“I take thee to be my lawful wedded Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part”… How many times those wedding vows were pronounced?
A wedding is the ceremony in which two people are united in marriage. Wedding traditions and customs vary greatly between cultures, ethnic groups, religions, countries, and social classes. Most wedding ceremonies involve an exchange of wedding vows by the couple, presentation of a gift (offering, ring(s), symbolic item, flowers, money), and a public proclamation of marriage by an authority figure or leader. Special wedding garments are often worn, and the ceremony is sometimes followed by a wedding reception. Music, poetry, prayers or readings from religious texts or literature are also commonly incorporated into the ceremony.
A white wedding is a traditional formal or semi-formal wedding originating in Europe. The term came from the white color of the wedding dress, which first became popular with Victorian era elites, after Queen Victoria wore a white lace dress at her wedding; however, the term now also encapsulates the entire Western wedding routine, especially in the Christian religious tradition, which generally includes a ceremony during which the marriage begins, followed by a reception.
The wedding is often followed by a reception or wedding breakfast, in which the rituals may include toasting the newlyweds, their first dance as spouses, and the cutting of a wedding cake.
The traditional white wedding wasn’t defined only by the color of the dress. The wedding of Queen Victoria’s daughter Victoria, to Prince Fredrick William of Prussia in 1858 also introduced choral music to the processional when standard practice had been to have music of any kind only during a party after the wedding ceremony.
After World War I, as full-scale formal weddings began to be desired by the mothers of brides who did not have a permanent social secretary, the position of the “wedding planner” who could coordinate the printer, florist, caterer, seamstress, began to assume importance. Bride’s Magazine began to be published in 1934 as a newspaper advertising insert called So You’re Going to Get Married! in a column titled To the Bride, and its rival Modern Bride began publishing in 1949. Now a whole industry surrounds the provision of such weddings. The groom may be a mere detail: the new editor of Modern Bride began her inaugural column, without irony: “I really did have the wedding of my dreams, the wedding that had been floating around my head for years before I met my husband.”
The full white wedding experience today typically requires the family to arrange for or purchase printed or engraved wedding invitations, musicians, decorations such as flowers or candles, clothes and flowers for bridesmaids, groomsmen, a flower girl, and a ring bearer. They may also add optional features, such as a guest book or commemorative wedding leaflets. Additionally, they are very likely to have a celebration after the wedding ceremony, normally featuring a large white wedding cake.
Traditional weddings require, in addition to the bride and groom, a marriage officiant, which is a minister, priest, rabbi, imam, or civil officer who is authorized to perform marriages.
Typical white weddings also include a wedding party, which consists in some or all of the following:
- Groomsmen or ushers: One or more friends or family members who assist the groom, usually men. The chief groomsman is called the best man, and is given a place of honor. A woman (such as the sister of the groom) is called an honor attendant.
- Bridesmaids: One or more friends or family members who support the bride. The chief bridesmaid may be called a maid of honor or matron of honor. A girl too young to be marriageable, but too old to be a flower girl, is called a junior bridesmaid.
- Flower girl: A young girl who scatters flowers in front of the bridal party.
- Ring bearer: An attendant, often a young boy, who carries the wedding rings.
Typically, these positions are filled by close friends of the bride and groom; being asked to serve in these capacities is seen as an honor, and typically entails some expense.
When the guests arrive for a wedding, the ushers, if any, help the guests take their places. In a typical white wedding ceremony, which is derived primarily from the Anglican tradition, the bride and groom will stand side by side at the front of the church or other venue throughout most or all the ceremony. Consequently, some guests prefer to sit on the side closer to the person they know best. Typically, this means that the bride’s family sits on the house left and the groom’s family on house right. The front rows are generally reserved for close family members or friends.
Some couples make a ceremony of having their grandparents, step-parents, and parents escorted to their seats immediately before the wedding procession begins. In other cases, these relatives form part of the wedding procession.
Depending on the country, her age and situation, and her personal preferences, the bride may walk alone or be escorted by her father, both of her parents, one or more relatives she wishes to honor, or the groom. In Swedish white weddings, the bride and groom usually go down the aisle together. Similarly, some couples choose to have the groom escorted to the altar by his family.
