Bridal traditions and customs: what do they all mean?

Weddings are the perfect time for a bride and groom to show their personalities and express their beliefs to the people they love. Today, many couples look toward their heritages as a renewed source for the customs and traditions they will use in their wedding ceremony.

When planning your ceremony, you may encounter many traditions that you have seen practiced before, but might be unsure of their origination. What, exactly, do all these time-honored traditions really symbolize?

The wedding ring
According to the Brides Book of Etiquette, the circular shape of the wedding ring symbolizes never-ending love. According to folklore, the ring protected the bride against evil spirits; if the bride or groom dropped it during the ceremony, bad luck would follow. Originally, rings were made of rushes, hemp or braided grass, that had to be replaced every year. Romans chose more durable iron to symbolize the permanence of marriage. Gold always has been a popular, but more expensive choice, symbolizing lasting beauty, purity and strength. In ancient Egypt, before coins were minted, gold rings were used as currency and as a symbol of the groom’s wealth and intention to wed. To show that he trusted his wife with his money, the Egyptian husband placed a gold ring on the third finger of her left hand.

The bridal veil
Originally, the bride’s veil symbolized her youth and virginity. Veils helped the bride remain modest and hide herself from jealous spirits. Even today, in Muslim countries in the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe, a young man is bound by constraints of religious modesty to conduct his entire courtship while his bride-to-be remains veiled. He’s not permitted to see her face until after the wedding.

The white wedding
White has been a symbol of celebration for some 2,000 years, since the Roman era. In 19th-century Victorian times, white was a sign of affluence (it was assumed that she would only be able to wear a white dress once or twice before it was soiled). At the beginning of the 20th century, white became synonymous with purity. Today, the color white once again symbolizes joy on the wedding day; women who are remarrying may choose among many shades of white—from bright white to ecru to champagne.

The bridal handkerchief
Not all brides walk down the aisle with one, but if you choose to, it is considered a good omen. Early farmers thought a bride’s wedding-day tears were lucky and brought rain for their crops. Later, it was believed that a bride “who cried at her wedding#&148; would never shed another tear about her marriage.

Something old, something new

This custom stems from an old English rhyme, “Something olde, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a sixpence in her shoe. . .#&148; Brides throughout the decades have taken care to include these touches in their bridal outfit, a nod to tradition and superstition. The symbolism: continuity, optimism for the future, borrowed happiness, fidelity and good fortune.

Something blue
Brides in ancient Israel wore blue ribbons on the borders of their fringed robes to denote modesty, fidelity and love—ideals still associated with that color. Blue is also the color that represents the purity and innocence of the Virgin Mary.

A coin in the shoe
This custom originated in England, where coins were given to young ladies as love tokens. A gentleman burnished the reverse side of the coin, then engraved the initials for his beloved. In Sweden, the bride’s father places a piece of silver in her left shoe; her mother a piece of gold in her right, so that she may never lack in luxuries. Royal brides traditionally have a tiny silver horseshoe sewn in the hem of their gown for good luck.

The kiss
From the days of ancient Rome, the kiss was a legal bond that sealed contracts, and thus, the betrothal. Christianity incorporated the betrothal ceremony into the marriage ritual. It also was believed that when a couple kissed, part of each of their souls was left behind in the other when their breath was exchanged.

Written by Natalie Donohoe of Marilyn’s Keepsakes ( and provided by the Association for Wedding Professionals International