Wedding day luck

It would seem that the time would have to be far too good for it to be done on purpose, yet I was playing with my string quartet at another wedding, when right on cue the red arrows flew over formation. The groom was in the air force and some of his mates had arranged it that the red arrows diverted a little while flying between air displays, and somebody had been on the radio to them and had delayed proceedings until exactly the right moment so that everything was coordinated. It was very impressive, but the aircraft did rather crowned the string quartet out, so we stopped playing and watched.

In Germany one of the wedding couple would die within a year if the priest sneezed during the wedding ceremony (perhaps because the sneeze was believed to be an early symptom of dreaded plague)? I really don't know, but it seems rather extreme, and any vicar who accidentally sneeze must have been absolutely mortified.

In Alabama, whichever of the bride and groom rose first from the altar would be first to die, (nurse interesting one. If they truly loved each other, they would both leap to their feet trying to be the 1st to be coerced to die early. If they didn't really love each other, wouldn't they end up both remaining kneeling and eyeing each other up, waiting for the other 2 happen to get up first and thus be cursed?) In Belgium it was a bit kinder. The 1st to rise at the altar would just be first to rise in the household each morning. Not nearly so dramatic. A Yorkshire bride (wedding barn dance band in Yorkshire) was warned by her maid to make her responses quietly: 'Why, ma'am, you know them 'at speaks loudest dies first.' (Now, would even a threat like that stop you from a typical Yorkshire woman from talking? I doubt it!)

It is still felt to be dangerous for a bride to count her chickens before they are hatched. Girls frequently refuse to read the wedding service beforehand and would get stand-in's for their wedding rehearsal. Trousseaux are rarely fully assembled before the eve of the wedding, and linen used to be marked with the bride's maiden rather than married initials, in the days when it was fashionable for such initialisation to be carried out. A wise girl does not practise signing her new name until it is hers. And of course no one must address her by it in advance. In the early days of photography, which was thought of as rather mysterious and magical minutes infancy, engaged couples were uneasy about being photographed together, lest they seem to anticipate the married state.

Even today in parts of Europe, people are frightened of being photographed. Last year I was in central Spain on caravanning holiday. One town there was horse rider dressed in full costume, stopped by a shop doorway talking to somebody in the shop. It's a beautiful horse and he was spectacularly dressed. Thinking that this was something put on for the tourists, I took a photograph of him, the person the shop saw me and shouted, the rider turned round and held his hand in front of his face towards the camera and I have a photograph of horse rider, but hand and now face. He was most displeased being photographed, even though I apologised profusely. Obviously the tradition or belief, or do you want to call it of the camera stealing one's soul, is a strong in 2016 as it was in the entered the 1800s and early 1900s.

They say a bride should weep on her wedding day, or tears will fall later. (Thinking back to all the weddings that I've played at with my string quartet, certainly a few brides do weave on their wedding day, but I think it's much more common for the groom to be in floods of tears!) Moroccan bridesmaids pinch a too cheerful bride to induce tears — and copious rain to ensure a good harvest of oranges and olives. In the Austrian Tyrol a bride would be given a finely embroidered handkerchief, and would be expected to use it to mop her floods of tears on her wedding day, but gruesomely it was not to be used again until it covered her face at death. (I think it would put me off using anything in the first place!) I remember being at a wedding many years ago, with my string quartet. We had been playing during the wedding breakfast, but paused while speeches were taking place. When it came to the groom's turn, he was overcome by emotion, not about his new wife, but about his mother who he would be leaving. The tears started to flow down his cheeks, and I distinctly remember overhearing his mother leading towards him and hissing angrily at him "pull yourself together  ###", (I can't remember his name, but wouldn't put it here anyway.)

The old custom of the bridal handkerchief (even if not intended for a flood of tears), is still common today: when President Grant's daughter Nellie married from the White House in 1874, she received a $500 lace handkerchief for her trousseau, and in Canada today, it's common for a bride to carry in her bouquet two antique handkerchiefs — one of lace, the other tatted.

