The time-honoured tradition of marriage is one of the integral aspects of social history all over the world. Before the introduction of compulsory records in 1855, marriage archives are fragmentary, but now they are all registered, along with births and deaths.

One of the reasons for the regulation of records was to enable the local government to check population changes. 

It may seem strange now in our scientific age to hold to superstitions and myths, but not so long ago they were the doctrine by which society was upheld.  Quite often, there was truth or a logical reason behind a seemingly fanciful notion.  These rules had been followed for so many years that they were maintained without question.  Even today, we still practice some of them. 

Before a wedding even took place, the banns were read in church, a practice which continued until 1977 in Scotland.  This was known as "crying the banns" or "crying siller".  Today, of course, they would be posted in the church or registry office.  This is to give anyone with an objection to the marriage on reasonable grounds to voice their opinion and halt the proceedings.  However, in years before, it was considered very unlucky for the couple themselves to overhear them, for fear of ill luck or simple-mindedness falling on their children.  To counter this, the congregation would respond with 'Amen' to the reading of the banns. 

Preparations for the actual wedding have not changed to any great extent.  The wedding cake used to be baked by the bride's mother, and a piece broken over the bride's head at the wedding; if it broke into small fragments, a happy future lay ahead.  When fruit cake became popular, it was usual to put small trinkets into the mixture for the guests to find. 

It was very unlucky for all concerned to refuse a slice of the wedding cake after it was cut by the bride; the practice of the bride and groom cutting it together is relatively recent.  The bride, however, should not partake in the making of the cake and should not taste it prior to the wedding. 

The bride would have been preparing for the couple's new home since an early age, making bed linen, tablecloths, etc. in readiness.  As well as these goods, the bride's father would have provided a dowry.  In the 17-18th centuries it may have been a few cattle rather than actual money, but quite a number of upper class people took on a lot of debt to be able to offer what was deemed to be an reasonable amount. 

White for a wedding dress, introduced by Queen Victoria, is still the most popular colour, symbolising purity, but any colour was acceptable except green or black; green had pagan insinuations and black represented mourning.  One had to be very careful about the type of dress - plain and unadorned was best, especially not velvet, but particularly abhorrent was any kind of bird design or vines and foliage patterns; these again have connotations with death and mourning. 

Indeed, causes of 'ill luck' seem to outnumber by far those of fortune.  Rhymes and adages recommend all sorts of procedures, from the best month of the year and day of the week to the weather and the members of the wedding party: 

…Married when March winds shrill and roar, 
Your home will be on a distant shore. 
Married beneath April's changing skies, 
A chequered path before you lies… 

June is the most popular month, not least for the weather is more likely to be favourable.  Weddings should not be conducted after sunset, and certainly not during Lent.  In Galloway in particular, marriages usually took place on a Tuesday or a Thursday. 

If a bride wears a dress that her mother wore at her own wedding, it is particularly fortuitous, as is having a matron of honour as this woman represents the happiness of marriage.  Good colours for bridesmaids' dresses are blue, pink and gold. 

On the way to a wedding, it was once considered lucky to meet a chimney sweep or a black cat, but not good to come across a funeral or certain members of the community - a priest, doctor, policeman or a blind man. 

In the days when brides were conveyed to church on horse-drawn carriages, the best choice of animal was a grey mare. 

Before entering the church, the bride should make sure her veil is lowered until she is safely inside so that evil spirits cannot see her and wish to take her away. 

The idea of tying the knot goes back to Babylonian times, when a thread from each of the wedding party's clothes would be tied together to symbolise their union, and the wearing of a ring on the fourth finger dates to the Roman era; it was thought that a vein ran from this finger to the heart.  The circle of the ring represents eternity.  The wearing of rings was banned in Scotland after the Reformation, but was gradually re-established.  Even if no other jewellery was worn, it was usual to have a wedding ring.  One thought to have belonged to Jean Armour, wife of Robert Burns, can be seen  here

After the wedding, in places such as Dalry and Kilmarnock, the wedding party would meet again the next day to carry out a rite known as 'creeling'.  A wicker basket was tied to the groom and he was required to run a circuit of the field, or wherever they had met, and his new wife would follow.  It was supposedly a reflection of her contentment in her choice of husband if she made the effort to unburden him quickly.  A variation on this was to have stones placed in the basket carried by the groom, and the bride would take over as a symbol of her willingness to share the worries of the world with him. 

Most of these conventions were common in the 19th and early 20th centuries, although a few have filtered through to modern day. 

A tradition which is still engaged in on a regular basis is the show of  presents, where the couple display what they have acquired for their new home.  This seems to be a particularly south western practice. 

Up till relatively recently, perhaps petering out due to safety reasons, there would be ascramble ('scatter' or 'poor oot'), when money would be thrown in the street to children on a finders-keepers basis. 

Occasionally, the bride is still lifted over the threshold of her new home by her husband; this is to prevent the ill luck that will follow should she trip on the way in. 

Approximately 30,000 people marry each year in Scotland, with around 7,000 of these in the south west.  Today, many of these end in separation, but the statistics are not too far removed from past times, as in previous generations a high mortality rate meant that many were  widowed early. 

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