Just Married! But Why the Tin Cans on the Getaway Car?

Liz Susong weighs in on the classic getaway car decor

Updated 11/24/17

Photo by Polina Vinogradova

In Catalyst Wedding 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.

I love the classic movie scene in which the wedding car rolls away, newlyweds in tow, with painted windows announcing “Just Married” and bouncing cans tied to the bumper. It just makes sense, you know? After emptying your bank account—and mom’s and dad’s—what’s left but a few empty Coke cans and a garish display to send you off into the abyss of the unknown? Imagine my surprise when I learned that tying cans to the car was less about self-imposed poverty and more about a much bigger, more important story that is hardly ever told: that of the obnoxious wedding guest.

With so much focus on the bride and groom, we harried wedding guests hardly ever get our due. What would a wedding even be like without us crying into our hankies when you walk down the aisle, dancing our faces off while splashing wine to and fro, and getting sloppy so you have interesting stories to tell when you’re boring and monogamous? This piece I dedicate to us.

There was a time when wedding guests were far more invested in their friends losing their virginity after their wedding. Nowadays, we all know that ship (usually) sailed in college after that one party, and let me be honest: If you have energy for that nonsense after your wedding, you just didn’t leave it all out on the dance floor like you should have. But back in the day, guests would actually accompany the newlyweds into the bedroom, “help” them undress, and cheer them on. Can you actually imagine the expert level of obnoxiousness it would require to crowd into a bedroom and “encourage” your friend on her wedding night? After all, she just met the guy!

This tradition gave way to the "shivaree" in the 18th century, a practice of following the newlyweds home while banging pots and pans. “Long after the couple fled inside and closed the door, the crowd remained, celebrating, shouting encouragement, and making as much commotion as possible,” writes wedding historian Susan Waggoner. So, little-known fact I made up: Cars were actually invented to assist newlyweds in escaping their super obnoxious friends. But we, the abhorrent people you invited to your wedding, cannot be deterred! Drive as you might, we will decorate your vehicle with a clattering raucous so that everyone you may pass can participate in the badgering. Because we care about you having sex.

As a seasoned terrible wedding guest, I’m sad to say that I personally have not partaken in embarrassing my friends in this particular manner. All of my friends are classy bitches who either end up with you in the hotel pool at two in the morning, or give you the dignified opportunity to participate in a sparkler send-off.

Sparkler send-offs generate some of the most beautiful wedding photos, so I was surprised when the wedding professionals I talked to reacted so strongly against this fad. Amy, a wedding planner in New York, says, “I've reached a place where I strongly deter clients from doing sparklers. For one, organizing drunk people at the end of the night around lighting giant fire spark torch thingies is its own insanity.” But it’s not just the herding cats aspect of this tradition that frustrates Amy: “It's also extremely dangerous. I've almost been lit on fire multiple times. I don't think clients realize at what cost they're getting ‘the perfect shot.’”

Kris, a wedding photographer, jumps in: “I HAVE been lit on fire.” Several people point me to this story about a photographer suffering a serious burn injury due to sparklers. And wish lanterns are no better: “I watched a 200-year-old oak tree go up in flames when a dumb drunk groomsman lifted one up toward the tree instead of toward the field,” Kris says.

Speaking on behalf of all dumb, drunk wedding guests, trusting us with fire is, well, unwise. Remember, our intent is to encourage you, not to send you to the ER in the middle of the night. Might I suggest a new iteration of this tradition: We encircle you on the dance floor for the final song, our voices joined in the chorus of our generation, and then we part the circle for your exit into the night, applauding you as you skip off into your adventure, hand in hand. And 30 minutes later, we meet you at the hotel pool.

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