Traditions: Fingering the Garter, Symbols of Virginity, and Public Mortification

Picture a lovely wedding in a floral bedecked reception hall, guests more than a few free drinks into the evening milling about post-cake looking for a bit of wedding revelry.

“Ah, look, it’s time for the garter and bouquet toss!”

“I know! Such an exciting tradition! I never catch it though…One time my aunt Suzy literally knocked over four bridesmaids to catch the bouquet though.”

“Yeah. Besides, it’s so awkward when the groom dives under the bride’s skirt for the garter, especially when they do things like put on goggles and gloves, or drunkenly reenact Magic Mike in front of Oma. No one wants to see that…”

This isn’t awkward at all.

Enter nosey third guest, likely clutching an Old Fashioned and wearing sensible shoes (a sure sign this is not her first wedding adventure).

“Well, did you know that the garter toss originates from an early 14th century French tradition called ‘Fingering the Garter’ and has evolved as a way to protect the bride from literally being felt up on her undercarriage by drunken wedding guests trying to confirm she was no longer a virgin post-nuptial shindig?” (Hiccup.)

“Way to ruin a fun party, Cucumber.”

This video is only 2 minutes long and so excruciating to watch I had to stop it several times. It’s also been viewed over 125,000 times. Ugh, why is this a thing?! Should you want to spend a dreadful afternoon watching terrible male strip-dancing in front of huge families, elaborate prop usage, and a mortified women wearing expensive gowns trying to look amused, Youtube is a wealth of awful garter videos.

So, the garter toss. When starting the whole wedding planning shenanigans a few months ago, we made a general list of traditions worth doing and others that we both found questionable. And, then when looking at the history of the garter toss, the tradition I have always hated the most or at least unhappily cringed through at every wedding, I felt oh so vindicated as the origins of the tradition are, well, really appalling. If you are a garter toss enthusiast/wedding sadist, you might want to skip the rest of this all.

Weddings in most cultures have been considered a special moment to transfer luck or fortune, be it money, land, inheritance, good fortune, the possibility of future weddings, etc. In ye olden European wedding traditions, obtaining a trinket from the bride was always thought to be a harbinger of luck or at least future nuptials. After the couple exchanged vows, the attendees would sometimes rush up to the bride, ripping sections of her wedding finery off of her in order to obtain some of her wedding providence. The bride, in order to protect herself and her fashion choices, would then sometimes throw favors to the crowd, scarves, tokens, ribbons, garters, in order to make it to her own reception. If not quick enough though, her clothing and her garter would be forcibly removed, attendees flipping over the bride to remove her garters with her skirts over her head.

Nothing like a few vows followed by a public ripping of your hand-sewn skirt to start out a life together! Ah, the romance of marriage!

Meanwhile, the whole virginity and consummation of the marriage was pretty important, too (understatement of the 9th through 20th century). Post-wedding ceremony, couples would retire to the wedding chamber to consummate their marriage in order to make it all legally binding and ascertain the bride was an untouched virgin (and thus all offspring where genetically linked to the groom and his inheritance). Guests were then invited up to the room to see the groom’s deflowering handiwork, usually in the form of showing off the bed linens with their telltale post-virgin blood stain OR claiming the bride’s garter as a symbol of said consummation (likely a leftover from the tradition of the wedding girdle removal). In French the term for this was “fingering the garter,” guests checking to see if the bride was no longer a virgin by feeling near her garter.

Let’s just pause here for a moment and try to envision that happening. Ah, the romance!

As pieces of the bride’s clothing were considered good fortune, likely inebriated guests (as humans are at least generally consistent in their revelry) would then sometimes snatch at the (most likely terrified as I cannot imagine this being pleasant) bride’s remaining clothing in order to grab hold of said good luck plus some souvenir lingerie. In English traditions, guests would sneak into the marriage chamber to then attempt to throw discarded lingerie and stockings on the couple, whoever hit the noses of the couple with a stocking being the next to marry. (Do NOT get any ideas, dear friends.)

In order to protect the bride from this groping crowd, grooms began throwing the garter to the mobs in order to keep them at a distance from their new bride. Lo, the garter toss was born.

The garter toss has also evolved over time, some grooms throwing to a sedately assembled crowd, some to a competing forces, and some taking the garter on a whirlwind ride by horseback or foot race. (Thinking about this aspect and the percentage of friends I have who run marathons, this could be a long and tiring race for a scrap of lace.)

