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Historical Wedding Traditions Related to My Lineage

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

When I originally wanted to do this project, I wanted to create a wedding dress with elements of the past and what the wedding dress meant and its importance by creating a story. After asking a few questions over the past couple of weeks, I realized that I wanted to create a visual story showing elements of both my, and my partner's historical background using surface designed and inspired by creatures, botanicals, and historical imagery that's known to each culture. I needed to start by finding out what specific backgrounds we came from.

My Background consists of: Irish, Scottish, British.

My Partners background consists of: Irish, Scottish, British, and Danish (Scandinavian)

*I realized very early on in this process that my partner had a much larger array of historical roots than I did, but I knew it would make for interesting patterns merging together on one surface design.*

The first thing I wanted to start researching was our Irish heritage. I wanted to first start looking into their wedding traditions and find any significant Celtic symbols that could potentially be used in any surface design.

Celtic Wedding Traditions-Irish & Scottish:

In Ireland and Scotland, there are 4 well-known wedding ceremonies that take place: Celtic, Wiccan, Pagan, and Catholic. Although they're different in their own way, they do have some distinct things in common. Each ceremony believes marriage is not just an agreement between two people but is specific on three things:

  • The individual

  • The social

  • The spiritual

A ceremony (not including Catholicism) usually pays respect to mother nature and its elements consisting of Wind, Fire, Earth, and Water which also represent the different directions on the compass.

Each ceremony usually consists of a bride and a groom standing in a circle of loved ones with the bride wearing a crown of flowers and carrying herbs to ward off evil. While the groom wears a crown of Ivy for. Next, they perform the well known "Tying of the knot"

The word and physical action of "Tying the knot" came from the traditional Celtic handfasting which involved couples tying a physical rope around their hands signifying a commitment to one another. It was actually known to be a more important event than actually getting married. Nowadays, most Irish couples do it during the actual ceremony without an event before hand.

"Here is a Handfasting verse:

Now you are bound one to the other With a tie not easy to break. Take the time of binding Before the final vows are made To learn what you need to know - To grow in wisdom and love. That your marriage will be strong That your love will last In this life and beyond."

1.1 Handfasting at any Irish/ Scottish Ceremony

A traditional Irish bride would normally wear white and embroider Celtic symbols on it using embroidery and would also adorn some sort of Irish lace. Some brides would wear blue instead of the traditional white we think of today-it was significant to that of virginity before the universal white dress. Other significant traditions consist of the bride and the groom taking a drink from a goblet to honor the god Dionysus which is the god of wine but also the god of faithful marriage. The shared goblet is called " The invocation". Another would be when a friend would sweep away any bad luck or impurities with a straw broom and the bride and groom would then jump over it to sweep away any evil presence.

1.2 Pagan Wedding Ceremony 1.3 Celtic Knots in a Dress 1.4 Broom Jumping

A specific tradition to Scotland would be the kilts worn by the groomsmen and the groom and the bride sticking white heather in her bouquet. A large detail that many people forget is that Scotland was the first country to allow marriages with only 2 other individuals in attendance. It was one of the first places recorded to have what is now known as elopement.

One thing I haven't discussed yet is the Catholic wedding. It normally takes place in a catholic church preformed by a priest but other elements I've discussed would still be apart of it. Although elements like the bridal look, bouquet, handfasting, Celtic symbols, and so on are still included, it's the concept that it is performed by a priest in the terms of god that makes it catholic.

Side Note: the Pagan weddings which were illegal in Ireland for many years finally became legal and were usually the ones that included handfasting or "tying the knot" and broom jumping. Paganism was overruled by Catholicism and banned because of its witch-like ceremonies that included elements of the natural world and its spiritual dimension. As of December 15th, 2009, A Pagan wedding is now a legitimate ceremony by-law.

Celtic Symbols and meanings:

The first thing that comes up discussing when Irish, Scottish, or Celtic weddings are Celtic symbols. Their meanings are an integral part of Celtic history and are culturally known around the world. I wanted to break down the Celtic symbols and focus on the most important symbols for myself; Looking further into the Celtic significance for me and my partner.

