Did you know that, historically, the “best man” was the friend of the groom most skilled in the use of arms? In a holdover tradition from the days of the Germanic Goths, wedding etiquette places the best man at an angle to the groom’s right and the (usually kidnapped) bride to his left, leaving right hands free to grasp a nearby club, knife or spear in case the stolen bride’s tribe should arrive uninvited.
Tribal customs dictated other protocols: the giving away of the bride—property exchanged between father and husband, carrying the (screaming, biting) bride over the threshold, and the honeymoon—hiding away with the stolen bride through the four phases of the moon. To the latter, the French added the custom of drinking metheglin, a fermented wine made from honey and spices, thereby adding honey to the moon.
Times have changed. The wedding party is no longer a tug-of-war between hostile tribes, but is a blending of families in an ambiance of respect and affection. Wedding etiquette may include archaic postures that are echoes of the past, but the substance behind the symbolism has changed to reflect new meanings. Father giving the bride away has meaning now as a token of acceptance by the bride’s family of the groom she has chosen. Often, the bride is accompanied down the aisle by both parents to show family support as she enters a new chapter of her life. Designing your own wedding gained popularity in the 1970s as young people exploded cultural mythologies that circumscribed their freedom of expression. From writing their own vows to dispensing with traditional ceremonies, the new couples turned the tying of the knot into an art form.
The wedding ceremony regained some of its former pomp and glamour as brides rediscovered the beauty of tradition following the 1981 wedding of Diana Spencer to Charles, Prince of Wales. Even if you are opting for a “white” or traditional wedding, you have the opportunity to be creative. The bride’s family still will sit on one side of the space and the groom’s on the other, but blended and re-blended families blur the lines among relationships. You will want to give divorced parents and their spouses equal respect with regard to seating and in the receiving line. Other special situations, such as wheelchair accommodations, need to be thought out ahead of time.