In Catalyst Wedding Co. editor Liz Susong's weekly column devoted to the feminist bride, she dives headfirst into the crazy history behind common wedding traditions we may take for granted. Liz investigates here.
After you’ve shed a few tears watching your friends commit their lives to each other before their community and before God, what could bring you more joy than to channel your inner Peyton Manning and just wallop the crap out of the newlyweds with some uncooked basmati? There’s nothing like a little schadenfreude to help you reconcile how simultaneously moved and disgusted you are by love.
And friends, this deep-held desire to make it rain rice on the love parade goes back centuries. Wedding historian Susan Waggoner writes, “From the earliest times, wedding guests have had an irresistible urge to throw things at the newlyweds.” (Meeting Susan IRL has climbed into the top ten on my bucket list.) And of course, Romans and Greeks believed the reproductive energy in the seeds of grain would be transferred onto the couple; isn’t that nice? At this point in my wedding history research, I’m beginning to wonder: what doesn’t represent fertility? I frantically glance around the room, and my eyes catch on my Birkenstocks lying helter-skelter by the door. Shoes? There’s no way shoes represent fertility, right? I laugh nervously.
Wrong. “Shoes were also believed to symbolize fertility, and English brides and grooms during the Tudor era were pelted with old clogs, slippers, and sandals.” I look like that wide-eyed and speechless Andy from The Office meme. “If either member of the couple or their carriage was struck, a good marriage was guaranteed.” There’s nothing like a concussion from a lucky clog to the head to ensure a long and happy life together. Luckily the Italians waltzed in and were like, “we don’t understand British humor,” and chose to lightly toss seeds and nuts coated with a sweet candy glaze in lieu of dirty boots. Viva l’Italia!
Throughout most of the 20th century in the U.S., rice was the weapon of choice. But then a very serious rumor changed everything—a rumor so impervious that you may have even spread it yourself. What was the rumor, you ask? Rice. Explodes. Birds. That’s right. The rumor was that when birds ingest uncooked rice, they die.
Connecticut even introduced legislation to ban the throwing of rice at weddings in order to protect birds in 1985. What’s most surprising to me about all of this is not that this rumor proved to be untrue, but rather I’m shocked that Americans think they care about birds. In the end, it appears that rice is really messy for venues to clean up and it creates a slipping hazard, and what’s more American than suing a venue for every last penny because you were drunk and “tripped” over some poorly placed couscous?
If you’re a true patriot, you know who the real victim of all this rice-gone-wild is: Juliette Gordon Low. That’s right: the founder of the Girl Scouts lost the majority of her hearing thanks to a lovingly tossed grain of rice becoming lodged in her ear on her wedding day, but that didn’t stop her from standing on her head at Girl Scout meetings or telling scary stories around the campfire.
Now there are much more eco-friendly alternatives to bird-murdering rice, such as trapping live birds themselves in small boxes and then releasing them in a flurry, or letting go of hundreds of balloons that will find their way into the intestines of woodland creatures. Or bubbles. Bubbles are nice.