1.The Celtic Tree of Life: A strong and earthly symbol best known for its connection to the druids (an all-powerful being in the UK that began in the 3rd century BCE). The tree of life is a representation of balance and harmony and even turned upside down, shows the same image creating an ongoing circle of life. These trees were best known to hold spirits of someone's ancestors, providing a link between a person's earthly life and the next.

1.5 The Celtic Tree of Life

2. The Triquetra / Trinity Knot: Celtic knots like this represent the meanings of eternal love, strength, and family unity but have multiple meanings and interpretations. The Triquetra is known to be one of the oldest symbols of spirituality to be depicted and recorded. Also known as the Trinity knot, it's one of the most beautiful Celtic symbols that represent an everlasting story of family, love, and life. With no beginning and no end, it represents unity and eternal spirituality.

1.6 The Triquetra-The Trinity Knot doesn't have the circle around it

3. The Claddagh ring: Although known to be Celtic, it's actually from a small coastal fishing village called County Galway and was created by Richard Joyce. It represents loyalty and unity and it is widely exchanged in Ireland and Scotland during wedding ceremonies. However, this ring should never be bought for one's self, it should always be given as a gift.

1.7 The Claddagh Ring-a very common ring in Ireland and Scotland

4. Serch Bythol: Made from two Celtic knots, it symbolizes the everlasting love between two people and means that individuals can be deeply in touch with their emotions and relationships. It's believed to represent two people joined together forever in body, mind, and spirit and the side-by-side design creates an endless interconnected flow of lines without end.

1.8 Serch Bythol- usually split in half to represent individuals coming together

* I'll be using these Celtic symbols for further inspiration and design research in other blog posts*

English Wedding Traditions

Most of the traditions that came out of Britain were actually started in other regions of the world and just carried over into Britain. I won't go into detail about the British wedding in this blog post as I'll be posting about the British wedding and the significance of the wedding dress in another blog post that can be found here.

The next large thing I wanted to research was the Scandinavian/ Danish wedding and its traditions both past and present. My partner and his family are very in-touch with their Danish roots and enjoy a lot of Scandinavian traditions. His family is so in touch with their roots that they consistently have Danish Christmas and classic Danish meals annually-something that I've had the pleasure of being apart of for a few years now.

Being Danish and Scandinavian usually means that you come from a lineage that consists of Viking heritage. Vikings are the true historical starting point of the Scandinavian wedding and they formed many Scandinavian and Nordic wedding traditions couples continue to use today.

Scandinavian (Viking)/ Danish Wedding Traditions

When Vikings got married, it wasn't just a union between the bride and groom but between both of their families. Marriage was the center of the family in Viking culture. Each family had long-lasting negotiations where Norse culture affected everything from property to inheritance. Weddings and their traditions were intricate and a long complex process that took a lot of time before anything was agreed upon, like the following:

1. Picking a wedding date

The Wedding date had to be precise in order to appeal to everyone in the family. Usually, the wedding ceremony would be held on a Friday which is sacred in Norse religion because it pleased the goddess of marriage, Frigga. Weddings would normally extend an entire week and had to consider guests, availability of food and drink, and couldn't be in the winter as it was too hard to travel.

2. Brides rid their “maidenhood” and groom's their "boyhood" coming into marriage

Brides would usually wear a circular Kransen (hair clip) in her hair that symbolized virginity and while surrounded by married women, would have that maidenhood stripped during the removal of her Kransen. The symbolic removal of the Kransen was the first step into marital status and her Kransen would then be held for future daughters. She would then cleanse herself in a bathhouse which symbolized the washing away of her maiden status.

The groom would also be surrounded by married men and fulfill the ritual of digging up a sword from a family grave. During that, the "boyhood" would die and the "manhood" would begin. The sword he'd retrieved would then be saved for future sons. He too would then cleanse himself in a bathhouse, washing away "boyhood" for marital status as a man.

1.9 Painting of females in a Viking bathhouse 2.0 Viking Groom Representation

3. Brides emphasized their hair and grooms carried symbolic weapons

Viking brides and grooms wouldn't normally have an ornate attire but instead would focus on other things. Brides would show off their hair length using braids and a crown which was important in Viking culture and suggested sexual allure. The crown replaces her Kransen and was usually a family heirloom.

