New England wedding customs and superstitions in the 1700s mixed home-grown ideas and practices imported mainly from Britain.
Some wedding customs, like wearing a borrowed object, persist to this day. New Englanders have abandoned other wedding customs, however, such as preferring cold weather for the ceremony.
Cold Weather Wedding Customs
Newlyweds rarely took honeymoon journeys, and the season for festivities happened in cold weather. Generally in New England country villages, the winter holidays didn’t interfere with farm work.
Thanksgiving evening was a favorite time for weddings, especially suitable as the time of family gatherings.
The Wedding Rhyme
The ‘wedding rhyme’ helped the New England bride-to-be choose the day of her marriage:
Monday for health,
Tuesday for wealth,
Wednesday the best day of all;
Thursday for losses,
Friday for crosses,
And Saturday no luck at all.
Superstition made Friday an unlucky day for many enterprises, not just weddings. But why Wednesday was the best day for a wedding is a mystery. Some, though, insisted it was that the name, Wednesday, could be pronounced Weddings-day.
Sunday, left out of the rhyme, was a common evening of choice for a quiet wedding, since fewer guests would attend a Sunday event.
Many brides made considerable wedding preparations. Some girls spent years collecting home furnishings in anticipation of the day when they would marry and have their own home.
Others, however, considered it bad luck to accumulate goods or decorations before a wedding. They feared it would jinx the marriage and prevent it from happening.
Wedding customs also included superstitions about things that could prevent a bride from getting married. In quilting, for instance, the girl who finished the last stitch would marry first among the group. Dropping scissors, spool, or thimble caused potential bad luck, however. The reason? A girl who looked at the underside of an unfinished quilt would never get married.
Spreading the News
The date of a wedding required a formal announcement so everyone would find it acceptable. Proper announcements prevented unacceptable elopements. Also, the wedding announcement might expose an ineligible marriage candidate — such as someone already married.
In many places, the news was announced – or “cried” – in the weekly church meeting. More commonly, the town clerk posted a notice of a couple’s intent to marry for three successive Sundays. Once published, the couple had a year to marry or they needed to publish the intent again.
The publication of the notice prompted people to tease the prospective bride and groom, so in some cases the couple would publish the notice in a church other than their own.
The Wedding Venue
Wedding customs also dictated the location of the ceremony. Usually a couple married at the home of the bride. Then on the next day the the parents or near-relative of the groom entertained the bridal pair, with a large party of friends, at their house. Mainers called it the ‘second-day wedding.’
Sometimes, but rarely, a marriage took place at the new home of the young couple. According to an old superstition, a wedding should not be the first festivity held in a new house. Occasionally a couple held a party before the wedding simply to prevent that from happening.
Early wedding customs did not include church nuptials, perhaps because the Puritans considered marriage a civil contract. A magistrate rather than a clergyman officiated at the ceremony. The introduction of religious rites and prayers to weddings came later in New England.
Quakers could marry according to their own wedding customs. They published and married themselves in their public meetings with a simple formula. The law acknowledged such unions, if duly recorded by ‘the clerk of the meeting,’ and forwarded to the legal authorities.
The Wedding Party
Then as now, it was a delicate matter to find the right bridesmaids and groomsmen and position them accordingly. The marrying couple took care not to partner a groomsman with a bridesmaid if the two disliked each other. However, they also had to be sure not to pair up a couple that had affection for each other because superstition said those who stood up together as bridesmaid and groomsman would never stand together as bride and groom.
Still, superstition held that, “Every wedding makes a wedding.”
As she got dressed for the event – only in unconventional situations did she not — the bride consulted the mirror as necessary. Once the bride dressed completely, looking in a mirror before the ceremony would bring bad luck.
One of the more unusual wedding customs in early New England: Telling the bees. Bee hives required decoration, and the bees had to be informed and given a bit of cake (they also had to be informed of funerals). Failure to include the bees was considered rude, and they might take offense.
Thanks to: New England Weddings by Pamela McArthur Cole in the Journal of American Folklore. This story was updated in 2020.
Images: Congregational Church By Jokermage at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=68973449.