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What is that About, Anyway?

There are some rituals that American Culture associates with weddings, which a few of us embrace happily (if not blindly), and many of us look at and say: “What is that about, anyway?”

Let’s look at some of our classic American wedding traditions, and learn what they’re all about, and how to approach them consciously and sustainably…


If it weren’t for the Hallmark nature of it, this tradition would not have survived feminism. A daddy’s girl myself, I certainly understand the appeal. However, the tradition of being escorted down the isle by ones father has come directly from times past when the bride was given into marriage, as property, from one man (her father) to the next (her husband). This symbolism shows a troubling disconnect with our modern ideals of egalitarian partnership.

This is not to imply that it is misogynistic to dream of marching to Cannon in D on Papa’s arm, but consider that there are alternatives:

Some brides walk alone; some walk with their mother and their father; others have the bride and the groom escorted by both parents at different points in the processional…


This is a Victorian tradition. The “something old” corresponds with the bride’s relationship to her family and her old life. The “something new” is, of course, symbolic of the couple’s new life together and their future hopes and dreams. “Something borrowed” from a happily married woman is meant to impart marital contentment on the bride; and the “something blue” represents marital fidelity.

If you’re a rabbit foot on the rearview kind of bride, you may identify with this ritual. And, of course, including handed-down family heirlooms and borrowed articles in you wedding attire can be a sentimental and eco-friendly approach (just source the ‘new’ item thoughtfully).

Again, there is a little age-old sexism here if you scratch the surface. This ritual is traditionally about the woman’s transition into her new life (her husband’s life)… And, as of yet, we’ve very few grooms following suite with such metamorphic symbolism. Perhaps both halves of any duo could use some good luck charms?


Thank you Queen Victoria! Apparently this Royal abandon court tradition and created a lasting following when, instead of the customary silver gown of a queen, she chose to wear white on her wedding day.

The color white has maintained its reputation as a symbol of purity and virginity, and is often associated with brides and weddings for this reason. However, with the changing face of marrying couples: maturity; remarriage; and same sex marriage; the stigma of premarital sex is virtually a thing of the past.

Before the dawn of the white wedding, all a bride had to do was wear her ‘Sunday best’ to the chapel. Today, more and more women are splurging on knock’em dead gowns in a rainbow of hues… Opting for something stunning, even comfortable, and from a sustainability perspective, reusable!


Doth he wear his lady’s colors? In medieval times, knights wore colored flowers to symbolize their affection for a particular lady. Boutonnieres and bouquets have long been used as decorative symbolism in weddings. Today, we use flowers to decorate and to honor the members of our wedding party or closest family. Flowers and colors can be read to have meaning, from the promise of health and good luck to subtle messages of passion or faithfulness. Orange blossoms can signify purity, daisies are associated with loyalty, violets: the ever modest flower, and of course, the red rose of true love.

Consider local, seasonal flowers for your wedding. Tropical lilies for San Francisco in July might be lovely to look at, but is it worth the plane flight they took to get there? And what chemicals were they sprayed with to preserve their beauty?

If you are against cut flowers altogether, look into live plant options for décor. And always consider gifting or donating your left over arrangements…


Spouses wear wedding rings as an outward symbol of their commitment to marital fidelity. The tradition purportedly began in Egypt where the endless circle of a ring was symbolic of an eternal bond, while the open center symbolized an opening to the unknown future.

This tradition was later adopted by the Greeks, after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 BC. Up to this time, engagement rings were usually made from natural materials on hand, such as leather, bone, hemp rope or ivory. The early Romans’ material of preference was iron, instigating the tradition of metal rings. Precious metal rings were rare, and became a particular symbol of trust… more pointedly, that a man could trust his wife with his valuables.

The “ring finger” commonly refers to the “fourth” digit, (next to the pinky). Wedding rings are traditionally worn on the left hand. This is a relatively new trend, however. During the 17th century, the English sometimes placed the ring on the thumb, and the Gauls and Britons wore their rings on the middle finger.

The Latin, “vena amoris”, translated as vein of love, refers too the belief that this vein ran directly from the fourth finger to the heart. The wedding band was placed there to signify everlasting love.

