The summer months represent the peak of wedding season in the United States.
While Americans routinely decide to create their own customs such as the recent craze of choreographing a dance for the wedding party at the reception, we also follow customs that have been handed down through generations. However, a closer look at how these customs came to be may free you to not follow tradition and save yourself some money.
Many of today’s wedding customs are rooted in the fact that weddings used to be less about love and more about business. Simply put, weddings were a business arrangement, and this can be seen through a variety of customs we still embrace.
Consider the following wedding customs:
The groom did not see the bride before she walked down the aisle…
…because the families feared he may not want to go through with the arrangement once he saw her. Weddings were often simply for an agreeable transfer of land, and the groom likely never met the bride until the wedding day.
Likewise, the bride wears a veil…
…to further mask her appearance from the groom she has never met. He would only be able to lift her veil and see her face after the marriage was official.
The father walks his daughter down the aisle…
…in reference to the custom hundreds of years ago of the groom paying to transfer the bride to his possession.
The role of the best man…
…was to assist the groom should someone try to steal the bride before the marriage was official. The best man had to be ready to keep the bride from others who may steal her from the groom with his life.
The wedding cake was often not eaten by the bride and groom…
…but thrown at the bride as a symbol of fertility.
Likewise, the tradition of brides carrying flowers down the aisle…
…is another symbol of fertility.
Perhaps one of the most interesting (and expensive) customs revolves around the engagement ring.
When women were considered property to be transferred, the groom paid to “own” her. Part of his payment was often in precious stones, which eventually came to be the engagement ring.
Up until the early 1900s, a woman was expected to be a virgin when she became engaged, though she often lost her virginity before the wedding. If the groom broke off the engagement before the wedding but had taken the woman’s virginity, she could sue and get some money from him.
As this custom faded, the tradition of the engagement ring took its place.
Again, if the man broke off the engagement, the woman would have some financial security in the form of the engagement ring because she would be less marriage worthy without her virginity intact.
In the 1930s, the DeBeers diamond company fought back against a two decade long slump in the diamond jewelry industry with a campaign to convince Americans of a “new trend” of wearing diamond rings. They enlisted Hollywood actresses, and by 1945, many American women looked forward to a diamond engagement ring.
DeBeers is also responsible for the notion that men should spend a portion of their salary on the diamond ring. (They initially said one month’s salary, but now popular wisdom is two to three month’s salary.)
As a former English teacher, one of my favorite short stories is Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” which is about a small village that maintains an annual sacrificial stoning of one of their residents without really knowing why they do it except that it is tradition. (The tradition is rooted in ancient times when a sacrifice was made to ensure the success of the year’s crops, and it is clearly not needed in the modern time in which “The Lottery” is set.)
Young girls dream of their weddings—the gorgeous white wedding dress, the engagement ring, the flowers, the reception—for most of their lives until their weddings actually happen. As marketers have become more savvy and people’s expectations rise, our weddings have become more and more expensive.
If you want an expensive wedding, that is your prerogative, but don’t be like the villagers in Shirley Jackson’s story, blindly (expensively) following tradition without knowing exactly why you are doing it.
Once you know the history behind our most prevalent wedding traditions, a carefree wedding on the beach doesn’t sound so bad.