It is always interesting to study the history of weddings of different cultures. One can find that some of the old traditions have been carried forward to the current weddings.
In Italy, to this day marriages are not performed during Lent and Advent in May or August. Sunday was declared the best day for the marriage and June was (and is) considered the ideal month to marry. This is based on the Roman goddess Junio, representing safety of home, marriage, and childbirth.
In some families the marriages were arranged by the families of the bride and groom. A male relative of the groom would visit with the father of the intended bride and ask for her hand in marriage. Sometimes a matchmaker was used to carry a message to the intended bride’s family. Once an agreement between the families was reached, the couple was declared engaged. The prospective bride was expected to immediately start gathering clothing (even for her future husband), furniture, and other items for the home. This became known as the bride’s ‘trousseau’. If the engagement ring contained gold it was not to be worn until she received the gold wedding band as it was seen as bad luck to wear gold without being married.
In olden times a great deal of the Italian wedding traditions consisted of warding off evil spirits. The groom would be sure to have something iron on his person to ward off the evil eye. The wedding veil was for the purpose of warding off evil spirits they may try to attack the bride and tearing the veil after the ceremony was considered good luck. The bride was not to have a complete bridal gown until the wedding day. It was to remain incomplete until she walked down the church aisle. Presumably a final stitch was made somewhere on the dress at the entrance of the church. The groom would wait at the front of the church and present the bride with a bouquet of flowers and herbs, to ward off the evil spirits.
At other times the groom would pick the bride up and walk her to the church. In this case a log and a saw would be placed in their path and they had to saw it into two pieces to show their union. If the bride walked to the church, without the groom, the local people often put things in her path such as a broom, beggar, crying baby. How she handled these items showed if she would be a good wife, mother, would be kind, etc.
In the ceremony the groom stood to the right of the bride, thus freeing his sword hand, just in case someone tried to steal his bride. Ten witnesses were required to make the ceremony official; hence the need for a large bridal party. They were dressed like the bride and groom to confuse the jealous spirits. The bride carried (and still does in most weddings) a silk or satin purse for guests to deposit their money gifts in as a way to help with the expenses. Another way money was raised was by the best man cutting the groom’s tie into pieces and selling them to guests at the wedding.
Following the ceremony the bride and groom were pelted with almonds (in mesh bags), three for children and five to seven to promote fertility. In ancient times a loaf of bread was broken over the bride’s head to represent fertility. At the end of the wedding the bride and groom broke a vase or glass into pieces with the number of shards representing how many years they would be married. Mothers-in-law sat at a table and kept a record of the repayment of favors or money which needed to be witnessed (this is still done in some of today’s ceremonies)
Most of the ceremonies started with mass in the early morning, followed by music and dancing throughout the night. Food was, and is, a large part of the wedding. Thirteen or more courses were ordinarily served (a large meal is still served at today’s weddings); this represented the union of the couple and their families.
It’s amazing how many wedding traditions still remain even though they may have evolved somewhat to reflect today’s society. Incorporating traditions based on heritage is often a good way to honor the old while celebrating the new.