Sunday, February 15, 2009

Scent of a wedding: Flowers and brides have long history

By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer

Here comes the bride.
Wait a minute. What's with all those flowers?
Are they for beauty's sake or for luck? Both.
Flower bouquets and herbal arrangements have long been a staple of wedding ceremonies.
The earliest record dates to ancient Greece. Brides would wear crowns of garland, ivy or field flowers upon their heads.
'It was considered a gift of nature,' said Charlotte Elrod of Temple. She spent about six months researching the history of wedding flowers for the Feb. 5 Temple Garden Club program.
The use of crowns added a sense of formality to the wedding, Ms. Elrod said. It also aligned with Greek custom and identity. People of importance at that time, like philosophers and actors, would wear plant crowns because of what they symbolized. Garland was a symbol of love and happiness, and garlic was thought to have the power of warding off evil spirits. Rosemary symbolized constancy and friendship, and mint was thought to refresh the brain and make you more alert.
'Superstition has a lot to do with where our wedding customs come from,' Ms. Elrod said. 'Rose petals, bouquets and confetti - it's all about protection, good futures and happiness.'
As time progressed, brides of the early Greek and Roman cultures would carry small bouquets of flowers or herbs that were native to their homelands. Popular choices were sage, the herb that promised great wisdom, and dill, the herb that promised a new wife would lust only for her husband for all days to come.
Scholars say the use of scented herbs and flowers was as practical as it was mythological.
'Plants lended pleasant scents to the occasion,' said historian Nathaniel Tanner of Chicago, Ill. 'Think about it, bathrooms didn't exist. Bathing took place in a stream or lake. And when it was cold, that didn't happen often. So the natural scents of herbs and flowers made everything fresh and clean.'
That reasoning, said botany author Debra Dressler of Delaware, explains why summer weddings are so popular.
'Warm weather means more opportunity to bathe,' Ms. Dressler said. 'So ceremonies coincided with summer, and it became engrained in our collective culture.'
Years passed, countries were established, and more wedding customs developed.
Weddings in early India involved the use of flower petals. Relatives would sprinkle flower petals over the bride and groom at the wedding ceremony to wish good luck and ward off evil spirits. In Germany, the bride and the groom held candles, with flowers and ribbons tied to them.
And in Sweden, the bridesmaids carry small bouquets of aromatic herbs while the groom would carry thyme in his pockets.
'The thyme promised to to scare off trolls,' Ms. Elrod said. 'Very popular in the Middle Ages.'
And in Austria, brides would crown their veils with small white flowers to signify purity and honor their future husbands.
All of these countries shared the tradition of the kissing knot.
'That's where several strands of ribbon hang from a bouquet,' Ms. Elrod said. 'The bride chooses how many ribbons she wants. It was usually one for the bride, one for the groom and one for their future children. A knot was tied at the bottom to wish good luck.'
The kissing knot bouquet was used in the reception portion of the wedding ceremony. It was generally set on a shelf or tacked to the wall, so that the ribbons could hang over the heads of the bride and groom as they sat at the table.
When paired with bunches of orange blossom and rosemary, the kissing knot's promise of luck was doubled and extended include the guests of the wedding party.
In this time period, it wasn't uncommon for bridal bouquets and kissing knots to pass through the generations. Mothers would save these items in their daughters' dowries.
The Middle Ages also gave birth to the idea of the nosegay, a small floral arrangement that sat each place setting on a wedding reception table.
'The nosegays were left for the guests to ensure them happiness and long lives,' Tanner said. 'The word nosegay comes from a Middle English word that meant 'something pretty for the nose to smell.''
Rosemary, posies and lilies were popular choices for nosegays. Wealthy brides would have the option of pairing fruit with edible flowers like marigold for nosegays.
When the English Empire came to rule most of the Western world, the floral traditions were revamped.
Nosegays became tussie mussies under the reign of Queen Victoria. Instead of placed at the reception table, the guests' floral arrangements were presented to them as a small bouquet to carry. Ms. Dressler describes a tussie mussie as a two-flower nosegay bound together with stems and lace.
English weddings also introduced the idea of the flower girl.
'A small girl would leads the wedding party to the church while sprinkling flower blossoms along the path,' Ms. Elrod said. 'This was to ensure the bride lived a life filled with flowers and happiness.'
Under the rule of Queen Elizabeth I, the British Navy was established, and via importation, that brought exotic flowers on to the wedding scene. Nosegays and bouquets began to feature roses, dianthus, foxgloves and daffodils.
Elizabeth's reign brought an emphasis on fashion in weddings. Color schemes began to match, and brides decorated their hair with flowers and wore arm sheafs - small posy bouquets fastened to the arm with ribbon.
The wedding posy was highly popular in the Victorian Era, from 1837-1901. Tanner Victorians used the language of flowers to choose the flowers in a bridal bouquet.
'The colors meant certain things,' Tanner said. 'Pink was for romantic love, white implied an innocent love and red meant passion.'
Switzerland developed its own version of the wedding posy - the biedermeir. Symmetrical in its composure, the the biedermeir is made up of concentric rings of colored flowers. Each ring contains a different type of flower. Lemon and orange peels were often added for extra fragrance.
Wedding posies fell out of fashion at the end of the Victorian era but Ms. Dressler said they have recently enjoyed a comeback in American ceremonies.
The weddings of World War II were the first to feature corsages. Prior to that, flowers were not pinned to bridal attire.
Turkey feathers were the main attraction in bridal bouquets in the American and European weddings of the 1920s.
'I don't know why it got popular,' Tanner said. 'I'm just glad that phase didn't last too long. It wasn't pretty.'
Ms. Dressler said the turkey feathers were popular because of the fascination with hunting.
'In the early 20th century, hunting was viewed as glamorous,' Ms. Dressler said. 'Hunting parties took place and at lodges. Formal balls often took place after a hunting venture.'
Outdoor winter weddings took popularity among wealthy European families in the mid-20th century. Brides in these ceremonies would carry a bridal muff adorned with flowers of her choice.
Modern weddings have become more personalized. Brides choose their favorite colors for their flowers, and incorporate individual tastes in decoration schemes.
In recent years, several fads have come and gone, the most memorable being the bridal fans of the 1980s. Instead of bouquets, brides carried hand fans that were decorated with lace, carnations and gypsophyla, a pink flower similar to baby's breath.
'They were atrocious,' Ms. Dressler said.
Tacky they may have been, but they're just a small part of wedding floral history.

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