The engagement ring is traditionally worn only by the betrothed woman, as a symbol that she has been promised to one and is not to be courted by other men. The modern romance of a marriage proposal has kept the symbolic gift of the engagement ring going strong, but not every woman wears a ring before she is wed.

As you buy rings, think about sourcing conflict free diamonds, or forego diamonds in favor of another precious stone or jewel. Inquire as to where your materials came from and try to use a jeweler who sources from responsible miners. See greenKarat or Brilliant Earth.


Throwing rice at the newlyweds is an old tradition. Rice was considered a “life giving” seed and so it was superstitiously thrown on the couple to ensure fertility. Rice throwing has gone out of favor in the last couple of decades, and has been linked to a (false) rumor that grains of dry rice can kill birds as they expand in their tiny stomachs. More realistically, rice creates a giant mess and many venues prohibit the ritual for that reason. If you enjoy this tradition of fanfare, consider having guests throw rose petals or bird-seed (but beware, one talented slugger in the crowd, and you may have birdseed in your hair for the rest of the evening!).


Introducing the newlyweds and their wedding party is a popular modern tradition. This ritual usually happens just after the guests are seated for dinner, before the food served or toasts are made.

This is an introduction of the couple’s nearest and dearest, their wedding party, to their families and guests. Each member of the party makes an entrance, and finally, the bride and groom are called in, with name changes if applicable. This final introduction, especially, marks the couple’s transition into marriage. The announcement is usually made by a DJ or MC.

From a greening perspective, this ritual also justifies saving paper by forgoing programs for the ceremony!


The tradition of a “wedding cake” evolved from literally breaking bread over the bride’s head, and sharing the crumbs with the guests. Later it manifested as elaborately stacked sweet rolls to be shared among the guests, and finally, to a cake, a symbolic ‘breaking of bread’ between the partners, with their family and friends. The traditional cake cutting ceremony is characteristically the first task that bride and groom perform together as husband and wife. They cut first piece of cake together.

Into the 19th century, serving “bride’s cake” or “bride’s pie” was exclusively delegated to the bride. She would cut the cake and distributed it to her guests. Cake cutting became more complicated with early multi-tiered cakes, because the icing had to be hard enough to support the cake’s own weight. This necessitated cake cutting as a joint project, and made room for a symbolism of partnership and shared responsibility.

After the cake cutting ceremony, the couple feed each other the first slice. This intimate and often fun-loving ritual symbolizes the couple’s commitment to provide for one another.

Looking for organic cake? Try Miette, in the Ferry Building, San Francisco.


It is said that the garter once represented the virginal girdle. When the groom removed the garter he was symbolically making a public announcement about the brides change in virginal status.

In the 17th and 18 centuries, today’s garter was a silk sash tied below the bride’s knee. The groomsmen considered the sash a trophy. Whoever got a hold of it would wear it in his hat for the remainder of the celebration.

Today, there is often a theatrical component following the bouquet and garter toss, where a single woman, having caught the bride’s bouquet, has the garter placed on her own leg by the single man who caught the garter… This can get a little burlesque!

Some modern brides feel that the bouquet and garter ritual is distasteful, because it puts single women on the spot. Others forgo the tradition because of stories of children or older guests getting trampled in the toss and scramble.

If you enjoy the tradition, consider the fate of your tossed bouquet. The bride may want to hoist a bridesmaid’s bouquet into the hungry crowd, and preserve her own.

[Posted by Nelle Johnston, ZahZoom.com]

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You Mean the Dress is Green?

Well, sure, a green hued dress is lovely if that’s your style, but according to modern vernacular, a ‘green’ wedding dress would more likely be made of organic hemp silk than Astroturf colored satin.

A green wedding reflects the marrying couple’s commitment to sustainability and ecological issues. It’s about making a difference, and perhaps an impression. As Michelle Kozin, founder of Organicweddings.com, puts it, “You have a captive audience you can influence with your choices.”

The wedding industry can be a killer in terms of waste and blind consumption. Roughly 2.4 million couples get married every year in the U.S., and the average wedding cost is up to $28,000.00. Next to a mortgage or an education fund, that’s chump change: but we’re talking about a day. It costs well under $100 to get a marriage license, no matter what state you live in, and, $75 to $300 to hire an official to perform the ceremony, depending. So that’s $27,700 on fanfare and celebration! Now it’s your choice weather to go for the disposable votives, imported Japanese orchid blooms and corn fed beef, or to look into alternative options. <!–[endif]–>

Did you say, “Like what?” Well, here goes…

The Menu:

A large percentage of the wedding budget is spent on catering, so why not consider local, organic food and wine? If you’re beer drinkers, how about some organic brews? If you eat meat, seek out wild fish and grass fed beef.

