Superstitions surround virtually every kind of event known to man. Weddings are no exception. Similarly, superstitions differ markedly from culture to culture, country to country. Italy has its share of wedding traditions, superstitions and customs as well – many of which are very much the same as wedding traditions throughout the western world. Most of these superstitious beliefs boil down to a handful of things – fertility, good luck and tradition, bad luck/omens and warding off or attracting spirits.
- While not common today, ancient tradition dictated that the groom offered his bride an ear of corn, which was seen as a good omen and symbol of fertility.
- Feast: The sometimes 12+-course wedding feasts, traditional weddings in ancient Rome often started with the breaking of a loaf of bread over the bride’s head. This was meant to confer fertility to the bride and the guests who gathered up the crumbs that fell were said to enjoy good luck. (This tradition eventually evolved into the wedding cake custom.)
Good luck/celebrating tradition
- Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue:
The old, new, borrowed and blue tradition cuts across many cultures and signifies many different things, including good luck and the perpetuation of tradition. Italian brides, too, follow this epithet.
Symbolically, a new item symbolizes the new life the bride is beginning with her marriage. The “old” is often traditional and might be a family heirloom or piece of jewelry and evokes a link to what she leaves behind. The “borrowed” often comes from a family member or close friend, signifying an enduring link and continuity from past into future. And blue evokes sincerity. Traditionally, the bride’s dress was blue but in modern times, brides may carry something blue or wear a blue garter, for example.
- Veiled bride: It is considered lucky if a bride wears a borrowed veil, given to her by a previous bride. At the same time, it is said that a bride should rip her veil to bring good luck.
- Let it rain: As much as rain might put a damper on wedding plans, it is traditionally seen as good luck for a bride if it rains on the wedding day.
- Rehearsal dinner: At the rehearsal dinner in Italian weddings, the best man makes a toast with prosecco, usually exclaiming, “Per cent’anni,” or “A hundred years,” to wish the new couple a century of good luck.
- Green for luck: Italian brides used to wear green on the night before the wedding, which symbolizes both good luck and fertility.
- Flowery wishes: Italian brides have always walked down the aisle with a bouquet of flowers. In the past, the bouquet was the last gift the groom gave to the bride before becoming her husband. The tradition is for the bride to toss her bouquet into a crowd of single women who try to catch it – it’s considered good luck and that the girl who catches the bouquet will be next to marry.
- The getaway: Italian tradition has the bride and groom’s “getaway” car decorated with flowers to symbolize the sweet and fragrant road that lies ahead.
- Wedding favors: Traditional favors of sugar-coated almonds are still given, even though they no longer carry the same weight of symbolism around health, fertility, wealth, joy and longevity.
- Tossing the rice: At weddings the world over, one tradition is throwing rice at the bride and groom upon their departure. This is meant to suggest good luck and happy marriage wishes.
- Lead-in: While in many countries the tradition is for a groom to carry his new bride across the threshold of their new home, in Italy it is also common for the groom to lead his bride through the door, with him walking first. This stems from Roman tradition, which believed that a bride should not stumble when entering her new home, so the husband should lead the way.
- Rings: Engagement rings and wedding bands must be purchased separately, as it is considered bad luck to do both at the same time.
- Sight unseen: It is considered bad luck for the groom to see the bride’s dress before the ceremony. The couple should also not see each other on the wedding day before she walks down the aisle.
- Taking a walk: In Italian tradition, walking to the church was seen as a custom fraught with superstitious meaning. On the walk, the couple might encounter different impediments that might bode well or ill for their future union.
- In superstitious circles, the day of the week on which the wedding is performed makes a difference! According to a common saying, roughly translated, “Neither Venus nor Mars, not married do not start, nor are given in principle to art”. Looking at the days of the week from their Latin-language roots, and the Roman gods they were named after, the day of the week may forecast good or bad tidings for the future of a marriage falling on that day. Neither on Friday (Venus = Friday) nor on Tuesday (Mars = Tuesday) can you get marry or leave, start a trip or a new job. It roughly translates to – anything you start on those days will go unfinished – not the best tidings for a hopefully lifelong marriage! In fact, Tuesday derives from Mars, the ancient Roman god of war and destruction. Friday derives from Venus, the goddess of femininity, also widely believed to be seductively deceitful.
Relations with the spirits
- Couples in Italy traditionally tie a ribbon across the doorway of the church where they are marrying to let passersby know that their wedding is taking place.
- The bridal veil, in addition to being good luck, is also meant to be a defense against evil spirits.
- While a robust bridal party of groomsmen and bridesmaids is not particularly common in Italian weddings today, the tradition in Roman times was for there to be at least ten witnesses to every wedding who all dressed similarly to the bride and groom in order to confuse evil spirits.
- Bouquet origins: While flowers have long been a modern tradition, it was thought in ancient times that warding off evil spirits could best be accomplished if the bride were to carry strong-smelling herbs and garlic.
- The walking or carrying of the bride over the threshold is not just about not letting the new bride take a stumble, it was also about keeping the evil spirits from seizing their last chance to capture her.