Whether the bride is the first or the last of the wedding party to enter the church varies by country. In the US, the bride is typically last, being preceded by the rest of the wedding party. In the UK, she leads the procession, followed by any bridesmaids, flower girls and page boys. Sometimes the groom is already present in the church; other times, he and any groomsmen form part of the procession. The music played during this procession is commonly called a wedding march, no matter what songs are played.
If the wedding is part of a religious service, then technically the service begins after the arrival of the participants, commonly with a prayer, blessing, or ritual greeting. During the ceremony, each partner in the couple makes marriage vows to the other in front of the marriage officiant. The ceremony might include the singing of hymns or performance of a popular song, a Bible reading, or a poem.
After the wedding ceremony itself ends, the bride, groom, officiant, and two witnesses generally go off to a side room to sign the wedding register or the state-issued marriage license. Without the signing of the register or the marriage license, the marriage is not legally recognized.
Afterward, guests may cheer the departure of the couple from the church by throwing flower petals, confetti, birdseed, or rice over them.
“With this ring I thee wed” – Wedding Rings
The use of a wedding ring has long been part of religious weddings in Europe and America, but the origin of the tradition is unclear. Historians like Vicki Howard point out that belief in the “ancient” quality of the practice are most likely a modern invention. “Double ring” ceremonies are also a modern practice, a groom’s wedding band not appearing in the United States until the early 20th century.
In several traditions, the best man or maid of honour has the duty of keeping track of a couple’s wedding rings and to produce them at the symbolic moment of the giving and receiving of the rings during the traditional marriage ceremony. In more elaborate weddings, a ring bearer (who is often part of the family of the bride or groom) may assist in the ceremonial parading of the rings into the ceremony, often on a special cushion.
In older times, the wedding rings were not only a sign of love, but were also linked to the bestowal of ‘earnest money’. According to the prayer book of Edward VI: after the words “with this ring I thee wed” follow the words ‘This gold and silver I give thee’, at which point the groom was supposed to hand a leather purse filled with gold and silver coins to the bride.
Historically, the wedding ring was rather connected to the exchange of valuables at the moment of the wedding rather than a symbol of eternal love and devotion. It is a relic of the times when marriage was a contract between families, not individual lovers. Both families were then eager to ensure the economic safety of the young couple. Sometimes it went as far as being a conditional exchange as this old (and today outdated) German formula shows: ‘I give you this ring as a sign of the marriage which has been promised between us, provided your father gives with you a marriage portion of 1000 Reichsthalers’.
The double-ring ceremony, or use of wedding rings for both partners, is a relatively recent innovation. The American jewellery industry started a marketing campaign aimed at encouraging this practice in the late 19th century. In the 1920s, ad campaigns tried introducing a male engagement ring, but it failed due to the necessity that its advertising campaigns make secret appeals to women. Marketing lessons of the 1920s, changing economic times, and the impact of World War II led to a more successful marketing campaign for male and female wedding bands, and by the late 1940s, double-ring ceremonies made up for 80% of all weddings, as opposed to 15% before the Great Depression.
After this, the celebrations shift to a reception at which the newly married couple, as the guests of honor, and the hosts and perhaps members of the wedding party greet the guests in a receiving line. Although now commonly called a reception no matter the style of party, wedding celebrations range from simple receptions to dinner parties to grand wedding balls.
Food is served, particularly including a wedding cake. Wedding cakes are often multi-tiered layer cakes that are elaborately decorated with white icing. Cutting the wedding cake is often turned into a ritual, complete with sharing a symbolic bite of the cake in a rite that harks back to the pagan confarreatio weddings in ancient Rome.
During the reception, a number of short speeches and/or toasts may be given in honor of the couple.
If there is dancing, the bride and groom, as the guests of honor, are expected to be the first people to begin dancing. This is usually termed the bridal waltz, even if the couple has arranged for a different style of music. In Denmark, it is still normal to dance the first dance as a couple to waltz. Some families then contrive a series of arranged dances between the newlyweds and their parents, or other members of the wedding party, with guests expected to watch the performances.
At some point, the married couple may become the object of a charivari, a good-natured hazing of the newly-married couple. This is most familiar in the form of tying tin cans or a sign saying “Just Married” to the bumper of the couple’s car, if they depart in their own car rather than a hired one.