Grooms would bring his newly-acquired grave-robbing sword during the ceremony. He would also carry a symbol of Thor such as a hammer or an ax which was believed to ensure a fruitful marriage.

4. Viking Couples Exchanged Rings and Swords

When the couple was ready to exchange rings, the groom would first present the ancestral sword he retrieved and the bride would then give the groom an ancestral sword from her family, transferring the father's protection of the bride, onto the husband-much like a father giving away a bride. This exchange was a symbol of sacred union, sanctified by mystic rituals. Once that was finished the rings would be exchanged to one another using the tip of their swords.

2.1 Bride and Groom represented on their wedding day

5. Thor’s hammer would be placed in the brides Lap

Sometimes the ax that the groom would be yielding would then find its way onto the bride's lap during the wedding feast. The placement of his hammer, "Mjolnir" was a way for the couple to ask for Thor's blessing and to help the bride be fertile.

6. At least six witnesses would accompany the couple to see them consummate the marriage.

Because a Viking wedding took so much planning and negotiation in the first place, after the wedding feast, family members had to watch as the bride and groom consummated the marriage. It was the first binding ritual to make their marriage official.

7. Getting drunk on bridal-ale was a known tradition-the Honeymoon

After the ceremony and the feast, a couple then had to go into a cave to drink honey-based "bridal-ale" as a legal binding requirement. Each moon filled evening, a family member would bring them food and drink and this would last an entire month.

There are modern Danish wedding traditions that are distinct and recognizable traditions still done at weddings today. Although the list is small, they are significant details.

Clinking dinnerware for a newlywed kiss: When wedding guests want the bride and groom to kiss during the reception, the guests tend to take their knives and forks clink it against their dinnerware and they would receive a kiss from the happy couple. Now we all know this to be big in western culture but it's slightly different in Danish culture.

When guests clinked their knives/ forks to their drink glasses the couple had to balance on their chairs while kissing. If guests clinked their knives/ forks to their plates, that's when you would get a regular sitting kiss from the couple.

The Cutting of the Cake: A traditional danish wedding cake is called a "Kransekage", which is a tower of almond paste cookie rings. When a couple is cutting their wedding cake, it's a tradition that the couple holds the cutting knife together as it's considered good luck before midnight. One piece is then handed out to each guest to enjoy.

Saving the Top of the Cake: It is a tradition that the couple saves the top of their wedding cake for their first anniversary or after the baptism of their first child. It's said to bring good luck.

2.2 Bride & Groom cutting the cake 2.3 "Kransekage" cake 2.4 Bride & Groom balancing on chairs for a kiss

Scandinavian symbols and meanings

Most of the symbols known to historical Scandinavian culture and the Viking era are quite different than those of the Celtic culture. Many of these symbols were inspired by Norse mythology which was a big part of Viking culture. Although there are a lot of different symbols and meanings, most of these meanings are related to war, death, power, and men. They didn't really have many symbols that represented love, women, or marriage. As I continue my illustration research, I don't think I'll use any symbolic Norse mythology symbols but instead use traditional Scandinavian embroidery and textile techniques that I'll be exploring in future blog posts.

As always,


Sources/ Pictures Cited:

O'Hara, Keith. "12 Popular Irish Celtic Symbols And Meanings". Explained (Pictures 1.5-1.8)

Information Ireland."Irish Wedding Traditions". 2017. (Pictures 1.2)

Scandinavian Society Malaysia." Scandinavian Wedding Traditions". March 14, 2018.,along%20with%20her%20wedding%20band. (Picture 2.2)

Liz. "Danish Wedding Traditions". Table Top Planner. November 18, 2011. (Picture 2.3)

Wiki. "Wedding Customs by Country". November 8, 2020.

Documents & Designs: Fine Stationery. "Celtic Wedding Traditions". 2020. (Picture 1.3, 1.4)

Unknown. "A Joyful Girl in Copenhagen". April 24, 2013. (Picture 2.4)

Radford, Lyra. "Highly Symbolic And Kind of Outlandish Viking Wedding Traditions And Rituals".October 23, 2020. (Picture 2.1)

Ingebretsen's Nordic Marketplace. "Viking Weddings of Yore". June 2, 2018.,because%20snow%20rendered%20travel%20impractical. (Pictures 1.9, 2.0)

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