Wedding Customs

My Fiancé Wants What? (January/February 2009)

In the end it all came down to bagpipes. After years of dating, I had finally found the man I loved – a Scotsman – and he was holding firm. “What’s a wedding if there’s no piper?” he asked. “It’s the best music in the world. Oh, and some reels would be nice.”

I sat with my arms folded. Bagpipes? I’ve heard better music from the cats on a dark night. I could imagine guests wincing in their seats as the pipes yowled. This was to be my day. I had planned it for years – ever since I was a little girl. This man was going to ruin the wedding I had been dreaming of all my life. Who was he, this groom with the ideas? I set my teeth and scowled.

My Scotsman didn’t realize he was facing a veteran of a hundred weddings or more. My bride doll had made endless walks down the aisle crafted with white remnant fabric. Dressed in one of our mother’s old frilly dresses, my sister and I took turns escorting each other past a row of empty chairs; I even drafted our brother to be the pastor. By the time my friends began to marry, I’d reached some decisions. Candlelight. Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary. Proper engraved invitations. Hand-painted place cards. My wedding was going to be perfect, just the way I wanted.

But today, I wasn’t too sure about my Scotsman’s potential as the costar in the pageant I had choreographed. We sat on opposite ends of the sofa while I shuffled my endless notes and lists telling him why it had to be my particular way. He sat quietly for a few moments and then with a shrug of his shoulders said “Do whatever you want.”

I waited for the feeling of triumph to envelope me but instead heard only his sadness. This was no fantasy groom but the man I loved, after all those years of hoping and waiting. I had imagined my wedding in every detail except for the person who would be waiting for me down the aisle – a man with his own hopes and history and heritage and ideas of happiness. At that moment I realized that my life and my love would be intertwined. What was dear to him would be dear to me too.

That’s why a few months later the exquisite ballroom was filled with red-faced guests dancing reels to the wail of that bagpipe, my father twirling my Scotsman’s mother around the floor, and friends most uncharacteristically jumping up and down to the music of the pipes.

And I, with the hem of my antique white dress tattered from dancing, spun and spun again in that circle of love and loved ones, to music so very old and yet new. It was, bagpipes and all, a perfect wedding.


Excerpts from “Making It Happen”(September, 2003)

  • In 1215 Pope Innocent III declared that there should be an official waiting period before a couple married. This was the beginning of the present-day engagement tradition.
  • Maximilian I, King of Germany, gave the first recorded engagement ring to Mary of Burgundy in 1477.
  • “Bridal” derives from the English custom where the woman who was to be married was expected to brew ale for her wedding guests.
  • The bachelor party may have begun in Sparta where the young man’s military friends gathered and feasted in his honor the night before the wedding. It was a formal farewell to his single days.
  • In Colonial America, rings were thought of as frivolous. If a Bride got a ring at all, it was a thimble with the top cut off.
  • It was illegal for Colonial Brides to wear veils or makeup because they were thought to create an illusion in the eyes of the Groom.
  • Nellie Custis, granddaughter of Martha Washington, was the first to wear a white lace veil after her fiancé, Major Lawrence Lewis, aide to President Washington, complimented her when she stood behind a white lace curtain.
  • The white wedding gown became fashionable after Queen Victoria wore one at her marriage to Prince Albert in 1840.
  • The Bride stands to the Groom’s left because in Medieval times, the Groom and his Groomsmen needed to keep their sword hand free (always the right hand) to fend off attacks from those not wanting the wedding to take place and/or to keep an unwilling Bride by the Groom’s side.
  • Tossing the bridal bouquet can be traced back to Roman times when the couple threw a torch to the wedding party. The French made this tradition safer in the 14th century by substituting flowers, adding that the one who caught the bouquet would be the first to marry.
  • The “toast” originated from a French custom in which an actual piece of toasted bread was placed at the bottom of a glass filled with wine. At the wedding, the glass was passed around until it reached the Bride, who finished the wine and got the treat at the bottom, along with all of her guests’ good wishes.
  • Honeymooners today follow a tradition originated by Teutonic newlyweds who drank wine made of honey and yeast from one full moon to the next.