As the guests of honor, the newly married couple is the first to leave the party. It is typical to throw rice, a symbol of fertility, at the couple as they depart.
The First Dance
The “first dance” of a married couple is a popular element at many post-wedding celebrations in modern European and American traditions. Exactly like an old-fashioned ball, the idea is that the married couple, as the guests of honor at a dance, open the dancing, not that they perform a choreographed duet for spectators. First dances, because they are intended to open the dance for all guests, are inappropriate and therefore omitted when there is no other dancing planned for the guests.
In the past, the first wedding dance was commonly a waltz. In modern times ballroom dancing is no longer a widespread skill, and rehearsing the “first dance” has become a lucrative business for dance studios and independent dance instructors. Today more popular dances include the foxtrot, merengue, and swing. Alternatively, many couples just do a “slow dance”. More recently, some couples have been known to introduce a surprise into their dance to shock and humour their audience e.g. by dancing to a song in a mock disco style
The Wedding Cake
A wedding cake is the traditional cake served at wedding receptions following dinner. In some parts of England, the wedding cake is served at a wedding breakfast, on the morning following the ceremony. In modern Western culture, the cake is usually on display and served to guests at the reception. Traditionally, wedding cakes were made to bring good luck to all guests and the couple. Modernly however, they are more of a centerpiece to the wedding and are not always even served to the guests. Some cakes are built with only a single edible tier for the bride and groom to share. Wedding cakes can certainly range in size, from a small cake that feeds ten people, to a very large cake that will feed hundreds, all depending on the wedding.
Modern pastry chefs and cake designers use various ingredients and tools to create a cake that will reflect the personalities of the couple. Marzipan, fondant, gum paste, buttercream, and chocolate are among some of the more popular ingredients used. Along with ranging in size and components, cakes range in price. Cakes are usually priced on a per-person, or per-slice, basis. Prices usually range from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars, depending on the Pastry Chef hired to make the cake. Wedding cakes and cake decorating in general have become a certain pop culture symbol in western society; many TV shows like Cake Boss or Amazing Wedding Cakes have become very common and are trending in today’s popular culture.
Wedding Cake History
The contemporary wedding cake has grown out of many traditions. One of the first traditions began in Ancient Rome where bread was broken over the bride’s head to bring good fortune to the couple. In Medieval England cakes were stacked as high as possible for the bride and groom to kiss over, if they successfully kissed over the stack they were guaranteed a prosperous life together. From this the Croquembouche was created. The myth behind this cake tells that a Pastry chef, visiting Medieval England, witnessed their tradition of piling sweet rolls between the bride and groom which they would attempt to kiss over without knocking them all down. The pastry chef then went back to France and piled sweet rolls up into a tower to make the first Croquembouche. The modern croquembouche is still very popular in France however it is common to place the croquembouche tower on a bed of cake and make it one of the top tiers of the wedding cake. This traditional French wedding cake is built from Profiteroles and given a halo of spun sugar.
Traditionally the bride would place a ring inside the couples portion of the cake to symbolize the acceptance of the proposal. During the mid 17th century to the beginning of the 19th century the “bride’s pie” was served at most weddings. Guests were expected to have a piece out of politeness, it was considered very rude and bad luck not to eat the bride’s pie. One of the traditions of bride’s pie was to place a glass ring in the middle of the dessert and the maiden who found it would be the next to marry, similar to the modern tradition of catching the Flower bouquet.
Bride’s pie eventually developed into the bride’s cake. At this point the dessert was no longer in the form of a pie and was sweeter than its predecessor. The bride cake was traditionally a plum or fruit cake, the myth that eating the pie would bring good luck was still common but the glass ring slowly died out and the catching of the flower bouquet took that meaning. The action of throwing the bouquet has its roots in the Ancient Greek myth of the Apple of Discord. Fruit cakes were a sign of fertility and prosperity which helped them gain popularity because all married men wanted to have plenty of children. The bride’s cake eventually transformed into the modern wedding cake that we know today. In the 1600s two cakes were made, one for the bride and one for the groom. The groom’s cake eventually died out and the brides cake turned into the main cake for the event. When the two cake were served together, the groom’s cake was typically the darker colored, rich fruit cake and generally much smaller than the bride’s cake. The bride’s cake was usually a simple pound cake with white icing because white was a sign of virginity and purity. In the early 19th century, when the bride’s cakes were becoming more popular, sugar was coincidentally becoming easier to obtain. The more refined and whiter sugars were still very expensive therefore only the wealthy families could afford to have a very pure white frosting, this showed the wealth and the social status of the family. When Queen Victoria used white icing on her cake it gained a new title, royal icing.
