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A bridal party in 1918

Wedding ceremony participants, also referred to as the wedding party, or the bridal party, are the people that participate directly in the wedding ceremony itself.

Depending on the location, religion, and style of the wedding, this group may include only the individual people that are marrying, or it may include one or more brides, grooms (or bridegrooms), maids of honor, bridesmaids, best men, groomsmen, flower girls, page boys and ringbearers.



A bride during a traditional Hindu wedding ceremony in India.
Bride and groom in traditional Chinese clothing. The bride and groom wear red or with red decoration, which is associated with courage, loyalty, honor, success, fortune, fertility, happiness, and passion in Chinese culture.
The woman to the far right is wearing a typical wedding dress from 1929. Up until the late 1930s wedding dresses reflected the styles of the day. From that time onward, wedding dresses have been based on Victorian ballgowns.
An elaborate dress from 1929

A bride is a woman about to be married or newly-wed.

The word may come from the Teutonic word for "cook".[1] In Western culture, a bride may be attended by one or more bridesmaids or maids of honor.

Her partner, who becomes her spouse after the wedding, is referred to as the bridegroom (or groom) if male.



In Europe and North America, the typical attire for a bride is a formal dress and a veil. Usually, in the "white wedding" model, the bride's dress is bought specifically for the wedding, and is not in a style that could be worn for any subsequent events. Previously, until at least the middle of the 19th century, the bride generally wore her best dress, whatever color it was, or if the bride was well-off, she ordered a new dress in her favorite color and expected to wear it again.[2]

For first marriages in Western countries, a white wedding dress is usually worn, a tradition started by Queen Victoria's wedding. Through the earlier parts of the 20th century, Western etiquette prescribed that a white dress should not be worn for subsequent marriages, since the wearing of white was mistakenly regarded by some as an ancient symbol of virginity, despite the fact that wearing white is a fairly recent development in wedding traditions.[3][4] Today, Western brides frequently wear white, cream, or ivory dresses for any number of marriages; the color of the dress is not a comment on the bride's sexual history. White wedding dresses are uncommon in Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese traditions, because white is the color of mourning and death in those cultures.

In addition to the gown, the bride often wears a veil and carries a bouquet of flowers, a small heirloom such as a lucky coin, a prayer book, or other token. In Western countries, the bride may wear “something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue.”


The term bride 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, 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 spelt flour, and the holding by the bride of three wheat-ears, a symbol of plenty.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert possibly recreating a wedding pose from their 1840 wedding for the newly developed art form of photography. (1854)

The cake-eating went out of fashion, 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.[5][6]

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 the Jewish faith. It is treaded 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.

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.[7][8]


A bridegroom in India, wearing silk clothes and a garland of flowers
Groom wearing military uniform, with his bride in 1942

A bridegroom (usually shortened to groom) is a man who is about to be married, or who has just been married.

The word bridegroom is dated to 1604, derived from bride and the archaic goom, from Old English guma, "boy".[9]

A bridegroom is typically attended by a best man and groomsmen.

The style of the groom's clothing depends upon the time of day, the location of the ceremony, the style in which the ceremony is performed, and whether the groom is a member of the armed forces. In most parts of the world, active-duty members of the military and some law enforcement agencies wear their military uniforms instead of civilian clothing.

Western traditions usually have the groom wearing a suit of an appropriate level of formality to the occasion and the time of day. In the US, the groom usually wears a dark-coloured suit (daytime) or tuxedo (evening) during the wedding ceremony. British tradition requires groom, male ushers and close male family to wear morning suits.[10] In Scotland, a full evening suit is customarily worn for evening ceremonies, often comprising a kilt.

The groom usually wears a neckwear that fits the attire he is wearing. Most grooms will wear bowtie to match their tuxedo or suit as this is the most formal neckwear in the series.[11] A cravat is usually more flamboyant and less formal and is worn with morning suits. The four in hand tie is also getting more common due to the variety that is easily obtainable.


Seven bridesmaids in matching dresses, with the bride

The bridesmaids are members of the bride's wedding party in a wedding. A bridesmaid is typically a young woman, and often a close friend or sister. She attends to the bride on the day of a wedding or marriage ceremony. Traditionally, bridesmaids were chosen from unwed young women of marriageable age.

