Irish Wedding Traditions
The wedding ceremony in modern western traditions tends to
have more in common from one nation to another than there are differences.
Even most of the prevalent customs such as the bride's white
dress, rings, wedding cake, flowers and attendants as well as the feast and
pranks played on the couple as they make their final exit are pretty much
But where did these customs and traditions come from?
Every one knows a bride wears a veil, but do you know why?
Where did the tradition come from of carrying the bride over
the threshold? And why do brides carry flowers?
Here we have some of the more common wedding traditions -
where they came from and how they started.
Many of the traditions have several explanations but these are
the most common.
Some date back many hundreds of years so their origins are not
fully known but most have their roots in ancient superstitious or pagan
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Irish believed that if the
sun shone on the bride, it would bring good luck to the couple.
It was also lucky to hear a cuckoo on the wedding
morning or to see three magpies.
the wedding ceremony, it was important that a man and not a woman be the first
to wish joy to the new bride.
Some other Irish superstitions and customs are:
It's good luck to have your birthstone in your engagement ring, even if that
stone is otherwise thought to be an unlucky gem.
The earrings you wear on your wedding day will bring you luck
& happiness ever after.
It's lucky to tear your wedding dress accidentally on your
It's good luck if a happily married woman puts the veil on you, but bad luck
to put it on yourself.
It's lucky to be awakened by birds singing on your wedding
If you look at the sun when you leave for your wedding, your children will be
Leap Year Proposal
The right of every women to propose on 29th February each leap
year, goes back many hundreds of years to when the leap year day had no
recognition in English law (the day was 'lept over' and ignored, hence the
term 'leap year').
It was considered, therefore, that as the day had no legal
status, it was reasonable to assume that traditions also had no status.
Consequently, women who were concerned about being 'left on the shelf' took
advantage of this anomaly and proposed to the man they wished to marry.
It was also thought that since the leap year day corrected the discrepancy
between the calendar year of 365 days and the time taken for the Earth to
complete one orbit of the sun (365 days and 6 hours), it was an opportunity
for women to correct a tradition that was one-sided and unjust.
Selecting the Date
In Ireland the last day of the old year is thought specially
lucky for weddings. Childermas Day or Holy Innocents is, on the contrary, a
very unlucky one.
An old superstition holds that May is an unlucky wedding
month, because of its association with the Virgin Mary, yet it is one of the
most popular months for weddings, both in America and Ireland.
A sunny day is lucky, and a rainy one, unlucky. Christmas &
New Year's Eve are lucky times to get married.
You Marry on Monday for wealth, Tuesday for health, Wednesday
the best day of all, Thursday for crosses, Friday for losses and Saturday no
day at all.
Throwing the Bouquet
The custom of the bride tossing the bouquet to the unmarried
guests dates from the 14th century and probably originated in France.
The woman who catches the flowers is supposedly the next to
The same is supposedly true when the bride tosses her garter
to the unmarried men.
Something old, new, borrowed and blue
The full wording of this popular bridal attire rhyme, which dates back to
the Victorian times is 'something old, something new, something borrowed,
something blue and a silver sixpence in your shoe'.
Something old refers to wearing something that represents a link with the
bride's family and her old life.
Usually, the bride wears a piece of family
jewelry or maybe her mother's or grandmother's wedding dress.
Wearing something new represents good fortune and success in the bride's
The bride's wedding dress is usually chosen, if purchased new, but it can
be any other new item of the bride's wedding attire.
Wearing something borrowed, which has already been worn by a
happy bride at her wedding, is meant to bring good luck to the marriage.
Something borrowed could be an item of bridal clothing, a handkerchief or an
item of jewellery.
Wearing something blue dates back to biblical times when the
colour blue was considered to represent purity and fidelity.
Over time this has evolved from wearing blue clothing to
wearing a blue band around the bottom of the bride's dress and to modern times
where the bride wears a blue or blue-trimmed garter.
Another ancient practice in some parts of Ireland is that of
firing rifles and other weaponry into the air as the couple pass to salute the
bride; of course over the past centuries this has occasionally been observed
with devastating results.
Honking the horns of the cars in the procession from the
church replaces the firing of guns.
Carrying the Bride over the Threshold
There seems to be two explanations for this tradition where
the groom carries his bride over the threshold when entering their home as a
married couple for the first time.
The first is to protect the bride from evil spirits that were
thought to be lying in wait under the threshold.
The second explanation relates to Roman times when it was
believed that if the bride stumbled when entering the newlywed's home for the
first time, it would bring bad luck and harm to their marriage.
So carrying the bride across the threshold would prevent this
from happening, though no reference can be found of what happens if the groom
stumbles or falls while carrying the bride.
And a silver sixpence in your shoe
Placing a silver sixpence in the bride's left shoe is a symbol
of wealth. This is not just to bring the bride financial wealth but also a
wealth of happiness and joy throughout her married life.
In the past, an Irish 5 pence coin could be worn in place of the sixpence
in the shoe.
The bride's white gown has become so traditional that many cannot imagine
anything else but this is relatively recent development in the Celtic lands.
Anne of Brittany made the white wedding dress popular in 1499.