A bridal couple, hoping to bear children themselves, had the magical power to bestow this gift on others. (It sounds to me rather as if that is giving permission for the husband to play away!) In Norway and Sweden, to ensure the birth of lots of calves at the farm, the newlyweds visited the cowshed on their return from church, and in full wedding dress, would milk a cow, thus ensuring that her household would never lack milk. (When I was in Spain last year, we stayed at one place where there was hotel that did multiple weddings that weekend. There were some amazingly photogenic rocks on the seashore where the usual "photo opportunity" was indulged in, then the bride and groom headed off down the beach with photographer, all photographers, in tow. Several of the brides and grooms headed into the sea in wedding dress and evening suit, getting thoroughly soaked and covered in sand. At the least this would have been better than being covered in cow  ***!)

Friends of Bohemian brides hid feathers and flaxseed in their shoes, (we've had this stuffing things in shoe idea before, I think it was an island, so the question is again, doesn't it make the bride hobble up the aisle?) to make certain of an abundance of feather beds and linen for the couple in years to come. An acorn in the bridegroom's pocket gave him long life and the sturdy qualities of the oak tree. German brides carried in their shoes a hair from every single animal on the farm, (what a more sensible size, it wouldn't make them hobble, but it might make them skip around a bit if they've got ticklish feet!) and the bridegroom a sample of every kind of grain from the fields, to stimulate the farm's fertility (in his shoes of course, so we're back to the hobbling down the aisle, but this time it is during the recessional and its the bridegroom who is hobbling). With all this stuffing of things in the brides and grooms shoes, I wonder if it needs a special piece of music for them to walk down the aisle to. Normally our string quartet would propose music for the processional and recessional that was easy to walk to, for example something in 4 beats to the bar in a march type, and certainly not something like a waltz and 3 beats to the bar. But with these traditions of stuffing everything under the sun into the bride and groom shoes, perhaps we should rustle up a piece of Greek music in 7/8 time, which would be impossible to walk to normally, but might fit the bill here.

In Morocco the bride's baraka or blessing is bestowed on the grain that is poured onto her lap while she is being dressed and this, with her hair combings, is thrown into a furrow at planting time, to ensure bountiful crops (well that's a bit more sensible, even the hair is a bit like putting newspapers in the trench when your planting runner beans, so there's nothing daft in that). Everything associated with weddings brings luck: even the old-fashioned cottage-window plant, Francoa ratnosa, the 'bridal wreath', spread happiness from its place on the window-sill. (Though not as much as if it was a marijuana plant I guess?)

In countries and on farms where beekeeping was undertaken, the bees were included in the wedding celebrations, in case they died or flew away (so there's a good scientific answer. These have been in decline in the UK and in many other parts of Europe due to the varroa mite infestation hives. There have been many reasons given for this ranging from global warming to agricultural monoculture and pesticides. But the one thing that has never been mentioned as decline of the custom of including the beehives in the wedding ceremony. I think I will write to the Ministry of agriculture with this new discovery.) Traditionally, on wedding days white ribbons were tied to bee hives to honour the bride and one family was reported to have remembered with pleasure that with them a bee had actually gone to church clinging to the bride's bouquet — a good omen. Bees swarming on the wedding day was considered to be full of promise of future prosperity and fertility. In Normandy bees were said to waste no time in stinging a girl who had anticipated the pleasure of marriage, (well what you expect if you get up that sort of thing out in the fields.)

If a younger sister or brother got married before the elder, this was considered to be the wrong order of things and brought bad luck (particularly if the older brother was bigger than the younger brother!) As an antidote the elder child was supposed to dance bare-foot in the pig trough on the wedding day (and why not, everything else about the superstition seemed to be pretty wacky). I've read that roundabout 1860 one Suffolk (wedding string quartets in Suffolk) bride's brother performed with such abandon that the trough fell to pieces; when about 1880 a servant girl in Shropshire (wedding string quartets in Shropshire), England, refused to dance in the trough, her aunt told Ross the next day saying 'So I hear you didna dance barfut! I'm ashamed of you . . . I've a good mind to pull off yer boots for ye now this minute and make ye dance i' the street!'

