Wedding Traditions, What Are They Good For?

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The story behind the flying wedding dress

I was chatting to my newly engaged sister last week who told me there was no way in hell she’d be doing a first dance and that come to think of it, walking down the aisle seemed mortifying and silly too. “But you have to walk in somehow,” I replied, “you can’t just ‘poof!’ and appear at the end of the aisle!”

As someone who champions alternative weddings day in, day out, I actually surprised myself at how horrified I was that she wouldn’t walk down a set ‘aisle’. I think because, for me, walking into the church and being given away by my father was such a special and emotional part of the wedding, I couldn’t ever imagine not wanting to have that experience. But that’s the thing with getting married in your own way, there really are no rules any more.

If my sister is worried about walking in and being the centre of attention, she could walk in with her fiancé, or there could be a circular ceremony set up (with no aisle at all), or we could all walk in together like a big rugby scrum around her – there are plenty of other options!

In my experience, even the most wacky, out-there weddings usually have some element of tradition in them. Whether its as small as the bride carrying a bouquet (a tradition that allegedly came about in the 1600s, when people washed very infrequently, so the bride would smell nice) or as regimented as starting the day putting on your white dress and a veil, then being given away, afterwards having a receiving line, cutting a cake, tossing a bouquet and finishing the night by doing an expertly choreographed first dance.

To me, the most important thing is just including the things you feel comfortable with. If you think certain traditions are pointless and embarrassing, then by all means you should be free to omit them. Are there any wedding traditions that you’ve decided to ignore whereas there are others you really want to include? What are your thoughts on wedding traditions in general? Are they all stupid and outdated or are their some you really like the idea of?

Over to you…

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21 comments

  1. Beki

    Our wedding is like traditional but not. My mum is walking me down the aisle as it wouldn’t of felt right having my dad but not my step dad. She is also doing a speech, as my dad would pretty much just say thanks and sit down again. My bridesmaids want to do a speech instead of the best man as he again would just say thanks and that’s it. My husband to be doesn’t want to say anything either so that’s me too! There are other things happening that my mum keeps telling me isn’t traditional, like the invites were sent by me and h2b not my parents, but I’ve just done what feels right for us and our day. I’m doing my own make up because I don’t want to look like someone else’s idea of me, and I’ve missed and mixed up traditions because I don’t want someone else’s idea of our perfect wedding day.

  2. Mary fenner

    The whole premise of a wedding is a tradition; whether we include the formal bits or not. We have waited 6 years to start planning and have two kids to join the party now so we’ve scrapped the ‘traditional’ from the start. I dont want a bouquet as they cost a lot and I’m tight! Speeches will be kept minimal as we want to play lots of games and make the day fun for all the kids. The only tradition I really want to keep is allowing my dad to walk me in as I know he would be gutted if I didn’t include this. The whole day is about sharing love with all of our nearest and dearest in a fun, colourful, music filled, food fest of frolics kinda way!

  3. Ulrikke

    I’m getting a lot of comments about it, but we’re dropping the first dance. As neither of us are dancers, and it’s something we don’t do as a couple, I found it stressful and unnecessary. We’re doing a Mr and Mrs quiz instead. And we’re walking down the aisle together, doing a first look beforehand. So I completely agree, it should be up to everyone to decide what they want to include, or exclude!

  4. I would have thrown out lots of traditions when we got married last month (speeches and first dance included!) but some of them were important to my husband, so we just did it our way. We both gave speeches, then his brother and my sister also spoke. I hated the symbol of my dad walking me down the aisle and handing me over to my husband like I was property, but I wanted my parents close to me for support, so both my mum and dad walked down the aisle with me. We also didn’t follow the ‘traditional’ wedding format as we got married on an island so our day involved a boat trip, and we didn’t want a formal dinner so had afternoon tea and a BBQ in the evening.

  5. Ag

    I will throw many traditions overboard at my weding which I find to be anti-feminist and too much of kitsch.

    For example, letting my father walk me down the aisle and “present” me to my future husband. I am a grown woman and I made my decision to marry this man on my own and my father gladly trusted my judgement in this and as much as I love him, he is not owning me or any right on decisions in my life. Neither is my future husband.

