Irish Wedding Toasts

Irish Weddings and Traditions

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 universal.

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 beliefs.

Irish Superstitions

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.

After 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 wedding day.

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 morning.

If you look at the sun when you leave for your wedding, your children will be beautiful.

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 marry.

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 new life.

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.

Honking Horns

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.

Wedding Gowns

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 weddings.

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 heart.

Banns

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.

Handfasting

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 change.

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 symbolic meaning.

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 mess.

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 father.

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 as well.

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