed and on the carpet, or towels, soap and light bulbs might be missing from their room." Even if it didn't break up the marriage, the couple would at least know what other people thought.
Another hilarious marriage tradition known as Blackening has taken place in Scotland for centuries — and still does to some degree today. "This is a pre-wedding ritual, where one or both of the couple are waylaid, bound, then covered with anything from flower to mustard to grease to soot, basically whatever is available, before they are then covered in feathers," says Myra. "The custom is rooted in the idea that a couple that can withstand this shame and embarrassment will be able to live a long and happy life together, and be able to deal with whatever comes their way."
This surprising custom (which is still practiced by some people in the Spanish village of Castrillo de Murcia today) is a little-known way of baptizing babies. "Instead of having a baby baptized ... parents will bring their babies out to this yearly festival where men dressed in scary masks and devil suits will jump over them," Myra says. "Babies are laid on pillows in the road, and men in devil suits jump over them in order to ward away evil spirits and bring blessings to the baby." While it doesn't hurt the baby, I certainly wouldn't want to be in their place.
During an Irish wake, family members would display their dead relative in their home. But that's not surprising part. "The coffin was placed in the home with flowers and/or candles around it," Rappaport says. "Family and friends would have a feast, get drunk, offer up toasts to the deceased, and tell stories about the deceased — mostly inappropriate." All while the body was right there.
This still happens today, but it's usually a bit toned down. "Today, most wakes, Irish or otherwise, are held at the home of the deceased’s family after the funeral where they offer the condolences and share memories over food and drink," Rappaport says. Hey, whatever helps the grieving process.
5The First Fruit
Hundreds of years ago, in medieval Europe, "lords and landowners had the privilege and right of 'plucking the first fruit' or taking the virginity of the young daughter of the farmer who worked his land," Rappaport says. "This was usually done just prior to her wedding to her betrothed." Only then was she allowed to marry her husband. "This was a very cruel practice; in that era, unless you were a lord or a landowner, you had no rights in society — you did as you were told."
6Testing A Bride's Virginity
OK, so it'll likely come as no surprise that many shocking practices from centuries gone by involved demeaning and disrespecting young women, including this wedding night "virgin test." As Rappaport says, "Historically, when kings or princes were promised virgins, the bedsheets were hung out of the window to prove that the bride was 'indeed a virgin' or show to people who needed to know." Because women in medieval times didn't have it hard enough.
"If the sheet was not bloodstained, it proved that the bride was not a virgin and that the groom was duped," Rappaport says. "I think this ritual still exists in many countries — some of which punish those who deceived the groom. If she was a virgin, they would celebrate."
7The Birth Of A Son
"In many cultures, historically and otherwise, the birth of a son was important," Rappaport says. "For King Henry VIII's situation, he needed 'an heir and a spare.'" And thus the royal wives would wait in agony during their pregnancy, hoping they'd bear a son. (And we all know what happened to the ones who ended up having daughters.)
If a son was born, and the King officially had his heir, the whole country would erupt in celebration, to welcome the future king.
While hazing still exists in some forms today, it used to play a major role in the formation of group camaraderie. "Hazing is usually considered a rite of passage for some groups — fraternities, sororities, and even the military," Rappaport says. "Hazing activities allow new pledges or members to do things that can prove embarrassing to them in order to be accepted as part of a group." If you can think it, it's probably happened to someone getting hazed.
And since hazing is often cruel, it's mostly been banned on college campuses. As Rappaport says, "Colleges have cracked down on the tradition or ritual of hazing and in many colleges it has been outlawed." So we can all be thankful for that.
While a few creepy traditions still exist in some form today, we're getting pretty good as a society at toning down our weirder traditions. And for good reason. Still, it's always interesting to look into the past, and see how far we've come.