Startling Origins of Wedding Traditions

Since the month of June just rolled in, let’s talk about weddings.

Few weeks ago I was asked to emcee a wedding reception. Actually, my daughter (now 21) and I were the emcees and I really enjoyed the experience. I have done emceeing for same kind as well as other events before, but this was the first time I shared the task with my daughter. We got compliments in doing the gig, so maybe next time we should charge a fee for our services.

In preparation for the job we did some research of some of the common wedding traditions and its origins. What we found about these traditions were really fascinating and some even shocking. I’ll share some of them here:

Wedding veil. This wedding tradition dates back to the days when the marriages were pre-arranged. Well, I understand that arranged marriages exist up to this day. Traditionally, the bride’s family or perhaps also the groom’s family would not allow the groom to see his bride until the day of the wedding. This is because if he didn’t like her looks, there was a chance that he might not agree to marry her. Thus, the veil was used to conceal the bride’s appearance up until the time the groom raises the veil after the ceremony. I can only imagine how many grooms got surprised or perhaps even horrified on their wedding day.

Bridesmaids. It is now customary to have bridesmaids to be part of the wedding entourage. They usually wear matching outfits that are similar or closely similar to the bride’s. According to the tradition and superstition, the reason there were bridesmaids that were garb with same clothes as the bride was to confuse the evil spirits and prevent them from finding the bride and thus spare her harm. I wonder if during those days when the bride blends with her bridesmaids, did that confused the groom too?

Bestman. The groom usually picks his closest friend or a brother to be his bestman. However centuries ago, men resort to stealing or kidnapping their bride-to-be from their family if they disapprove of him. So the groom chooses his “best man” to protect him and his bride from the pursuing family. They are called best man for a reason, as they are the best swordsman or the best warrior. And so you thought their job was just to secure the wedding rings.

Bride and Groom’s position. It is by tradition that the bride stands at the left side of the groom during the wedding ceremony. So when they face the congregation, the bride is on the right and the groom is on the left from the perspective of the audience. I heard that the reason for this is because the bride should be always right. I am not arguing that, because my wife tells me so. However, the real reason for the tradition again dates back centuries ago, when duels can ensue during the wedding. The bride is on the left side of the groom so his right arm is free to hold a sword in case there is a fight.

Ring on the left hand’s fourth finger. Do you even wonder why we put our wedding band on the left fourth finger? The reason we put the ring here is because the Romans believe that there is an artery in this finger that connects directly straight to the heart. However, anatomically that does not exist. It’s a myth. If I can suggest it should be worn on the middle finger. So when somebody annoyingly flirts with you, you can flash your middle finger with your wedding band on it, to tell them to back off.

Bride’s flower bouquet. At the recent wedding that we emceed for, the ceremony was delayed as the bouquet of flowers was delivered late. So we have to wait for several minutes until the flowers arrived. Obviously the ceremony is not complete nowadays without it. However in the olden times, the bride carry a bouquet for a more practical reason. During the time of the Bubonic Plague in Europe where millions of people die, the bride carry a bouquet of garlic and herbs to cover up the stench of death around them. It was also thought that the bouquet of herbs or flowers can ward the evil spirits.

Bouquet toss. It is now a tradition that the bride will toss her bouquet of flowers to the gathered single ladies. The one who caught the bouquet is thought to be the next in line to be wed. However that was not the purpose the bride throw away the bouquet centuries ago. During those days, the crowd could be so envious of the bride that they would attack her, tore up her clothes and grab her bouquet. So the bride would purposely toss the bouquet to the crowd to prevent her from being assaulted. What a mean crowd.

That’s all for now folks. Do you know of other wedding traditions with bizarre ancient origin?

Lastly, I heard that before it became a traditional wedding march, it was actually a wedding run….

(image from the web)

The Wedding

The young couple looks gorgeous that day. He looks impressive in his impeccable Marine Corps Dress Blue uniform. While she looks beaming in her gorgeous flowing white dress with a beautiful bouquet of flowers in her hands.

The minister was ready. The most important guests were in attendance and ready. The place was basking in radiant lights and ready. It was time for a wedding.

Many would dream to have their wedding in a big historic cathedral. Others would prefer in a more Edenic scene, like an enchanting garden. While some would choose a more relaxed yet romantic place, like an exotic beach.

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photo I took in a beach at Ilocos Norte

But the wedding that I witnessed did not happen in any of the above special places. Instead it happened in one of our mundane Intensive Care Unit (ICU) room.

Yes, you read it right, a hospital ICU room.

