Getting Married Family-Style

When I first became a wedding coordinator, I was surprised at how many couples did not have family wedding traditions. If they did, no one was aware of them. That is certainly not the case in the Riley family. We have so many family wedding traditions that it is difficult to keep up with them. I think this is probably due to the fact that we are a close-knit family from good Irish stock – we Irish love our traditions.

Bowler Hats – Brides in the Riley family have worn bowler hats since the end of the Civil War. It is our understanding that one family member couldn’t find a hat other than a bowler to wear when she got married. Despite despising the “carpetbagger look,” seeing she was a true Confederate, she wore it anyway and ended up starting a family tradition.

Penny in Bride’s Shoe – No self-respecting Riley bride would dream of getting married without a penny in her left shoe. It is placed there by her father or grandfather – whichever male role model walks her down the aisle. Although I walked myself down the aisle, my second cousin (who is the closest thing I have to a father) put the penny in my shoe. This tradition was started in Ireland in the 1600s. Or so the family story goes.

Canning Jar – The tradition with the penny doesn’t end when the bride takes off her shoes. The penny is then placed in a canning jar full of water. It is suppose to sprout and grow a money tree. My wedding penny, in it’s jar, is carefully stored away. I’m hoping my husband will slip that penny in our daughter’s shoe on her wedding day.

Shamrocks – Our Irish really shows when it comes to all the floral arrangements. Shamrocks are carefully hidden in all the flowers. The flower girl, instead of dropping flower petals, drops shamrocks on the white bridal carpet. The bride is then believed to be “walking on luck” as she makes her way to the man she is marrying and their new life together.

Candles – Although we are no longer Catholic, we still carry the Irish Catholic tradition of getting married amidst candles. For my wedding, there were candles everywhere – it was the only light we had. I had six candle lighters that lit the candles that around me and my husband. My mother’s bridesmaids carried candles instead of bouquets. Granny set up small candles throughout the judge’s office when she married Granddaddy.

Potatoes – Another Riley family wedding tradition is to eat potatoes after the wedding. Potatoes, in my family, is it’s own food group. We can eat potatoes at every meal. It is probably a tradition that came over from Ireland with the first Riley in America. It is also a family wedding tradition that potatoes be present in the first room the married couple share together. The hotel clerk gave my husband and I the strangest look when I had him run back to our car to get the potatoes.

I am blessed to have a family that is steeped in wedding traditions. I am even more blessed to be aware of those traditions. Although a wedding is two people becoming one, it is also two families becoming one family. Traditions are important for this symbolic merge.


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