The History Behind Wedding Traditions
How Adams County wedding experts help couples say ‘I do’ with new twists and trends
By Karen Hendricks | Photography by Kelsey Kinard
Have you ever wondered where wedding traditions come from? Exactly who invented bridal veils? Has the minister always said, “You may now kiss the bride?” Are over-the-top wedding cakes still “in” or are cupcakes the new tradition?
We put these questions and more to local experts for this fun look back at history—then forward, to explain how today’s couples are putting their own creative spins on wedding traditions.
Tying the Knot: The Wedding Party and Ceremony
Would you believe the tradition of matching, or similar, bridesmaids’ dresses goes back to ancient Rome? Bridesmaids would walk with the bride, protectively surrounding her, until they arrived at the groom’s village for the ceremony. They dressed similarly, to confuse the bride’s former suitors—just in case one sought revenge and tried to kidnap her! Additionally, by wearing matching dresses, it was hoped that the women would confuse evil spirits waiting to attack the bride.
“Overall there are a lot of traditions that fundamentally are still there, but we’re starting to see them in a modern way,” says Taryn Blake of Gettysburg-based Taryn Blake Events. “One of the biggest ones is the traditional wedding party. While there are still many traditional bridesmaids and groomsmen, we’re starting to see a lot more co-ed wedding parties these days.”
Over the past 10 years, her wedding and event planning business has overseen nearly 500 weddings, so she’s on top of the traditions and trends, including colors and design.
“A couple years ago, the trend was more so blush or neutrals, with greenery,” Blake says. “But this year, color, patterns, and texture are making a comeback. Minimalist weddings are still a trend, but we’re also seeing a lot of color right now—floral designs in linens and patterned dresses.”
Weddings are more of an experience that reflect couples’ personalities,
“Couples want to make it a very personalized and memorable experience. They want the guests to walk in and say, ‘Wow, this is so them,’” Blake explains. “Weddings are incorporating a lot of experiential things, which guests are loving—live painters at the wedding, interactive chef food stations and food trucks, live animals like alpacas. Last year, we had our first ’70s-themed disco wedding.”
Beautiful Blooms: Wedding Florals
Bridal bouquets can be traced back to ancient Greece. But—big surprise—those bouquets didn’t contain flowers. Instead, they included aromatic herbs and spices for a special purpose: to ward off evil spirits.
Bridal bouquets focus on florals. A few years ago, when Rebecca Muller started arranging wedding florals as a side hustle, the majority of brides requested white florals and plenty of greenery. Since Muller opened Locaflora on Gettysburg’s Carlisle Street in 2020, trends have shifted. What are brides requesting now?
“Full blown color, terra cotta, Boho colors like deep burgundy with mustard yellow and orange, colors that are so much more saturated,” Muller says. “And organic, free-flowing design instead of a structured bouquet—they want it to be natural and breathe. But that vibrant terra cotta is the big color, and peach colors go perfectly with terra cotta as well.”
Love at First Sight: The Lifting of the Veil, First Look, and First Kiss
Bridal veils hailed from ancient Greece and Rome to protect brides from evil spirits and the devil—and also as a form of modesty. But, in other cultures, the tradition can be traced to fathers who had a hand in arranged marriages. They hid their daughters’ identities behind veils until the wedding ceremony’s unveiling of the bride.
Is it really bad luck for the bride and groom to see each other on their wedding day, before the ceremony? This superstition can be traced to arranged marriages; it was believed that the bride and groom would call off the wedding if they had a “first look” prior to the ceremony.
As for the tradition of the first kiss, years ago, the priest would give the groom a “kiss of peace” during the ceremony. The groom, in turn, would pass the kiss on to the bride. This custom began as a blessing of the marriage inside the church.
“I feel like veils are worn more as an accessory now—never over the face,” says Emily Staley of Em Katrina Photography, based in Fayetteville. She photographed her first wedding about eight years ago.
“With the ‘first look,’ I find that 98% of my couples want their first time they see each other to be when they walk down the aisle,” Staley says. “Couples with children also request ‘first looks’ including their kids, which I think is super cute. And sometimes the ‘first look’ includes grandparents or great-grandparents or dad.”
Her shutter clicks at the rate of about 80 photos an hour—only counting the “good ones.” One of her favorite shots to capture is the first kiss.
“That one I’m always prepared for—I have the high shutter on. And I try to capture just the bride and groom—I ask the minister to step to the side right before they kiss, because it can get awkward with them behind there,” says Staley. “One of the first weddings—I didn’t do that—and the minister was wearing a fedora hat, so there was a hat coming out of their heads. I literally spent hours editing it out.”
Almost every wedding includes unique details she’s never photographed before: Groomsmen wearing colorful socks (with pizzas); bridesmaids who—wearing colorful Vans and Converse sneakers— photobombed the bride and groom; and an upcoming wedding that’ll feature sparklers.
“Thanks to the internet, a lot of people now know what golden hour is, so we run away for 15 minutes during the reception to get that good lighting for movie-quality pictures—and the wedding party is loosened up and not as nervous by then,” says Staley. “It’s so fun getting to know the couples—their fun quirks—and I think that’s what made me fall in love with wedding photography.”
Traditions that Take the Cake: Wedding Desserts
Long ago, before wedding cakes became popular, there was a wedding custom focused on bread. Grooms would take a bite of bread, then crumble the rest over his bride’s head, supposedly for good luck! And that’s not all—there would be a mad scramble by the wedding guests to pick up the crumbs around her feet, so they too, could get their hands on that “good luck.”
When wedding receptions began including cakes, another tradition began: the freezing of the top layer of the cake. It was a thrifty tradition, because that cake was tucked away on ice in hopes that it would become a cake of celebration—to announce the birth of the couple’s first child. As couples began waiting a bit longer to have children, the top layer of the cake was often pulled out of the freezer for the couple’s one-year wedding anniversary.
About 15% of today’s brides keep that tradition of freezing the wedding cake, estimates Monique Washirapunya, of Littlestown bakery Gateau Monique. She’s seen a lot of wedding cake trends come and go in the past 15 years.
When Washirapunya first began baking, “everyone wanted a traditional cake with three or four tiers,” she says. She admits to feeling nervous when brides ripped photos of elaborate cakes—even Martha Stewart concoctions—from bridal magazines.
“It was a good challenge for me at the time, but I like to focus on flavor. What I do—I bake a really good cake with good filling and traditional Italian buttercream,” explains Washirapunya.
As wedding trends evolved into rustic wildflower field, barn, and backyard weddings, brides began requesting a small “cutting cake” along with dessert bars featuring mini-desserts or cupcakes, she says.
“Then the pandemic hit, and weddings changed completely,” says Washirapunya. “In 2020 and 2021, there were tiny elopements, micro weddings, with less than 20 people—but honestly it was one of my favorite years to make cakes, because rather than asking for neutral vanilla, people asked for cakes that made them happy—flavors like chocolate coconut. Now, weddings sizes are growing up to 50 or 100 guests, and cupcakes are COVID-friendly because everyone can grab one as an individual wedding cake.”
What flavors are trending?
“Lemon with lemon curd filling is popular, strawberry shortcake for summer, pumpkin spice explodes in the fall, lots of apple combinations—so many through the years,” says Washirapunya. “What’s most exciting is helping people create their dream cakes.”
Learn more about our experts:
Taryn Blake Events
102 Carlisle St, Gettysburg
Em Katrina Photography
5 S. Queen St, Littlestown