Four American Wedding Traditions and Their History

From beginning to end, weddings in America are steeped in tradition. While some of these traditions have their roots in superstition (“It’s bad luck to see the bride before the wedding,” or “Wear something blue for luck”), other wedding traditions reflect the current belief system and may serve as a way to symbolize the bride and groom’s new life together. For instance, a wine or champagne toast symbolizes intimacy in a marriage, and the hope of a life to be shared together.

Maybe you’re simply curious about why you’re sliding on that garter under the tulle and organza of your gown, or perhaps you’re contemplating whether you should include a specific wedding tradition in your big day. In either case, we crack the mystery behind four American wedding traditions so ingrained in our culture.

“Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue”

This English poem dates back to the Victorian era. The catchy rhyme doesn’t only serve as a wish of good luck for a bride, but serves as a fun way to round up a small collection of tokens from those closest to her. The common belief is that if a bride wears all four items on her big day, she’ll enjoy a happy marriage. 

Through the decades, this tradition has helped the bride to cement a bond with the women in her life. The “something old” represents connection and continuity to the bride’s past and family and could mean wearing her mother’s wedding gown or veil. Family heirlooms and handkerchiefs are popular keepsakes as well.

The “something new” represents optimism and promise in the bride’s new life, and is typically covered quite easily, especially if you purchase new jewelry or shoes for the big day. 

Borrowing a special item from a close family member or friend, such as incorporating an ornate hair comb of your aunt’s into your updo, or perhaps opting to wear your grandmother’s diamond earrings just as your mother did on her wedding day, constitutes your “something borrowed.” The common belief associated with this verse is that if you borrow an item from a happily married family member or friend, you will enjoy a similar relationship.

Blue is meant to symbolize loyalty and love, and has been most commonly seen in a woman’s choice of lingerie or garter, although some women have incorporated it into their bouquets and accessories.

“You May Now Kiss the Bride”

This much-celebrated wedding tradition dates back to Roman times, when a couple’s kiss in front of a witness or witnesses was what deemed the union official. In those days, kissing served as a legal bond, a way to seal the contract of marriage. 

In modern days, kissing the bride is not required to finalize the marriage, but rather, serves as a symbolic way to show the man and woman have become bride and groom. It’s often met with heartfelt applause and kicks off the celebratory mood sure to follow for the rest of the day.

Cutting the Cake

This wedding tradition has come a long way, to say the least. It, too, borrows from the Roman culture, in which the man would actually break a piece of bread over the woman’s head. American culture has found its own adaptation, as cutting the cake often presents the opportunity for the newly-wed couple to be kind—or not so kind—in how they feed the first bite to one another. 

But why do the bride and groom cut the cake together? For years, cakes were such elaborate creations, it really was a two-person effort to cut through the layers and tiers. While today’s cakes may be easier to cut through, cutting the cake presents great photo opportunities.

Tossing the Garter

This American wedding tradition has two differing origins. One, dating back as far as the 14th century, required proof that the bride and groom had consummated the marriage, which meant other individuals needed to be in the room with the newlywed couple. The garter was devised as a convenient solution to this problem—the bride and groom could provide the garter as proof of the consummation, while enjoying their privacy.

Another centuries-old belief is that it was good luck to obtain a piece of the bride’s clothing. In efforts to protect the bride’s dress from eager guests, throwing a garter into the crowd served as a helpful distraction.

American wedding traditions are rich in the history of days gone by, which adds an element of timelessness to any wedding, yours included. Have fun picking and choosing which traditions you want to be a part of your big day, and remember, when it comes to your marriage, you’re the one to set the traditions!