Wedding symbolism: all symbols explained - Tania… (2023)

What do we know about the wedding symbolism and what is behind every unique tradition of the big day? As a wedding planner, I often work with couples who don’t like some of the more classic wedding traditions. From the bride who wants to get married in a colourful dress to non-gold wedding rings, to the absence of sugared almonds and many other variations to a traditional wedding.

Although every wedding should be completely customised according to the spouses’ wishes, it is helpful to know what lies behind every traditional symbol that appears on the wedding day: let’s discover the wedding symbolism.

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The symbol of eternal love: the yellow gold wedding rings

I will dwell a little on the symbolism of the rings since almost everyone knows their romantic meaning. Wedding rings are traditionally perfect rounded circles to symbolise the endless love that connects the couple.

Furthermore, if placed side by side, the two circles inevitably create an infinity symbol—another element of the mutual commitment of eternal love.

In most of Europe, the material is usually yellow gold. This is not only another symbol of the strongness and solidity of the relationship but also a value in front of God in the Christian tradition. Indeed, the areolae of the saints are perfect golden circles.

Although various wedding bands are common today – in rose gold, white gold, diamonds or platinum – yellow gold remains by far the favourite of Catholic spouses.

Although I’m sure, few of them know its deep symbolism!

White or colourful dress?

Within the wedding symbolism, the white dress is another element of which almost everyone knows the meaning: purity. It is no mystery that historically the bride must walk down the aisle chaste. It is precisely this virginity that is highlighted by the white colour of the dress.

However, not everyone knows that this tradition is not only exquisitely Christian and Jewish but also relatively new.

Since 1800, the white dress has become a practice in wedding symbolism.

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It seems that the first bride to wear a white dress for her wedding in 1406 was Princess Philippa of England. But the tradition took hold only over 400 years later with the marriage of Queen Victoria of England in 1840.

In France at that time, white was even a symbol of mourning, as is the case today in India and China!

During the Middle Ages, the brides’ dresses were in precious fabrics, embroidered and very colourful, to symbolise the wealth of the birth family. For this reason, the bride often wore velvet and silk. Or the classic fur coat that we see so often in historical films.

Going even further back, in Roman times, the bride was characterised by a simple white tunic tied at the waist by a woollen belt knotted in the traditional Herculean knot. A knot which only her husband could untie! She completed the outfit with a saffron yellow surcoat.

Today, although white is rarely a symbol of purity, as it is traditionally understood, this colour still represents the new birth. The couple is reborn again in the family on the wedding day.

Indeed a profound symbolism, both in a Catholic and secular key!

Wedding veil symbolism

The veil that we see today as an almost essential accessory for the bride has a symbolic history that is not the most romantic, at least in the Middle Ages.

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The veil was used in Ancient Rome to protect the bride from evil spirits and preserve the fertility and happiness of the future couple. For this reason, like the surcoat, the veil was also orange – or yellow or red – to represent the flames of the Goddess Vesta, protector of the hearth.

Furthermore, during the ceremony, the head of the groom was also covered by the veil.

If this is the romantic part of the story, the veil took on a decidedly more materialistic connotation in the Middle Ages. With the spread of arranged marriages, the veil had the sole purpose of obscuring the bride’s face until the ceremony to prevent her future husband from repudiating her because she did not appreciate its aesthetic appearance.

A quite materialistic function, right?

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Fortunately, that time has ended. Today the symbolism of the wedding veil is associated with the same symbol as the white dress: the purity of the couple’s love.

Bouquet: good omen and protection

The symbol of the bouquet is linked to protection too. This very traditional element of marriage has an extremely ancient history.

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In pre-Christian times, brides used to show up to the ceremony with a branch of myrtle and rosemary, symbols of good luck, fertility and loyalty. Over the centuries, the meaning stayed more or less the same. To chase away evil spirits – thanks to particular aromatic herbs – and protect the new family.

It is also said that deliberately aphrodisiac-smelling flowers were used in the Middle Ages.

Today the bouquet has wholly lost this meaning, becoming an essential accessory. Strictly in the same colours as the wedding theme!

But brides who pay attention to the symbolism of flowers are not uncommon. However, it would need a whole article to be analysed!

Garter: another strange wedding symbol

Like any wedding symbol, the history of the garter and its symbolism begins many centuries ago. We are in the 1400s when a superstition seems to have spread according to which making a garter directly from the fabric of the wedding dress – and wearing it on the wedding day – was a good omen for the couple’s fertility.

