Traditions and Your Wedding: Tweak Old Ones and Make New Ones!

by Jennifer Cram - Brisbane Marriage Celebrant © (25/11/2021)
Categories:  |  Wedding Ceremony |  Wedding Traditions
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Queen Victoria in her wedding dress.
                            Painted by Winterhalter in 1842, two years
                            after her marriage to Prince AlbertIt's traditional is also often voiced as this is how it is done, when people talk to you about your wedding or give you advice. A tradition is basically something that was a good idea when it was invented. All traditions were invented by someone for some reason that was good, socially acceptable, or in line with a social norm at the time. So it follows that traditions can be comforting. but they can also be a burden if they've outlived their usefulness or express values that are at odds with your own.

Let's step away from weddings for a moment and talk about other festive annual traditions relevant to this time of year. Most of us in Australia bring into a relationship Christmas, New Year, and other traditions from our childhood. The way things were done when we were kids. And we often don't recognise that those traditions may well reflect a melding of or negotiated selection of the traditions our own parents grew up with.

For example. Depending on your cultural background, your family may have had the big dinner and gift opening on Christmas Eve, or early morning gift opening on Christmas Day, followed by a big lunch. Santa may bring all the presents, or only some of them. And the Christmas Tree, if you have one, may go up on a certain day, or be taken down on a certain day.

My family had melded traditions which I only recognised as such in adulthood. We took (and still do) the 12 days of Christmas thing seriously. Our Christmas Tree always went up on Christmas Eve and was always taken down on 6th January. The way it was decorated gave a nod to Norwegian traditions, inherited from a Norwegian aunt by marriage, my mother's family being bigger on Hogmanay traditions than Christmas ones. Once I got married,  Norwegian decorating tradition went by the board..

In my family, on Christmas night, children, including any visiting children, were allowed look for a small gift from Santa on the tree, but real gifts always came from real people, so we knew who to write thank you letters to. We kept that tradition, even though it wasn't my husband's family's tradition. And it did result in some funny moments. I'll never forget how impressed my son's kindy teacher was when he told her that "The Queen" had sent him a track suit, failing, of course, to explain that we always referred to his great-aunt Queenie as "The Queen".

Good reasons to tweak or discard traditions

Creating new traditions is part of making a life together, and it can, and should, start with your wedding.
  • Most Australian wedding traditions hark back to two 19th century weddings - those of Queen Victoria (1840) and her daughter Victoria, the Princess Royal (1858). Queen Victoria established wearing white (and asking that no-one else wears white), but she had a reason - it was the perfect colour to highlight the delicate Honiton lace of her dress. And of course, what the Queen did was regarded as a new rule.
  • Traditional wedding ceremonies as we know them are very much based on the (Christian) Church of England marriage service, even though 80% of wedding ceremonies in Australia are now conducted by a civil marriage celebrant.
  • Civil (secular) weddings (1837 in England) pre-date Queen Victoria's wedding. 
  • Australian wedding traditions are already tweaked traditions, thanks to the influence of American soap operas on the traditions we inherited from England.
  • What makes a wedding boring is that it is predictable. Do something unpredictable, but not weird!

The reasons why couples stick with traditions for their wedding

Sticking with any tradition is understandable, and easily explainable, but is it a good idea? Only you can answer that question in the context of who you are. Knowing the broad reasons why people stick with tradition may make it easier.
  • Sticking with tradition may be seen as the safe option
    When everyone is advising you about wedding tradition, it might seem that going the traditional route is less likely to offend anyone. It depends on what the tradition is!
  • Sticking with a tradition can reduce decision-making, explanations, and complexity,
    If you don't have to think about it is easy to tick the box
  • The wedding industry is geared for "traditional" ways of doing things
  • The wedding industry doesn't strictly differentiate between civil wedding ceremonies and religious ones
  • Vendors may advise that the traditional way is "normal" or "usual"
    Making sure that every part of the wedding predictable is assumed to save time and effort, for everyone.
  • Vendors, friends, and family members may not be aware that something is a tradition Traditions can be so ingrained at a local level that no one has ever asked "why do we do this?" so there may be widespread belief that something that is actually just a tradition is a legal requirement or an unbreakable etiquette rule. When I became a celebrant I was amazed at how widespread the belief is that "With this ring I thee wed" is a legal requirement. It is not!

Tweaking isn't disrupting

In Australian weddings, tweaked traditions have become the norm, but tweaking is not disrupting tradition or making major changes to it. Tweaking a tradition changes it without rendering it unrecognisable. While many celebrants talk about disrupting the industry and doing things differently, in reality what is happening is that the marrying couple is granted a little leeway to make the tradition your own, without making truly material changes.
  • Bridesmaids now generally walk in first instead of following the bride, as was required by a royal wedding. No-one walks in front of the Queen.
  • Wedding cakes come in all sorts of different flavours rather than rich and boozy fruit cake with rock hard icing.
  • We are already incorporating ways of doing weddings borrowed from other traditions and nobody is batting an eyelid. For example, both parents walking you down the aisle, a Jewish tradition, or walking in together, common in weddings in Europe. are variations of the bride's father or other male legal guardian walking her down the aisle.
  • Signs, dogs, and flowergirls scattering petals before the bride, all show American influence.
  • As do rituals like the Unity Candle or Sand Ceremony that have been added as a way of highlighting common verbal traditions (two become one) or rituals like the Warming of the Rings that have been inserted to enhance the exchange of rings and replace the blessing of the rings by a member of the clergy.

Make new traditions

A new tradition is something you do that can either be replicated on your wedding anniversaries, or may be replicated in the weddings of following generations, should they choose to do so. Think about things your family does that replicate or honour weddings of earlier generations. Some of them may be things that you love and want Any tradition you start may or may not survive other generations, and that's fine, because social norms change, budgets change, and traditions are not rules.

A "new" tradition can also be a revived tradition from your cultural background, maybe one that is a fusion of two traditions honouring two cultures.

Thanks for reading!

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