At least the room has a big window with a view of an old nearby church. At least the room was warm and bright, as it was gloomy and cold outside in that wintry afternoon. Not to mention that it was a very expensive room to be in. A day’s stay in the ICU is far more costly than a night in Ritz-Carlton Hotel in New York City.

The groom’s mother had been sick for a while. She had been in and out of the hospital for several months for a variety of medical problems. And now she got seriously ill and had been lingering and languishing in our ICU for about a month. She had been on mechanical ventilator and we were unable to get her weaned off of it.

The groom’s father had been sick as well. In fact, he was admitted also in the hospital and just got out a few days ago.

But the young couple wanted to commit to their vow to each other, whatever the circumstances may be. Perhaps they have been planning for their wedding for some time. The groom even came home from overseas where he was stationed. And I’m sure that the original plan was not to get married in a hospital. But you roll along with what life offers you. It must go on.

So in the presence of their parents and choice guests, in that cramped hospital room; there was no bright glare of church’s grand chandelier, but instead a glow of ICU floodlights; no wedding bells were ringing, instead intravenous pumps were alarming; no melodious birds were singing, instead the constant chirping of the ICU monitors; no sounds of ocean waves lapping on the sand, just the low hum of the ventilator: where the two lovers exchanged their sacred “I do’s.”

There is no such thing as a perfect place for a wedding. No such thing as a perfect day to get married. There is no perfect circumstances. Not even perfect couple. Just perfect love.

In the midst of sickness and suffering, when life hangs precariously in a dance between life and death, in a world of uncertainty and unclear tomorrow, love still conquers all. It always will.

May you all have a meaningful Valentine’s.

*****

(*This is the second ICU wedding I witnessed; read the other one here.)

Making Things Right

“I just want to make things right.”

That was what my patient told me not too long ago. Wanting to make things right. Don’t we all? Here is his story.

He was in his 50’s, and he presented to the hospital with leg swelling and worsening shortness of breath. After initial work-up in the Emergency Room, he was diagnosed with blood clots in the legs and lungs (veno-thromboembolism). Serious condition.

His chest CT scan also showed a lung mass. After further work-up, which includes a biopsy, it was found to be cancer. Cancer in itself is a risk for developing blood clots. Bad prognosis.

After further more work-up, it was determined that the lung cancer was far advanced. It has spread to the bones, liver, and lymph nodes. Grim outlook.

During his hospital stay, his condition deteriorated and was transferred to the ICU.

I approached him as he laid in his ICU bed. Knowing the severity of his condition, I asked him about his “code status.” That is, what he wants us to do if in case he cannot breathe on his own, does he wants us to place a tube down his throat and have a machine breathe for him? Or if his heart stops, does he want us to shock his heart or pound on his chest and try to resuscitate him? Or, does he just want us to let him go peacefully?

There was a long pause before he replied, as he breathed heavily under the oxygen mask. “I want everything done,” he finally answered. “I want everything done, until I have done one thing. I want to get married.”

Get married? Did I hear him right? Is he of a sound mind or is he confused and hallucinating?

As he continued talking, I ascertained that he was very alert and not confused at all. I did not ask why he wanted to get married, but he explained to me the reason why. Perhaps he saw the quizzical look on my face.

“I just want to make things right,” was his reason. Apparently, he was living-in with his girlfriend for twelve long years. He wanted to make their union legal. This would make her girlfriend the legal decision-maker for him if he becomes incompetent. And she would also inherit his estate without questions, when he dies. But more so, he just wanted to show her how he loved her over the years, but did not quite made it to the altar. Now, he was “making things right.”

Two days later, there was a wedding ceremony in our ICU room. A bride, a groom, a chaplain, and a couple of witnesses. That was all you need for a wedding. Of course there was a gown too. No, not a wedding gown. A patient’s hospital gown. And it was the groom who wore it.

There was many well-wishers too, courtesy of the ICU staff.

The patient’s son was also present. I believe he was his son from a previous relationship, and he came from out-of-state to visit his very ill father. He was probably expecting to attend a funeral, but was surprised that he was attending a wedding instead.

A few days after the wedding, our patient’s condition improved that he was able to be transferred out of the ICU to the Oncology floor. Perhaps, getting married gave him hope and a different outlook in life, and willed himself to get better.

He was started on combined regimen of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Hope springs eternal.

Two weeks later, his condition started to decline once more. He grew weaker and weaker. It became more and more difficult for him to breathe. This time, he told us, he does not want to be resuscitated if his heart stops or if he cannot breathe on his own. I guess, he already accomplished his one wish, and now he was ready.

Then one day, he quietly faded in the break of dawn. And he left a newly wed bride, a widow.

Cancer stumps hope. A so familiar scenario, sadly to say.

Yet love conquers all.