Marry Old England: British Wedding Traditions
by Michael Kabel
There's no place in the world quite as famous for its culture as the island kingdom of Great Britain. With over two thousand years of culture from which to draw, the nation and its people celebrate weddings with a uniquely elegant sense of poise and class.
Destination weddings are all the rage in the United States and elsewhere, and wedding receptions and ceremonies with an international theme grow more fashionable every year. Whether you're celebrating your heritage or simply looking for some quaint and proper sophistication for your festivities, a British wedding could be just the thing.
The Bride and Bridesmaids
The traditional ceremony begins with a flower girl strewing daisies along the path to the church, followed in close succession by the bride accompanied by her bridesmaids. The bridesmaids wear dresses very similar to the brides, a tradition that dates to the country's roots as a far province of the Roman Empire. In those days, robbers and highwayman often abducted a bride as she made her way to the church; bridesmaids dressed as brides were meant to ward off the wrongdoers. The tradition exists today to confuse anyone who might wish the wedding ill.
Good Luck Charms
Proper English brides sometimes sew a good luck charm, such as a silver horseshoe, onto the hem of their dress. Brides might also carry a horseshoe with their bouquet for additional good luck.
It is also considered good luck for a chimneysweep to kiss the bride as she emerges from the church. Rain is also considered an omen of good luck on the morning of the wedding ceremony.
The wedding ring is itself an English custom. King Edward VI, who ruled during the 15th Century, designated the third finger of the left hand as the official wearing place for all wedding rings within his kingdom. Though the earliest rings were probably made of iron, in time the golden wedding band came to represent the new family’s wealth.
There is typically no rehearsal dinner, but brides do hold a "hen party" the night before, while the groom's friends will cheer his good luck at a "stag party" at the same time. Invitations are much the same as they are in the United States, though for church weddings a formal announcement called a bann is read three Sundays before the ceremony.
On the wedding day, the ceremony is held promptly at noon. Brides and grooms recite their vows under the doorway to the chapel, so that anyone who might want to see the wedding can watch it take place.
After the ceremony, the guests accompany the new couple to a "wedding breakfast" that includes two different kinds of cake. In place of a traditional wedding cake, an English reception features an elaborate fruitcake made from cherries, ground nuts, and other sweet ingredients. The top layer of the fruitcake is sometimes called the "christening cake" and is set aside to celebrate the christening of the couple's first child. The groom’s cake is usually chocolate and traces its origins to the splendor of the Tudor period.