Customs and Traditions--Or Why We Do the Things We Do

Customs and traditions vary in weddings in the United States but common components include the following:

* The bride finds and wears articles that carry out the tradition of "something old", "something new," something borrowed," and "something blue."

* The bride usually wears a white dress. This custom is to symbolize purity of heart. Many brides with a "pure heart" also choose dresses in diamond white, ivory, or champagne depending what goes best with their own coloring.

* A color scheme is often used. So the invitation matches the bridesmaids' dresses and the table settings, etc. A particular theme can also be chosen.

* Rice is sometimes thrown at the newlyweds as they leave the ceremony. Alternatives for rice include birdseed, flower petals, or bubbles. At a nighttime wedding sparklers might also be used.

* The bride's family sends engraved invitations to the wedding guests, addressed by hand (or in an elegant font) to show how important this occasion is.

* Guests send or deliver wedding gifts to the bride's family home before the wedding day.

* A wedding ceremony takes place at a church or other location, such as an outdoor venue.

The wedding reception, following the ceremony, may take place at the same or a different location. These events usually occur at the reception:

* The bridal party lines up in a receiving line and the wedding guests file past, introducing themselves. This line should include the bride and groom, both mothers and usually the fathers. Attendants are optional.

* Usually snacks or a meal are served.

* Often the best man and/or maid of honor toast the bride and groom with personal thoughts, stories, and well-wishes. This toast is made with champagne, sparkling cider, soda, or another beverage of choice.

* Clinking silverware against glassware is a signal for the newlyweds to kiss.

* If dancing is provided, it is customary for the bride and groom to dance the first dance together. Often further protocol is followed, where they dance first with their respective mother and father, then possibly with the maid of honor and best man; then the bride and groom rejoin while the parents of the bride and groom join the dance and the best man and maid of honor dance together; then other attendants join in; then finally everyone is entitled to dance. Dancing continues throughout the reception. Music is sometimes provided by a live band or musical ensemble, sometimes by a disc jockey.

* In some cultures, the dollar dance takes place, in which it is expected and encouraged for guests to pin money onto the young bride and groom to give them a financial base to start their new lives.

* The cake-cutting ceremony takes place; the bride and groom jointly hold a cake cutter and cut the first slice of wedding cake. They entwine arms and feed each other the cake. The cake is usually cut with a silver keepsake knife and server set.

* The bride tosses her bouquet over her shoulder to the unmarried women in attendance; the woman who catches it, superstition has it, will be the next to marry. In some social groups, the process is repeated for unmarried men with the groom tossing the bride's garter for the same purpose.

* Gifts are not opened at the reception; they are either opened ahead of time and sometimes displayed at the reception, or if guests could not deliver gifts ahead of time, they are placed on a table at the reception for the bride and groom to take home with them and open later.

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