What do we know about the wedding symbolism and what is behind every unique tradition of the big day? As a wedding planner, I often work with couples who don’t like some of the more classic wedding traditions. From the bride who wants to get married in a colourful dress to non-gold wedding rings, to the absence of sugared almonds and many other variations to a traditional wedding.
Although every wedding should be completely customised according to the spouses’ wishes, it is helpful to know what lies behind every traditional symbol that appears on the wedding day: let’s discover the wedding symbolism.
The symbol of eternal love: the yellow gold wedding rings
I will dwell a little on the symbolism of the rings since almost everyone knows their romantic meaning. Wedding rings are traditionally perfect rounded circles to symbolise the endless love that connects the couple.
Furthermore, if placed side by side, the two circles inevitably create an infinity symbol—another element of the mutual commitment of eternal love.
In most of Europe, the material is usually yellow gold. This is not only another symbol of the strongness and solidity of the relationship but also a value in front of God in the Christian tradition. Indeed, the areolae of the saints are perfect golden circles.
Although various wedding bands are common today – in rose gold, white gold, diamonds or platinum – yellow gold remains by far the favourite of Catholic spouses.
Although I’m sure, few of them know its deep symbolism!
White or colourful dress?
Within the wedding symbolism, the white dress is another element of which almost everyone knows the meaning: purity. It is no mystery that historically the bride must walk down the aisle chaste. It is precisely this virginity that is highlighted by the white colour of the dress.
However, not everyone knows that this tradition is not only exquisitely Christian and Jewish but also relatively new.
Since 1800, the white dress has become a practice in wedding symbolism.
It seems that the first bride to wear a white dress for her wedding in 1406 was Princess Philippa of England. But the tradition took hold only over 400 years later with the marriage of Queen Victoria of England in 1840.
In France at that time, white was even a symbol of mourning, as is the case today in India and China!
During the Middle Ages, the brides’ dresses were in precious fabrics, embroidered and very colourful, to symbolise the wealth of the birth family. For this reason, the bride often wore velvet and silk. Or the classic fur coat that we see so often in historical films.
Going even further back, in Roman times, the bride was characterised by a simple white tunic tied at the waist by a woollen belt knotted in the traditional Herculean knot. A knot which only her husband could untie! She completed the outfit with a saffron yellow surcoat.
Today, although white is rarely a symbol of purity, as it is traditionally understood, this colour still represents the new birth. The couple is reborn again in the family on the wedding day.
Indeed a profound symbolism, both in a Catholic and secular key!
Wedding veil symbolism
The veil that we see today as an almost essential accessory for the bride has a symbolic history that is not the most romantic, at least in the Middle Ages.
The veil was used in Ancient Rome to protect the bride from evil spirits and preserve the fertility and happiness of the future couple. For this reason, like the surcoat, the veil was also orange – or yellow or red – to represent the flames of the Goddess Vesta, protector of the hearth.
Furthermore, during the ceremony, the head of the groom was also covered by the veil.
If this is the romantic part of the story, the veil took on a decidedly more materialistic connotation in the Middle Ages. With the spread of arranged marriages, the veil had the sole purpose of obscuring the bride’s face until the ceremony to prevent her future husband from repudiating her because she did not appreciate its aesthetic appearance.
A quite materialistic function, right?
Fortunately, that time has ended. Today the symbolism of the wedding veil is associated with the same symbol as the white dress: the purity of the couple’s love.
Bouquet: good omen and protection
The symbol of the bouquet is linked to protection too. This very traditional element of marriage has an extremely ancient history.
In pre-Christian times, brides used to show up to the ceremony with a branch of myrtle and rosemary, symbols of good luck, fertility and loyalty. Over the centuries, the meaning stayed more or less the same. To chase away evil spirits – thanks to particular aromatic herbs – and protect the new family.
It is also said that deliberately aphrodisiac-smelling flowers were used in the Middle Ages.
Today the bouquet has wholly lost this meaning, becoming an essential accessory. Strictly in the same colours as the wedding theme!
But brides who pay attention to the symbolism of flowers are not uncommon. However, it would need a whole article to be analysed!
