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  • Writer's pictureEvie West

Wedding Traditions : What are they and do I have to do them?

When it comes to planning your wedding, a lot of people worry that they have to do certain things in order for it to be a wedding. Well let me tell you straight away, this is NOT the case! There are so many different traditions and customs that have taken place at weddings across the decades (and even centuries) but that doesn’t mean to say that you have to include them in YOUR wedding! Now, of course there are certain things that you have to do in order to make your marriage legal and there may also be certain elements of a wedding that you need to include for your religion or culture; but you may find that you even have some flexibility here too.

I’m going to show you some of the wedding traditions that we have seen here in the UK over the past few years, and ways that you could adapt them to suit you – if you’re not sure that you want to scrap them all together!

Wearing a White Wedding Dress – Queen Victoria was one of the first to wear a white wedding dress in England when she married Prince Albert, and the trend quickly took off. The white dress is meant to symbolise the purity of the bride; however, there are so many gorgeous colours to choose from nowadays. You can opt for a blush, a latte colour, champagne or even something bolder like blue!

Having Bridesmaids – Bridesmaids were there to literally help protect the bride, whether that was from evil spirits or bandits on the way to the wedding. It was tradition for them to be dressed in white too, so that they acted as decoys. You don’t have to have any bridesmaids, if you don’t want; or you could have a mix of your friends in your wedding party. It may be that you have your male best friend there to support you on your big day.

Bride and Groom with the bridemaids and bouquets

Having a Receiving Line – Receiving lines were the traditional way for the bride and groom to talk to every single one of their guests, and also a way for them (and their parents) to thank everyone for attending. Receiving lines are time consuming, and usually guests are enjoying the drinks reception instead of lining up to say hello! A great way to ensure that you still see each of your guests is to go around between tables during the wedding breakfast – either to have different courses at different tables, or purely to chat to guests between courses.

Not Seeing the Bride/Groom Until the Ceremony – This dates back to arranged marriages when the bride and groom weren’t allowed to see each other before they met at the altar. However, it is a tradition that seems to have remained, as is deemed by many as bad luck if it is broken. Many couples getting married may have already got a family, so for logistical reasons they may prefer to spend the night before the wedding together; other couples like the idea of a first look – so that the first time that they lay eyes on one another it is more intimate between them (and quite often the photographer!).

Having a Top Table – Traditionally a top table was so that the bride and groom could see their guests, and that the guests could see them too. Historically, the host of the wedding would also sit there too – so that they were distinguished from the other guests. You really don’t have to have a top table; you may decide that you would just like to sit there as a couple (on a sweetheart table) or you may choose to sit amongst your guests. There is no reason why you have to have one, and no hard and fast rules as to who you should have on their too – it’s entirely up to you and what you’re comfortable with!

Throwing Confetti – This tradition originated in Italy, where they threw sweets at carnivals; then people would throw rice over the newlyweds in order to bestow good luck and fertility on the couple. In England we used to throw paper confetti – but as we have become more environmentally conscious, we use real petals. You may decide that a confetti shot isn’t for you – but you might want to do something similar. Military couples may have a guard of honour – or you could put your own twist on it to represent you (think softball bats or anything else that could be used to form an arch!).

Bride and Groom with confetti being thrown on them by guests

Cutting a Cake – The cutting of the cake is the first ‘task’ that the newlyweds carried out together, and it was meant to bring them good luck. You may decide that you’d like a cake, but that you don’t want to have photographs of you cutting the cake – or you may decide that you don’t want a cake at all. There are great alternatives if cake isn’t your thing – or you could choose to have nothing!

Keeping the Top Layer of the Cake – Sticking with the cake – traditionally couples would preserve the top layer of the wedding cake to be eaten at their first child’s christening, or on their first wedding anniversary, supposedly to bring them good luck. Many people choose to serve their wedding cake as dessert at their wedding – so they tend to cut the whole cake up so that their guests can eat it. I was lucky as my venue assumed we wanted to keep the top tier – so I spent the week following the wedding munching on it at home!

Having a First Dance – The first dance between the couple was to signify the start of the evening celebrations and to start the party! A lot of people find it awkward and quite a daunting experience, if this is you then you can scrap it totally. But if you’d like a nod to tradition, consider choreographing a dance beforehand so that you know what you’re doing; or even dance with your wedding party or close family on the dancefloor too – then the attention isn’t all on you.

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue – This saying comes from the Victorians – and it was to help remember the items given to a bride before she walked down the aisle, in order to give her good luck. It may be that your family members are really keen for you to do this, and they want to gift you special items for the big day. But if you don’t want to do this, you could simply have a small picture of a loved one, or a small token in your bouquet. Another great idea is to have some personalisation stitched into your dress or veil for luck!

Speeches – The purpose of the speeches is to toast the newlyweds and to wish them luck in their marriage. Traditionally the Father of the Bride, Groom and Best Man make speeches to congratulate the couple, thank everyone for coming and to toast absent family and friends. You may find that you want to mix up who gives speeches – it could be the bride, the bridesmaids, another parent etc – or you may want to scrap them altogether. I do personally think that if you want to scrap them all together – at least have one person stand up and just ask everyone to raise a glass to the newly married couple, just to toast them and wish them luck on their new adventure.

Bride and Groom catapulting the bouquet with Yung Filly at the Peperami Wedding

The Tossing of the Bouquet – People toss their bouquet so that the person who catches it receives some of the bride’s good luck, and is thought by some to be the next person to get married. Nowadays, bride’s aren’t so keen to toss their beautiful bouquet as they want to preserve it. Some people choose to have a dummy bouquet to throw; or for a modern twist, you could pick individual stems out and hand them to guests instead.

The Garter – Traditionally worn by brides to keep their stockings up. Not many brides wear stockings anymore, so a garter isn’t necessary; also a lot of dresses are too slim fitting, so wearing a garter isn’t really an option. If you wanted to wear a garter, but not under your wedding dress, you could always wear one on your hen do, or even for the morning when you get ready.

Hen Do / Stag Do – The Hen and Stag dos originate from the idea of enjoying one final night of freedom before you get married! Luckily, many nowadays don’t have that attitude, and rather they use the occasion to celebrate with their closest friends and family. They’re a great way to catch up before the big day, and for members of your wedding party to meet etc. If you don’t fancy a stag or hen, you may prefer a joint STEN, or perhaps nothing at all – you don’t have to have one if you don’t want to!

If you'd like support with planning your wedding and knowing which traditions you'd like to include in your special day - take a look at my website to see how I can help you!

Looking to modernise a Classic English Wedding - then read this blog post with top tips!

Photographs courtesy of Ashleigh Britten, Forever Beta and Ryan O'Donoghue .

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