The principal bridesmaid, if one is so designated, may be called the chief bridesmaid or maid of honor if she is unmarried, or the matron of honor if she is married. A junior bridesmaid is a girl who is clearly too young to be marriageable, but who is included as an honorary bridesmaid.

Often there is more than one bridesmaid: in modern times the bride chooses how many to ask. Historically, no person of status went out unattended, and the size of the retinue was closely calculated to be appropriate to the family's social status. Then, as now, a large group of bridesmaids provided an opportunity for showing off the family's social status and wealth.

The required duties of bridesmaids are very limited.[12] They are required to attend the wedding ceremony and to assist the bride on the day of the wedding. Bridesmaids in Europe and North America are often asked to assist the bride with planning the wedding and a wedding reception. In modern times, a bridesmaid is also typically asked to play a role in planning wedding-related events, such as a bridal shower or bachelorette party, if there are any. These, however, are optional activities; according to etiquette expert Judith Martin, "Contrary to rumor, bridesmaids are not obliged to entertain in honor of the bride, nor to wear dresses they cannot afford."[13] If it is customary in the bride's area to have a bridesmaids luncheon, then it is hosted, and therefore organized and paid for, by the bride.[14] A junior bridesmaid has no responsibilities beyond attending the wedding.

Since modern bridesmaids, unlike their historical counterparts, can no longer rely on having their clothes and travel expenses paid for by the bride's family, and are sometimes even assessed fees to pay for parties that the bride wants to have before the wedding, it has become customary for the bride to present the bridesmaids with gifts as a sign of gratitude for the support and financial commitment that comes with their roles. It has become equally customary for wary women who are invited to serve as bridesmaids to first ask after the amount of time, energy, and money that the bride expects from them before accepting this position.

Maid of honor

In the United Kingdom, the term "maid of honour" originally referred to the female attendant of a queen. The term bridesmaid is normally used for all bridal attendants in the UK. However, when the attendant is married, or is a mature woman, the term matron of honour is often used. The influence of American English has led to the chief bridesmaid sometimes being called the maid of honor.

In North America, a wedding party might include several bridesmaids, but the maid of honor is the title and position held by the bride's chief attendant, typically her closest friend or sister. In modern day weddings some brides opt to choose a long-time male friend or brother as their head attendant, using the title Best Man or man of honor.

The activities of the principal bridesmaid may be as many or as varied as she allows the bride to impose upon her. Her only required duty is to participate in the wedding ceremony. Typically, however, she is asked for help with the logistics of the wedding as an event, such as addressing invitations, and for her help as a friend, such as attending the bride as she shops for her wedding dress. Many brides expect a chief bridesmaid to arrange and pay for a bridal shower as well as the bachelorette party (US) or hen night (Australia and UK), although it is a social faux pas on the bride's part, since these parties are gifts rather than a right.

On the day of the wedding, her principal duty is to provide practical and emotional support. She might assist the bride with dressing and, if needed, help the bride manage her veil, a bouquet of flowers, a prayer book, or the train of her wedding dress during the day. In a double-ring wedding, the chief bridesmaid is often entrusted with the groom's wedding ring until it is needed during the ceremony. Many brides ask bridesmaids, if they are adults, to be legal witnesses who sign the marriage license after the ceremony. If there is a reception after the wedding, the maid of honor may be asked to offer a toast to the newlyweds.

Origin and history

The Western bridesmaid tradition is thought to have originated from Roman Law, which required ten witnesses at a wedding in order to outsmart evil spirits (believed to attend marriage ceremonies) by dressing in identical clothing to the bride and groom, so that the evil spirits would not know who was getting married.[citation needed] Even as late as 19th century England, there was a belief that ill-wishers could administer curses and taint the wedding.[citation needed] In Victorian wedding photographs, for example, the bride and groom are frequently dressed in the same fashion as other members of the bridal party.[citation needed]

Other people cite the Biblical story of Jacob, and his two wives Leah and Rachel, who both literally came with their own maids as detailed in the Book of Genesis (29:24, 46:18) as the origin of bridesmaids. These women were handmaidens (servants or slaves) instead of social peers.[citation needed]


A groomsman or usher is one of the male attendants to the bridegroom in a wedding ceremony. The term groomsman is more common in the United States, and usher is more common in the UK. Usually the bridegroom selects his closest friends and/or relatives to serve as a groomsman, and it is considered an honor to be selected. From his groomsmen, the groom usually chooses one to serve as best man. The duties of the groomsmen are to help guests find their places before the ceremony and to participate in the wedding ceremony.

