Your Complete Guide to Wedding Traditions and Etiquette

Your Complete Guide to Wedding Traditions and Etiquette

It’s your day - but you may struggle to do it totally your way.  Over the years many different wedding traditions have become established.  You may not be familiar with current wedding etiquette but don’t worry – there’s sure to be a friend or relative who seems to know the wedding planning rules by heart! So, here’s a quick guide before those discussions start. 

Engagement announcement

This is a job for the father of the bride.  He should publish an engagement announcement in the appropriate newspaper.

Here comes the bride

The bride is traditionally escorted by her father, the one who “gives her away”.  A lot of brides, however, are ringing the changes.  They may be escorted by their mother, mother and father on either side or even alone.  Etiquette dictates the bride heads the procession followed by bridesmaids and pageboys.  But there’s also a bit of a trend to reverse this – it ramps up the sense of anticipation.

Bridesmaids

In less civilised and more superstitious times brides could be abducted by jealous suitors or beset by evil spirits.  Bridesmaids therefore acted as decoys and so were dressed exactly as the bride.  The modern practice is for all the bridesmaids to wear similar or identical dresses but in a style and colour quite different from the bride (otherwise the groom might get confused!).

Children

Small guests are usually invited to the wedding ceremony and celebrations – but might be excluded from a very formal evening event.  If kids are not welcome simply leave them off the invite.  Adults living with their parents should receive their own invitation.

Veils

The role and significance of veils has changed many times.  When arranged marriages were popular it prevented a groom having a change of heart when he first saw his intended.  In ancient Greece and Rome the veil was protection against evil spirits.  Then they became a symbol of purity – so, strictly speaking, they are not appropriate for second marriages or pregnant brides.

Dances

Wedding etiquette says the happy couple are first to take the floor at the reception with all the guests looking on (so have a dance in mind and practice!).  Wedding tradition also suggests the groom should dance with both mothers in turn and the bride does likewise with both fathers.  Plus, the mother of the bride should dance with the father of the groom and the same for mother of groom and father of the bride.  The best man should also step out with the chief bridesmaid too.  Got all that?!

Favours

These are a small token of appreciation given to guests.  The tradition used to be a small bag of five sugared almonds (representing the blessings of Health, Wealth, Happiness, Long Life and Fertility).  Now it’s up to you and you can give almost anything to reflect your own taste, budget and personality.

Gifts

Weddings have always involved the transfer of property, to a bride by her parents (dowry) or to the bride’s family by the groom’s family (bride price).  The current practice of giving gifts is an extension of these customs (although giving a goat is no longer acceptable!). Couples now share a list of items they’d like with guests and usually set up a gift registry with a large retailer.

Invitations

In an era of social media and messaging it’s still traditional to send printed wedding invitations by post.  These should go out about two months before the big day.  Save-the-date cards have also become customary, mailed 6-8 months ahead.  It is socially unacceptable to request an invitation if one has not been offered.  Asking for a “plus one” invite is also frowned upon.  

Rings

These have always held great significance.  The engagement ring is generally worn on the fourth finger of your left hand during the engagement.  The wedding ring is placed on the same finger and after the ceremony most women place it on top of your wedding band.  Why this finger?  Because it was believed that a vein, the ‘Vena amoris’, leading directly to the heart, ran up this finger.  Not anatomically correct, actually, but very romantic!

Garter

In medieval times, superstition had it that it was good luck to get a piece of the wedding dress.  This sometimes resulted in a bride stripped bare on the way to wedding bed.  To distract over-eager guests, the practice of tossing the bride’s garter into the following crowd became popular – so now you know!

Speeches

Father of the bride goes first, rounding off with a toast to the happy couple. Next the groom thanks the bride’s parents and guests, then toasts to the bridesmaids. Finally, it’s the best man’s turn.

Cake

Tradition says you must have one but the days of towering multi-layered white-frosted fruitcake are perhaps drawing to a close and now anything goes!   A tower of  cheese, a macaroon mountain, a brownie stack, a cupcake feast, a dessert feast or a doughnut pyramid – whatever you fancy…

Honeymoon

In less liberated times the destination was a surprise for the bride.  Now this tradition has relaxed and it tends to be a joint decision. Minimoons are also increasing in popularity, with the longer holiday being taken at a later date.  

Happy wedding planning!

In this post we’ve just scratched the surface but hopefully it will be some help to you as you tiptoe carefully through the wedding etiquette minefield!