Later, however, the symbol was placed side by side – on the contrary – with that of chastity.

Finding the garter in the wedding room the day after the wedding meant that the marriage had been consummated during the first night, and the bride’s purity ended.

This is also a rather materialistic function!

Today, the garter tradition is linked more to the dimension of fun, with the classic game of the groom who takes it off the thigh of his new bride in front of relatives and friends.

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Ribbon cutting: new life

The tradition of cutting the ribbon is not known throughout Europe but is quite common in the South. The wedding symbolism linked to cutting the ribbon – which we usually find at the door of the bride’s house – is twofold.

  • The cutting of the umbilical cord with the birth family
  • The finish line and the inauguration of a new part of the life

I must say that this tradition is used – and is charged with true meaning – by couples who choose not to live together before marriage.

In this case, the moment is fascinating!

Throwing of rice: fertility and abundance

The throwing of rice is one of the most classic wedding traditions. Its central symbolism is abundance, and it seems that this meaning comes from an ancient oriental legend. The legend – decidedly bloody – tells that in times of famine, the Genius of the Countryside tore his teeth out of desperation and threw them into the wasteland.

Shortly after that, white rice grains began to grow, and the people were fed. Rice, therefore, brings us back to a wish for fertility and material abundance for the future family.

In Ancient Rome, rice was replaced by the cheaper and more common wheat, but the symbolism remained the same.

It also seems that different types of rice are assigned to distinct symbols. If you are interested in learning more, I have discussed it in detail in this article.

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Sugared almond symbolism: fertility!

In the case of sugared almonds, the wedding symbolism takes us – one more time – back to Ancient Rome. Here it was common for the guests to bring hard candies as a gift to the spouses to wish for wealth. As if they were coins!

A symbolism that during the Middle Ages underwent an evolution: no longer wealth but fertility. In the Middle Ages, the sugared almond was not yet as we know it but a simple sweet and soft candy that contained a coriander seed. And it was this matryoshka effect that made it a symbol of fertility!

Today, tradition states that sugared almonds should always be in odd numbers – so that the union cannot be divided. And they must also be strictly more than three.

  • 3 to represent the couple and the future child
  • 5 to represent fertility, longevity, happiness, wealth and health

Which number would you choose?

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Flight of doves: eternal commitment

Did you know that doves remain faithful to their mate all their life? It is clear that the symbolism of the flight of doves is eternal love and loyalty to each other.

For the Greeks, they were also a symbol of purity and passion, while for Christians, they symbolise peace and a good omen. All perfect wishes for a wedding!

Flying over the animal rights aspect – which still deserves to be explored for a conscious choice – we must admit that in the wedding symbolism, that of doves is one of the most intense.

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Cake and cake cutting: not just the beginning of the party

The moment of cutting the cake is the one that kicks off the real party. But even here, the meaning is actually deep. Indeed, the meanings!

Yes, something as fun as a wedding cake hides much more than cream and calories.

  • The circular shape of the cake symbolises eternal love – as in the case of wedding bands.
  • The levels of the cake, the difficulties of life that the couple will have to face together
  • The catholic symbol of purity returns with that historian of wealth and prosperity in the white cream.
    Indeed, refined white sugar was expensive and reserved only for the wealthiest families.

In the moment of cutting, however, the joined hands of the spouses represent their union in front of hardships. Traditionally, the bride should cut the cake and offer it to her husband, family, and groom’s family to establish herself as the new hostess. A tradition now considered outdated.

Today, the caterers themselves take care of cutting the cake and distributing it to the guests.

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Wedding symbolism: what could you not give up?

As we have seen, history is intertwined with the legend when it comes to wedding symbolism, and nothing is as taken for granted as it seems. Each element has its place in marriage. But the couple will choose which of these symbols they want to bring to their big day. If all, some or…(almost) none!

However, I will be by your side to guide you in the magical world of wedding preparations.

By the way, have you already started? Contact me!

Tania Costantino – Full Service Wedding Planner in Sicily


Photo Credits:Alberto Cosenza; Giuseppe Santanastasio Photographer


What are the symbols in wedding ceremony? ›

The symbolism of wedding customs is shown in the wedding ring, joining of hands, and the presence of small children around the bride. The children are a form of sympathetic magic, and symbolize future children. The custom of throwing grain, rice, or confetti is another fertility symbol.