In modern times, the garter toss has been paired with the bridal bouquet toss as a parting symbol of departing marital luck. The modern garter toss also seem have made its way to a new intersection of awkward and kitsch, grooms grinding on their new wives to the amusement/horror of their watching families and incorporating props such as magnifying glasses, car jacks, flashlights, goggles, and forceps. (So classy! Ah, romance!)

Another thing that has become recently popular (Thanks, the Wedding Industry Machine) is the FOOTBALL GARTER TOSS. The menfolk can now forcefully toss a football into their male cohort with the attached garter, symbolizing their innate manliness whilst handling the lady’s lacy elastic band with a bit of manly oomph. Okay, so I get it’s a chance to toss a football (which is fun!), but the very genderedness of this whole thing just drives me slightly crazy. Also, way more likely to result in black eyes.

Ugh.

Personally, I cannot imagine inviting Pastry to rustle around under my skirt in view of our combined communities in order to divest me of a symbol of my (spoiler alert – long past) virginity. Departing good will, luck, and hope of love to our guests is fairly important, but I’m pretty sure we can figure out a way to do so without a bit of my lingerie attempting to learn how to fly.

On the gender flipside, why not rip Pastry’s decorative, superhero-themed jock strap off him and slingshot it into the crowd of waiting ladies instead? I could dance around him to Guns N’ Roses “Welcome to the Jungle,” doing my best Demi Moore Striptease impression, to them pull out a tiny pair of bandage scissors to pantomime cutting his underwear/jock strap off of him, eventually reaching for a giant prop chainsaw to mime the difficultly of the task. The DJ would then switch to R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” as I slingshot Pastry’s underoos into the crowd of elated single women, yelling, “Enjoy that ever so slightly sweaty intimate apparel, ladies, you might get married next!”

(This has great potential, really.)

For the actual wedding, if Pastry doesn’t go for my glorious plan featured above, I think we should get a stuffed toy dinosaur, attach a few scratcher tickets to it, and lob it into the crowd as we depart. How’s that for some transfer of wedding good will without the bad dancing, public lingerie sightings, icky symbolism, and family mortification?

Ready for future love? Catch a T-Rex and Win a Million Dollars!

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Traditions: Duck, Duck, Goose for Life

From mentioning venue duck poop to duck traditions! Something for every duck enthusiast!

In traditional Korean wedding ceremonies, duck or geese carvings are used as a symbol for peace, fidelity and the future blessing of having many ducklings/kidlings. The designs are usually based off the Mandarin Duck, a species of duck commonly found to mate for life. In Chinese culture, mandarin ducks have their very own metaphor to represent a loving couple, e.g. Bob and Susan are like “two mandarin ducks playing in water.”

Side note: I always used Bob and Susan as my example names as a holdover from taking French in college. Our instructor, Pierre from Paris, ALWAYS used Bob and Susan in his examples. When we asked him why, he said in his super thick accent, “Bob et Susan…What could be more American names?” I also spent the entire year writing my essays about snakes in backpacks as “un serpent à sac à dos” was weirdly used as an example in the first chapter of the book. Spoiler alert, the French backpack snakes took many international flights in my French essays. Je suis fatigué de ces serpents motherfucking sur cet avion motherfucking! Doesn’t quite have the same feeling to it…

Ce serpent est venu à une fin malheureuse comme un sac à dos.

 But, back to ducks…

The tradition of presenting wooden ducks stems from the custom of the groom presenting his bride’s family with live ducks or geese as a present prior to marriage. As the modern woman likely does not have numerous Pinterest boards devoted to the live geese/ducks she would like to keep in her fifth-floor-walk-up studio apartment, wooden carvings became all the vogue. Wedding ducks are commonly sold as souvenirs in Korea and China, but should you want a pair of authentic loving ducks for your wedding, you best start looking for a very special wood carver as soon as possible as there are some criteria for wedding duck prototyping.

To be a good wedding duck carver, according to tradition, one must be:

  1. Wealthy.
  2. Healthy.
  3. Married to a good partner.
  4. Not have ever been divorced or have relatives who have been divorced. (This duck pond just got real small.)
  5. Have lots and lots of male children, bonus points for five sons as it aligns with Confucius’s emphasis on family strength through proliferation.

I’m going to write to David Beckham and see if he want to carve Pastry and I some wedding ducks.

