Wedding Rituals

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

Most wedding traditions, like throwing rice and eating cake, started long ago. Here are some of the stories behind the rituals.

Bridal dress

  • Wearing a new white dress to be used only for a wedding ceremony is a tradition that is only about 150 years old. Before that, few women could afford a dress they would wear only once.
  • White traditionally symbolizes youth and innocence.
  • Red and orange are popular in Asia and the Middle East, where they are considered joyful and festive colors.


  • Using wheats and grains in the making of wedding cakes is an ancient symbol of fertility.
  • In ancient Rome a thin loaf of bread was broken over the marrying couple's heads. The crumbs were saved and taken home by the guests as tokens of good luck.
  • Tiered wedding cakes originated in old England, where the bride and groom kissed over a stack of little cakes.


  • The canopy used in Jewish weddings is called a huppah. The couple and the rabbi stand under the cloth canopy during the wedding ceremony; it is a symbol of the couple's future home.


  • Ancient Roman brides wore bunches of herbs under their veils as symbols of fidelity.
  • Orange blossoms are symbols of happiness and fertility because the orange tree blooms and bears fruit at the same time.
  • Roses are the flowers of love, making June, the month of roses, the most popular wedding month.
  • The early Greeks believed ivy to be the sign of everlasting love. It is still used to trim wedding bouquets.

Flower girls

  • Flower girls first appeared in wedding ceremonies in the Middle Ages. Two young girls—usually sisters—dressed alike, carried wheat before the bride in the procession. Later on, flowers replaced the wheat and it became customary for the flower girls to strew petals at the bride's feet.

Glass breaking

  • At the end of a Jewish wedding ceremony a wine glass is covered with a white cloth and laid on the ground. The groom breaks it by stomping on it. This symbolizes the destruction of the ancient Jewish temple. It is a reminder of the seriousness of marriage and that it cannot be reversed.


  • This first vacation taken by a newly married couple dates back to very early times when a groom wanted to hide the wife he had captured.
  • The Teutons, an ancient German tribe, gave the honeymoon its name. After the wedding ceremony, honey was drunk until the moon waned.

Rice throwing

  • Rice is a symbol of fertility and long life. Guests throw it at the bride and groom as a wish for children and a good life. Other good luck charms are confetti, orange blossoms, corn, barley, chickpeas, and dates and figs to sweeten the marriage.


  • Engagement rings originated from the custom of exchanging rings to seal an important agreement.
  • Rings are circular and without end to symbolize eternal love.
  • A wedding ring is worn on the third finger of the left hand because it was believed that a vein or nerve ran directly from this finger to the heart.


  • Roman brides wore veils 2,000 years ago. Veils were worn as a sign of modesty and secrecy and were removed only by the husband after the wedding ceremony.
  • The first American woman to wear a wedding veil was Nelly Custis, Martha Washington's daughter. She wore the veil to please her husband-to-be, who had complimented her on how pretty she looked when seen through a lace-curtained window.
  • In some Eastern countries a veil is placed between the man and woman throughout the wedding ceremony. This ensures that they cannot see or touch one another until after the marriage.
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