Why organic food? Organics are not only healthier for the consumer, they are also better for the environment. Organic farming practices protect waterways, soil, and wildlife by not using synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. Using local food sources means less fossil fuel spent on shipping and fewer post-harvest pesticides.

The Paper:Save-the-dates, invitations, envelopes, reply cards, reply envelopes, direction cards, next day brunch invitations, lists, contracts, notes, programs, escort cards, name place cards, well wishes for the bride and groom, wrapping paper, thank you cards: When all is said and done, a wedding from start to finish, can draw on a lot of paper…

As diagramed by the U.S. EPA in 2000, close to 40 percent of the waste material in U.S. landfills is paper. So, to do right by our natural resources, get creative about limiting your paper use, such as including hotel block and transportation information on your wedding website to limit insert cards in your invitation set, doing away with programs or having non-paper escort “cards”. When you do buy paper, support the economy of recycling by looking for unbleached, 30-100% Post Consumer Waste (PCW) papers.The Venue:

It is possible to find green hotels, http://www.greenhotels.com/, and there is always the great outdoors, if you are dedicated to a “leave no trace” philosophy. However, also consider finding a museum, park, center or other nonprofit organization that is dedicated to like-minded causes.

The environmental costs of travel are also high (emissions, jet fuel, etc.), so consider choosing your location on the basis of where the majority of your guests live and perhaps have your ceremony and reception at the same venue.

If your guests do need to drive, you could help to encourage carpools.

The Flowers:

Flowers are wedding staples, highly regarded as accents of natural beauty… but all that looks natural, may not be. Look a little more closely at its path to existence and you will notice that many flowers are imported (Ecuadorian Roses, etc.). Not only does the distance they have to travel increase their carbon footprint, but many foreign pesticides are unregulated, and because flowers are not a food crop, they go unchecked for residues.

To support safer, greener practices you can buy local, preferably local, organic flowers. Local flowers will be marked local, or you can ask your florist for help with this. Check out your local farmers’ market to what’s in season.

As cut flower alternatives, grow your own centerpieces from bulb or seed! And/or, incorporate tasteful silk flowers, http://www.flowersforrent.com/.The Apparel:

Did you know that polyester is petroleum-based? And according to The Organic Exchange, http://www.organicexchange.org/, the USDA indicates that approximately 6 pounds of pesticides are used per acre in the growing “natural” cotton! Un-dyed, unbleached, certified organic cotton or hemp-silk is the most environmentally sound way to go for a custom dress. However, consider recycling a vintage dress, which you can have tailored to your every curve! (And, if you must dye you shoes, see if you can have them tinted with natural vegetable dye.)

The Rings:Gold mining releases poisonous cyanide and mercury into the environment, and the diamond market is a controversial one.

You could avoid all of that by having vintage gold rings resized, or create custom jewelry at greenKarat, ecologically responsible jewelry: http://greenkarat.com/.

The Favors & Gifts:Doodads and knickknacks with your name on them may seem to be the required wedding souvenir, and if you don’t register, you may receive some of these as gifts (the ever popular ill-fitting bathrobe and slipper sets emblazoned with, “Just Married”…See my article, Create a Sustainable Registry).

When it comes to favors, consider these ideas:

Make a meaningful donation in your guests’ honor. Peruse Charity Navigator, http://www.charitynavigator.org/, for information and ideas.

Local organic foodstuffs are often apt favors: organic artisan chocolates or local honey. See what’s available at the farmer’s market!

Give from the heart: a combined family recipe book, a CD of your wedding music, a seedling for yard or garden…


Overall, recycle and use recycled or reusable items where you can and reduce waste by donating or gifting leftovers. Keep the big picture in mind and know that our actions are cumulative- and you, too, can have a green wedding!

Considering an eco-friendly honeymoon? Read my tips on green honeymoons or destinations weddings: ZahZoom.blogspot.com