One Does Not Simply…Write About Anthropology

My Time as a Graduate Student

Symbolic Wedding

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I decided to do a post on weddings and traditional/symbolic meanings. Wedding planning has been both enjoyable and stressful, it doesn’t help that I am also working on grad work. But what I have enjoyed the most is trying to combine two families and share traditions, as well as making new ones. Brian has been the one I have turned to and leaned on during the hard times and shared embraces through the good times. For this I am happy to share the rest of my life together with him. It has been recently that we have really dove into wedding planning, simply because it is getting closer to when we want to get married and just the time is now to have to start booking venues, ordering invitations, and wedding dress shopping. Every time I turn around, I have been reminded that I must include this and that into the wedding. I have been researching and thinking about all the symbolic meaning to all the elements within a wedding (Traditional Christian wedding). So I have decided to break down symbolic meanings of the structure of a wedding with some personal additions.

Gift Giving:

The very basic premise of wedding is a complex system of exchange: the exchange of women as Levi-Strauss has pointed out, rings, and gifts. Marcel Mauss describes gift exchange as a fundamental element of structuring society and behavior. The logic of a gift is a balancing act between individuals or groups. When giving a gift enters an individual into a social contract. Mauss argues that it is a reciprocal obligation to eventually give a gift in return to someone who has given you a gift. The return gift should be either equal or higher value than the gift that was received. Levi-Strauss takes it a few steps further in that he applied exchange of women into kinship.

So what does this have to do with weddings? Well everything.

The Proposal:

Traditionally the man will talk to the father of the woman who he wishes to marry, in that he will ask for permission to marry his daughter. This is an example of exchange of a daughter to another man and his family with the permission of the daughter’s father. Another example is the giving of the proposal ring. Again traditionally a man will propose to a woman through a gift giving in the form of a ring. Men will spend various amounts of money on a ring, but ultimately the goal is to persuade the woman to accept. In return for the ring, a woman accept. Thus balancing out the exchange system.

Engagement Ring: 

It symbolizes a man’s desire and commitment toward his bride-to-be, the desire and obligation of a couple’s love to each other and indicates the couple’s future marriage.  The use of diamonds, some of the hardest stones available, indicates the strength of the man’s love. The ring is chosen by the man, although today culture a couple will go out and shop for and chosen by the bride-to-be.

The ring is worn on the left hand of the fourth finger (the ring finger), the hand closest to the heart. This tradition of wearing it on the fourth finger on the left hand, is thought to be from the Romans. It is believed this finger to be the beginning of the “vein of love,” the vein that leads to the heart.

The ring is chosen to represent the recipient and within its own right, a symbol of individual love. When Brian picked out our engagement ring, I did not know what it looked liked or anything. Making it even more special that he picked out the ring, and it is gorgeous and unique.

Wedding Dress:

Traditionally the wedding is white that symbolizes purity and innocence, virgin daughters.

“Something old” is ideally an object that belonged to a happily married old woman. “Something new” is usually the wedding gown itself. However, it can be anything at all. “Something borrowed” originally meant something golden. Consequently, it was usually a precious piece of jewelry loaned by a relative. The golden object symbolized the sun, the source of all life, and wearing the borrowed object signified a union between the sun and the bride.“Something blue” is to honor the moon, the protector of all women.

Bridal veil is to conceal the bride’s beauty from any evil spirits.

The flowers in the bridal bouquet  symbolize sex, joyful lovemaking, and fertility.

The Ceremony:

Again we enter into the exchange game of women. In the father gives away his daughter to the groom as a form of exchange.

Wedding rings are perfect circles, with no beginning and no end, symbolizing union, eternity, and completeness.


There are so many different and new customs that vary between cultures and individuals. Wedding have also become so diverse from simple to extravagant, crazy bridzillas, and tons of money. I never realized how involved wedding planning was and making sure not to  forget anything.

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