English wedding traditions
Early Wedding Traditions
From the sixteenth up to the nineteenth century, marriages were arranged by parents or guardians. The bride and bridegroom often were not acquainted until their marriage. The parents often made the marriage arrangements and betrothals while the bride and bridegroom were small children (ages three to seven). The children would continue to live with their own parents and meet from time to time for meals or holiday celebrations.
These prearranged marriages came under fire in the late seventeenth century when a judge held that betrothals and marriages prior the age of seven were "utterly void". However, they would be valid if, after the age of seven, the children called each other husband and wife, embraced, kissed each other, gave and received Gifts of Token.
Later, young couples ran away and had a ceremony privately performed without banns or license. These elopements and private ceremonies represented the beginning of a revolt against parental control of marital selection.
Traditionally, the safest season to marry was between the harvest and Christmas, when food was plentiful. An old English rhyme says "Marry in September's shine, your living will be rich and fine."
Folklore has it that prior to the wedding, the bride must not allow her married name to be used before the wedding takes place, or it might never happen.
It is customary for the bride to be given a decorative horseshoe, which she carries on her wrist. These days the horseshoes are rarely real, but instead light-weight versions manufactured specifically for weddings. The horseshoe is given for good luck.
Present Day Wedding Traditions
Brides have "Hen' nights and bridegrooms have "Stag" parties similar to bachelor/bachelorette parties. There are ceremony rehearsals, but no rehearsal dinner.
If the couple will marry in a church, banns announcing the proposed wedding are read aloud in the church three Sundays before the wedding. It is unlucky for the bride and bridegroom to be present at the calling of the banns.
Weddings are traditionally held at noon; afterward there is a seated luncheon, called a "wedding breakfast".
Invitations to the wedding are similar to the United States' customs, but few people would go the expense of calligraphy addressing. Response cards are not used; guests purchase their own individual reply cards.
It is good luck for a chimney sweep to kiss the bride when she comes out of the church.
The Wedding Procession
The wedding party walks to the church together in a procession (an age-old custom that protected the couple from jealous suitors!)
Limousines are rare. They are not very practical on small, winding roads. Transport usually is by Rolls Royce or vintage car.
Traditionally, English brides had only one adult attendant (as a witness). Today, it is the custom to have many young bridesmaids instead of adult attendants. A flower girl leads the way, sprinkling petals of organ blossoms along the road. This signifies a happy route through life for the bride and bridegroom.
Ushers would be found only at large, formal weddings; guests normally would seat themselves.
The Wedding Ceremony
The ceremony (most often in the Anglican Church) usually consists of two or three hymns and, since most guests don't sing, the church choirs are usually hired. English fathers don't kiss their daughters at the altar. During the ceremony, the couple will leave the sanctuary area and with the Priest enter the vestry to sign the wedding documents. They are considered officially married after this is completed. At the benediction, a square piece of cloth, the "care cloth" is held over the bride and bridegroom.
When the bridal couple leaves the church in Kent, the path is strewn with emblems of the bridegroom's employment. Carpenters walk on shavings, butchers on sheepskins, shoemakers on leather parings, and blacksmiths on scarps of old iron.
Church bells ring as the couple enter; they peal a different tune as the newlyweds exit to scare off evil spirits.
Photos are taken outside the church immediately after the ceremony, or inside if it is raining. While photos are being taken, relatives and close friends present the bride with wedding souvenirs - horseshoes, wooden spoons, rolling pins, all decorated with lace and ribbon.
The Wedding Breakfast
Weddings traditionally are at noon; afterward, there is a seated luncheon, called a wedding breakfast.
The bride and groom dance the first dance but there is no introduction of wedding parties nor any father/daughter dance.
They do not toss the bouquet or garter.
The Wedding Cake
In medieval England, guests brought small cakes and piled them in the center of a table, challenging the bride and groom to kiss over them.
Wedding cakes are less elaborate in design. The wedding cake is a rich fruitcake topped with marzipan; the top tier is called a "christening cake" to be saved for the birth of the first child.
Old fashioned fruitcake dates back to the days before leavening and sugar.
There are no bridal registries. Family members pass around the bride's general list of items she needs.
There is no such thing as a "shower." Guests take their gifts to the reception where they are opened. Monetary gifts are very rare.