Another tradition is to incorporate string on the bills of the ducks. How lovely, you are thinking, decorative wedding ducks in festive outfits! NO. The string on the female duck’s beak symbolizes how the bride should endeavor to always be quiet and support her husband in all things.

PUT A STRING ON MY LADY WEDDING DUCK AND THERE SHALL BE HELL TO PAY.

At the wedding ceremony (though this is no longer common), the ducks are wrapped in cloth with only their string-tied faces peeking out of their tea towel. Once the bride arrives, the ducks are then placed within the ceremonial table/altar. Once they get hitched, the groom’s mom whips out the string-silenced lady duck and throws it to the bride for her to catch in her skirt. If the brides successfully fields the wooden duck, she will have sons. If she was last picked for softball at recess, all lady children for her.

The couple usually keeps the wooden ducks post-wedding in a prominent place within their home. But, duck placement says a lot about how things are going in their union. Facing toward each other, duck life is great! Frolic in that water together! Facing away, no longer playing in water! Things have gotten a bit rough.

The sign that Bob and Susan are going to end up either in marriage counseling or on Maury.

So, I kind of like the idea of carved wooden ducks. But, NO STRINGS. And, really, finding a duck-carver of note may be a serious issue. Mr. Beckham, if you happen to be reading, best work on your whittling skills for next May.

Traditions: Maids Offering the Finest in Bridal Security

Ask a woman about her experiences as a bridesmaid. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

You likely heard a mixed bag of responses, coos of how wonderful the experience was, barely contained eye rolls, tales of wardrobe malfunctions, tactful dodging when pressed on how many times they really wore that navy blue taffeta dress again, enthusiastic reviews of the open bar and lack of bachelorette parties. I’ve been a bridesmaid numerous times at this point in my life (almost always wearing purple) and my experiences have all been positive (‘cause my friends are awesome). But, the whole thing is filled with tons of expectations, rules, regulations, and rampant emotions.

So, from whence did this whole tradition spring? Why do we surround ourselves with ladies wearing matching pearl sets and silk? Why the sudden urge to decorate (in a very heteronormative way) everything bridal with everything phallic as if most modern brides are not acquainted with their intended’s favorite appendage?

126 bridesmaids at a wedding in Sri Lanka. And, you thought you had a hard time deciding on a budget-friendly gift for your attendants…

It all comes back to making sure those pesky evil spirits do not ruin your special day. The penis decor thing, well, it’s a pretty much a pagan holdover in celebrating fertility. Which makes me want to yell Oprah-style, “You get a penis hat! And, you get a penis hat! We all get penis hats in a not very subtle tradition of celebrating marriage as a direct connection to your fertile years!”

Ancient Romans considered marriage a monogamous institution and marriages by law could only include two people, a departure from fairly common polygyny of most ancient cultures. The word “matrimony” actually comes from the Latin word “matrimonium,” of the mother, as Romans considered marriage a way to legitimize children born of that specific union which generally is tied to the priority of inheritance. But, back to identically dressed attendants…Roman law required at least ten witnesses to legalize marriages, participants usually dressed exactly like the bride and groom, in order to outsmart before mentioned evil spirits as they would not know who was actually tying the toga that day.

In looking at pre-monogamy focused civilizations, the Bible also mentions handmaidens of attendance at the wedding of Jacob to his two wives, Leah and Rachel, each bringing a servant lady along with them for emotional support/holding the primitive purse. Please note that Leah and Rachel brought handmaidens, usually servants or slaves, not friends, relatives, or social peers. Maids in attendance at weddings seem to have been destined from the beginning to tote that bouquet and lift that cocktail table all in an act of servitude to the bride.

Veils on staircases are a recipe for disaster and neck injury when your attendant, henceforth named Clumsy Clementine, trods on your veil and you get whiplash.

Similarly bedecked ladies in attendance to the bride has continued, well, since then with the idea of evil spirits or curses at weddings carrying on to the late 19th century. During this time, couples of means also took their attendant parties along with them on the after wedding vacation in a whirlwind bridal tour. The friends who witness your deflowering together stay together?

Veils have been a part of weddings from Roman times for this very reason, apparently providing comfort that if the evil spirits could not see you clearly then you were safe. (Toddlers and ostriches would approve of this concept.) I’m also going to bet that some crafty bride realized this idea, put her own veils down for anti-enchantment defense, and left Clumsy Clementine barefaced for the malicious spirits’ snack time. Prior to the last century, if you were the barefaced maid, you were the superfluous, disposable maid.