Additionally, the groom may request other kinds of assistance, such as planning celebratory events such as a bachelor party, also called Stag Night or Buck's Night; helping make the wedding pleasant for guests by talking with people who are alone or dancing with unaccompanied guests or bridesmaids, if there is dancing at a wedding reception; or providing practical assistance with gifts, luggage, or unexpected complications. Groomsmen may also participate in local or regional traditions, such as decorating the newlywed couple's car.

For a wedding with many guests, the groom may also ask other male friends and relatives to act as ushers without otherwise participating in the wedding ceremony; their sole task is ushering guests to their seats before the ceremony. Ushers may also be hired for very large weddings.

In a military officer's wedding, the role of groomsmen is replaced by swordsmen of the sword honor guard. They are usually picked as close personal friends of the groom who have served with him. Their role includes forming the traditional saber arch for the married couple and guests to walk through.

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 kidnap the bride.

Best man

Three groomsmen stand to the right of the groom and three bridesmaids stand to the left of the bride in this wedding in Kampot, Cambodia.

Best man is the chief male assistant to the bridegroom at a wedding. In North America and Europe, the groom extends this honor to someone who is close to him, generally either a brother or his closest male friend. When the groom wishes to give this honor to a woman, she may be termed the best woman or best person, or may still be referred to as the 'best man'. The bride's equivalent of the best man is the maid or matron of honour. A gender-neutral term is honor attendant.

While the best man's required duties are only those of a friend, in the context of an American/British white wedding, the best man will typically:

  • assist the groom on the wedding day,
  • keep the wedding rings safe until needed during the ceremony,
  • act as a legal witness to the marriage, and
  • make a toast to the bride and groom at the reception. (Formerly, the best man would read out the telegrams of those who couldn't attend).

In the past, the bachelor party was typically scheduled for a convenient evening during the week before the wedding. A type of farewell dinner, it was always hosted, and therefore organized and paid for, by the bridegroom.[14] Common slang names for this event are bachelor party, stag do or bucks' night in different parts of the world. In many areas, this dinner is now most commonly organized by the best man, and the costs are shared by all of the participants.[15]

The best man, or honor attendants in general, are not universal customs.[16] Even in places where a best man is customary, the role may be quite different when compared to other areas or times.

In most modern, English-speaking countries, the best man is usually the groom's closest male friend. Some authors believe that the best man derives from ancient customs of marriage by kidnapping, or from defending the bride from would-be kidnappers.[17][18]

In Eastern Orthodox weddings in Greece, the best man is often also the koumbaros or religious sponsor, and is traditionally the groom's godfather.[16] The koumbaros (or koumbara, if a woman) is an honored participant who crowns the couple and participates in circling the altar three times. In some areas, this person also pays for all the wedding expenses.

In Ukraine a best man is responsible for guarding the bride during the wedding festivities. When he or the groom steps away, the bride gets "kidnapped" or has a shoe stolen. Then the groom or the best man must pay a ransom in exchange for returning the bride, usually by paying money (which is given to the bride) or by doing something embarrassing.[19]

In Uganda a best man is expected to guide the newlyweds in the ways of marriage. This means that ideally a best man must be married, preferably to one wife and should be in position to give sound, tried and tested advice. A best man must be a confidant and be discreet about the details he shares with the new couple.[citation needed]

In Bhutan the best man presents himself at the wedding as a ceremonial guardian to both bride and groom. Thereafter he entertains the guests, sometimes for several hours.