Garter: another strange wedding symbol
Like any wedding symbol, the history of the garter and its symbolism begins many centuries ago. We are in the 1400s when a superstition seems to have spread according to which making a garter directly from the fabric of the wedding dress – and wearing it on the wedding day – was a good omen for the couple’s fertility.
Later, however, the symbol was placed side by side – on the contrary – with that of chastity.
Finding the garter in the wedding room the day after the wedding meant that the marriage had been consummated during the first night, and the bride’s purity ended.
This is also a rather materialistic function!
Today, the garter tradition is linked more to the dimension of fun, with the classic game of the groom who takes it off the thigh of his new bride in front of relatives and friends.
Ribbon cutting: new life
The tradition of cutting the ribbon is not known throughout Europe but is quite common in the South. The wedding symbolism linked to cutting the ribbon – which we usually find at the door of the bride’s house – is twofold.
- The cutting of the umbilical cord with the birth family
- The finish line and the inauguration of a new part of the life
I must say that this tradition is used – and is charged with true meaning – by couples who choose not to live together before marriage.
In this case, the moment is fascinating!
Throwing of rice: fertility and abundance
The throwing of rice is one of the most classic wedding traditions. Its central symbolism is abundance, and it seems that this meaning comes from an ancient oriental legend. The legend – decidedly bloody – tells that in times of famine, the Genius of the Countryside tore his teeth out of desperation and threw them into the wasteland.
Shortly after that, white rice grains began to grow, and the people were fed. Rice, therefore, brings us back to a wish for fertility and material abundance for the future family.
In Ancient Rome, rice was replaced by the cheaper and more common wheat, but the symbolism remained the same.
It also seems that different types of rice are assigned to distinct symbols. If you are interested in learning more, I have discussed it in detail in this article.
Sugared almond symbolism: fertility!
In the case of sugared almonds, the wedding symbolism takes us – one more time – back to Ancient Rome. Here it was common for the guests to bring hard candies as a gift to the spouses to wish for wealth. As if they were coins!
A symbolism that during the Middle Ages underwent an evolution: no longer wealth but fertility. In the Middle Ages, the sugared almond was not yet as we know it but a simple sweet and soft candy that contained a coriander seed. And it was this matryoshka effect that made it a symbol of fertility!
Today, tradition states that sugared almonds should always be in odd numbers – so that the union cannot be divided. And they must also be strictly more than three.
- 3 to represent the couple and the future child
- 5 to represent fertility, longevity, happiness, wealth and health
Which number would you choose?
Flight of doves: eternal commitment
Did you know that doves remain faithful to their mate all their life? It is clear that the symbolism of the flight of doves is eternal love and loyalty to each other.
For the Greeks, they were also a symbol of purity and passion, while for Christians, they symbolise peace and a good omen. All perfect wishes for a wedding!
Flying over the animal rights aspect – which still deserves to be explored for a conscious choice – we must admit that in the wedding symbolism, that of doves is one of the most intense.
Cake and cake cutting: not just the beginning of the party
The moment of cutting the cake is the one that kicks off the real party. But even here, the meaning is actually deep. Indeed, the meanings!
Yes, something as fun as a wedding cake hides much more than cream and calories.
- The circular shape of the cake symbolises eternal love – as in the case of wedding bands.
- The levels of the cake, the difficulties of life that the couple will have to face together
- The catholic symbol of purity returns with that historian of wealth and prosperity in the white cream.
Indeed, refined white sugar was expensive and reserved only for the wealthiest families.
In the moment of cutting, however, the joined hands of the spouses represent their union in front of hardships. Traditionally, the bride should cut the cake and offer it to her husband, family, and groom’s family to establish herself as the new hostess. A tradition now considered outdated.
Today, the caterers themselves take care of cutting the cake and distributing it to the guests.
Wedding symbolism: what could you not give up?
As we have seen, history is intertwined with the legend when it comes to wedding symbolism, and nothing is as taken for granted as it seems. Each element has its place in marriage. But the couple will choose which of these symbols they want to bring to their big day. If all, some or…(almost) none!
However, I will be by your side to guide you in the magical world of wedding preparations.
By the way, have you already started? Contact me!