Giving Away the Bride: What to Know About the Tradition

father daughter

PHOTO BY TONY WODARCK /Design by Michela Buttignol

In traditional weddings, the father of the bride walks her down the aisle and hands her off to the groom. If this seems old-fashioned, that is because it is. The practice dates back to the days when women were the property of their father, and he gave her away in exchange for a dowry. This antiquated practice has evolved, and many modern brides now derive great meaning from it.

What Is Giving Away the Bride?

Giving away the bride is the moment at the wedding where the bride leaves the hands of her father or parents and joins her groom. The antiquated tradition has evolved and is seen by modern-day couples as a symbol of love and unity.

At some weddings, the father still gives away his daughter as a show of love and support. In more progressive affairs both parents walk the bride down the aisle or the bride walks herself. Many couples think carefully about how they want to execute the tradition. For many, the act now signifies a seamless joining of two families. For others, the moment forms a bridge between an old life and a new life.

There are many ways to spice up the tradition and make it a meaningful exercise for the couple and their loved ones. We spoke with expert Lara Mahler for her insight into this long-standing tradition.

Meet the Expert

Lara Mahler is the owner and chief planner of THE PRIVILEGE IS MINE, a wedding planning company in New York City that helps couples have alternative, out-of-the-box weddings.

The History and Meaning of Giving Away the Bride

According to Mahler, the history behind the tradition is a little hard to swallow. “Well, the tradition comes from an era where women were the property of men,” she says. “Fathers walking their daughter down the aisle and giving their daughter, the bride, away represented a transfer of ownership from her father to her new husband.”

But that doesn’t necessarily mean we should throw it all away. “The beauty of weddings these days is that now couples can reinvent the tradition,” says Mahler. “The tradition of the father walking the bride down the aisle has evolved from what it was to it being a gesture of uniting families and showing love and respect for the new marriage.”

There are now many variations: Brides can still opt to walk down the aisle with their father, or they can have both parents join them. Sometimes the bride walks solo demonstrating that marrying her partner is her choice. Some partners walk down the aisle together, showing their solidarity and commitment.

“We also shouldn't forget that we are at a beautiful point where we get to watch all love be celebrated,” says Mahler. “It's amazing to see LGBTQ couples reinvent the wedding tradition, as well as different cultures and faiths coming together to create a celebration that works for each couple and family.”

Giving Away the Bride FAQs

Who should give away the bride?

In many traditional weddings, the father still gives away the bride. In modern weddings, however, it can be anybody. The most important consideration is that the person is someone with whom the couple trusts and feels comfortable. “I think couples should ultimately do what works for them and their family,” said Mahler. “What the couple believes plays a huge role (in the choice) and the message they want to give to their guests.”

After you’ve chosen your venue and appointed your wedding party, the next questions should be, ‘Who is going to be part of our ceremony and what roles will they have?” says Mahler.

Can more than one person give the bride away?

Absolutely. Some brides have both their parents or their entire immediate family walk them down the aisle. On some occasions, brides and grooms walk into the ceremony at the same time as all their guests and take their positions at the altar.

When does the giving away the bride tradition take place?

This tradition is usually performed at the beginning of the ceremony during the processional.

Do I have to participate in this tradition?

“Some couples don't know that they have alternatives to ‘dad walking the bride down the aisle,’ because they see it all the time, in movies or their friend's weddings,” Mahler explains. “The beauty of getting married today is that there are no rules, and couples can make the decision that works for their partnership as well as their family dynamic.”

Giving Away the Bride Alternatives

If the long-established giving away the bride tradition is too archaic for you, here are some meaningful alternatives:

  • Skip the walking down the aisle part altogether. “I’ve seen couples mingle with their guests at the beginning of the night, and then together with their guests, they walk over to where the ceremony will begin,” said Mahler. 
  • Walk down the aisle alone or with your partner. “I’ve seen brides walk down the aisle alone or with their partner as a symbol that together they are choosing to be there and come together as a family,” said Mahler. 
  • Have the groom walk down the aisle towards the bride. There is no reason the groom can’t be the one to meet the bride at the altar if that is what the couple wants. 
  • Meet in the middle. Many couples are choosing to meet in the middle of the aisle. One partner walks halfway, and then the other meets him or her to walk the rest of the path together.

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