Customs to do with shoes can also bring luck, and are found at weddings the world over. When Queen Alexandra's protegee, Doris Vivian, left from Buckingham Palace to get married, as she and the groom, Douglas Haig, were about to drive away, someone ran forward to tie an old shoe to their carriage in time-honoured tradition. 'No, No!,' cried the queen. 'They must have this one' and came forward holding out her own silk slipper. (Well, at least that's what was reported, didn't that mean that the Queen was hobbling about with just one shoe for the rest of the day. Surely not. Newspaper reports were just as wild in those days they are now.)

 In a double charm at a Scottish border wedding in 1879 a pair of baby shoes was tied to the bridal carriage. Shoe lore is constantly updated: when the cross-Channel British Rail hovercraft Princess Anne left Dover for Calais on the princess's wedding morning of 14 November 1973, the hovercraft trailed two old boots behind her. (Or at least that's what the papers reported, but with the draft from the skirt of hovercraft, either the boots were lashed on with some very strong cable, or they didn't stay attached for long.)

By tradition, shoes are closely associated with their owners' life essence (is that the same as smelly feet?) and have been found hidden in walls of old houses, apparently as protective charms: their wedding importance may be a related belief. Shoes are often thrown after the pair for luck. Some say this tradition relates to the bride-fight when all handy missiles were snatched up, others that it signifies the transfer of authority from father to husband. The prevalence of new shoes in wedding lore also suggests a passage rite. In Berri, in central France, the best men, echoing Cinderella, attempted to fit the bride's new shoes on her, but all failed except the bridegroom. In Yugoslavia the bride received new shoes after her ceremonial dance at the wedding feast. (All this tradition about shoes, which I'd never realised existed until I started looking into it, makes me think that before we start playing with our string quartet, where we always check that bowties are straight, jackets or dresses neatly in place, we also need to have a shoe inspection, much as the Sergeant Major does to army recruits.)

Shoe stealing is another wedding tradition. Pakistani wedding guests remove their shoes before the ceremony in the customary way. However the bridegroom is reluctant to remove his shoes, f because or he knows that they will be hidden and only released after payment of a forfeit.

Shoes also used in the foretelling and prediction of marriage. At a Leicestershire (wedding string quartets in Leicestershire) wedding in about 1868, the bride's brother threw a tramp's boot over the bridal carriage into the rhododendrons, and in their bridesmaids dresses, the bridesmaids chased after it. One — who (clearly, without any doubt, because this sort of stuff is really scientific and genuinely know, would be first to marry — bore it out in triumph, and the boot hung from a beam by a white satin ribbon for the rest of the wedding day, for luck. This is a custom in Germany to.

(I hadn't really thought about this kind of shoe fetish before I started researching wedding traditions. Many years ago I was being shown around the house by an estate agent. The house had basement rooms and I was keen to see them. When you open the door to the basement steps, there was an overpowering cheesy pong. One of the rooms was lined with shelves with I was told, over 200 pairs of shoes. Estate agents said that they were all running shoes belonging to the owners of the house and that they kept their old shoes as souvenirs, but perhaps it could be that he got married and divorced lots of times, and these were the lucky, all unlucky shoes of his brides. Who knows. We didn't buy the house.)

Not all traditions are about wishing the couple luck. Some people, perhaps jilted ex girlfriends or boyfriends might want to wish them bad luck. Disappointed suitors and spiteful relatives could be depended upon to harbour wedding day grudges. Rev H. Morland Austen, of St Peter's, Thanet, Kent, wrote on 6 April 1850 that when he had married a couple the previous Saturday, the bridegroom's old aunt, disapproving of the match, turned up to pronounce an impressive malediction on the couple, and returned home to sweep her doorstep ritually with a new broom, to 'sweep her nephew from it forever', and then to hang the broom over her door in final and public rejection. Such malevolent traditions must be few and far between, as over the years I must have played for a few thousand weddings, and never has there been the last minute bus stop that seems to happen at every wedding on Coronation Street or EastEnders. All very disappointing really.