What do the symbols of marriage represent? ›

The first rings were made of braided hemp and Romans later constructed their wedding rings of iron. Today's rings are made of gold to symbolize the purity and everlasting aspects of marriage while the unbroken circle of the ring represents the continuity of marriage.

What is the symbol of Arrhae in wedding? ›

The word arras in Spanish means "earnest money,” and the coins represent the groom's promise to provide for the family. The bride's acceptance of the coins symbolizes her trust in her soon-to-be husband to do so. “Traditionally, there are 13 coins, 12 gold and one platinum, all the same size,” de Velasco explains.

What are the 5 parts of the wedding ceremony in order? ›

Order Of Wedding Ceremony
  • Processional. The processional begins with bridesmaids and groomsmen walking down the aisle, typically paired up. ...
  • Readings. A few people may be invited up to share or exchange readings at this point in the ceremony. ...
  • Exchange of Vows. ...
  • Pronouncement of Marriage. ...
  • Unity Ceremony.
1 May 2018

What flower symbolizes marriage? ›

Calla Lily

This trumpet shape bloom represents a symbol of marriage and has a meaning of innocence and purity. The stem grows straight with a trumpet-shaped delicate curled flower and comes in a variety of bright colors. The name originates from a Greek word, beauty.

What is the universal symbol for marriage? ›

According to the International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family, the wedding ring is “the oldest and most universal symbol of marriage.” Wedding rings are so ancient, in fact, that their origins are unknown.

What is the symbol of love in marriage? ›

Red roses are modern symbols of love and marriage around the world and were also representative of affection in ancient times as well. In ancient Greek and Roman mythology, red roses are often attributed to beautiful goddesses.

Why does marriage have 3 knots? ›

The three knots ties represent important aspects of marriage. The first knot represents her obedience her husband, the second knot signifies her commitment to the husband's parents and the third knot represents the respect for the God. Mangalsutra is usually a black beaded chain in the thin wire of gold.

What does garter symbolize in wedding? ›

Traditionally, the wedding garter most often symbolizes love and luck. In the Middle Ages it was more tied up with notions of virginity and the consummation of marriage; these days it's more of a fun, lighthearted wedding way to show off the couple's chemistry and interact with their guests.

What do the pillows symbolize in wedding? ›

And the meaning? The ribbon attached to the pillow means a vow and a commitment to the love one another and representing a symbol of bond between the couple to be married and it is as precious thing as their commitment to one another.

What symbolizes the garter at a wedding? ›

Brides later began wearing a specific article of clothing to be given out as the lucky piece: the garter. PHEW! Another theory – family and friends would take the garter as proof of consummation.

What are the 4 types of ceremony? ›

Types of Ceremonies
  • Weddings. I honestly believe that your wedding is one of the most important days of your life. ...
  • Commitments. A way to declare your commitment and love as a couple to family and friends. ...
  • Renewals. ...
  • Rituals. ...
  • Namings.

What are the 3 parts of a wedding? ›

"There is typically a welcome or introduction by the minister, followed by the exchange of vows. The couple then exchanges rings, and after the couple shares a kiss, the minister announces them for the first time as a married couple," says Miller.

Who walks down aisle first? ›

Parents of Partner #1 walk down the aisle, followed by parents of Partner #2; then, Partner #1 and Partner #2 walk down the aisle together. Partner #1 waits at the altar/chuppah and meets Partner #2 halfway down the aisle; then they walk the rest of the aisle together, arm-in-arm.

What does lavender mean in a wedding? ›

Lavender is said to bring good luck but it is also a symbol of love and devotion, making it a particularly meaningful flower to include in your wedding decor. Lavender also has calming properties, meaning it may take away some of the nerves if you get a sniff pre-ceremony!

What flower means forever love? ›

Admired for its sweet scent and trailing vines of pink and orange flowers, the honeysuckle symbolizes devoted and everlasting love.

What symbolizes marriage in the Bible? ›

Marriage involves spiritual, emotional, and physical closeness. In the Old Testament, we are taught, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Married couples are meant to be unified in every possible way.

What is the circle of love at a wedding? ›

In hand fasting ceremonies, bride and groom walk from different directions and merge at the altar; the ceremony is conducted in a circle, where they are surrounded by the love of friends and family. The circle has always represented unity, togetherness and eternity.

