British Wedding Traditions!

“Britain has a great history of culture, and we look forward to finding more ways to incorporate it into modern-day weddings!”

There are a lot of wedding traditions we do today that come from Britain, and not just the trend of white dresses from Queen Victoria! The UK is a country rich in culture, and we thought today we’d dive into some of the historic traditions from its different parts.

Hands tied with decorated rope in hand-fasting ceremony.

Let’s start with the Celts! Celtic traditions have a mix from the country, some of which are being incorporated into modern-day ceremonies. A hand-fasting ceremony sounds like something in which you might abstain from eating, however, the term refers to betrothal or wedding. The ceremony consists of the couple standing together as their wedding guests form a circle around them. There is no clergy required — this was less a religious ceremony and more a chance for the couple to devote themselves to each other , outside of an official event. The couple said their vows and their hands would be gently bound together with a cord, or strip of cloth; thus originating the term “tying the knot”. Originally this was a trial marriage contract that lasted for a year and a day — that way if the marriage didn’t work, the couple went their separate ways. That isn’t how it works now, but people are involving hand-fasting ceremonies into their wedding plans, either as part of their connection to Celtic culture, or simply because the ceremony appeals to them. Another tradition still in use from those with Celtic heritage is the Quaich (Kw-ay-k) cup or Loving Cup. A two-handed cup was used in wedding feasts which symbolised sharing between the couple. The cup is presented with both hands and the recipient must receive it with both hands. This tradition is great for incorporating Celtic heritage into your wedding, along with the handfasting ceremony.

A lot of Welsh wedding traditions faded away during the Industrial Revolution, but some we still know of are being incorporated into more modern weddings, such as a bride carrying myrtle leaves in her bouquet. These symbolise love, and were adopted by Kate Middleton in her royal wedding bouquet! An older tradition was that the bride would give her bridesmaid a cutting to a plant. If that plant began to bloom, they were soon to become a bride themselves, quite similar to tossing the bouquet after the ceremony. Welsh brides didn’t actually toss a bouquet though — they carried a pin which was attached to their wedding gown. On the day of the wedding, they would toss the pin over their shoulder, and the first one to find it would be the next to marry!

Flowergirl running toward groom’s wedding party.

At the ceremony, the bride would also walk down the aisle with the wedding party, closely followed by flower girl who would sprinkle the floor with petals — this signifies a happy route for the couple once they’re married. There are also some superstitious traditions — for example, if a Welsh bride is woken on her wedding day in the morning by a bird’s singing, this was seen as good luck. At the ceremony, if the bride’s dress was torn then this would be seen as good luck and predict a happy future for the couple. Another superstition test was taken before the wedding was even planned; the couple would place a shovel on top of a fire with two grains of wheat on it. The shovel would then heat up and the grains of wheat would pop from the heat — if they jumped separately, they would go their separate ways. However, if the grains jumped off together, then the couple would be married!

The Scottish have time-honoured traditions, some of which are well known like kilts, and some of which are a little bit different, such as the correct procedure for the bride to leave her house for the wedding, which is right foot forward. The bride also hides a sprig of white heather in her bouquet, as a sign of good luck. A quirkier tradition is known as ‘The Wedding Scramble’; as the bride steps into her car, her father tosses a handful of coins for the children to collect, which is believed to bring good financial fortune! Another is a tradition originating in Fife, Dundee and Angus, wherein a bride sits upon a stool and has her feet washed and dried by an older married woman. However, for the groom in Fife, this involves sitting in a tub of water while his legs are covered in grease, ash and soot! Thankfully another tradition requires crossing running water; the procession of the wedding party would be preceded by a piper or fiddler, the groom would walk with the maid-of-honour and the bride with the best man. Upon return from the ceremony, the couple would cross running water twice to ensure good luck for their marriage. Of course, there are some other traditions we might incorporate into our modern-day events, such as Penny Weddings, wherein the guests bring all the food and drink, allowing the couple to splurge on a decadent cake! There’s also the romantic tradition of the groom gifting his bride with a luckenbooth, a brooch which is given as a love token, usually made of silver and engraved with two hearts combined.

