Throwing the wedding bouquet tradition

I've played it a number of ceilidhs over the years with the bride does throw the stocking or garter in this way, though I can't recall it happening in the last few years. Perhaps some of these customs are regrettably dying, but I hope that what I've written here will inspire some new brides to carry on some of the less wacky of the customs, at least.

The American customs of throwing bouquet, garter and boutonniere are direct descendants of the old frolic of 'flinging the stocking'.

These lively bedroom sports, dependent upon the presence of the newlyweds, were common until about 1780: but, rather sadly, the increasing decorum of the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and the growing popularity of wedding journeys and honeymoons (which after the days of capture had lapsed in favour of immediate entry into married life at home) brought about their end.

In the midst of the merriment, protective rituals were inevitably remembered. German brides sewed five crosses into their bridal quilts, against witches. Seven dates, seven leaves from seven fruit trees and a leaf of basil, stitched into the bridal mattress held the love of an Algerian husband. Scottish bridegrooms took care not to leave the bridal bed before their wives, or they would bear all the pains of childbirth. (Good job I'm not Scottish. My wife can get out of bed quite chirpily in the morning, where it takes me an age to get up. I never had any childbirth pains, so obviously for an Englishman this particular tradition isn't relevant.) Whichever of the pair slept first on the wedding night would die first: the first to wake next day would be master of the household — and first to rise in the morning! The wedding-night candle was portentous: if it glowed red when blown out, all was well, but no glow showed that one of the pair had been unfaithful before marriage, and a grand row was only too likely before morning. A Moroccan marriage was always consummated in a blaze of candlelight — so that the wife might appear to her husband 'as a shining light'.

Fertility was supremely important at this moment. In Ireland a hen about to lay an egg was tied to the bridal bedpost, or the couple were given a double-yolked egg to eat. A picture of fruit or flowers on the bridal-chamber wall and a piece of child's furniture about the room created a sympathetic atmosphere for rapid conception. In China five different coins of five different emperors nailed to the bridal bedstead guaranteed the couple at least twenty-five children! The Scottish bridal bed was always made up by a woman 'with milk in her breasts', for by imitative magic her handling of mattress and blankets 'magnetised' the bed for the couple about to occupy it.

In America and Britain today the consummation of marriages is little mentioned but such reticence is certainly not the case where virginity — and its evidence — are of great public interest. It's really strange that this is the case, because modern society thinks itself as sexually free compared with those in the past. This may well be the case if comparing it with the recent past, from Victorian times up to the 1950s or 60s, but it doesn't seem to be the case compared with earlier times.

In Spain a cheerful crowd hangs below the bridal window singing spicy coplas, and when the bridegroom comes to the window to announce that all has gone well he is greeted with a great cheer, whistling and flag-waving. Since virginity usually affects the price asked for the bride, the bridegroom is naturally interested in the closer inspection of his bargain, and expects fair value for money. In many eastern Mediterranean countries the stained bridal nightdress and sheet flutter proudly from the nuptial window for several days for the village to admire and approve. Can you imagine the fuss and shock that would occur if this was to happen in your typical sleepy Cotswold village? I shudder to think.

There are apparently good times or bad for consummation. In rural America, for example, consummation at or near the full moon is held to be particularly enjoyable, and in Cambridgeshire (see Cambridgeshire wedding barn dance band) it was arranged if possible that the harvest moon of autumn should shine upon the bridal bed to fertilise the bride. In Spain it is said that only intercourse at the waxing moon will result in the conception of sons, and a family doctor in the English Midlands told the writer in 1975 that the week before he had been asked by three women patients if it were true that intercourse at the full moon invariably resulted in pregnancy. It is thought that as the moon has 'filled' so will the wife!

If a widower married a girl much younger than he, or in village eyes a bereaved one remarried too hastily, the couple might be victims of chivari, an onomatopoeic name for the racket of tin cans, pots, pans and sheet iron, beaten below the couple's window by a hooting, shouting village rabble. I suppose society was much closer knit back in those days, and we would be shocked if this were to happen today.