What is a symbol of love and commitment? ›

The fact that diamonds are so strong, resilient and enduring, “makes them such a fitting representation of love and commitment.” That's why it makes perfect sense that we honor and celebrate this rare occasion with a similarly rare gem.

What are the 4 types of love in a marriage? ›

The Four Types of Love: Some Are Healthy, Some Are Not
  • Eros: erotic, passionate love. We might as well get that one out of the way first. ...
  • Philia: love of friends and equals. ...
  • Storge: love of parents for children. ...
  • Agape: love of mankind.
9 Feb 2015

What is the symbol of true love? ›

The Heart: The most popular symbol of love, a heart is used to represent the center of emotion, including affection and love, especially romantic love. A heart pierced with an arrow is meant to symbolize romantic love.

What is a symbol of relationship? ›

The heart is the most widely recognized and universally known symbol of "What is love?" It is a recognized love symbol all across the world and is used in many different designs, such as the Irish Claddagh, to represent love and loyalty.

Why does groom's sister tie the knot? ›

Interestingly, the sister of the groom ties the knot, thereby symbolising the acceptance of the bride as a family member. It is also a gesture of welcoming the new member of the bride.

What is the most powerful knot? ›

The constrictor knot is one of the most effective binding knots. Simple and secure, it is a harsh knot that can be difficult or impossible to untie once tightened. It is made similarly to a clove hitch but with one end passed under the other, forming an overhand knot under a riding turn.

What is a triangle marriage? ›

A triangle relationship is a complex love situation in which there are more than two people romantically involved. A triangle relationship means that there is a sexual and/or emotional attachment between two people, with one of them being involved with another person.

Why does the flower girl drop petals? ›

The petals she scatters represent the bride's transformation into a devoted wife. The tradition of the flower girl going in front of the bride to protect her from harm on her wedding day likely originated from the belief that the scent of the petals might drive away evil spirits.

Why groom goes under bride's dress? ›

Wedding season is almost here, and if you'll be a guest at multiple summer weddings, you might see one or two instances of the wedding garter toss. In this long-standing tradition, the groom reaches under the bride's dress to remove the garter and throws it to the male wedding guests.

Why do brides wear 2 garters? ›

A garter is worn by a bride to keep her stockings in place. As a result, there is no one "right" leg on which to wear it. Depending on your own personal choice, you can wear your garter on either your left or right leg. In order to have a "garter to toss" and a "garter to retain," many brides opt to wear two garters.

What does veil symbolize? ›

The veil came to symbolize modesty and obedience. In many religions it is seen as a symbol of reverence for women to cover their heads. When white wedding dresses were worn to symbolize chastity, the white veil followed suit.

What does the flower girl represent? ›

In modern times, a flower girl may indeed symbolize wishes for fertility and the forming of a new family. However, it seems that today, most couples include a flower girl in the wedding party to honor a little one who is close to the family.

What do paper cranes symbolize wedding? ›

By. An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand paper cranes will be granted one wish and good luck. So it's no surprise that in more recent times couples have adopted this lovely tradition and adapted it for their wedding decor.

Who gives the bride something blue? ›

Grandmothers often gift the bride a piece of vintage jewelry for the “something old” segment, and “blue” can be interpreted in many ways— from ribbons to shoes to bridesmaids dresses and so on. Some brides choose to give themselves the objects, but this is less common than receiving small gifts that fit the old rhyme.

What does the bouquet toss mean? ›

The bouquet toss in modern times is a symbol of good luck. It is said if you catch the bouquet, then you will have good fortune and you will be the next to get married. The bouquet toss usually happens after the cake cutting.

Why does a bride wear a veil? ›

"Historically, veils were used to represent modesty and purity in religious ceremonies, however, the meaning has since evolved. Now, veils are seen as a modern accessory to help capture the true essence and personal style of each and every bride."

What is the symbol of happy marriage? ›

Typically the character "囍" is written in Chinese calligraphy, and frequently appears on traditional decorative items, associated with marriage. Double happiness symbol also often found all over the wedding ceremony, as well as on gift items given to the bride and groom.

What symbol means love forever? ›

Doves have long been considered symbols of love and peace. Along with their cooing and bowing courting rituals, doves mate for a lifetime, which has come to symbolize fidelity. Often, a depiction of two doves together translates to everlasting, eternal love.


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