Monday, 12 March 2018

Portugal Wedding Traditions

September sees the culmination of four months planning my wedding!
Steve Martin in the film "Father of the Bride" said: "I used to think a wedding was a simple affair. Boy and girl meet, they fall in love, he buys a ring, she buys a dress, they say I do. I was wrong. That's getting married. A wedding is an entirely different proposition." He was right!

We wanted a simple 'quiet' wedding but it is easy to be swayed by others' suggestions, so our 'quiet' wedding grew and admittedly we have ended up with what should be a beautiful day made possible by the wonderful friends, family and our chosen resort manager and staff.

However, there were many things that had us questioning wedding traditions. The word wedding derives from the old English 'weddung' "state of being wed" or the Proto-Germanic 'weddian' "to pledge, covenant to do something, marry". Marry derives from French 'marier' and ultimately the Latin 'maritare'.

Historically, weddings were more about politics than love, for the joining of families, businesses or countries. The father of the bride traditionally gives his daughter away because this stems from when women were their father's property until their ownership was transferred to the groom!

Wedding and engagement rings are eagerly shown off but did you know that they are worn on the fourth finger of the left hand because it was thought that a vein in that finger led directly to the heart? One of the earliest known engagement rings was given to Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VIII, when she was two years old.

Undoubtedly, weddings have become very commercial. The wedding package today incorporates save-the-day cards, invitations, decorations, flower girls, bridesmaids and groomsmen (who typically receive 'thank you' gifts), wedding favours, photographers, elaborate wedding buffets and even fireworks!

It is easy to be swept along and I often heard my fiancé say: "Well, I never heard of that and as a musician I have been to loads of weddings!"

Some aspects, however, remain very traditional. Eighty per cent of brides still choose a white dress. White is a symbol of purity and perfection, and it was Queen Victoria who set the precedence when she married Prince Albert in 1840.

Previously, in western countries, wealthy brides would wear exclusive coloured fabrics whilst the poorer brides wore their best church dress. Today, brides are seen in a variety of colours and whether the dress is a family heirloom, bought, or specially made, what is important is that the bride feels beautiful in it.

Many brides like to have 'something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue and a silver sixpence in her shoe' - an 1883 English Victorian rhyme which is still popular worldwide.

Something 'old' is for continuity to pass on good luck whilst the 'new' is to offer optimism for the future. Something 'borrowed' symbolises borrowed happiness and the blue is a symbol of fidelity and constancy. The sixpence is less known today but is supposed to bring good fortune.

My fiancé is not particularly a traditionalist but insists we do not see each other the night before the wedding. This practice comes from a time when marriages were arranged and it was feared that if the groom saw the bride beforehand, he might change his mind, bringing shame on the bride and her family. The bride's veil was also to hide the bride until the last minute. With more couples cohabitating before marriage, this ritual is less popular but there is still that magical moment when the bride and groom see each other for the first time at the altar!

As I am deaf in my right ear, my fiancé will stand on my left rather than the traditional right. Historically, this is because the groom had to keep his sword hand free to fight off other suitors or bride kidnappers, but I do not think this will be an issue for us! The best man was the best swordsman who could help the groom and the bridesmaids used to dress the same as the bride to confuse evil spirits or those wishing to harm the bride.

Steve Martin was shocked at the cost of the wedding cake saying it was just flour and water and cost more than his first car! With cakes today being elaborate works of art, this is understandable.

Wedding cake traditions come from Ancient Rome when bread was broken over the bride's head to bring the couple luck. In 18th century England and America, cakes were simple fruit cakes blended with wine, topped with marzipan and icing, but became multi-tiered cakes in the 19th century. The customary three tiers developed as newlyweds kept the top tier for their first child's christening; the middle tier was for distributing and the bottom one for the reception.

At the end of the reception, unmarried female guests eagerly gather to catch the bride's bouquet as whoever catches it will be the next to marry. In ancient times, it was good luck to get a piece of the bride's outfit so brides tossed their bouquet to distract their guests as they ran away. At the bridal chamber, the groom would throw out the bride's garter to the waiting single men to indicate he was going to consummate the marriage.

One tradition still adhered to for romantic reasons is the groom carrying the bride over the threshold. This custom comes from the belief in Western Europe that it was bad luck if a bride tripped over the threshold of her new home. Others believed brides were vulnerable, through the soles of their feet, to evil spirits lurking in the threshold of a home so the groom carried her in. I might be a little heavy for this tradition!

When Steve Martin complained about the cost of feeding all the guests, his daughter said sarcastically: "Why don't we just charge people? That way we can make money on the wedding." It is a growing trend for newlyweds to ask for cash instead of gifts although gift registries are still popular. It was Macy's (Marshall Field's) who invented the bridal gift registry in the 1920s and soon other shops followed suit. We do not need presents and have opted to have a collection for the local firefighters instead!

Different cultures have different wedding superstitions yet two that I hope I do not encounter are a spider in my wedding dress and rain on the big day, both believed to bring good luck. Both please stay away and I will take my chances!

So now you know!

By Isobel Costa
Isobel Costa works full time and lives on a farm with a variety of pet animals! In her spare time, she enjoys photography, researching and writing.

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