By Ingrid Gearhart, Photos by M. Felt Photography
“You have to do this … it’s tradition!”
For any engaged couple, this well-meaning phrase can quickly become an anxiety-inducing thorn in your side. Wedding planning may have started out well, but as the to-do list reaches epic proportions and the budget blooms out of control, the idea of eloping looks more and more appealing. Then, your soon to be mother-in-law announces it’s tradition to have a black tie dinner. Your bridesmaid scolds you for even considering not throwing the bouquet. It starts to feel like you have to do every tradition from gold-embossed party favors to elaborate centerpieces to the sparkler send-off.
We get so wrapped up in the list of traditions we could do, we never stop to ask if they’re something we should do. After all, where did these traditions come from? And are they even traditions at all?
If asked to describe a traditional wedding, images of a church ceremony and a ballroom reception probably come to mind. As it turns out, the most traditional of American weddings is one held at home. In the eighteenth century, access to churches was limited, so couples wed in their front parlors and had small DIY receptions in the backyard. That’s right, DIY isn’t a new trend invented by Martha Stewart; it’s how weddings were originally thrown. The catered reception with all its lavish trappings, on the other hand, is truly a modern convention that didn’t begin until the 1950’s. This means the plated black-tie dinner is actually less traditional than a semi-casual backyard buffet.
Other “must-do” wedding staples such as cake cutting or throwing the bouquet have fascinatingly bizarre origins. A wedding cake, for example, was originally thrown at the bride and not eaten. The tradition began in Ancient Rome when grooms smooshed the cake into the bride’s hair for fertility and good luck.
Flower bouquets, as might be expected, come with pungent histories. In the fifteenth century, women bathed infrequently, therefore a bouquet of flowers was a form of perfume to mask her odor. This concept may have been borrowed by the earlier fourteenth century tradition of holding potent strings of garlic during a wedding ceremony, with the hope that the smell would protect a bride and groom from the Plague. Then there’s my favorite bouquet story from Scandinavia, a land filled with a rich magical folklore. In this tradition, the bride would spend the morning collecting stinky wildflowers; later, she’d carry them down the aisle to ward off evil trolls who were known to eat wedding guests!
The ubiquitous white wedding gown seems like a tradition that would go all the way back to antiquity. However, brides simply wore the best dress they owned, no matter the color. White dresses weren’t popularized until the 1800’s, when Queen Victoria wore a white lace gown. This was daringly out-of-vogue at the time, seeing that the most popular wedding dress color in seventeenth century England was red. If you want to start a tradition, take a page out of Queen Victoria’s handbook and wear the exact opposite of what everyone else is wearing.
Tradition is a flexible word. So-called wedding essentials are always evolving, and doing something simply because “it’s traditional” can start to feel like an empty ritual. The true question to ask is this: What does the tradition mean to you and your fiancé? I have learned that the most meaningful wedding traditions are the ones rooted deeply in the values of the couple and their family.
I have seen a couple who cut their cake with a samurai sword because it fused together their Japanese and American heritage. Another couple played board games at their reception instead of dancing, because that’s how they’ve always celebrated being together as a family. I have seen a bride walk down the aisle by the single mom who raised her. I’ve seen groomsmen wear rubber boots during the ceremony as a symbol of the fishing trips they took with the groom.
Making a tradition your own is about infusing your personal story into your wedding day, and letting that be the foundation of your new marriage.
The wedding industry sometimes focuses on trends and calls them traditions. It loves to suggest wedding favors, and ceremony programs, and fifteen-layer cakes. But when you’re standing at the altar—if you want to have an altar at all—the traditions that matter will be the ones that resonate with you or your fiancé. Everything else is just noise.
What really gets me excited is when I see a couple focus on their own personal love story—not the one they read about in a magazine. The truth is, there’s no way you can do this wrong. It’s your wedding. Pick the traditions that matter to you and make them your own. No one can possibly throw this shin-dig the way that you will … and it’s going to be perfect.
Cake- Mary Lou Timpson
Catering- Kitchen 435
Design & Styling- Forevermore Events
Dress- Illume Gowns
H&M- Sarah Boling, Lunatic Fringe
Invitations- Hey Hay Designs
Photographer- M. Felt Photography
Rentals- St George Party Rentals
Video- A. Green Films