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A few days ago my husband and I celebrated yet another year of wedded bliss. That makes 26 years to be exact although “celebrated” may be too strong a word. We acknowledged the passing of another year and nostalgically reminisced about the day it all began. We traditionally do this by looking through our wedding pictures and cringing at how thin we used to be and how many times we kissed in public that day.
Interestingly enough, this simple observance of our special day produced a revelation from my daughter-in-law that she never knew that we had any wedding pictures. Leaning toward the less-than sentimental side of things, we have only one picture of ourselves on display from our wedding day and that is the only picture she had ever remembered seeing. Therefore she rightly jumped to the conclusion that it was the only picture we had of our wedding. How sad and how funny at the same time. Happily I promptly set about dispelling her mistaken notion by forcing her to peruse our entire collection of wedding photos with me. They were already sitting out. It was no bother at all.
She was intrigued with the curious little poses and traditional images represented in my photo collection. Why was my maid of honor placing a penny in my shoe? Why were my parents standing off at a distance looking wistfully at me? Why was my husband-to-be trying to escape out the back door? So many curiously artificial positions we found ourselves in for these pictures. Staged and structured in a traditional manner, these images stirred up a familiar inquisitive instinct in me. I never questioned the relevance of these wedding rituals before, but suddenly I needed to know. Foremost in my quest was the solution to why we tossed the bouquet and the garter, and so my search ensued.
As with most ancient rites, the customs which often accompany the wedding ceremony grow muddled and confused through the passing of time. In general there appears to be agreement that the bride and her various garments were often held to be sacred and considered lucky for those who might possess them after the ceremony. Often after the wedding vows were completed, the attendants and guests would enthusiastically chase the bride and rip her gown to tatters in an effort to possess a part of her lucky wardrobe. After this custom grew to be dangerous and unruly, the bride began to voluntarily toss away her bouquet in place of the destruction of her entire trousseau. The gal who caught the bouquet would be the next lucky one to wed, so tradition stated.
The origin of the tossing of the garter proved to be a bit more complex. One tradition describes the garter toss as a means of proving that the marriage had been successfully consummated, the garter being sufficient proof thereof. Another version of this involves the wedding witnesses sneaking into the marriage chamber and tossing the bride’s stockings and other under garments at the newlyweds. The first lucky interloper to successfully land an item on the young couple would be the next to marry. Again, over time these rather invasive traditions gave way to the compromise that we see today with the groom tossing the garter to all eligible bachelors present for the lucky catch.
Ah those were the days! Thankfully these wedding traditions have evolved over time and become less troublesome until now we have progressed to the time when often these traditions are being completely eliminated from modern wedding ceremonies. If I had known the original purposes behind these two traditions I wonder if I would have included them in my special day? Of course the Internet was still science fiction back then and I didn’t do any research. I just went with the flow and did what was expected of me based on tradition. Hmmm? Tradition dictates that we behave in any number of ways that may or may not reflect our actual values and convictions. I think the moral of this story is that we would do well to learn from tradition, but not be governed by it. Tradition has a role to play but tradition alone should never define who you are and what you do. It may be time to toss something other than a garter or a bouquet. It may be time to toss out a tradition or two and break free from meaningless ritual. Just ask Tevye.