No matter where you go in the world, you will find a culture rich in traditions. It’s part of the human experience, creating ritual and tradition to pass on down the generations and keep us connected with our ancestors. And there is no place you will see more tradition and ritual than at a wedding. Every culture has their own specific wedding or marriage traditions and at Riki Dalal, we are privileged to see a huge range of them come to life in our multicultural brides. So this month, we start our ‘wedding traditions explained’ series with a country close to home – England.
In the UK, it is almost a given that before you tie the knot, you will engage in a gender divided celebration with your nearest and dearest. For the men, this is called a Stag Night, and for the women, a Hen Do. The concept of a stag night originally came from the Roman Empire when they settled in Britain and was originally known as a ‘Bachelors dinner’. During this celebration, the men would gather for a feast to toast their comrade, before going to kidnap the bride – though there’s not much information on that last part! For women, the hen do is a relatively new phenomenon, with the earliest dating back to the 1800’s. Originally it was not connected to weddings at all – instead, it was just a term used for a gathering of women to ‘have tea, chitchats and gossip’ and only became a pre-wedding tradition around 1976 thanks to an article in the New York Times.
Today, bridesmaids help the bride plan and prepare for her big day, but in previous years their jobs were been very different. An old English custom was to have a village maid dress as similarly as possible to the bride and accompany her as her protector on the way to the wedding ceremony. This would stop any rejected suitors from kidnapping the bride or attempting to steal her dowry. It was also an ancient Roman law that several witnesses had to accompany the bride and groom to the wedding, and this was supposedly to confuse the evil spirits trying to get to the couple. That’s why so many older wedding photos have bridesmaids dressed uncannily like the bride – it wasn’t seen as tacky back then, it was vital!
The veil is a tradition that carries across a few different cultures, but in each one, it means something slightly different. In English weddings, a veil is a thin piece of netting, lace or material worn in the bride’s hair, with the idea being to cover her face until the ceremony is over (though not many brides wear the veil over their face today). This was originally done to conceal the beauty of the bride until she was married, as well as symbolising innocence and virginity, and as a barrier to ward off evil spirits. Today, many English brides view the veil as a beautiful accessory rather than a symbolic item. Funnily enough, the symbology and importance of the veil also tie into our next tradition.
Not seeing the bride before the wedding day is one that most newly wed couples still honour – even if they bunk every other tradition. The idea that the groom must not see the bride on the day of the wedding until they meet at the end of the aisle dates back a few centuries, and when you hear the reasoning you might decide to do away with it. It stems from the days of arranged marriages, when the bride, essentially, didn’t have a say at all. The couples were kept from seeing each other until the ceremony to prevent the groom (or bride) from running away if they didn’t like their arranged match. Today, it’s more to do with an air of mystery, and not seeing each other for a prolonged period before the wedding adds to the excitement for many couples, and is said by some to bring good luck.
Of course, there are many other English wedding traditions we haven’t managed to touch on today, all dating back to various points in our history. But these are the most well-known and generally still observed of them. We may come back and look at some of the more archaic English wedding traditions in the future, or some of the more bizarre ones, but that is a story for another day. Until then, if you have any questions about wedding traditions or preparing for your special day, please get in touch with us at one of our boutiques.