The Origins of Modern Wedding Traditions

Ever wonder who thought it was a good idea to throw rice at a happily married couple as they left the altar to live out the rest of their lives together? There are many fun (and strange) wedding traditions. While you might not use all of the customs listed below at your wedding, it’s fun to see how these time-honored traditions came to be.

Throwing Rice

No, it didn’t start with The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Before rice became popular, some newlyweds had oats or grain thrown at them to encourage fertility. Eventually rice became the most popular, but recently other options have included pelting the newlyweds with seeds, lavender, flower petals, or bubbles (yes, bubbles).

 The Garter and Bouquet Toss

Garters come in adorable designs and varieties. Pieces of the dress were considered to be good luck and, back in the day, guests would follow the newlyweds to the bedroom hoping to grab a piece of the dress before the newlyweds consummated their marriage. This strange tradition continues today with the bride throwing her garter into a crowd. Traditionally, garters were used to keep a woman’s stockings up. Nowadays, when a bride removes her garter and throws it to a waiting crowd, it is believed that the person who catches the garter will be the next to find a spouse! If you ask me, this sure beats following the newlyweds to their bedchamber!

The bouquet toss has another origin. For a short while, there was a fad of hiding a glass ring in the wedding cake. The lucky guest who bit into the cake with the glass ring was destined to find a spouse. After a few medical mishaps and lawsuits brought on by guests biting into glass concealed by layers of decadent wedding cake, a new (less dangerous) tradition was born: tossing a floral bouquet. This safer tradition still carries with it the superstition that the person who catches the bouquet will be the next to marry. I think the garter toss and the bouquet toss are lovely traditions… ones that are much preferred to their voyeuristic and orally painful origins.

 Wedding Cake

In the Roman Empire, bread was broken over the couple to bring prosperity and luck. Later, cakes were stacked on top of each other as high as possible and if the couple could successfully kiss over it, their marriage would be a success. The cake was often a fruitcake, whereas today it is available in a variety of much tastier flavors (mmmm… chocolate).   


In the 9th century, Pope Nicholas I was the first to declare that engagement rings were required before a marriage could take place. Over the years, rings contained separate halves of a coin and various stones meant to symbolize the couple’s love. Diamonds, which are the most valuable gemstone today, did not gain popularity until the 19th century when a plethora of them were found in South Africa. Now everyone wants their engagement rings to shine bright like a diamond!

As for wedding rings, ancient Egyptians put silver or gold rings on what is commonly known as the left “ring finger” because it was thought that this finger on the left hand had the vein that led straight to the heart. An iron ring was used for everyday use while the more expensive rings were reserved for the wedding and special occasions.  

 The Wedding Party

If you’re a theatre geek, you might want to bring back this dramatic tradition. It used to be that grooms would send out their groomsmen to distract and fight off the bride’s family so the groom could quickly wed his “captured” bride. Once weddings actually started being planned out, bridesmaids were introduced to help the bride get ready. While I like the idea of having both groomsmen and bridesmaids (or two sets of one for a same-sex wedding), part of me wants to see a bunch of groomsmen (or bridesmaids) fight of his or her future spouse’s family so he or she can capture and wed his or her true love!


In medieval era weddings, flowers were placed on flower crowns and used in bouquets mixed with different herbs and spices to ward off bad spirits. It wasn’t until the late 16th century that flowers began being used to adorn churches and other parts of the ceremony.    




Gretchen Gales