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Ancient French Wedding Traditions

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In ancient French wedding traditions the social and economic standing of the bride and the groom were important considerations for any marriage contract. This way most of the marriages were convenience marriages. The marriage laws too, reflect this concern with the financial and economic status of the parties.

In French wedding traditions the marriage contract was referred to as marital regimes. A marital regime impacts the way in which property is divided before and after marriage or in the case of divorce. It is also important in the determination of inheritance rights and taxes.

Even today, in instances where the marriage has taken place outside France and no specific marital regime has been selected, the French couple need to select a marital regime before they can divide property (in France or worldwide) in the event of divorce. Choice of marital regimes can be changed after a minimum prescribed waiting period, provided both parties to the marriage contract agree.

Selection of the Bride

It follows, that financial settlements and selection of marital regimes have an important role to play in the French wedding traditions and pre marriage negotiations. More often than not, the French wedding traditions dictate that the bride cannot be approached with a proposal of marriage without the consent of her father. The father of the bride permits a man to pay his addresses to his daughter after examining his social and economic standing. The consent of the bride was almost never sought. If the bride accepts the proposal, the father negotiates the settlements with the groom and his family before giving the final consent to the alliance.

French wedding traditions demand that every French bride should enter the marital state with a ‘portion’ or dowry. This practice of endowing the woman with a dowry began in 500 B.C and has become an integral part of the French wedding custom. The portion is allotted to the girl at the time of her birth and often the bride’s portion passes from mother to daughter or could pass to the son in the absence of a daughter.

The lower classes in society, in the past, had more freedom in the selection of their bride. They could use the village tailor to act as a go-between for him and the bride’s family or he could leave a hawthorn branch for the bride indicating his desire to make her his wife.

The Engagement

Once the negotiations are complete and the espousal contract has been signed, the bride and the groom are free to exchange rings called gimmels or gernmals or geminals in accordance with the French wedding custom. These are rings that are circlets that are joined together but could be worn on different fingers on the right hand of the groom and fourth finger on the left hand of the bride. The fourth finger in French wedding custom and tradition is thought to contain the nerve that leads directly to the heart. These circlets also contain verses that signify the love of the bride and the groom for each other.

The Trousseau

Most French brides spend the time between their engagement and marriage in getting together their trousseau. This was originally a collection of clothing and household items that were sent along with the bride in an elaborately carved armoire or chest as per the French wedding traditions. This later became the central piece of furniture in the bride’s new home. Perhaps it is this practice that has evolved into the concept of bridal showers in modern times.

The Banns

The engagement is announced to the public by publishing the banns as per the dictates of the French wedding traditions. The Banns is an announcement that a marriage is proposed between two individuals and anyone who sees and impediment to the marriage may raise it before the said date of marriage. This French wedding custom is normally associated with the Roman Catholic Church and is a legal process under the cannon law and under the civil law. This was introduced to ensure that invalid and illegal marriages were not perpetuated. Legal impediments would include a pre existing marriage, a vow of celibacy, lack of consent, or the couple being related within the prohibited degrees of kinship.

The pre-wedding Bath

Plumbing was a rarity in ancient France and hence the bridal bath assumed ritualistic proportions. The bride would take an elaborate pre wedding bath for cleanliness and ritual purification.

The wedding Dress

In Medieval France, the bride’s best dress was converted into her wedding dress with embellishments of beads, ribbons and embroidery. The color of the dress was not significant. However, over a period of time brides began to prefer white, russet, wine and blue as their wedding dress. Black was worn if the groom was a widower. White as a color of innocence and purity emerged in the 18th and 19th century in the true biblical tradition.

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