If you wed in bleak November...

Last Updated 04 November 2011, 16:20 IST

I was at my friend’s daughter’s wedding. The ceremony was just complete and we were leaving for the reception to be held next door. The bride had wanted a very “traditional” wedding with all the usual rituals.

“But why choose November?” I had asked my friend. “Well, haven’t you heard the popular saying?” she replied laughing, “If you wed in bleak November, only joys will come, remember.”  I immediately remembered the old rhyme according to which December would have been even better, “When December snows fall fast, marry and true love will last”. According to the rhyme all months were more or less fine except for the month of May — “Marry in the month of May and you’ll surely rue the day.” I also recalled another rhyme that mentioned which days were the best for getting married:
“Monday for health, Tuesday for wealth, Wednesday best of all, Tuesday for losses, Friday for crosses, Saturday for no luck at all!”

Sunday was left out of this list because the Puritans of the 17th Century had banned it saying it was improper to celebrate on Sabbath day. Then there are rhymes about what colour a bride should wear:
Married in White, you have
chosen right,
Married in Blue, your love will
always be true,
Married in Brown, you will live
in town,
Married in Red, you will wish
yourself dead,
Married in Yellow, ashamed of
your fellow,
And so on …..

So obviously white is the best choice and has been a symbol of joyous celebration and purity since early Roman times.

There are many rituals, customs and traditions related to weddings. It might interest you to know how they came about. They are not religious but are certainly buried deep in history. Some of them can be traced back to Roman and Anglo Saxon times. Others owe their origin to folklore passed down generations.

The expression “tying the knot” also belongs to Roman times. The bride wore a girdle that was tied in knots which the groom had to untie. The wedding veil was part of the old tradition too. The father of the bride gave away the veiled bride to the groom who would be the first to lift it.

No one exactly knows when wedding rings were first worn. But we do know that it has been considered the symbol of undying love from the earliest times. At the beginning the brides wore rings made of hemp or rushes. But they spoilt easily. So the Romans used iron rings that were both strong and durable to symbolise the permanence of marriage. Iron rings were replaced by gold bands later on.  Similarly, diamonds were considered to be the best stones for engagement because people believed that it was created in the “Flames of Love”. The third finger of the left hand became the “ring finger” because the Romans believed that the vein in the third finger ran directly to the heart.  We now know that it is not a fact. Nevertheless, the tradition continues.

The newly weds are always given something old, something new, something borrowed something blue and a silver coin in the shoe. “Something old” meant, the couple’s friends would always stand by them; “something new” symbolised future health and happiness; “something borrowed” meant gifts from the family; “something blue” represented purity and the “silver coin” was to wish them wealth in their future life.

Cakes have been associated with weddings throughout history. During Roman times a thin loaf was broken over the bride’s head which symbolised fertility. In Britain the early wedding cakes were flat and round and contained fruits and nuts. During the Middle Ages it was customary for the wedded pair to kiss over a cluster of cakes. Later these small cakes were covered with icing, eventually culminating as the tiered wedding cake that we have today. Cutting the wedding cake was meant to symbolise their shared future.

Did you know that the term “honeymoon” originated from the times when a man captured his bride? In ancient times many of the marriages were by capture, not choice.  When it was time to take a bride, the man would carry off the girl of his choice to a secret place where her relatives could not find them.  While the moon went through all its phases (comprising 30 days) they hid from the searchers and drank a brew made from honey.  That is how the term “honeymoon” originated.

The groom would always have a warrior friend who would help him fight off other men who also wanted the same bride.  He would also help in preventing the bride’s family from finding the couple. He was the ‘best man’ in the wedding.  When the groom fought off his rivals he would hold on to his bride with his left hand and wielded his sword with his right hand. That is why a bride always stands on the left and the groom on the right at the time of getting married.

It was also customary for the bridesmaids to dress like the bride and the best man like the groom as they walked together to the church. This had a reason too. Brides were supposed to be particularly vulnerable to evil spirits. People believed that any evil spirit lurking nearby would get confused as to which was the actual bride and not be able to harm her or put a curse on her.

The practice of holding stag parties is not new either. Ancient Spartan soldiers were the first to hold them. The groom would feast with his friends the night before his wedding, bidding good-bye to the carefree days of bachelorhood and also swear continued allegiance to his comrades. All this makes us realise how our present is bound to the past. That is what makes these traditions all the more interesting.

(Published 04 November 2011, 16:20 IST)

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