In the 19th century colored bridal dresses were quite common at country
Before that, a woman just wore her best dress. In biblical
days, blue (not white) represented purity (as mentioned above), and the bride and groom would wear
a blue band around the bottom of their wedding attire.
The Wedding Veil
The origin of the wedding veil is unclear but it is thought
that it predates the wedding dress by centuries.
One tradition comes from the days when a groom would throw a
blanket over the head of the woman of his choice when he captured her and
carted her off.
Another is that during the times of arranged marriages, the
bride's face was covered until the groom was committed to her at the ceremony
so he could not refuse to marry her if he didn't like her looks.
Therefore, the father of the bride gave the bride away to the
groom, who then lifted the veil to see her for the first time.
It is also thought that the veil was worn to protect the bride
from evil spirits that would be floating around on her wedding day.
These various origins have all evolved into the tradition that
the veil covers the bride's face throughout the ceremony until the minister
pronounces the couple man and wife and the groom then lifts the veil to kiss
his new wife.
Third finger, left hand
A bride's engagement ring and wedding ring are traditionally
worn on the third finger of the left hand. Although the origin of this
tradition can not be precisely pinpointed there are two strongly held beliefs.
The first, dates back to the 17th century where during a
Christian wedding the priest arrived at the forth finger (counting the thumb)
after touching the three fingers on the left hand '...in the name of the
Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost'.
The second belief, referring to an Egyptian belief that the
ring finger follows the vena amoris, the vein of love that runs directly to
the heart, means that wearing the rings on this finger is closest to the
Banns of marriage were required in areas under British rule,
including Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The banns consisted of an announcement
in church for three Sundays prior to the wedding.
This prevented people from marrying in haste and also gave any
who might object time to learn of the match.
Giving three months notice to the registrar is still a legal
requirement in Ireland.
In some places and times it seems to mean betrothal and in
others genuine marriage. Many interpret it as a trial marriage or a step
beyond betrothal but not nearly as permanent as marriage.
It is often repeated that this handfasting for a year and a
day would normally lead to regular permanent and valid marriage but if either
parties chose to leave, the relationship was null.
Even if children had been brought forth these children were
considered lawful offspring of both parents.
Handfasting, it is claimed is a holdover from pre-Christian
Celtic marriage laws.
Today handfasting is now the familiar part of the ceremony
where the person officiating the ceremony asks "Who gives this woman to be
wed?" and then takes her hand from her father or whoever is giving away the
bride and clasps it to the hand of the groom.
In olden days the priest or minister would wrap the clasped
hands in the end of his stole to symbolize the trinity of marriage; man and
woman joined by God. With God's grace in time another trinity would be
manifest; mother, father and child.
The Celts have always been good at seeing things in threes.
This symbolic binding together in marriage evolved into a the practice of
wrapping the clasped hands with a cord or an embroidered cloth, usually made
especially for that purpose
First on the Dance Floor
At the evening celebrations, the bride and groom traditionally
dance first on their own to a waltz. However, as ballroom dancing is not so
popular these days, the newlyweds usually dance to a favourite romantic song.
During the playing of this song, it is traditional for the
groom to dance with his new mother-in-law and then with his mother, while the
bride dances with her new father-in-law and then with her father.
The best man also joins in dancing with the chief bridesmaid
and the ushers with the other bridesmaids when the bride and groom first
After the first dance, all the guests are invited to join the
newlyweds on the dance floor.
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Throwing the Rice or Confetti
The origin of throwing confetti over newlyweds predated
Christ since it originates from the ancient Pagan rite of showering the happy
couple with grain to wish upon them a 'fruitful' union.
Pagans believed that the fertility of the seeds would be
transferred to the couple on whom they fell. The throwing of rice has the same
The word confetti has the same root as the word 'confectionery' in Italian and
was used to describe 'sweetmeats' that is, grain and nuts coated in sugar that
were thrown over newly weds for the same Pagan reason.
In recent years, small pieces of coloured paper have replaced
sweetmeats, grain and nuts as an inexpensive substitute but the use of the
word confetti has remained.
Despite the longevity of this tradition, it is on the verge of extinction
because many register offices and churches no longer allow it because of the
Why the Bride stands on the left
During the marriage ceremony, the bride stands on the left and
the groom on the right.
The first marriages were by capture, i.e., the groom would
kidnap the woman, and take her away from her tribe with the help of a warrior
friend, his best man, who would help him fight off other men who wanted this
woman, and also help him prevent her family from finding them.
The groom would put himself and his bride into hiding, the
honeymoon, and by the time the bride's family found them, the bride would
already be pregnant.
When the groom fought off other warriors who also wanted his
bride, he would hold onto her with his left hand, while fighting them off with
his sword in his right hand.
Bridesmaids, Best Man
The bridal party has many origins, one of which comes from the
Anglo Saxon days. When the groom was about to capture his bride, he needed the
help of his friends, the "bridesmen" or "brideknights."
They would make sure
the bride got to the church and to the groom's house afterwards. The bride
also had women to help her, the "bridesmaids" or "brideswomen."
Leaving the Wedding
In centuries past, an Irish bride returned home by a different
path with her new husband than she took to the church or wedding with her
This may have begun as an attempt to avoid pranks (which often
involved kidnapping), but also symbolizes that she travels a new road in life