The term bride is used of a woman on her wedding-day, and applicable during the first year of wifehood. It appears in combination with many words, some of them obsolete. Thus “bridegroom” is the newly married man, and “bride-bell,” “bride-banquet” are old equivalents of wedding-bells, wedding-breakfast. “Bridal” (from Bride-ale), originally the wedding-feast itself, has grown into a general descriptive adjective, e.g. the bridal party, the bridal ceremony. The bride-cake had its origin in the Roman confarreatio, a form of marriage, the essential features of which were the eating by the couple of a cake made of salt, water and flour, and the holding by the bride of three wheat-ears, symbolical of plenty. Under Tiberius the cake-eating fell into disuse, but the wheat ears survived. In the middle ages they were either worn or carried by the bride. Eventually it became the custom for the young girls to assemble outside the church porch and throw grains of wheat over the bride, and afterwards a scramble for the grains took place. In time the wheat-grains came to be cooked into thin dry biscuits, which were broken over the bride’s head, as is the custom in Scotland to-day, an oatmeal cake being used. In Elizabeth’s reign these biscuits began to take the form of small rectangular cakes made of eggs, milk, sugar, currants and spices. Every wedding guest had one at least, and the whole collection were thrown at the bride the instant she crossed the threshold. Those which lighted on her head or shoulders were most prized by the scramblers. At last these cakes became amalgamated into a large one which took on its full glories of almond paste and ornaments during Charles II.’s time. But even to-day in rural parishes, e.g. north Notts, wheat is thrown over the bridal couple with the cry “Bread for life and pudding for ever,” expressive of a wish that the newly wed may be always affluent. The throwing of rice, a very ancient custom but one later than the wheat, is symbolical of the wish that the bridal may be fruitful.
The bride-cup was the bowl or loving-cup in which the bridegroom pledged the bride, and she him. The custom of breaking this wine-cup, after the bridal couple had drained its contents, is common to both the Jews and the members of the Greek Church. The former dash it against the wall or on the ground, the latter tread it under foot. The phrase “bride-cup” was also sometimes used of the bowl of spiced wine prepared at night for the bridal couple. Bride-favours, anciently called bride-lace, were at first pieces of gold, silk or other lace, used to bind up the sprigs of rosemary formerly worn at weddings. These took later the form of bunches of ribbons, which were at last metamorphosed into rosettes. Bridegroom-men and bridesmaids had formerly important duties. The men were called bride-knights, and represented a survival of the primitive days of marriage by capture, when a man called his friends in to assist to “lift” the bride. Bridesmaids were usual in Saxon England. The senior of them had personally to attend the bride for some days before the wedding. The making of the bridal wreath, the decoration of the tables for the wedding feast, the dressing of the bride, were among her special tasks. In the same way the senior groomsman (the best man) was the personal attendant of the husband. The bride-wain, the wagon in which the bride was driven to her new home, gave its name to the weddings of any poor deserving couple, who drove a “wain” round the
village, collecting small sums of money or articles of furniture towards their housekeeping. These were called bidding-weddings, or bid-ales, which were in the nature of “benefit” feasts. So general is still the custom of “bidding-weddings” in Wales, that printers usually keep the form of invitation in type. Sometimes as many as six hundred couples will walk in the bridal procession. The bride’s wreath is a Christian substitute for the gilt coronet all Jewish brides wore. The crowning of the bride is still observed by the Russians, and the Calvinists of Holland and Switzerland. The wearing of orange blossoms is said to have started with the Saracens, who regarded them as emblems of fecundity. It was introduced into Europe by the Crusaders. The bride’s veil is the modern form of the flammeum or large yellow veil which completely enveloped the Greek and Roman brides during the ceremony. Such a covering is still in use among the Jews and the Persians.