When it comes to the booming multibillion-dollar wedding industry, it can be hard to decipher real tradition from merchant-fabricated sales tactics. Without question, the wedding industry has piled on the notion of paying big bucks in order to preserve tradition, when in actuality, many of those high-priced traditions, such as the diamond engagement ring, don't go back much further than to the 1920's.
Roots of Tradition
Nevertheless, some traditions are authentic. Many of these traditions have evolved from old ideas that we may find to be a little strange today. Many societies have viewed the bride, in particular, as existing in a vulnerable state, and in order to protect and preserve her, she has been disguised, captured, adorned and even attacked by the guests to preserve good luck when going into a marriage.
A Pungent Bouquet?
Have you ever witnessed a bride walking down the aisle and clutching a bouquet of garlic and dill? Until modern times, brides all carried garlic and dill. The practice most likely originated from the time of the Plague, when people clutched the herbs over their noses and mouths in a desperate effort to survive. As protective powers served to provide comfort, the herbs were incorporated into the ceremony to signify renewal. Over time, brides added better-smelling blossoms to the arrangement, and new definitions subsequently evolved to attribute to each type of flower.
The Garter Toss
Apparently this practice was devised as a method of providing protection for the bride from all the wedding guests. Derived from a Medieval tradition called "fingering the stocking," guests would actually enter the wedding chamber and check the bride's stockings for signs that the marriage had been consummated. And in France, wedding guests would actually rush the bride at the altar to snag a piece of her dress, which was considered a piece of good luck.
Such weddings ended with a less than happy bride at the altar, clothed in the remnants of her gown. Tossing out the garter became a method of pacifying the mob and saving the bride.
The necessity of a veil for the bride came from the notion that she's vulnerable to enchantment and so the veil serves to hide her from evil spirits. Roman brides were customarily covered by flame-colored veils to actually scare off those spirits. In arranged marriages, there is the threat that the groom, who is possibly seeing his bride for the first time, won't be happy with what he sees. The veil preserves decorum in the short term. In certain religions, the veil is a sign of humility and respect before God during the austere ceremony. Victorians turned that reverence into a status symbol, as the weight, length and quality of the veil was a sign of the bride's status. Royal brides had the longest veils and the longest trains.
Today, it’s safe to assume that the groom has seen his bride and won't be disappointed, and that the only spirits will be the ones served at the bar during the reception. The veil has become more of a finishing touch in wedding fashion. It's the metaphorical icing on the cake that brings the whole ensemble together.