Weird Wednesdays: Weird wedding traditions through the ages

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Weddings as we know it haven’t always been that way. (Photo Courtesy of Flickr/Creative Commons)

Weddings sound so nerve-wracking. Not only do you have to wrap your head around the fact that you are pledging your life to another person for all eternity, but you also have to organize the whole thing, deal with stupid-high wedding vendor prices, save up enough money for the reception and somehow avoid pissing off your relatives, who will gladly contribute nothing but complaints about the centerpieces. Even when you’re a wedding guest, traveling, sitting through long ceremonies, buying a gift and dealing with the aforementioned relatives complaining about the centerpieces can be a real drag.

Then again, you’ll never have to endure a traditional, historical wedding (and I’m not talking about the church ones). So, next time you want to sigh about Mason jar decorations, thank whatever nondenominational entity you may or may not worship that you don’t have to go through any of these historical bridal traditions.

Hanging of the sheets

When it was expected for a couple to consummate their marriage the night of, the happy would hang the sheets from a window or a clothesline—the spots of hymenal blood on it would prove both that the event happened, and that the bride was a virgin.

Things being what they are, what with discreet pre-marital relations and occasional failed bouts of libido, the sensible couple would stow a vial of animal blood under the pillow, or have a needle on hand for finger-pricking.

Watching of the copulation

Even worse than the bridal sheets were watching the couple do the act itself. European royals in particular, after the wedding ceremony, would be paraded up to the bridal suite, blessed by a bishop, observed while stripping and then separated from essentially the entire royal court by a thin tapestry while they did the nasty. Makes your nosy aunt asking about your sex life pale in comparison, no?

Kidnapping of the bride

This disgusting ritual goes back to Roman times, and unfortunately is the base for a lot of wedding traditions. The bride stands at the left of the groom so his right sword-hand is free to fight off the family, and the best man (who assisted the groom in the kidnapping and was the “best” with a sword) would assist him and the groomsmen. Bridesmaids, dressed to look like the bride, would confuse anyone coming to take back the bride. At the couple’s house, the groomsman would stand guard– either to ward off attackers, or to catch the bride as she attempted to escape. In some countries, mock kidnappings still take place while in others, the real deal still goes on.

Bargaining of the bridesmaids

In Romania, just before the ceremony, the bridesmaids will surround the bride and whisk her away, demanding a ransom from the groom and groomsmen. They’ll argue that the bride is too good for her husband-to-be and negotiate with the wedding party to give her back. The ransom can be alcohol, sweets or even money (often given to the happy couple afterwards). Sometimes the bridesmaids will accept the bribe and bring out a different women or man dressed like the bride- signifying a larger bribe is needed. This is still practiced in Russia and certain Slavic countries.

Draining of the chamber pot

In France, after a long, hard night of partying, couples would be presented with le Pot de Chambre (yes, it’s exactly what you think it is) filled to the brim with leftovers from the wedding feast (which was mostly alcohol). Drinking this would ensure both an energized wedding night and a prosperous marriage (and would presumably be reused for its intended purpose once the alcohol made its way through the system).

In conclusion: Next time you’re angsting over bridesmaids’ dresses and catering contracts, consider that you aren’t being kidnapped, watched by your friends and family as you bang or that you have to take a swig from a toilet. Maybe it’s best to stay single—and, of course, stay weird.


Marlese Lessing is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.

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