Weddings

ALMONDS, in the Mediterranean area, have always been important at weddings, and there is a lot of sexual symbolism associated with them. Greek mythology has the Phrygian tale of Attis. In one version he is castrated by the gods and dies. His testicles fell to the ground and sprouted new life in the form of an almond tree (Edwards). At Spanish gypsy weddings everyone heaps pink almond blossom on the bride's head as she dances. Such throwing is known in Greece as "pouring", as if the blossom were life-giving water. Almond paste, known as 'matrimony' because it blends bitter and sweet flavours, usually appears on wedding cakes. Sugared almonds are used these days at Greek weddings, the sugar adding another dimension - white for purity. So universal are they in Greece that the question "when will we eat sugared almonds?" is asked instead of "when will the wedding be?" They are equally prominent at Indian weddings, and some are put at every table-setting at a reception. They may indicate both prosperity and children, i.e., money fertility and sexual fertility. At wedding ceremonies in Rhodes, the bride's hands were anointed with CINNAMON (Rodd) (as an oil, presumably). At Roman weddings, the bridal wreath was of VERVAIN, gathered by the bride herself, and in Germany until quite recently a wreath of it was presented to the newly married bride (Dyer. 1889). In Greece and Rome young married couples were crowned with MARJORAM (Dyer. 1889).

GARLIC. Swedish bridegrooms used to sew sprigs of garlic, thyme or some other strongly-scented plant, into their clothing to avert the evil eye, and in south Arabia the bridegroom wears it in his turban (M Baker). Among gypsy marriage customs was one that required the bride to hang up bundles of garlic in her house - for luck, and against evil, for the garlic turns black after attracting all the evil to itself, and so protects her (Starkie).

HAZEL was the medieval symbol of fertility. Throwing nuts at the bride and bridegroom is sometimes the practice at Greek weddings, and sugar coated nuts are known to take the place of the better-known sugared almonds (see above). Until quite recently, Devonshire brides were given little bags of hazel nuts as they left the church. These had the same significance as rice and confetti have today (Hole. 1957). Ruth Tongue told the story of a Somerset village girl who returned from London to get married. She openly said that she did not intend to be hampered with babies too soon, and would take steps to ensure this. Such talk outraged village morality, and when she got to her new house, she found among the presents a large bag of nuts, to which most of her neighbours had contributed. She had four children very quickly.

There was an old country custom of putting a spray of GORSE in the wedding bouquet (Grieve. 1931), and a Somerset version of the wedding dress rhyme runs:

Something old, Something new, Something borrowed, Something blue, And a sprig of vuz for the belief is that it brings gold to the house (Raymond). The "something blue", at least in Gloucestershire, would be a piece of PERIWINKLE. Some say that it must be worn in the garter for fertility (Vickery. 1995), and in Italy, JASMINE is woven into bridal wreaths. There is a proverb that says that a girl who is worthy of being decorated with jasmine is rich enough for any husband (McDonald). MIGNONETTE was included in the bouquet in France, for it was believed that it would hold a husband's affection (M Baker. 1979).

MYRTLE was said to have the power of creating and perpetuating love (Philpot), and as such was the symbol of married bliss. It was often used on the Continent in the bridal wreath, the forerunner of orange blossom as the bridal emblem. Since the mid-19th century, royal brides have carried in their bouquets a sprig of myrtle from a bush said to have grown from a piece carried by Queen Victoria on her wedding day, growing in the gardens of Windsor Castle (Higgins). The habit spread, until it was quite common for a sprig of myrtle from the bridal wreath to be planted in the bride's garden, but always by a bridesmaid, never by the bride herself (Baker. 1980), for that would be very bad luck. If the sprig did not strike, then the destiny of the planter was to stay an old maid, an unlikely fate in this context, because myrtle roots very easily. On Guernsey, YELLOW IRIS was one of the favourite flowers used for strewing in front of the bride at a wedding (MacCulloch).

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