Weddings are celebrated with some kind of ceremony almost everywhere in the world. The ceremonies vary greatly among different nations and religions. But whatever the form of a marriage ceremony, it serves the important purpose of announcing to the community that a man and a woman have been joined in matrimony. The wedding ceremony may be a religious one performed by a clergyman. It may be a civil ceremony performed by a civil official, such as a judge or a mayor. It may be only a couples declaration before witnesses of their intention to marry.
Some people today chose to write their own marriage ceremony, or perhaps have a favourite poem to read. In some places a transfer of property makes a marriage binding. In other places blood is drawn from tiny scratches made on the hands of the bride and groom. The blood is mingled, sealing the union. Among some people the marriage rite consists only of the bride and groom sharing the same food.
Many of the customs associated with wedding ceremonies are based on neither church nor civil law. They developed from wedding customs of the earliest times and come from many lands. The wearing of the bridal veil may have come from a superstition dating back to early Greek and Roman times. The veil was thought to conceal the bride from evil spirits. The veil is also believed to have been worn as an indication of the brides innocence and purity.
The ring is the most widely used symbol of marriage today, as it has been for centuries. The word wedding comes from the old English word wed, which means promise or pledge. During Anglo Saxen times a betrothal, or promise to marry, was sealed when the bride or groom to be gave the sweetheart a ring. The ring, a circle with no beginning or end, was considered a symbol of eternity. The fourth finger of the left hand was chosen as the ring finger because of mistaken beliefs that a vein or nerve runs from that finger to the heart.
The best man and the groomsmen, or ushers, have been explained as a survival of the ancient practice of wife capture, in which the bridegrooms friends helped him in his struggle to carry off his wife. The brides attendants were supposed to protect her from being captured.
In ancient times people drove off any unfriendly spirits around the bridal couple by making noises, brandishing weapons, lighting fires, and waving torches. Many practices that were supposed to prevent bad luck and bring blessings to the bridal pair have come down through the years.
Throwing rice after a newly married couple is a very old custom. The ancients threw rice at a bride and groom to distract evil spirits. Rice, a symbol of fertility among some people, expresses the hope that the couple will be blessed with children.
Every state and nation has its own laws and requirements governing marriage. There may be regulations concerning the ages at which a couple may marry, the procedures for a license to marry, the recording of the marriage, or the type of ceremony.