    We will not have a first dance, in fact no real dance at all, it will just be ceremony and a nice dinner. I am not throwing my bouquet or garter at anyone. We also do not have a wedding cake but instead a homemade-cake-buffet which a few of my guests bring homemade cake for. I told my guests not to hold any speeches and not to kidnap the bride (a tradition in Austria and Germany where some guests take the bride for a drink in an unknown bar somewhere near and the groom has to find her and pay ransom in form of beer or snaps).

    Doing symbolic things at a wedding is important. After all, a wedding itself is one big symbolic event! But it should be traditions that you have a relation to and which you thought through and understand.

  6. I’m in New Orleans, a city with traditional roots, yet a place where destination weddings are far from traditional. I’ve had clients do their speeches and champagne toasts during the ceremony vows, wear costumes, do portrait shoots in the historical cemeteries, you name it its doable. They choose quite unique venues eschewing first dance, formal portraits in favor of candid style group shots. Many cobble together beautiful bouquets using florals from shops nearby at a far lessor cost. Dessert bars replace expensive cakes. They find beautiful AND especially meaningful ways to personalize their weddings. Here we have second lines, the couple and guests dancing behind a jazz brass band through the streets of the French Quarter. And you can bet interlopers join in. It’s all part of the celebration. When I’m asked “what can we do that’s different and unique to us?” I dance for joy because when couples decide to make their wedding THEIR OWN I know their photographs will be awesome. My advice? It’s YOUR wedding, make it unique to YOU. Break the rules.

  7. I am not in touch with my Dad so I’ve asked my finance’s Dad to walk me up the aisle. He’s more of a father figure than I ever thought I’d have so it just seemed obvious to me. My poor fiance is gonna be very tearful seeing his own Dad walking his new bride up to him 🙂

  8. Alistair

    We dropped a few things for our wedding – including walking down an aisle. Admittedly, this is difficult to do dependent on the space in which you get married. My wife and I walked toward each other, entering from the sides as equals.

    We’re not overly big on cakes so ditched that, we dance all the time so there was no need for a ‘first dance’ and we got rid of the 3 course ‘breakfast’ as we wanted to have fun with everyone – not watch them eat.

    We kept the speeches, as its always nice to tell people how much you love them! although we didn’t have a Father of the Bride.

    My Wife did keep the white dress and the bouquet as, in her words, you only get one opportunity to do it, so why the hell not.

  9. Very interesting thoughts here. I think at the end of the day, if two people are married, then the wedding was successful. So the traditions we have about the wedding in general aren’t as important. If your sister can find a meaningful way to get from point A to point B that works better for her, she should go for it!

  10. Michelle Murphy

    I’m newly engaged too… last week actually 🙂 There are some traditions that I don’t want too like the top table and I want my bridesmaids to wear the same-ish colour as me… is that wrong!? It’s still only early days but I will certainly be taking a lot of inspiration from your blog 🙂 xx

  11. Emmy

    I’m Swedish and here the couple getting married walks down the aisle together, there is no “giving away” which I think is lovely and feminist! 🙂

  12. Hannah

    We’re not doing the first dance because we both hate dancing and hate being watched whilst dancing even more. I’d like find that all my muscles would freeze and I’d have to be carried off the dance floor. It’s happened before, and I don’t want that experience to be repeated on my wedding day. There’s no top table because out of 4 possible parents only 1 will be there, and we’re going for family style dining anyway.
    We’re two months away and I’m still struggling with one tradition though. My dad died 10 years ago, and my mums partner is not a step-dad to me. I have huge issues with the sentiment behind being ‘given away’ anyway, though if my dad was still around I suspect I’d have walked down with him because he would have spent 30 odd years thinking that was his role in the day. My mum has asked if she could walk me down the aisle. My gut response was ‘no’, but I feel cruel for not saying yes. I’ve said I’ll think about it, but I’m really not comfortable. I always imagined Mum being in the front row, watching me walk down the aisle and catching her eye as I do, so changing that feels wrong. I know she’d be likely to make a bit of a scene too, crying too much or cracking a joke, or making some smart remark to the other half at the end. This on top of the fact that I’ve been with my fiance for years now and so I feel like me walking down the aisle on my own is me saying ‘I’m doing this, we’re doing this’, rather than ‘a relationship with a parent is changing as they hand me over to a new part of my life’. It’s not new, it’s just an extra way of committing to an already committed relationship, and my relationship with my mother doesn’t change when I become legally married.
    I’m currently sticking my head in the sand like an ostrich because I don’t want to deal with it, but I’m beginning to think Sweden might have it right!