There are more comforting traditions, such as the historic Gretna Green runaway marriages. In the mid-18th century, a law was approved in England that tightened marriage arrangements. With this law, couples could only marry without their parent’s consent at the age of 21, and their marriage had to take place in a church. Scottish law was quite different — with a marriage declaration or handfasting ceremony, you could marry on the spot, with the only requirements being two witnesses and assurances from the couple that they were free to marry. With such a relaxed law by comparison, there was soon a rush of young couples running away from England in order to be wed. At the time, Gretna Green was the first village in Scotland, on the main route from London, so naturally this was where the couples were wed — and so became tradition! To this day you can still be married in Gretna Green and even have your ceremony over the famous anvil which wed many a runaway romance.

Scottish bride and groom.

An original Irish wedding tradition was a handfasting ceremony, overseen by a person of high standing within the community. The tying of the hands with rope, ribbon or lace, represented their union which would only grow stronger, and this ceremony would coincide with important Irish festivals like Lúnasa (LOO-nuss-uh, marking the start of the harvest season), where young couples would exchange ‘love knots’ as the intention to marry. Another tradition is that the bride would carry a lace handkerchief, which would later be their first-born’s bonnet at their christening. The handkerchief can be embroidered for personalisation such as the date of the couple’s ceremony, or their initials/names. A wedding ring could often be a Claddagh (clad-uh) ring; originating in the 17th century, the Claddagh ring came from the village of Claddagh in County Galloway in Ireland and symbolised love, loyalty and friendship in its design. Of course, a popular sight at aemmalawsonphoto wedding is the grand wedding cake, and the Irish had their own take on it as well. Traditionally, an Irish wedding cake is a triple-tier fruitcake, soaked in whiskey with raisins, currants, candied cherries and many more spices and fruits! Though there is more choice available nowadays, you can still incorporate this tradition to fit your Irish heritage by having the top tier as fruit cake, leaving your guests with options. Just remember to book fruitcake in advance — real Irish fruitcake needs to sit for several weeks before being served!

Wedding Fruitcake decorated with sugar flowers.

A lot of English traditions still take place today, such as proposals. For straight couples, the man is to propose to his partner with a ring. If she accepts, she must wear it on the ring finger of her left hand. Tradition also states that the woman can propose but only on the 29th of February — 2020 is a leap year, so if you’re still waiting for a ring ladies, why not pop the question? After the proposal, the date of the wedding is set, and it is customary to send the invitations, or ‘banns of marriage’. This is from an Old English word, meaning ‘to summon’ The banns were more of a marriage notice than an invitation to celebrate — its purpose was to announce the wedding in case anyone had any objection to it. Marriage was only considered legally valid if the reading of the banns occurred prior. On the day of the wedding, an English bride wears a white bridal dress (a tradition taken from Queen Victoria’s wedding day) and a groom will wear a suit. Obviously you don’t have to wear these to your own wedding — these are just English traditions! The bride also sometimes has a decorative horseshoe, worn on her wrist or sewn into the hem of her dress. It was given for good luck, though an actual iron horseshoe is a little heavy to carry nowadays! When the bride and groom left the ceremony, the guests could throw wheat over their heads as a sign of bounty and fertility. This has evolved into confetti, which in turn is something being personalised for unique wedding celebrations, such as using bubbles instead of confetti, or autumn leaves.

And of course, there’s the old rhyme describing what the bride should have on her in order to bring good luck to her wedding day; “Something old, Something new, Something borrowed, Something blue, And a silver sixpence in her shoe,”. This is a great way to incorporate some English heritage into your wedding day, whilst keeping your own style and personality in your attire. A great example of this was the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding, where Kate Middleton wore an old-style Carrickmacross lace wedding gown, a new pair of diamond earrings, the borrowed tiara of the Queen, and a blue ribbon was sewn into her dress. It isn’t public knowledge if she wore a sixpence in her shoe, but we think it may have been uncomfortable if she did! If you’d like to go along with the full rhyme, you might try glueing a sixpence to your shoe instead to ease your comfort.

We love that Britain still has a great history of culture, and look forward to finding more ways to incorporate that culture into modern-day weddings! What a great way to involve your heritage in a celebration of union with your partner. Will you be looking to add any of these traditions to your wedding? Let us know in the comments, or via our Facebook!

See you next week.

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