Weddings are steeped in traditions, rituals and hidden meanings. Many of the trappings of the event are taken for granted but the original reasons for their inclusion were often practical and down to earth. For instance the old boot or shoe tied to the couples car is a throwback to the time when a father would give the slipper he used to beat his daughter to her new husband. Here are some more traditions linked to weddings.
The word ‘wed’ comes from the old English word ‘Weddian’, which means to pledge. Wedding is derived from ‘weddung’ which means the time for a pledge to be made. Combined to two words literally mean in old English ‘the time when a pledge of marriage vows are made’ – or getting married for short.
Before medical science discovered how the circulatory system functioned, people believed that a vein of blood ran directly from the fourth finger on the left hand to the heart. (This belief allegedly dates to the 3rd century BC in Greece. Because of the hand-heart connection, people named the putative vein descriptively vena amori, Latin for ‘the vein of love’. Due to this tradition, it became acceptable to wear the wedding ring on this finger. By wearing rings on the fourth finger of their left hands, a married couple symbolically declares their eternal love for each other. This has now become a matter of tradition and etiquette. However a reason to wear it right was that left = sinistra, sinister (left = bad; right = good).
Traditionally, the father of the bride paid a dowry, part of which was the wedding feast. The dowry usually included sheep, pigs, horses and cattle, and of course his daughter. The whole affair was in effect a sale. The dowry was a sort of insurance policy against the marriage failing – in which case the father could legally demand back all the animals along with his daughter. The practice officially ended in 1882 when women could legally own their own property. Fathers of the bride are no longer expected to pay for everything.
What’s the Scottish nuptial?
Scotland holds a romantic pull for many, especially rootless Canadians, Australians and Americans. Even Madonna and Guy Richie discovered their hearts were really tartan. There was the film Four Weddings and a Funeral that helped the romance of Scottish nuptials, and of course there’s Brigadoon and all that whisky. And it is still legal to get married without parental consent. Plus there is the quirky history of Gretna Green. So teenage lovers… find Scotland on the map and start eloping.
Why is Gretna Green linked to marriages
The Marriage Act of 1753 formalised weddings in England and Wales so they could be held in a church and ended the abused practice of Fleet or prison weddings. It meant you had to be 18 years old and have parental consent to get hitched – but not in Scotland. The first village north of Carlisle (as you enter Scotland) is Gretna Green. The law in Scotland allowed a village blacksmith or even a publican to conduct a wedding service, so hot-blooded young runaway English couples beat a path to the Caledonian community’s smithy. It continued up until 1940, when finally the practice was officially ended. A pity.