  13. I totally understand your sister. I had the same problem, but I wasn’t able to change it.
    The most important thing is to feel conformable in whatever she choose to do. It’s your day and do it your way. <3

  14. I don’t know why but wedding traditions make me feel uncomfortable as well as frustrated. I won’t get married in a church because I’m not religious- I personally don’t agree with getting married under the name of a god you don’t believe in. I don’t like the idea of my farther giving me away- he never owned me. Speeches that people hate writing and hen parties that cause arguments among friends.Pleasing the mother in law more than yourself- it isn’t her wedding though. I find it all a bit forced and weird. So many people moan they hate going to weddings because so many aspects are dull and awkward. For me, the perfect wedding will just be a big outdoor party with good food and music. Just turn up and have fun and celebrate. Do what makes you both happy – it’s your day.
    Miss Tulip x
    The Thrifty Magpies Nest

  15. Liz

    I like the idea of having some traditional elements, but like your sister I am not sure I want to walk down the aisle but at the same time I really want to do that and have my dad ‘give me away’. I really don’t like being centre of attention but I have to come to terms with the fact this will happen to the couple on their wedding day!!
    We also won’t be having a first dance, my fiancee really doesn’t dance, it makes him actually sick if he has to dance in front of people, poor thing! But I am OK with that as I’d rather not!
    I think, like you said, every wedding will have some hint of traditional in it in some way

  16. AniMal

    Love Alistair’s idea:
    “My wife and I walked toward each other, entering from the sides as equals.”
    …I’ve dreaded getting married my entire adult life but this puts me not only at ease but more excited than ever for the day!!!

  17. Rhona

    We are getting married in Feb next year, and will be keeping some traditions while changing up some others.
    Both my parents have passed away, so BOTH my younger, much taller, brothers are walking me down the aisle. 🙂
    I have decided not to throw the bouquet or garter (as most of our guests are either married or in serious relationships). Instead I will present the bouquet to the couple who have been married the longest, in this case, my fiance’s grandparents.
    We will have a mother-son dance as my fiance and his mom are very close…and both very good dancers!
    For our first dance we have a choreographed masterpiece in mind. 😀
    At the end of the day, I just want the day to be fabulous, beautiful and fun for everyone. 🙂

  18. Amy

    We just picked the traditions that we wanted, and ditched the rest. It really meant a lot to me to have my Dad walk me down the aisle, so we did that. I had my sisters as bridesmaids but also had my brother as a bridesdude. We didn’t have a top table, we had a little table just the two of us, and it was so nice to have some time to ourselves on such a busy day. We didn’t have the traditional speeches – instead my husband and I stood up to say a few words, and then one of my bridesmaids talked for a few mins. I was really nervous about doing a first dance, so we got loads of our guests to join us [right from the beginning of the dance] and it was lovely – we were kind of hidden from everyone who remained sitting down, plus we just felt surrounded by love and fun. It was perfect.

    I think if you want a traditional wedding, then go for it. But don’t do all the traditions just because you think you ought to. Just do whatever you want. There may be some people who don’t agree with your choices [a few guests had been annoyed with things like how we had a chocolate cake instead of the traditional fruit cake!] but overall, if you have the day how you want it, it will seem more ‘you’ and I think people really appreciate that. The majority of our guests certainly did.

  19. In the ‘Something old..’ tradition many people forget the final part ‘a sixpence in my shoe’ it should go ‘Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue and a Sixpence in my shoe’

    The sixpence, signifying future wealth could be seen by many as the more important.

  20. Lavinia

    She could get a Christian Orthodox ceremony where the bride and groom are the first people to walk in the church and then the guests follow. 🙂 That way she will not be seen walking and she could tell the cameraman not to record the moment.

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