English Weddings and Traditions — The Inside Take On UK Weddings
English weddings and associated traditions may not be as formal as they used to be, but many brides and grooms still love to keep a few of those old customs as they plan their wedding day. Here, we look at milestones that happen along the way, and especially what happens on the day the ceremony takes place.
Before the Wedding Ceremony — The Big Build-Up to the Big Day!
It’s customary for the man to propose marriage to the woman; but according to English wedding traditions, the woman can make the first move if she proposes on the leap year’s extra day (29th February). Many men like to keep their proposal a surprise and go down on one knee to pop the question. After that, the engagement can last for as long as the couple wishes, although often, the lady is keen to start planning the arrangements as soon as possible!
In terms of legalities, couples are obliged to offer 28 days’ notice for Welsh or English weddings if they’re marrying in a Registry Office and stay in that country for seven days before that notice is given. The notice period allows anyone with objections to the union to have the opportunity to express them. Marrying in a Church ceremony sometimes needs a similar period of notice, which according to UK wedding traditions is referred to as ‘reading the banns’.
Stags and Hens — Bachelor and Bachelorette Parties
In America, couples who have plighted their troth hold bachelor and bachelorette parties prior to the ceremony; in England, we call them stag dos and hen nights! This is for the bride- and groom-to-be to enjoy one last blow-out with their closest friends while they’re still free and single. The bachelor or bachelorette party was customarily held the night immediately before their wedding day. However, being on the safe side, most couples now hold these about a week before the wedding day itself, mainly because British marriage traditions include the man’s guests playing practical jokes on the drunken groom!
Unlike America, wedding traditions in Britain don’t usually include bridal showers or rehearsal dinners.
During the British Wedding — The Serious Business
Wedding traditions across England are at their most solemn during the marriage service itself. There are plenty of quaint and unusual customs, like the bride wearing ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue’, but here we simply look at a few of the highlights.
Roles & Responsibilities
A British wedding rarely takes place without a best man and a maid of honor (or ‘matron of honor’, if she’s already married). The affianced couple both select these from among their closest friends or family.
The bride may then have several bridesmaids and the groom selects one or more groomsmen. These ladies and gents assist the bride and groom throughout the wedding ceremony. According to wedding traditions in the UK, the happy couple may also choose a ring-bearer, often a young boy, who brings the rings; and a young girl as flower bearer, who strews petals before the bride as she proceeds up the aisle.
Ushers, again often chosen from among the groom’s male friends, will direct guests to their seats, give out copies of the order of service and perform other administrative duties.
According to wedding traditions in England, the bride is ‘given away’ to her new husband by her father, as long as she is lucky enough to still have him in her life. If not, she may choose a close male relative or even a good friend.
In line with British wedding ceremony traditions, the groom awaits his bride at the altar, accompanied by his best man. She proceeds up the aisle with her bridal party, having arrived in style in a fancy car or even a carriage drawn by horses. Exchanging wedding vows is perhaps the most ancient of English wedding traditions and customs. The words the couple uses are flexible these days — many compose their own vows — but they all involve making a commitment to each other, promising to be joined in a union for the remainder of their days.
After the Wedding Ceremony, It’s Party On!
The deed is done, but we don’t go home just yet! Firstly, photographs are taken of the happy couple, their immediate family and friends. Then, things become more relaxed. The partying can begin.
The Wedding Breakfast and Speeches
To celebrate the marriage, the newly-weds invite chosen guests to their wedding breakfast — not necessarily at breakfast time, though. The term originates from the old wedding tradition, that the bride and groom should fast from the night before in preparation for the solemnity of the proceedings. After the meal’s finished, speeches are made: customarily, the order runs from the bride’s father to the groom and finally, the best man to say a few words to mark the occasion. Then, the wedding cake is cut, which the bride and groom do in unison. They share a piece of the cake, symbolizing their new union and the promises they made to provide for one another forever.
In the evening, British wedding traditions typically include a wedding reception. Along with the guests from earlier, the couple may invite their wider circle of friends and extended family to celebrate this happy day. Often, there’s an open bar (the newly married pair pay for all the drinks), a buffet, a disco or live music and general mingling and chat.
Midway through the evening ‘do’, the newly married couple depart alone to go on a honeymoon. In England, wedding traditions also involve mischievous guests carrying out one last prank, like tying tin cans to their car and spraying it with slogans such as ‘Just Married’. Friends and family continue partying till late into the night.
After the honeymoon, the newly-wed couple return to the home they’ll share together. Wedding traditions across the UK dictate that the groom must carry his bride over the threshold, an old custom to prevent her tripping. In olden times, if this happened, it was said to bring bad luck to their home and marriage.