Traditions and Customs

They each prefer to have their photos taken separately

From Left to Right... Gretchen, Daisy, Sadie...

“Tradition is an explanation for acting without thinking.”
~Grace McGarvie

The other day I was observing what I call “the girls,” (our three dogs). It was a normal night, and the girls were getting ready to go to sleep for the night. All three of them circled before bedding and plopping down on the ground; perhaps you have noticed your own canines do the same. Why do they go through this senseless ritual each time they lay down? Well, it seems that this action did have a very practical and useful purpose at one time. When the animal is in the wild, bedding down tramples grass, leaves, and branches. This makes for a more comfortable “bed” out in the wild. My girls, though, literally have a very comfortable bed and no longer have to worry about the leaves/branches that their ancestors slept on. However, this ritual of circling before laying down has been bred into these animals.
That observation had me thinking about customs and rituals. Sometimes a custom loses its original meaning and purpose. Sometimes a custom is given a new or different meaning/interpretation. The whole experience of marriage is full of customs and traditions. It might be fun to examine the origin of some of these traditions.
Diamond Engagement Rings… There is a good deal of agreement on the origin of the practice of giving a diamond engagement ring. The practice began in 1477 when Archduke Maximillian of Austria bought his future wife Mary of Burgundy a large diamond ring. This custom caught on and was widely imitated.
 Wearing the ring on the fourth finger of the left hand… In ancient Egypt, it was a common belief that the vena amoris (i.e. love vein) ran from this finger straight to the heart. Having the engagement and wedding rings on this finger provided a direct route to the heart, the seat of love. The wedding ring would of course be worn on the inside, closest to the heart.
The media recently reported on a new trend noted by jewelers: Man-gagement rings, engagement rings given to men. Sometimes this is presented when the woman proposes to the man; sometimes it is merely a male counterpart to the lady’s engagement ring. Time will tell whether or not this trend continues and gains in popularity.
Tribal customs also made it into the celebration of marriage. For instance, a bride was often abducted from a neighboring tribe or clan. The “Best Man” helped the groom abduct his bride. She would be whisked away. At the ceremony, she stood on the groom’s left side so that his right hand would be free to use his weapon. After the ceremony, the bride and groom would go off on a honeymoon with the intention of getting her impregnated so that, with child, a pregnant newlywed couple would be better accepted by both clans/tribes.
Wedding veil and not seeing the bride before the wedding… In earlier times many weddings were arranged marriages. There was some concern that if a groom saw his bride in an arranged marriage and did not like her looks, he might not marry her; hence, the custom arose of not letting the groom see the bride before the wedding, even with her being veiled up to the beginning of the ceremony.
White Wedding Dress… Anne of Brittany wore a white wedding dress in 1499. Before that time, a woman just wore her best dress. The white color originally did not stand for purity but for joy.
Giving away the Bride and Paying for the wedding… In ancient times, children were considered “property” of the parents. The bride was “given” to her groom in an almost contractual arrangement. Often, a groom was paid to take a bride. This was especially true in agrarian cultures where sons were valued as workers and women were valued only because of their ability to breed more sons. The dowry was used to pay the groom to take a bride. This custom remains today in that it is the bride’s family that pays for the wedding.
The use of flowers at weddings is a symbol of fertility and fruitfulness. The rice thrown after the wedding is also a fertility image.
 Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a siver sixpence in her shoe… This custom goes back to Victorian times. Something old represents the connection to the past; the bride remains connected to her family of origin. Something new symbolically refers to the new connection to the groom and his family. Something borrowed reminds the bride that she will continue to need friends and the community to support her in her needs. Something blue symbolizes loyalty and fidelity. The sixpence is a wish for wealth and good fortune for the bride in her new marriage.
Historically, what was needed to make a marriage legally binding was the free consent of the bride and groom. Sometimes today in the ceremony the bride and groom are asked if they come “freely and without reservation.” This closes potential loopholes which would invalidate the marriage. Then, they would express “vows” or promises to live as a married couple. This event would be duly witnessed by the officiant and two witnesses.

Customs and Tradition is an important part in all of our lives. An understanding of the origins of some of these customs can help us better appreciate them and their role in our lives.

I think, now, I will go and explain to the girls why they circle before they lay down!

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I like this web blog so much, saved to favorites. “I don’t care what is written about me so long as it isn’t true.” by Dorothy Parker.

  2. You have observed very interesting details! ps nice site.


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