In early Roman times, wheat was the grain of choice for the wedding ceremony, as wheat, not rice, symbolized fertility. The virginal bride carried a sheaf of wheat in her hand throughout the ceremony, or wore a garland of wheat in her hair. Instead of the bride tossing a bouquet, as is traditionally done today, wedding guests tossed grains of wheat at her, and young, single girls clambered for the grains that bounced off of the young bride, believing that these grains could ensure them a trip down the bridal path soon thereafter.
After that grains like wheat or rice were thrown at the newlyweds generally so the couple would be prosperous and have many children to help them farm the land. For Pagans food as part of wedding traditions was a popular option because it symbolised an abundant harvest and the gift of fertility, both things that were key for a happy life.
The wheat tossing custom fell by the wayside under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, when the wheat instead was baked into small cakes, which the guests then crumbled and tossed over the bride’s head. This tradition gave way to another, in which a large wheat cake was baked, then eaten, not tossed. Wedding guests, needed to find a suitable substitute for the costly wheat cakes to toss at the bride - the natural choice was cheap, clean, white rice, and the tradition then born has stuck to this day.
In other countries, different foods are thrown during weddings. For example, in Morocco, newlyweds are showered with figs and raisins to ensure a fruitful union. Italians traditionally throw candy and sweetened nuts. In Korea, the groom’s father throws red dates at his new daughter-in-law to attract fertility.
In Indian weddings, after tying the mangal sutra on the bride, the bride and groom shower one another with “talambralu”, which is rice mixed with saffron & turmeric. This denotes the couple’s desire for happiness, enjoyment and contentment. Initially they take turns to shower the rice, but as time progresses the bride and groom begin to compete with each other, making for entertaining photos and lots of fun and laughter.
Nowdays many venues don’t allow confetti, so maybe rice tossing seems like something we should embrace again - its biodegradable, simple and cheap…and the urban myth about it making birds that eating it explode is just that, a myth! Just don’t throw it too hard! What do you remember from weddings of the past that we don’t see so often now? Share one of your wedding memories with us and we’ll feature it in an upcoming blog at National Vintage Wedding Fair.
Are you going to be a vintage bride soon? Come visit one of our upcoming vintage wedding fairs in Cambridge on 14th September, Harrogate on 21st September, Stoke Newington, London on 12th October or Chiswick, London on 9th November and find everything you need for your big day. For more details check the website – www.vintageweddingfair.co.uk.
Written by Sarah Gorlov