You may have heard people say they hear wedding bells ringing, whether it was in reference to your any-minute-now proposal or your quickly approaching wedding day. And yes, churches have bells that are often rung as the newlyweds make their way back up the aisle, but is that all those bells symbolize?
Wedding bells come from ancient Celtic and Irish traditions. Church bells are incorporated into wedding ceremonies as a symbol of abundance and prosperity; the ringing of bells was often believed to ward off evil spirits.
Meet the Expert
Heather Dwight is the owner and lead planner at Calluna Events, a boutique wedding planning company located in Boulder, Colorado.
Ahead, we investigate by breaking down the various interpretations and origins behind the well-known tradition and talk to wedding planner Heather Dwight.
The History and Meaning of Wedding Bells
"The ringing of bells at weddings is a tradition that can be traced back to Celtic lands, such as Scotland, where it was believed that the ringing of church bells would ward off evil spirits as well as grant wishes," says Heather Dwight. "Bells were first rung in the churches in Scotland to announce the newlyweds." Start a marriage without evil spirits? Sounds good to us! The ringing of bells was also used as a way to spread the news across long distances, so bells after a wedding let the whole area know that the couple was now happily married.
Bells continue to play a prominent role in modern weddings. It’s not uncommon for wedding bells to ring after a church ceremony to celebrate a couple's union. Additionally, brides have found creative ways to incorporate bells into their ceremonies, from wedding reception décor to personalized wedding favors for guests. Echoing that sentiment, Dwight adds, "Bells have also been historically used as a universal symbol of marriage on various decorations. It’s common to see two bells joined at the top with a bow symbolizing the connection between two people."
Wedding Bells FAQs
What does the sound of wedding bells signify?
While the superstition about evil spirits may not be so common today, the joyful sound of bells and their association with weddings has stuck around. Bells are often tolled at church after a wedding ceremony (sometimes by the newlyweds themselves) to mark their grand exit.
What do wedding bells symbolize in a wedding?
Based on cultural traditions, it’s not unusual for bells to be incorporated into wedding ceremonies to represent abundance and prosperity. Irish weddings will often see the bride and groom receiving a bell as a wedding gift or a Bells of Ireland flower (an annual summer bloom that's symbolic of good luck) integrated into the bride’s bouquet. In Guatemala, the groom’s mother breaks a white ceramic bell—which is filled with grains, including rice and flour—as a sign of good fortune to the newlyweds. In both of these instances, the wedding bells are used to symbolize the start of your new future together.
How else can wedding bells can be incorporated into a ceremony?
Another way is to incorporate small bells that might be passed out to guests to ring, either as the couple exits the church or during the reception as an encouragement to kiss—similar to the clinking of wine glasses. The sound of bells is also supposed to remind the couple of the vows they've made as a commitment to each other.
Where should you source bells for your wedding?
While some couples will use a bell that's been passed down as a family heirloom to ring at their wedding, that's not the only route. If you plan on handing out wedding bells as party favors or using them for decorative purposes, it's worth checking out the selection at your local craft store. For personalized engraved wedding bells, Etsy doesn't disappoint.
How are wedding bells used for decorative purposes?
Whether you've seen them on Pinterest (perhaps, you've even added them to your dream wedding mood board) or noticed them being used as reception table décor at a ceremony you've attended, bells are becoming increasingly more popular. When used as decoration, you'll most often find two bells tied together with a bow to represent two people joined together in marriage.
Having a modern barn wedding? Consider incorporating cowbells as part of your table décor or offering them as a noisemaker for guests.
How To Incorporate Wedding Bells
No matter how you choose to incorporate them, the happy sound of ringing bells is a beautiful addition to any wedding day.
Dwight recalls two particular weddings in which bells played a central role in joining two people together. One wedding—with ties to the Tibetan culture— "incorporated Tibetan bells into their ceremony and in lieu of ring bearers, they had bell ringers who rang bells prior to the bride walking down the aisle," Dwight says. "They also rang the bells to start the recessional after [the newlyweds] were pronounced husband and wife."
Work with your wedding planner to come up with a unique and memorable way to incorporate wedding bells into your ceremony. Don't be afraid to stray from what's been done before, especially if it means coming up with your own twist on the tradition.
"In another wedding we had, bells were placed on each guest's seat. As the couple was pronounced husband and wife, the guests rang out the bells in celebration of the happy couple."