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.
“Scattering rose petals down the aisle and looking angelic in a long white satin dress,” my aunt fondly reminisces about my very first wedding experience as her three-year-old flower girl. Now, I know that aunts are prone to saying nice, half-true things to their nieces, so I ran this account by my mom. “How did I perform?” I inquire about an event my brain was too mushy to develop a memory of. “Perfectly, of course! You were nervous, but you took your job seriously and carefully put petals on the ground as you walked. I don’t remember you smiling; you just kept your focus and did your job.” Wow, that explains a lot actually. Please hold while I dial up my therapist.
But seriously, being a flower girl is stressful for a little tot who can’t even put on their own socks yet. Anesha of Florida recalls her own tête-à-tête with that flower girl life, saying, “My family reminds me often how evil I was because I was a tomboy and was mad about my hair being straightened, so I walked down the aisle slamming the petals down.” I mean who is all this flower wafting (slamming) for, really? Isn’t it an orchestrated bonding moment for the guests to collectively laugh and coo over how adorable or sullen or confused this dumb kid is? Meanwhile, the kid’s mom stands anxiously by, white-knuckling whatever toy the kid has been bribed with and praying the brat doesn’t make a scene.
Why did this tradition even come about (if you’ve read any of my other articles, you may wish to skip ahead because I’m about to say the F word yet again)? FERTILITY. If I ever see a fertile woman again in my life, it will be too soon. Upper class Greeks and Romans often included little girls in the wedding procession who walked ahead of the bride, “showering her path with grains and herbs,” which of course represented the collective hope that this woman could also make little humans just like the ones tossing oatmeal, lest she be doomed to a life of barren dread. And this my friends, is the definition of patriarchy.
The interpretation of this tradition got a little looser and a little weirder around the Elizabethan era, when the inclusion of children in the wedding party itself was more a reflection of how the culture idealized childhood, seeing kids as “symbols of hope and innocence.” But the Elizabethans never tried to straighten Anesha’s hair.
I got married in Ohio, so let me translate for you folks in the states with names foreigners recognize: I was young. So I only had one friend with a kiddo, who was too little to walk. Hippie-hearted as I am, I referred to this baby as my “flower child” in the program, but her only role at the wedding was to instantaneously burst into tears when my husband tried to tell her how cute she looked. Other feminist friends of mine are flirting with fire by simultaneously trying to elevate the babies in their lives while, like, totally respecting their agency. Ashley says, “I’m having my best friend’s daughter and my youngest cousin be ‘greeters,’ the first people to walk down the aisle and just wave at all the guests to set a fun, cute mood. They are both so spunky, they will totally love it.” Then she quickly amends, “Unless they’re having a bad day, and in that case, we’ll totally skip it if they don’t want to!” And don’t forget—your kids don’t need to hug anybody.
After Ashley’s greeters set a cute mood (or not), her grandparents will walk down the aisle, and her grandmother will throw rose petals. “They helped raise me and continue to be a huge part of my life, so I wanted to honor them in this way.” Ashley is definitely onto something. Flower grandmas are totally in right now, you guys. People, ABC, and The Today Show have been all over this breaking news. Britt from New York took the same approach: “My gram is like my best friend. I wanted to give her an important role, a role where she would be the star of the show, and flower grams was born!”
But some people are totally not down with flower grams. For instance, SaintPaulGal on The Knot forum says, “I hate hate hate the trend of infantilizing grandparents. They are grown-ass human beings—your parents' parents, not dolls or babies or puppies or some s**t...I think 9 times out of 10, having grandma as a flower girl would read as a patronizing joke at her expense.” First of all, I applaud you SaintPaulGal for calling out ageism when you see it (but also, why is everyone on the internet so passionately angry?).
Let’s hear from the source whether playing the role of flower tosser was a playful honor or totally condescending. While Nora is, in fact, not a grandmother, she was asked to be a flower girl at the ripe old age of 24. “I had a little white basket. And I stood up with the bride and her bridesmaids in the traditional flower girl position. It was hilarious.” Nora notes that the ring bearer was 28. But this struck me as strange, and so I pressed the issue, saying “To be clear, this was fun for you?” Nora laughs, “It was oh so fun for me! My friend was worried to ask me, but it made complete sense for our relationship. I was super flattered that she wanted me to be a part of the ceremony.”
So there you have it, folks. Regardless of whether Savannah and Ryan think flower grandmas are totally newsworthy and the latest must-have wedding trend, the roles you ask your family and friends to play should really honor the actual relationships you have with them. Maybe your grandma has a great sense of humor and would be delighted to toss petals, or maybe she would be like “you want me to do what now?” Know your grandma, people.
Also, let the record show that while I, the oldest and wisest child, had not one, but two, opportunities to shine as the flower girl, my sister (who is the middle child) didn’t get a single opportunity to flub this role, as she likely would have. She has requested that my father get married a third time, noting that if she were able to be the flower girl, the ring bearer, and officiate the wedding, she might begin her journey of self-healing from an intense case of Middle Child Syndrome (MCS).