The modern wedding cake as we know it now originated at the wedding of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, in 1882; his wedding cake was the first to actually be completely edible. Pillars between the cake tiers did not begin to appear until about 20 years later. The pillars were very poorly made from broomsticks covered in icing. The tiers represented prosperity and were a status symbol because only wealthy families could afford to include them in the cake. Prince Leopold’s wedding cake was created in separate layers with very dense icing. When the icing hardened the tiers were then stacked; this method had never been used before, and it was a groundbreaking innovation for wedding cakes at the time. Modern wedding cakes still use this method, but because of the size of today’s cakes, internal support is added to each layer in the form of dowels.
Billionaire Real Estate mogul Donald Trump and Melania Knauss’s fantastic wedding celebration featured a 5 foot high 50-pound, seven-tier orange Grand Marnier chiffon cake with a light Grand Marnier butter cream filling, and topped with 3,000 white-icing roses. The cake was designed by Mar-a-Lago pastry chef Cedric Barbaret and the couple opted not to have the traditional “bride and groom” cake topper.
Princess Mette-Marit’s 140-kg Wedding Cake. At the wedding of Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon and Mette-Marit in Oslo, the wedding cake weighed 140 Kg, measured 2.69-metre and consisted of 7 tiers, frosted and decorated with Viking ships. The cake was laden with raisins and rum.
Kate and William wowed their royal wedding guests with a magnificent creation by the renowned Fiona Cairns – 17 individual fruit cakes decorated in elegant scroll work and piping!
Wedding cakes have been present at wedding ceremonies for centuries. They were not always the focus of the event and often came in different forms, like pies or bread. There has always been a lot of symbolism associated with the wedding cake. The earliest known sweet wedding cake is known as a Banbury cake, which became popular in 1655. During the Roman era unsweetened barley bread was used as the wedding food and the groom would break the piece of bread in half over the brides head symbolizing “breaking of the bride’s virginal state and the subsequent dominance of the groom over her.” One of the most obvious symbolic traditions is the cake’s white color to symbolize virginity and purity. The white color has been attached to wedding ceremonies since the Victorian era when Queen Victoria chose to wear a white wedding dress at her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840. The wedding cake was originally known as the brides cake therefore the color white became common because the cake needed to reflect the bride.
The cutting of the cake is a task full of symbolism. The cake was originally intended to be distributed among the guests by only the bride because consuming the cake would ensure fertility. As weddings grew and the number of guests increased this task became a joint venture, the groom needed to help cut the growing cake and distribute it among their guests. Layers of cakes began to pile up and the icing would need to support the weight of the cake making is very difficult for one person to cut. The groom would assist the bride in this process. Once this tradition began the bride and groom would share a piece of cake before distributing it to the guests to symbolize their union and their promise to forever provide for each other.
The wedding cake is surrounded by superstitions. In a traditional American wedding, maidens would be invited to pull ribbons that are attached to the bottom layer of the wedding cake. Out of all the ribbons, only one contains a charm or a ring, and whoever gets the charm will be the next person to marry. In other countries, the wedding cake is broken over the bride’s head to ensure fertility and bring good fortune to the couple. Also, most people today think that eating the crumbs of the wedding cake would give them good luck because the wedding cake symbolizes happiness and good life to the newlywed couple.
There are also myths that most bridesmaids have on dreaming their future husbands. Hopeful bridesmaids would take a piece of cake home and place it under the pillow. Some bridesmaids would sleep with the pieces of cake in their left stocking and the rest are under their pillows after passing the pieces of cake through the bride’s wedding ring.
In the medieval era, wedding cakes were constructed in rolls and buns that were laid on top of each other. The groom and bride would attempt to share a passionate kiss on top of the stack of rolls to ensure fertility and have good fortune. In the eighteenth century, newlywed couples would try to keep the cake until their first anniversary to prevent them from marriage problems in the future. This is one of the reasons why cakes in the eighteenth century were made of fruits and blended with wine