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How did various wedding traditions come about?

Jan 30, 2015 04:03PM ● Published by Charles Reichblum

For instance, why do people wear their wedding rings on the third finger of the left hand? Why aren’t wedding rings worn on some other finger, or even on the right hand?

The tradition of wearing a wedding ring only on the third finger of the left hand began with the ancient belief that the nerve in that finger runs directly to the heart. And why do people throw rice at the bride and groom? Rice is considered a symbol of fertility, and showering the bride and groom with rice represents a wish that they’ll produce a fine family.

How about the tradition of the wedding cake? The bride and groom each take a bite to show a special bond between them, with the sweetness of the cake symbolizing a wish for sweetness in all areas of the couple’s new life.

Why do brides toss their bouquet? In olden days, it was customary for unmarried women to meet with the bride after the ceremony and tear off pieces of her wedding dress to symbolize that they would soon be in a wedding dress themselves. But as time went on and wedding dresses got more elaborate, brides wanted to save their wedding gowns, so the idea began of giving up the bouquet of flowers instead by tossing it to the unmarried women at the ceremony.

The custom of playing Here Comes The Bride started in the mid-1800s when Queen Victoria of England’s eldest daughter got married and selected that song—which is actually titled The Bridal Chorus from Richard Wagner’s opera, Lohengrin. Once the queen’s daughter had that song played at her wedding, brides throughout England and eventually the United States began using it at their weddings, with the English lyrics, “Here Comes the Bride,” replacing the German lyrics in Wagner’s opera.

As to why wedding anniversaries are marked with such things as paper, wood, crystal, silver and gold, that custom goes back many years in many different cultures as suggestions as to what kinds of gifts to give on various anniversaries. A modern list, compiled from several organizations, recommends a paper gift for the first anniversary, wood for the fifth, tin or aluminum for the tenth, crystal for the fifteenth, china for the twentieth, silver for the twenty-fifth, gold for the fiftieth and diamond for the sixtieth.

Dr. Knowledge is heard on KDKA and the CBS radio network with his “Knowledge in a Nutshell” feature, and is author of the “Knowledge in a Nutshell” book series. His web site is

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