Ever wonder why some people like to argue that marriage is only “between a man and a woman?” Would you believe that the statement is not necessarily about who has a right to marry, but more of a pretext to what marriage is supposed to be for? We’re talking baby making.
Now, I know that today what constitutes a family or marriage is not predicated on the fruits of one’s loins, but procreation within marriage has played a massive part in people’s perception of it throughout human history (like as far back as Roman times, probably more). Yes, we could easily fall down the rabbit hole of procreation, politics, history and marriage right now (i.e. eugenics, miscegenation, interfaith marriage, wedlock, etc.), but this article is going to focus on the wedding traditions that have reinforced the idea that marriage is still just for procreation.
Now, here comes the sexy part. Everyone should know that almost every single wedding custom relates to sex. And there are traditions that relate specifically to the get-her-pregnant type of sex. Between couples who don’t want kids and the couples who no longer want marriage to be exclusively heterosexual, there’s motivation to address these traditions. (The article on modernization options is coming!) For now though, awareness is key because wedding traditions either need to get with the times or grow to become more inclusive. So here are nine traditions that relate specifically to procreation.
1. Getting Married in June: Marrying in June was a way to honor Juno, the Roman goddess of marriage and childbirth. Marrying in June also meant pregnant mom could still work the fields and babies born in warmer months were more likely to survive. To read more about why couples marry in June click here.
2. The Flower Girl and Ring Bearer: These little cherubs are miniature bobble heads of the bride and groom. The fact that they are children represents the newlyweds’ future youngsters, because, you know, they’re expected to look like mom and dad. Hence the identical uniform.
3. Flowers as Decoration: Flower bouquets, boutonnières and centerpieces are not just for décor. The Flower Girl throwing petals everywhere is sort of like magic fertility dust. Flowers are symbols for fertility and…the vagina. Just ask Georgia O’Keefe; she knows what I’m talking about. (I will also admit that flowers were also used as a way to mask everyone’s smell. Deodorant is a modern convenience, when people showered sparsely back in the day the flowers doubled as a B.O. cover up.)
4. Bridal Shower Ribbon Cutting Game: There’s a common bridal shower game where for every ribbon the bride breaks when opening her gifts – a child she shall have. I suppose one could interpret the broken ribbon as her hymen since it’s supposed to be ultimately about getting her pregnant. Wedding > Bride > Virgin > Hymen Breaking > Baby; cuz married sex is supposed to lead to an immediate conception, right? (Bleh.)
5. The Wedding Cake: The wedding cake is not just dessert, it’s a fortuitous sex symbol meant to produce many offspring. The cake dates back to ancient Rome. Ancient cakes baked symbolic fertility grains into an uninspiring carb used to bless the couple. A seventeenth-century French chef sweetened it into the towering confection we know today.
6. Cutting the Cake: That ancient Roman cake was broken over the virginal bride’s head by her husband. This represented her hymen being broken (by him) later that night. The crumbs that fell over her were like Tinker Bell’s dust but instead of blessing her with the power of flight, it was more like blessing her with fertility. Guests would clamber for the fallen floor crumbs so they could get their own prosperous good luck to take home. This is also why we now share the cake with wedding guests. This eventually evolved into the cake cutting performance we see today, which is more about sexual intimacy and nurturing in a weird Freudian way.
7. Putting Wedding Cake Under Your Pillow: Sounds like creating laundry for yourself, but this was a commonly practiced tradition at one time. Female guests would take a slice of wedding cake home, put it under their pillow and sleep over it. It was thought that doing so would bless them with the same fertility bestowed upon the bride. (Why they thought pillow cake would do this is a great mystery.) Letting guests take home a slice stems back to those ancient Roman floor crumbs guests wanted. It was a little slice of superstitious prosperity and fertility to take home. Nowadays, while some guests may make off with butter cream frosting, most just get little tchotchkes as a thank you.
8. Throwing Rice: Throwing rice holds the same meaning as the wedding cake and the flower girl throwing petals. Its purpose is to spread well wishes of prosperity and fertility on the couple. At this point you might be asking yourself – what’s with all this grain and fertility business? All types of grain from barley to rice to wheat translate to prosperity (i.e. wealth) all across the world both physically and metaphorically. Ancient civilizations relied heavily on good harvests, not just to survive but as a type of currency. When harvests experienced bad years, birth rates most likely dropped; hence why they are so correlated. And since women were limited to the home and were considered economically unviable, their value rested on their ability to produce children. Children were only legitimate if consummated in marriage and were part of intricate laws regarding inheritance and social status. It’s a complicated web of social values, but the foundation of it all is food’s nurturing power and it’s associated symbols.
9. The Open Bar: I know what you’re thinking, how could the open bar be guilty of trying to knock up the bride? Well, it’s not the open bar’s fault per se, but there is a historical precedence of booze in relation to fertility. One of the possible explanations for the term honeymoon comes from mead, the honey wine. Mead was drunk by the newlyweds because, like grain, honey was also seen as a fertility and prosperity symbol. It was drunk for typically one month, which was also the length of most honeymoons in Victorian times. It also thought to lower the inhibitions of any nervous newlywed virgins.