More than ever before, engaged couples are being intentional with decisions regarding their wedding day. Many 2022 ceremonies and celebrations will be a personal reflection of each individual couple, meaning that some traditional aspects will be left out. Thoughts surrounding customary American wedding traditions are pretty divided, with couples picking and choosing which ones they’d like to include on their wedding day.
In Zola’s First Look Report, over 3,300 engaged individuals shared the traditions that they think are in, those that are out, and those that they’re split on. Discover what each tradition is, where it comes from, and why couples are keeping it or leaving it behind, in our guide below.
The first dance is one of many customs that comes to mind when thinking about a wedding. It typically takes place at the beginning of your reception, after the wedding party has made their entrance. The newlywed couple shares the first dance, often accompanied by a special song that they’ve both chosen specifically for this. The tradition of the first dance dates back to 17th-century Europe, when formal balls were popular. At these occasions, it was customary for the guest (or guests) of honor to lead out the first dance as a grand opening to the event.
While customs have changed, couples still consider this to be a special moment, looking at it as their first public act as a married couple. Although most of today’s brides and grooms aren’t trained in ballroom dance, many will opt to take classes or even learn a choreographed first dance leading up to their wedding.
One of the most memorable moments of any wedding day is the walk down the aisle. It’s the first time that guests—and, often, significant others—will see you in your wedding attire, and it signifies the joining of your families. Traditionally, the father of the bride walks the bride down the aisle to hand her off, or “give her away,” to the groom. If this comes across as a bit dated, that’s because it is. The tradition originated in a time when women were considered the property of their fathers, thus, when a woman got married, her father gave her away in exchange for a dowry.
That being said, being walked down the aisle has evolved for more modern sensibilities. It’s now performed as a display of love and support, and can be done by fathers, mothers, both parents, siblings, or any loved one of choice.
Typically, contemporary weddings treat the veil as an accessory, but, like most wedding customs, its involvement comes from historic wedding lore. It’s largely agreed upon that the wedding veil’s origins trace back to Rome, where a bride would wear one down the aisle to cover her face and disguise her from any evil spirits. That being said, its history varies and means different things according to different faiths.
Today, reasons to wear a veil vary from cultural tradition to sporting a wedding-specific accessory. Many see their wedding day as the one time that they’re able to wear one, and, as such, want to take advantage of the opportunity. And, well, plenty of brides simply like the drama that it adds to their outfit (and we can’t blame them).
Originally, the practice of cutting the cut and handing out pieces to guests was performed only by the bride. Performing this ritual symbolized the bride being given away, while the act of guests accepting and eating a slice was a means to wish good luck and ensure fertility to the married couple. Over time, the tradition has picked up other symbolic meanings, such as one half of the wedded couple placing their hand over the other’s to display care and support. Couples were also instructed to cut from the bottom tier as a nod to the relationship’s foundation and longevity.
Nowadays, couples view cutting the cake as another act to perform together as newlyweds. It’s fun, it’s a bit of a spectacle, and it gives you the chance to shine a spotlight on your wedding cake.
The garter toss gets a lot of strong reactions. The tradition, which has grown into the groom’s equivalent of the bouquet toss, traditionally has the bride sitting on a chair while the groom takes her garter belt off and tosses it into a crowd of bachelors. Like the bouquet toss, whoever catches it is said to be the next person to get married.
Originally, however, it went a bit differently. The garter toss originated in ancient England and France, when guests would try to rip off a piece of the bride’s dress for good luck. Understandably, this left many brides feeling nervous throughout their wedding. To distract the crowd and ease the bride’s mind, the groom would secure and toss a piece of the wedding dress out into the crowd. While distracted, the newlyweds would escape the reception.
Much of the reason why modern couples oppose this custom is because of the changes that it’s undergone over time. The act can be a bit inappropriate, and it’s understandable why many newlyweds wouldn’t want their loved ones to see their spouse removing their garter. Moreover, this tradition can spur anxiety and embarrassment, neither of which you should feel on your wedding day.
The bouquet toss has the same origins as the garter toss. After the wedding ceremony, guests would try to snatch a piece of the bride’s gown or bridal bouquet, as getting one was thought to grant similar good luck in marriage. Brides in ancient England grew unfavorable of this act and, in an attempt to placate their guests, began tossing their bouquets. Like the garter toss, this wedding tradition has evolved. Now, the bouquet is tossed into a crowd of bachelorettes, with the person catching it said to be the next to get married.
