I'm sure we all have experience of weddings, whether they be our own, ones we have attended or had a role in, or even those we have witnessed in popular culture or on the television. But does a wedding ceremony mean the same to everyone? Do we all follow the same customs and traditions around the globe?
The dictionary definition of a wedding, according to Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary is a marriage ceremony and the meal, party or festivities that usually follow or accompany it. But is that the same across the globe? We will all have our own ideas on what a wedding ceremony constitutes and this will differ between person to person, across different cultures, nations and has altered and evolved over time. Every wedding will have aspects different to others whether they take place in the same town, or on the other side of the globe with wide variations in traditions, superstitions, customs, attire and etiquette.
Just how long has the institution of marriage been around for, and has it always involved a wedding ceremony, particularly as we know it today?
I think there is a lot more to learn about the history of the wedding ceremony and it's many representations across the globe.
So buckle in, we are about to go on a whistle stop tour of the wedding! And let's not forget a very important aspect, wedding gifts!
So as we know, a wedding is a ceremony and celebration during which marriage is conducted and formalised. The first recorded marriage activity dates back to an incredible 2350 BC, a whopping 4000+ years ago! But these early 'weddings' weren't anything like we know them today. The primary intention of these ceremonies were to ensure that a woman became a man's 'property' as such, and therefore ensuring that children born within this marriage were biological heirs of the husband.
In Ancient Greek and Roman times, if a wife was unable to bear children during a marriage, she could be 'returned' and the man was free to marry someone else instead in pursuit of an heir. It makes it sound more like a purchase from Argos than a marriage doesn't it?! These early marriages didn't involve religion, romance or as you can imagine, any semblance of a celebration! In fact the modern connotation of the wedding is very much a recent thing.
Marriages historically were more of a transaction, where a woman was promised to a man and became his possession, relinquishing her own identity and free will in order to serve the needs of her husband. So much so, that even the concept of love in a marriage is a relatively new thing. In the UK it was the Victorian era that brought about the concept of choosing a partner for love and companionship, over connecting families via social status and for keeping up appearances.
Although, despite this change in view for the foundation of a marriage, the courtship looks a long and laborious process with etiquette and social rules aplenty. Young unmarried women were not permitted to go out alone in order to meet with a man, they must always be escorted by an elder and have their mother's express permission to go out. A far cry from the modern times we know today. Meetings were often at balls or dances as presence at such showed the intention of the women to meet a suitor.
Notably, the only touch permitted between a man and a woman who were unmarried was the offer of a hand for steadying if the road on which they were walking was uneven. Flirting, by use of a fan however, was socially acceptable! I can imagine this was seen as being rather risqué! Once the couple were engaged, they were permitted some time alone in order to take a walk, and could even be bold as to be allowed to hold hands in public!
The 'white wedding'
It is also important to remember that it was the Victorian era that gave us the 'white wedding' that grew in popularity in Western cultures. This tradition dates back to Queen Victoria and her wedding to Prince Albert in 1840, during which she wore a white gown trimmed with lace.
The wearing of white then became a custom or fashion from that point forward as brides sought their choice of gown to reflect the choice of the Queen. Prior to that, wedding dresses or gowns were chosen specifically to reflect the bride's social standing and the wealth of her family. Brides were often seen to be wearing luxurious fabrics and extravagant colours in a display of wealth. I suppose this could be seen as something that hasn't totally disappeared in modern day Western culture. It is often said that your wedding dress will be the most expensive dress you ever buy.
I can't say mine was that extravagant in comparison to most out there, but even so for the amount it cost, I should be sitting wearing it eating my Sunday roast each week rather than it being quite unceremoniously dumped in the loft! It was also quite impractical to wear a white dress, not only because if you are anything like me, white becomes a magnet for mess, it was also a dress you would probably only wear once (as with mine!) Previously, if you were unable to afford the luxurious fabrics in order to fashion a one-off gown, you typically wore your best dress regardless of the colour.
Despite the white gown being a relatively modern introduction, Queen Victoria was not actually the first to wear a white gown, it was just her influence that made it popular. The very first documented instance of a white gown was way back in 1406 when Phillipa of England wore a white cloak made from silk. Mary Queen of Scots also donned a white gown in her marriage to Francis the Dauphin of France. This was reportedly as it was her favourite colour, this is despite white being the colour of mourning for French Queens at that time! I can imagine people had a lot to say about that! So we can thank the Victorian era for marriages based on love, and the white wedding.
But then how did we make it to a wedding becoming a celebration after so much history of the wedding being more of a transaction? We've seen how the Victorians changed our views and traditions around marriage in the UK, but what about the rest of the world. Does marriage in some cultures still revolve around a transaction maybe? What fascinating traditions and customs are out there for us to discover
Well let's go and find out!