During the 20th century, maids’ veils began to shorten while the bridal veil remained long as the ideas of trickery and evil spirits also began to wane. The concept of “Maid of Honor” began to gain prominence in selecting an extra special cathedral train-plumper, stemming from the British tradition of queens’ attendants called maids of honor. Junior bridesmaids, girls not of marriageable age, began to pop up in wedding parties. And, in a nod to the changing social times, multigendered parties have also become more common in the 21st century.

It could be so much worse than that short David’s Bridal blue thing you bought on sale and quickly donated to Goodwill.

The expectation of a bridesmaid varies greatly in modern western culture. Traditionally, the bridesmaids have planned the wedding shower, bachelorette party, aided with planning, purchased overpriced non-transferable to other occasion dresses, and assisted the day of the wedding on various tasks as assigned by likely at that point deranged bride. But, traditions have also started to evolve over time. In modern etiquette, Judith Martin writes, “Contrary to rumor, bridesmaids are not obliged to entertain in honor of the bride, nor to wear dresses they cannot afford.” I also especially appreciate The Bridal Brigade posting on A Practical Wedding, talking about asking for assistance from multiple people as they will all likely want to help and comprising your wedding party out of your good relations no matter their standing, identity, or affiliation.

I know there is a key group of people who I would like to be around me when Pastry and I declare our intentions to share taxes, insurance, property, and romance. But, I haven’t quite worked out how to make their involvement meaningful yet not overwhelming as of yet. All I do know if that this whole below trend has yet to include a giant, prehistoric sloth yet. And, said party of attendants will get to come as they want (well, okay, within a predetermined color scheme) because I’m pretty sure I can withstand the evil spirits of trickery on my own. If not, I’ll just refuse to take my veil off…ever. Or, invite someone named Clementine.

Run! Tara Reid of Sharknado fame is arriving next!

Traditions: A Passive-Aggressive Community Noise Parade

What goes together like two birds of a feather? LOUD NOISES AND WEDDINGS.

Here comes the very roundabout way to whence we came to tie cans to the back of the wedding car…

cha·ri·va·ri, shivaree or chivaree [French, from Old French, perhaps from Late Latin carībaria, headache, from Greek karēbariā : karē, head; shivaree, American alteration of Mississippi Valley French]

  1. a discordant mock serenade to newlyweds, made with pans, kettles, etc., often played as a joke
  2. a confused noise; din
  3. an elaborate noisy celebration

Approximately 700 years ago or so, some French folk decided that a great evening activity after the wedding of their neighbors would include a cacophony of sound under the couples’ window, forcing them to reappear in their nuptial finery (pre or post tumble) and perhaps invite the revelers in for a drink of celebration. The French also seemed somewhat confused as to their purpose for this grand, noisy event as some accounts discuss how this impromptu literal pan percussion was used to either utilized to encourage couples to marry, dissuade couples to marry, distract from the sexy times, or celebrate said sexy times. Nonetheless, if you got married, you ended up with drunk Phillipe from down the road under your window, banging a kettle, likely yelling helpful tips about consummation, and possibly demanded a midnight snack of cheese (a snack I assume drunk French people have always enjoyed). The crowds in general did not take to being ignored by the couple in question, and some accounts go into detail on how the bride or groom was then abducted from their home in retribution. It’s like a Middle Age Taken with Liam Neesen, but with more wedding stuff and perhaps less killing.

It’s all fun and games until grandma gives someone a concussion with a spoon.

In ye olden Western European days, most people married others in proximity to their hometown by either arranging it or “stealing” the bride. When a groom from outside the town would marry a local girl, another practice of this grand parade was that the local men would bang things loudly under his window to wake him up and then demand a meal as a price for stealing away a local bride.

Here is my description to Pastry as I was trying to explain this practice:

Basically… “Yo, dude, Mary is super hot and you got her! Damn! Bring me pizza, bro, as I wanted Mary but I’ll settle for pepperoni tonight! Also, since you inconvenienced me by landing the local hottie so I have to maybe go look for someone else, I’m going to inconvenience you by waking you up at midnight for my munchie needs.”

So, the baroque equivalent of death metal under your window in the wee hours of the night either means your family wants you to hurry up the hitchin’ or to not hurry it up at all. Then the French made their way to the North American frontier…

Charivari in Europe was not such a pleasant experience and tended toward the punitive. The practice was essentially was hazing for almost/just married people. When it made its way to the western frontier, it eventually became more of a lighthearted teasing/hazing. Think more crooning under the window in It’s A Wonderful Life than fighting off drunk Phillipe with globs of cheese and a sharped fork.

