Wedding Traditions Explained

Wedding coordinator Nora Sheils joined us to share some stories of how our modern-day wedding ceremony draws on traditions centuries old.


  • Started with the Greeks when brides were still young ---group of older more experienced women to help.  Surrogate mothers.
  • In early Europe, role was to symbolically defend the bride against evil spirits—so they all dressed alike.

Best Man/Groomsmen

  • As marriages were historically accomplished by capture (the groom would kidnap the woman), a warrior friend was often employed.

Who Stands Where?

  • Traditionally, the bride stands on the left, the groom on the right. (Although the Jewish wedding tradition reverses this.)
  • When the groom fought off warriors who also wanted his bride, he would hold onto her with his left hand, while fighting them off with his sword in his right hand.

The Wedding Ring

  • Ancient Greek belief that a vein in the 3rd finger of the left hand ran directly to the heart.
  • Pope Innocent III instituted a waiting period between engagement and marriage in the 13th century and also insisted that a “wedding ring” be used in the wedding ceremony.

The Kiss

  • Christian Belief--Symbolizes the swapping of souls between the bride and groom. Even earlier than this Christian belief
  • Romans used a kiss to seal a contract. The kiss was considered legally binding
  • Church of England had to kiss the minister before she smooched the groom. "Now, I may kiss the bride.

Wedding Flowers

  • Before the use of flowers in the bridal bouquet, women carried aromatic bunches of garlic, herbs, and grains to drive evil spirits away
  • Over time, these were replaced with flowers, symbolizing fertility and everlasting love.

The Veil

  • Guarded the bride from evil spirits
  • Also stemmed from the days of arranged marriage when the face of the bride was to remain hidden from the groom.


  • In Rome, the first wedding cakes were loaves of wheat bread. During the ceremony, bread was broken over the bride’s head as a blessing for long life and many children.
  • In medieval England, wedding guests brought small cakes to the ceremony as a gift for the newlyweds. The cakes were stacked in a pile, as high as possible

For more information, visit Nora's website.


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