Flower girls

Flower girl

A flower girl is a participant in a wedding procession. Like ring bearers and page boys, flower girls are usually members of the bride's or groom's extended family, but may also be friends.[20]

Typically, the flower girl walks in front of the bride during an entrance processional. She may spread flower petals on the floor before the bride or carry a bouquet of flowers or thornless roses. Once the processional is over, a young flower girl will sit down with her parents. If the ceremony will not be particularly long, an older child may prefer to quietly stand at the altar with the other honor attendants.

Because very young children are overwhelmed by the duties, and older girls may feel insulted by a "baby" role, the recommended age is between four and eight years of age,[21] or even older, if not offensive to the girl's feelings.

There may be more than one flower girl, particularly if the bride has several young relatives to honor. This practice is more common at British royal weddings, at elaborate weddings modeled after royal weddings, or at Victorian-themed weddings.

Historically, the clothing was provided by the families of the bride and groom, but most modern couples expect the parents of the flower girl to pay for her clothing and other expenses related to her participation.[20]

Her male equivalent is the ringbearer or page boy. Often the ringbearer and the flower girl are made to look like a couple, and they may be dressed in miniature versions of the bride's and groom's clothes.

Page boys, coinbearers and ringbearers

A page boy is a young male attendant at a wedding or cotillion. This type of wedding attendant is less common than it used to be, but is still a way of including young relatives or the children of relatives and friends in a wedding. A page is often seen at British royal weddings. There may be many pages for effect at cotillions.

Traditionally, page boys carry the bride's train, especially if she is wearing a dress with a long train. Because of the difficulty of managing the train, page boys are generally no younger than age seven, with older boys being preferred for more complicated duties.[22]

A ringbearer holding a wedding ring on a cushion.

In a formal wedding, the ring bearer is a special page who carries the wedding rings for the bridal party. This is almost always symbolic, with the ring bearer carrying a large white satin pillow on which imitation rings are sewn, while the real wedding bands are kept in the safekeeping of the best man. If the real rings are used, they are tacked on with thread to prevent their accidental loss.

The ringbearer as a separate role is a relatively modern innovation. In today's common wedding ceremony, the best man carries the rings.

Ring bearers are often nephews or young brothers (although they can also be nieces or sisters) and are generally in the same age range as flower girls, which is to say that they are no younger than about 5 nor older than 10.[22] If the couple have had children prior to marriage, their own child(ren) may serve as ring bearer.

The coinbearer is similar to that of the ringbearer. The coin bearer is a young boy who marches on the wedding aisle to bring the wedding coins. The wedding coins are more commonly known as wedding arrhae.[23]. The coins are presented to the celebrant for a blessing. The coins usually consist of thirteen gold and silver coins, to represent Jesus and his apostles.[citation needed] Historially, Spanish colonizers started this custom.[citation needed]


Jewish bride approaches a chuppah

In the United States, Canada and many other countries around the world, a celebrant is a person who performs religious or secular celebrancy services for weddings, funerals, child namings, coming of age ceremonies, and other rituals.

Some Celebrants are ordained clergy, while others are Officiants empowered by the Humanist Association of Canada (HAC), the American Humanist Association (AHA), or the Society for Humanistic Judaism. (SHJ). In Australia, where Celebrants are commonly hired, they may be certified by any one of a number of Celebrancy training programs, while in the UK, most belong to one of a number of Humanist organizations, including the British Humanist Association and the Humanist Society of Scotland.

Celebrants may perform alternative and nontraditional ceremonies in places, and under circumstances where mainstream religious clergy will not. Some Celebrants perform same-sex weddings and commitment ceremonies. Celebrants, also called Officiants, often perform ceremonies in parks, on beaches, on mountains, on boats, on hiking trails, in hotels, in banquet halls, in private homes, and many other places.

Laws in each state of the United States vary about who has the ability to perform wedding ceremonies, but Celebrants or Officiants are usually categorized as "clergy" and have the same rights and responsibilities as ordained clergy. In Canada and in the US States of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, and Vermont, the only places in North America where same-sex marriages are legalized, Celebrants and Officiants perform many LGBT weddings.

In Scotland, since a June 2005 ruling by the Registrar General, humanist weddings are now legal, providing that they are conducted by an Authorized Celebrant of the Humanist Society of Scotland making Scotland one of only three countries in the world where this is the case. (The other two are the USA and Norway.)

