Wedding day, date & month customs

Today Lent marriages are still sometimes felt to be unsuitable, even by those whose religious convictions are vague. The belief has proved durable: 'Marry in Lent, live to repent' is the discouraging prediction. (I really must look at the statistics for bookings of string quartets and barn dance bands during the Lent period, to see if this superstition has any effect.)

Days of the week were important also. In Italy, Sunday was the day for weddings; (being half Italian, I should know if this is still a tradition in the country. Could this be an extension of business? It's rare in the UK to have a Sunday wedding ceremony. I don't even know if registrars work on a Sunday? Before the incredibly low airfares with Ryanair and people like that, would it be financially viable to play with string quartet in the UK on a Saturday and then fly out to play in Italy on a Sunday?) A couple married on Monday would have girls or idiots among their children; Tuesday's first boy would be a fawn, or clubfooted; Thursday was the day of witches; Wednesday and Friday, fast days. But bookings for our string quartets to play at weddings are for Saturdays, though there are a reasonable number on Fridays, some Sundays and bank holidays. Things change a bit during the school holiday season when you can get string quartet bookings on most of the days of the week, probably because wedding venues are cheaper to hire weekdays. The ceilidh bands, again it's Saturday that is the main day for weddings, but because we also played a lot for birthday parties, charity events and corporate dos, that there is a much larger spread. On the basis of these superstitions, do string quartets play more long notes on a Sunday than on a Saturday? I'll have to analyse videos.

A widely quoted rhyme influenced others:

Monday for wealth, Tuesday for health, Wednesday best day of all, Thursday for losses, Friday for crosses, And Saturday, no luck at all.

In New England there was never a marrying on ill-omened Friday, 'hangman's day'.

In old China, fortune-tellers determined a suitable day for the 'red affair': red represented wedding happiness: a red sedan chair fetched the bride, clad in red dress and headdress: red was the only colour for wedding umbrellas, tapers, gift boxes — even betrothal letters were written upon red paper. The immutability of a propitious wedding day can change lives. In 1974 the nationwide railway strike in India involving over one million railway workers and 10,000 long-distance trains, meant that as many as 200,000 Hindu couples and their families could not meet for weddings on appointed days. Hindu 'alliances' are arranged by parents after prolonged negotiation and the exact date and time of the wedding is fixed by family priests and astrologers after examination of the couple's horoscopes. If the appointed hour is missed a wait of perhaps a year for another as auspicious may be necessary. A teacher at a Bombay high school was to marry a chemical engineer in Calcutta: during the strike the bridegroom's party, in a fleet of hired taxis, raced 1,500 miles in three days to the rendezvous, but arrived at the Bombay marriage hall two hours after the appointed time. The astrologers quickly conferred, pronouncing the next suitable day as in February 1975, and to mollify the bridegroom's parents the bride's family promptly increased her dowry of §7,600. Some marriages were cancelled completely after such setbacks — to the satisfaction of a few brides who had not cared for their parents' choice of mate; to them George Fernandos, the strikers' leader, was a hero. It's unfortunate that Midsummer Music doesn't hire jazz bands or string quartets in India. It's difficult enough in this country, where occasionally people do try and change the date of their event, which causes absolute mayhem, but if it's a regular trend in India make things impossible.

Many weddings still take place at Easter when Lent ends. (Certainly for Midsummer Music, the wedding season kicks off around this time.) Sir George Head in A Home Tour Through the Manufacturing Districts of England, 1835, wrote of Easter weddings in Manchester parish church to which weddingers were attracted by low fees. Banns had been called for 197 couples; Sir George arrived at the church at 8 am and marrying began at 10. At first the congregation was silent and subdued but high spirits soon asserted themselves and jokes flew back and forth; a shy bridegroom was greeted with an encouraging shout of 'Come in, man! What art thou afraid of? Nobody'11 hurt thee!' and general laughter all round.

The clerk soon had the bridal couples and their friends marshalled round the altar. In his friendly Lancashire (wedding string quartets in Lancashire) way he set everyone at ease: 'Daniel and Phoebe; this way, Daniel, take off your gloves, Daniel. William and Anne; no Anne, here Anne; t'other side, William . . . now all of you give your hats to some person to hold . . . '. Although the service was addressed to all, the clergyman scrupulously obtained responses from each person; a wise precaution, for on one legendary occasion, on a busy day, the Rev Joshua Brookes had accidentally married the wrong parties to each other. When the error was pointed out he brushed the difficulty aside with a brisk 'Pair as you go out! You're all married, pair as you go out!'

But similar confusion might nave more lasting and damaging results. Among the Armenians there were lucky days for marriage and many couples presented themselves at church on the same favoured day. (Did the price to hire a string quartet increase on those days?) On one occasion at Broussa in the late nineteenth century, confusion was great; brides, dressed alike and blindfolded by heavy enveloping crimson veils, were pushed forward by a dense crowd of relatives and friends; two of like stature accidentally changed places. One was a pretty peasant girl, promised bride of a blacksmith, the other the plain daughter of a wealthy city burgher, whose bridegroom was of like class. Not until the end of the ceremony was the disastrous mistake discovered. There was no remedy, so all parties wisely agreed to make the best of a bad job and to 'accept the partners whom Fate had unexpectedly assigned them'.

The idea of marriages en masse survives with vigour at Las Vegas, Nevada, where couples marry at the courthouse or at one of the many wedding chapels - ('No Waiting. Open 24 Hours a Day. Major Credit Cards Accepted') — with such names as Cupid's Wedding Chapel, Chapel of the Roses, Desert Bells Chapel, Little Chapel Around the Corner or The Hitching Post. On busy days licensed ministers — 'Marryin' Sams' — perform ceremonies every fifteen minutes for hours on end. (Certainly in Las Vegas there are on-call jazz bands and string quartets for the instant wedding ceremonies, but as far as I'm aware there are no ceilidh and barn dance bands on offer. Maybe this is a business opportunity?)

Such arrangements cannot please everyone. In Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York, in 1967, nine young couples (of the fifty invited) were married by a magistrate in the city's first municipally-sponsored 'wed-in'. Trousseaux, rings, seven-tier wedding cakes, paper dresses for bridesmaids, bouquets and honeymoons were provided by local enterprises at a cost of about $2,000 for each couple. More staid citizens were shocked; the chief city clerk is reported to have condemned the wedding as 'an offensive common spectacle' and to have suggested that the parks department had erred in taste in organizing the event. A complete review of judges' privileges to perform marriages was immediately put in hand by the city clerk's department which controls such matters.