In Spain, it has been written that widows, fearful of humiliating cencerrada, rarely remarried, but one who did risk wedding her lover of many years was chivaried in fine style, with villagers meeting at the couple's farm to shout ribald verses and to bang upon their instruments. The victims wisely laid low, but after a time sent out their bailiff with a great jug of wine which he diplomatically handed round to the serenaders and the civil guard keeping a precautionary eye on events. As if by magic, this changed the whole mood of the party, and the offensive verses were quickly replaced by shouts of 'Ole, Ole' as the tormentors straggled happily homewards. When a barber in Seville, enthusiastic ringleader in many chivaris, himself married, the street outside the house was jammed on his wedding night with hundreds of his former victims, gathered by instinctive agreement to take a handsome and rackety revenge.

There were other wedding-night pranks practised by chivari-ers. In A Cornishman at Oxford, 1965, A. L. Rowse, the historian, remembered that in Cornwall (see barn dance bands in Cornwall) his Uncle Harry and Aunt Polly had found their door nailed up and chimney blocked when they returned from their wedding. The joke was clearly erotic. Chivari was perhaps introduced into America by the French of Louisiana, or by emigrating Cornish miners: the young miners of Fairplay near Dubuque, on the Wisconsin—Illinois border, certainly welcomed the chance for chivari and kept the uproar going until dawn. On one lively night the landlord of the American House Tavern and his wife, finding the noise unendurable, each rushed furiously from different doors of the house with buckets of water to quell the riot. The collided in the dark at the side of the inn and to everyone's delight, the wife, without further enquiry, thoroughly doused her husband!

A similar uproar, 'rough music', 'riding the stang' or 'skimmington', greeted such misdemeanours of married life as adultery, wifebeating, or nagging. This is a funny mixture of restrictive moral standards and liberalised standards. As you'll see from what I've written above, people got up to things that would be considered shocking today. However, regarding subjects like adultery or nagging, things that might well be taken with the flow these days, they had strict rulings. Of course, it's hardly surprising, as the majority of moral standards are just fashionable inventions of society, and few are what could be considered to be inbuilt the organism, the human, beyond those that relate to evolutionary success in continuing the species.

Rough music (which is what you get from a barn dance band when they've had too much to drink), was often more a punishment of a compliant victim than of a wrongdoer, for by failing to play an appropriate sexual role he or she had jeopardised the collective wellbeing of the whole community. In a typical judgement, Breton fishermen tethered the luckless and henpecked husband to a cart, with a petticoat fluttering beside him, while in another cart rode the masterful wife, accompanied by a pair of trousers, to show that in this household at least, she wore them.



The bridal night was short. Wellwishers not only bedded the couple but roused them at dawn. At Ste Ursule guests, still singing, marched home by starlight, yet everyone still wearing his replica bride's garter was ready at sunrise to thunder a lively reveille on the bridal door. Early on the day after the wedding the bride, still in bed, once received the morgengabe or 'morning gift' from her husband, to show his satisfaction with his bargain. When this had changed hands there was no returning her.

Scottish bridegrooms had a particularly trying day after the wedding. "Tis a custom for the friends to endeavour the next day ... to make the new-married man as drunk as possible,' was written by Mr Allan Ramsay in 1721. 'Creeling' was a further ordeal. The bridegroom's friends fixed on his back a creel or basket full of stones (representing newly-assumed and weighty responsibilities). He was made to run round the town and was not allowed to drop his burden. His friends took good care that he did not! Only if the bride kissed him —and she might be a tease, or shy — was he released. The custom was self-perpetuating since the last man creeled was in charge and full of egalitarianism. But the custom, in Galashiels at least, was brought to a halt when about 1800 one Robert Young, on pretence of'sore back', lay abed all day following his wedding, flatly refusing to rise to be creeled: he had been married twice before, he said, and had had more than enough of creeling!

This all sounds like quite an ordeal and a lot of hard work, but it's so different to the modern hen party or stag party, where bride, groom and often bridesmaids are some of the guests have to, or voluntarily put themselves through all sorts of agonies of drunkenness and forfeits.