Celebrants differ from Chaplains in that Celebrants serve the unaffiliated public at large, while Chaplains are usually employed by an institution such as a hospital or other health care facility, the military, etc.

In Australia, Celebrants have a slightly different role, as regulated by local and national laws. See Celebrant (Australia) for more information.

In the United States, Celebrants are professional ceremony officiants who believe in the power and effectiveness of ceremony and ritual to serve basic needs of society and the individual. They collaborate with their clients to create and perform personalized ceremonies that reflect the client’s beliefs, philosophy of life, and personality; not the Celebrant’s. See Celebrant (United States) for more information.

In Quaker weddings the couple marry each other with no third party officiating.


Modern-day weddings

Historical weddings

See also

  • Aufruf, a Jewish ceremony for bridegrooms


This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

  1. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary
  2. ^ (Monger 2004, p. 107)
  3. ^ Maura Banim; Ali Guy; Green, Eileen (2003). Through the Wardrobe: Women's Relationship with Their Clothes (Dress, Body, Culture). Oxford, UK: Berg Publishers. pp. 61–62. ISBN 1-85973-388-3. 
  4. ^ Martin, Judith (2005). Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, Freshly Updated. Kamen, Gloria. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 408–411. ISBN 0-393-05874-3. 
  5. ^ (Monger & 2004 p49-52)
  6. ^ (Monger 2004, p. 232)
  7. ^ Brand, Antiquities of Great Britain (Hazlitt's ed., 1905)
  8. ^ Rev J. Edward Vaux, Church Folklore (1894)
  9. ^ *Klein, Ernest, Dr., A comprehensive etymological dictionary of the English language dealing with the origin of words and their sense development thus illustrating the history of civilization and culture, Elsevier (Science B.V.), Oxford, 1971, page 324
  10. ^
  11. ^ Neckwear for Wedding
  12. ^ Martin, Judith (2005). Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, Freshly Updated. Kamen, Gloria. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 383. ISBN 0-393-05874-3. "[I]n polite society...the bridesmaids' only duties are to make a special fuss over the bride by gathering around her at the wedding and, in the weeks before, by pretending to be interested in all the wedding details. It is also nice, but not obligatory, for them to plan a girlishly informal gathering—a luncheon or shower—for her beforehand." 
  13. ^ Martin, Judith (1999). Miss Manners on weddings. New York: Crown Publishers. pp. 136–137. ISBN 0-609-60431-7. 
  14. ^ a b Post, Emily (1922). Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home'. Funk & Wagnalls Company. pp. 335–337. 
  15. ^ Post, Peggy (2006). Emily Post's wedding etiquette (5 ed.). London: Collins. pp. 183–184. ISBN 0-06-074504-5. 
  16. ^ a b "International Wedding Customs". Retrieved 2008-06-20. 
  17. ^ T. Sharper Knowlson (2008) [1910]. The Origins of Popular Superstitions and Customs (Forgotten Books). Forgotten Books. pp. 100–102. ISBN 1-60506-4580. 
  18. ^ Leopold Wagner (1995). Manners, Customs and Observances. Omnigraphics Inc. pp. 61–62. ISBN 978-1605067988. 
  19. ^ "What's On Kiev". Retrieved 2008. 
  20. ^ a b Post, Peggy. Emily Post's Wedding Etiquette, 5e. London: Collins. pp. 85. ISBN 0-06-074504-5. 
  21. ^
  22. ^ a b Stewart, Arlene Hamilton (1995). A bride's book of wedding traditions. New York: Hearst Books. pp. 106. ISBN 0-688-12768-1. 
  23. ^

Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

by Antoni Lange, translated by Watson Kirkeonnell

Virgins waiting long with sorrow,
Bring your boughs and precious gums -
Pleat a chaplet for to-morrow:
Lo, he comes, the bridegroom comes.

Many years you've waited, weeping;
Far he seem'd, you wish'd him near -
Suddenly, while you are sleeping,
See the godlike pronce appear.

He has come, like daysping shining -
Risen, living, robed in white.
Virgins pain'd with long repining.
Have your lamps no oil to-night?


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