When it comes to this tradition falling out of favor, there are two reasons to point to. The first reason to forgo the bouquet toss is the desire to preserve your flowers. With tons of preservation techniques and gift ideas going around, it’s understandable that many brides don’t want to get rid of their bouquets. It’s a sentimental—and sometimes expensive—piece of your wedding that you carried with you throughout the day. The second reason why brides are opting out is simply because it isn’t their style. The bouquet toss is a bit of a spectacle, and, not to mention, it can interrupt the flow of your reception.
Historically, there are a number of wedding customs that involve cake, though only a few have made their way into modern celebrations. Brides in ancient Rome would have cake crumbled over their heads by their husband to represent dominance. Brides in Yorkshire, on the other hand, would have a small taste of their cake before throwing the rest over her own head to symbolize a life without want. Married couples in medieval England kissed over their cake, as wedding lore states that if it didn’t fall over, they’d be lucky in their marriage.
Two cake traditions that seem to have survived all this time are cutting the cake and cake smashing. Cake smashing, as the name implies, is when one (or both) of the newlyweds smashes a piece of cake into his or her partner’s face. While some people see this as funny, many more view it as aggressive. Couples don’t want to mistakenly upset one another and/or deal with the cleanup involved. You have the rest of the night to celebrate, and odds are that you don’t want to waste any of that time cleaning yourself off.
Everyone knows the saying: Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue; however, not everyone knows the meaning of the rhyme or where it comes from. The traditional rhyme, which actually ends with and a sixpence in your shoe, started in the Victorian era in the country of Lancashire. The rhyme describes five items that claim to bring brides luck or ward off evil spirits on their wedding day. Blue items were said to protect against a curse called the evil eye, while borrowed items were said to confuse the evil eye into thinking that the bride was someone else, and so on and so forth. Nowadays, the items have taken on different meanings, such as optimism, purity, and borrowed happiness.
While the tradition isn’t meant to send to-be-weds on a scavenger hunt, modern engaged people would rather skip it altogether. Seeing as it’s often just a fun activity that includes a few loved ones, many couples and their wedding parties don’t seem to mind leaving it out. It can feel like a hassle, especially if certain items would seem out of place.
The first look is when a couple sees each other, in many cases for the first time, on their wedding day. It’s a private moment before the ceremony, away from guests, when they can see each other and share some time together. However, most don’t know that the traditional first look—in which a groom wouldn’t see the bride until she walked down the aisle—borrows from arranged marriages. Fearing soon-to-be-wed couples would back out of their weddings, families prevented them from seeing each other until the ceremony. Now, it’s most often used as a sweet and intimate moment between the couple before they spend the rest of the day surrounded by loved ones.
Couples are split on having a first look, with just over half saying that they plan on doing one. While this can be a nice, quiet moment between you and your spouse (and a chance for great photos), some couples prefer alternatives such as having your first look be down the aisle or getting ready together.
This tradition is also inspired by arranged marriages. Pre-18th century, it was common for engaged couples in an arranged marriage not to meet or see each other until their wedding ceremony. This tradition was performed out of fear that they’d want (or plan) to back out beforehand. Now, couples may avoid seeing one another before their ceremony or even in the days leading up to their wedding in order to make their reuniting all the more special. The thought comes close to the sentiment of absence makes the heart grow fonder, with that moment being all the more impactful because you haven’t seen each other.
Just under half of the engaged people surveyed said that they’ll be implementing this tradition in their 2022 wedding—and we can see why, as a whole, people are split. Not seeing your significant other before your ceremony can make for an incredibly sweet moment. At the same time, it can be a bummer not to see your partner in the special moments beforehand. This tradition, perhaps more than all others, comes down to the preferences of you both.
A thought that isn’t groundbreaking is that wedding planning can be a daunting task. So much so, that on the wedding day, many couples are just happy to be there doing the thing. That being said, amidst all of the hustle and bustle, it’s possible to forget to include a tradition or two. This most often happens during the reception, since there’s so much going on. One way to avoid this is to be as organized with your wedding planning as can be. When everything is jotted down and in one place, you’re less likely to stress and forget the things that you want to do.
Not sure where to put it all down? Zola has a bevy of tools ready to help. The interactive and customizable checklist, in particular, is a tremendous aid in making sure that you don’t forget a thing. While you’re looking around your account, take a look at the customizable Wedding Websites, Registry, and Guest List tools. Sometimes stress is unavoidable, but the easier wedding planning can be, the better.