11 Weird Wedding Traditions from History

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Weddings have certainly evolved over the years. With religious requirements, local customs and superstitions to contend with, getting married used to be very different from the celebrations we have now come to expect. It’s no wonder some of these unusual traditions haven’t survived the ages!

Words: Danielle Kirk

By Brittany Wheeler

Sep 18, 2016

PHOTO: GETTY

1. Grab The Sash

The region that is now known as British Columbia was home to the Lillooet Indians whose wedding practice involved a special dance called ‘the touching dance’. The town would get together for a group dance, with the unmarried women wearing a sash. If a man grabbed a woman’s sash it was his way of declaring his intention to marry her. However, if she wasn’t interested she would take it away from him and continue dancing. Any couple still attached at the end of the dance, would be married by the chief!  

2. Bribe the Children

Children used to block the church exit so the newly wedded couple would have to bribe them to leave! This was still practiced in 1953, but the tradition of ‘barring’ the couple has similarities in many cultures across the globe. This particular ‘ransom’ version was prevalent in the UK and is cute compared to others on this list. The idea is that kids stop the pair leaving the church by whatever means possible (tricks, physically or creating obstacles) so the couple can’t ‘escape’ the church until a ‘toll’ (AKA money) is paid.  

3. Servant Groom and Hidden Bride

A Russian tribe called the Kamschatkadal (Kamchadal) had a custom that saw the groom work as a slave for the bride’s parents until they gave the union their blessing. If that’s not crazy enough, if they said yes, the next step was for the groom to find his hidden bride and strip her naked! The whole village would work to keep the bride in hiding by smothering her in clothing, fish nets or anything else they could find. If the groom discovered his lady love an alarm would sound and all the women in the village would come to ‘rescue’ the bride by beating, kicking and scratching at the beau! If he failed, he had to try again later. If he did manage to strip her naked, he had to run away so the bride could call him back and invite him to stay.  

4. Kill the Tree

If an Indian woman is born as a Mangliks (an astrological combination of Mars and Saturn both being under the 7th house) they’re thought to be cursed. This means they’ll bring any husband bad luck and an early death. Yikes! Luckily, they can marry a tree first and transfer the curse onto the poor plant, which is then cut down and burned. The woman is now free to wed a person – free of the curse.  

5. Everyone Together Now

In rural Bulgaria it used to be tradition for an entire village to marry at the same time. They’d pick a date, decorate their houses with golden colored apples and when a gun was fired they’d all grab their pre-prepared rooster covered in strings of popcorn and peppercorns (for good luck) and head to the church to be married. A group reception would then follow where they all danced a jig and went home.  

6. Bridesmaid Bodyguards

Many ancient societies wanted to protect the bride from evil – one of the theories that explains how bridesmaids became a wedding essential. Bridesmaids used to dress in outfits identical to the bride’s to ward off evil spirits, and their role also included tricking the groom. In the 1800s, France had a custom where the groom had to guess who the real bride was and if he got it wrong he couldn’t talk or dance with his new wife all night. Other versions say he had to marry the bridesmaid instead!  

7. 30 Days of Tears

Amongst the Tujia people of China, the bride and her female relatives are expected to shed many tears in the lead up to the nuptials. To express her joy, the bride starts crying for one hour a day a whole month in advance. After 10 days, the grandmother joins in and eventually, by the end of the month, every female in the family is crying with the bride. The tears of happiness are symbolic and are meant to create a ‘song’ as they all weep in different tones.  

8. Power Play

Swedish traditions dating back to the 1800s involve playing tricks on the groom to ensure the woman wears the pants in the marriage. This can include: the bride seeing the groom before he sees her; her standing with a foot in front of his during the ceremony; and the bride sitting down at the wedding feast first or dropping things so her groom has to pick them up. These traditions symbolizes his willingness to ‘bend his back to her will’ for the rest of their marriage.  

9. Gender Swap

In ancient Spartan society, tradition saw women dress as men and then be kidnapped by their future husband! The bride-to-be would shave her head and dress like a man to ‘hide’ from her groom before the big day. He would then have to ‘steal’ his bride in order to marry her.

10. Wedding Baths Are Very Important

Ancient Greek society took their wedding customs so seriously that if they weren’t performed in life, they’d be carried out in death. A critical practice in the lead up to the ceremony was the ‘bridal bath’. A beautifully decorated vessel called the loutrophoros was used to literally and ritually wash the bride in her chamber to signify the transition from girlhood to adult life. It was considered so important that women who died unmarried were given the ceremonial baths after death, and many vessels have been found in the tombs of unwed women. It was also common practice to pour a vase of ‘bridal water’ on the graves of unmarried women.  

11. Beware the Little Folk

Irish folklore is rife with stories of fairies, or little folk, so it’s hardly a surprise this superstition made its way into big day traditions. The lore said that a brides feet must always remain on the floor when she and the groom are dancing or the fairies will steal her away. According to legend, evil fairies are drawn to beauty and as the bride looks so gorgeous on her wedding day she’s sure to be stolen – but the bad pixies can’t get her if she’s always touching the ground.

 

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