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Weddings and Honeymoons | Celtic Cultural Minute

Evgeniy Smersh

After all the courting and bonfire leaping and maypole dancing going on in the old Celtic countries in May, it is not surprising that young lovers’ thoughts might turn to marriage in June. And so, as that magical month of weddings approaches, let’s explore some Celtic wedding traditions and tales…

In Scottish weddings, where clan ties are strongly felt, it is customary for the groom to pin a plaid or sash of his family tartan on his bride after their exchange of rings, and nothing says Scottish wedding like a piper. Piping the arrival and/or the departure of the bride and groom is most common, and goes back to the tradition of clan chiefs having personal pipers leading them with ceremonious fanfare.

A Scottish Penny Wedding is one where every guest would “bring a plate” or drink to celebrate the wedding. Anyone with a special talent would perform – singing, telling stories, playing an instrument – to contribute to the festivities. Mummers would also perform, bringing merriment, magic and a bit of bawdiness.

A Penny Wedding was a truly communal celebration that reflected your community, your friends and family much more than a reception that you planned yourself.

Another tradition with Scottish roots is handfasting, the joining together of the young lovers’ hands with ribbon or a silken cord in front of witnesses. In Scotland, it served most often as a betrothal tradition. There are many other highly romantic, though historically shaky, accounts of the history and meaning of handfasting, but whatever its story, it has become a popular, beautiful addition to many weddings today.

The Claddagh ring, named for an Irish fishing village on the edge of Galway City, is widely given by young Irish men to their girlfriends, and it's often inherited from a mother or father. The hands represent friendship, the heart represents love, and the crown represents loyalty

Single women traditionally wear the ring on the right hand, with the ring facing outward. When in a relationship, it's turned inwards, indicating that the lady isn't looking for anyone. But the ring is moved to the left hand, when the wearer becomes engaged (point outward), and turned inward on that hand once married. The lovely symbolism makes the Claddagh a popular engagement or wedding ring.

Other traditions include:

The Last Stitch:
Mking the last stitch on the bride's gown on the wedding day to bring good luck.

The Irish Grushie, or Scramble:
A tradition of tossing a handful of coins to the wedding guests and candy to the children, to bring good luck and prosperity to the newlyweds.

A fine day meant good luck, especially if the sun shone on the bride. (If you're Catholic, one way to make certain that it won't rain is to put a statue of the all-purpose Infant of Prague outside the church before your ceremony.)

It was also lucky to hear a cuckoo on the wedding morning or to see three magpies, and of course, your guests would ring small wedding bells to scare off bad spirits and misfortune. In Wales, brides carried live myrtle and gave a sprig to each bridesmaid to plant. If it grew, the bridesmaid would marry within the year.

And the white wedding dress, representing virginity and purity – well, for that, we have Queen Victoria’s wedding to thank. Long before that, blue was the color that conveyed those ideas, and many a bride would have worn a blue wedding dress. Thus, something borrowed, something blue…

And to close, a favorite Irish wedding toast…

Wishing you always walls for the wind,
A roof for the rain,
Tea beside the fire,
And the love and laughter of those you hold dear.

For Celtic Cultural Alliance, this is Kate Scuffle. Slainte.

Kate Scuffle is the host of Lehigh Valley Arts Salon and the Celtic Cultural Minute on WDIY. She is an administrator, producer, educator, writer and artist in the non-profit/arts communities.
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