Shivaree (ah, we Americans are so good at bastardizing words) was common practice until the early 20th century. Here’s a lovely drawing of a crowd outside of the White House, happily taunting President Grover Cleveland and his 27-years junior, daughter of his law partner, and FORMER WARD new wife Frances Folsom (youngest first lady at the age of 21). He called her Frank, and I assume there was a lot of “Oh god, Frank” that night for various reasons. (I also may know a lot about Grover Cleveland as I did a 4th grade book report on him. Ahem, like how he was both the 22nd and 24th president, the only president to serve two terms non-consecutively. Or, how the Baby Ruth candy way named after his daughter Ruth. Or, how he had a secret surgery in the middle of a bay to remove a tumor as he did not want anyone to know about it. Good stuff.)

“Oh, Frank!”

Though shivaree slowly lost its onetime prominent tradition in American culture, there is a bit of a remainder seen in how loud noises, banging of metallic objects, and generally taunting the pair marrying in a fun way. And, thus we began attaching tin cans to the getaway wedding car, providing a lazy American solution of cacophony by letting the car bang the cans.

An efficient noise parade.

I’m honestly a bit surprised this tradition has not made its way back in a cute, charming Wedding Industry Machine way yet. Enter breathy wedding planner who speaks in intense, hushed tones and ends every sentence with a question:

So, Bella/Sophie/Suzie/LadyName (’cause let’s be honest, most of this kind of chat goes on with the lady in modern American wedding planning), imagine what a precious experience it would be to have an accordion band of your nearest and dearest wearing matching pearlescent gowns and ties arrive outside your quaint honeymoon suite at the stroke of midnight, holding reclaimed wooden signs with hand drawn calligraphy on your favorite song lyrics, to then play romantic songs dearest to you and your beloved? We could incorporate making artisan percussion instruments into your reception, so each guest would have a handmade spoon mallet and recycled percussion instrument! Obviously, we would also tie it back to your theme of rustic rodeo clown in Paris…”

If someone shows up with a pan and a kettle under my window after my wedding, all they are going to get is beat down and perhaps a kettle to the head. I’ve seen Taken. Liam Neeson taught me well.

Nuptial Adventures

So, marriage.

I was considering opening up this whole shebang with something like to say “I am getting married to a wonderful person likely sometime around this time next year, blah de blah blah,” but this whole wedding business is an intense, relentless process of weird, full of loaded traditions, ideals, values, rituals, decisions, and more. My partner, future official-spouse-on-paper, and eventual sharer-of-health-insurance, Pastry, is a wonderful man, enthusiastically discussing, planning, moderating, and pouring me drinks when I get a bit fired up about the inherent gender roles in important life rituals. Luckily for me, he is way more patient than I and also makes a great Old Fashioned. Equality, respect, fun, and authenticity are immensely important to us both, and one would think that this would be easy to incorporate into what is essentially a one-day fancy party, right? No. Enter The Wedding Industry Machine.

(Should you be interested, this image of a wedding vending machine is what comes up with you search for the above phrase. As a concept, I think it should incorporate snacks and booze, too. Wedding band, regrettable decisions, cheap whiskey, AND Doritos all in one place!)

Matrimony with a side of Snapple. Post script: Diet Snapple for her as nothing is more important than being slender on your wedding day!

Pastry, code name for my love which requires a somewhat long story, and I have been reworking what is important to us in this gloried event. Meanwhile, I have found that I really enjoy researching wedding traditions over the course of civilization, looking as the evolution of an industry, changing values over time, and the just plain oddity of human matrimonial tradition. So, I’m going to ramble about wedding traditions as well as use this as a space to figure out what is important in this pretty significant life event. I’ll get to the whole why of marriage in a bit.

Also, you can get crabs out of vending machines now, too.

The crab-i-nator.

Tradition, Tradition!

Late Middle English from Old French tradicion or Latin traditio, from trader “deliver, betray,” from trans-‘across’ plus dare ‘give.’ The Latin origin means to hand over, to give. Tradition was used first in the sense of religious doctrines and law, to hand down dogma, to deliver doctrine, but became commonly used by communities and families to signify the transmittance of family custom or ritual.

And, then it all gets a bit weird.