Ah, the magical night before the wedding. Getting into bed ready for eight sweet hours of blissful dreams and anxiously awaiting the celebration of the coming day. But, the question is: Who do you spend the night with? Superstitious beliefs have kept many a couple separated until the ceremony, protecting their matrimonial fate from being doomed from the start.
The tradition of spending the wedding eve apart is when to-be-weds refrain from seeing one another the night before their wedding, often until the ceremony. The superstitious consequences of not abiding include a failed, unlucky, or unhappy marriage.
The tradition has such a global resonance that its traces can be found in most cultures and is, in some form, still practiced today. "Over time, I think the custom became more of a fun thing of preserving an element of surprise and newness to the day—that unlike every other day, the first time you'll see each other is at the ceremony," says wedding folklore expert Eleni N. Gage. "It's also a fitting representation of what marriage is: Two people who lived separate lives coming together to build a life together."
Meet the Expert
Eleni N. Gage is a folklore and mythology expert and novelist. She is the author of Lucky in Love: Traditions, Customs, and Rituals to Personalize Your Wedding.
Ahead, learn more about the history and meaning of spending the night before the wedding apart.
The History and Meaning of Spending the Night Apart
Like many customs in this space, the history of couples spending the night apart began more as a result of the contractual basis of marriages than any, more satisfying, romantic notion. While the exact dates are difficult to pinpoint, it's safe to say the tradition is closely linked to arranged marriages. As the story goes, a woman's fate lay in the hands of her father (or family patriarch) entering a contract with the best suitor to be her husband and take on the responsibility of protecting and providing. And the superstition of a doomed marriage? This was likely a two-pronged attempt to preserve the bride's virginity and maintain some sense of mystery until the wedding. In short, it's an insurance policy to keep the groom from running for the hills before contractually being tied to the marriage. "It's a nod to that history of mystery," says Gage. "In traditional Jewish ceremonies, the groom lifts the bride's veil in a ritual called the bedeken, or unveiling, to make sure he's actually marrying the bride he was promised, reflecting the Bible story of Jacob and Rachel and Leah, which involves a bride switcheroo."
A secondary tradition is the bride spending the night with her bridal party. "The point of bridesmaids has always been to make things easier for the bride and bring her luck," explains Gage. "In ancient Rome, their purpose was to dress like the bride, serving as a decoy for any evil spirits that might swoop in to steal her." This also harkens to a time of simpler travel. The bride would often have to travel to her wedding, accompanied only by a contingency of male protectors. Her bridesmaids accompanied her on the journey as chaperones and female support systems, as well as assistants to help her get dressed.
While modern-day brides and grooms have come a long way, the allure of following an age-old tradition—or appeasing more conservative parents—still holds. Ali of Ohio says, “I spent the night at my parents’ house with my siblings. Even though we already lived together, it felt like a nice way to send us off from our ‘old’ family into our ‘new’ family of two.” Adam adds, “If you spend the night apart, it increases the intensity of seeing them walk down the aisle. The anticipation gets really high.” But some people aren’t going for intense. “I can understand wanting to wake up together and have a private moment before,” empathizes Holly. Jessica of Virginia agrees, “We were supposed to spend the night apart, but I was feeling so emotionally overwhelmed that I asked him to stay with me at our apartment. I needed his calm to keep me chill.”
If you have a tradition you want to follow, or want to forget, Gage recommends framing it as a means of bringing good fortune. People won't try to talk you out of it if they have to contend with good luck.
Spending the Night Apart FAQs
How do we ensure we won't accidentally run into each other?
Have a conversation and set your expectations and parameters on what you expect to—and not to—happen. "If you aren't seeing each other all day, warn the people around you," advises Gage. "If you're having an event that morning—let everyone know what part of the gathering one spouse will be at and what time the other will attend."
Can I still communicate with my partner if we're not spending the night together?
The tradition only focuses on seeing one another, and historically couples often had letters delivered to each other. So make your own rules! "If you want to start the 'separation' at the stroke of midnight, go for it! If you decide FaceTime or phone calls count as contact and are forbidden, but texts or letters are fine, more power to you," says Gage.
How do I tell my bridesmaids I plan to spend the night with them?
You can keep things casual with a group chat or in-person invitation or put a little flair into the request with more formal or unique invitations. The most important thing is that you do communicate this in advance. "If it's important to you that everyone be there, tell them so [they] don't assume it's no big deal and run off to dance all night with a new crush," notes Gage.
Should I be paying for my bridesmaids' hotel bill?
"If you're throwing a slumber party and all staying in the honeymoon suite, I'd let the bridesmaids know they don't need to book (or pay for) a room of their own that night," says Gage. It may be assumed that whoever is paying for the bridal suite in the first place will be absorbing the cost of extra guests lodging there that night—but this depends on personal preference.
Do I need to provide food for my bridesmaids?
Regardless of what pre-wedding events are taking place that evening, it would be assumed that your crew comes fed to the slumber party. If light snacks and celebratory bubbles are in order, it might be a nice gesture to cover the cost.
How to Spend the Night Apart
"The fun thing is that you don't have to buy into the whole history of the customs," says Gage. "Obviously, you don't need to be having an arranged marriage, or a heteronormative one, to enjoy the drama of some time apart leading up to a big reveal in all your wedding finery!" Who you spend the wedding eve with can create a beautiful segue into the events of the wedding day itself. Consider how you want to remember the night and who would best help facilitate those memories. Some choose to spend the night with their mom or sisters and others surround themselves with a whole gaggle of bridesmaids. "I shared my hotel room with my sister after our rehearsal dinner and it was so nice to have that time with her and feel like we were kids again, sleeping in the same bed on Christmas Eve, so excited about the next day," recalls Gage. "I remember waking up and saying to her, 'I'm getting married today!' and I'm so glad she was the person I got to say that to."
You can also forego the notion of not seeing your spouse until the ceremony altogether. "I am the most superstitious person you'll meet and I spent the morning of our wedding helping my husband with the toast he'd be giving that night," says Gage. But you can still incorporate other traditions like keeping the wedding dress a secret until then. "I think there is something to be said for the drama of a big reveal. I didn't do a first look for that reason and it was so exciting to walk into the church and see my husband at the end of the aisle. But that's what was right for us, not necessarily for everyone else. My only advice would be think about when you want to see each other and work backward from that," she adds.
Keep your expectations in check to maximize the memories. Instead of focusing on what you want to happen, enjoy what is happening.
Regardless of whether you decide to spend the night before the big day with your bridal party, your partner, luxuriating in some alone time, or creating a brand new tradition all your own, remember to get plenty of rest and hydration. The following day will definitely be one that you'll want to look and feel your best before and those a hair and makeup appointments start early!