#2. The Age of Adulthood Was Determined by When You Could Wear a Suit of Armor
The Tradition You Know:
For many Americans, becoming an adult means a night of regret-filled debauchery on their 21st birthday. Sure, they may have already been allowed to vote, fight a war, and star in porn prior to that, but goddammit, 21 is the age when Americans can drink alcohol and proudly strut down the street waving their official Adult Card all up in the face of every person they meet.
In six years, you'll finally be able to have your first ... oh, wait.
Where It Actually Comes From:
But why 21? Is it because that's when your body suddenly transmogrifies from a Lord of the Flies-style savage into an alcohol-metabolizing responsibility machine? Nope, the reason you're finally allowed to order a beer is because, a thousand years ago, that was the age at which you could finally become a maiden-savin' knight.
You get to shit in it and everything!
Back in the Middle Ages, warfare pretty much followed an "I stronger, you deader" philosophy, so the most elite units were heavily armored knights. And since clothes made entirely of metal tend to weigh a dragon-sized shit-ton, it was believed that only someone who had reached their 21st birthday could effectively carry that weight. Plus, the age of 21 was extra special because, based on some Aristotelian Greek bullshit, they thought that 7 was a divine number. Therefore, according to the Official Knight Users Manual, boys could become pages at 7, squires at 14, and knights at 21.
Age 25: Dragon friend!
As you may or may not have heard, we 'mericans were once British colonials, so this perceived importance of the age of 21 eventually filtered on down to us. So the next time someone you know turns 21, don't buy them a beer. Instead, slap some armor on them, strap them onto a horse, and send them off to fight some Lannisters ... or, seeing as how that's probably illegal wherever you live, just tell them that they had to wait until they turned 21 to consume alcohol because a medieval English common law said they were too much of a pussy to wear a suit of armor before that.
#1. Basically Everything About Weddings Has Disturbing Origins
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The Traditions You Know:
If there's one thing that's chock-full of seemingly cliche and mind-numbingly pointless traditions, it's your average wedding. From appointing a best man, to tossing the bride's wedding garter to a horde of salivating men, to bridesmaids (which seem to exist mainly as living mannequins for horrid dresses), the entire ordeal seems somewhat unnecessary but, ultimately, harmless.
Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images
Well, depending upon the freaks getting hitched.
Where They Actually Come From:
Today, a best man's main purpose is to help the groom through his pre-wedding cold feet (by way of strippers). But during the Dark Ages, he would have been more concerned with the bride's cold feet -- because back then the best man was less about fumbling through toasts and more about helping to kidnap the bride.
The Germanic Goths had a custom dictating that a man should marry a woman who lived in his own community, which inevitably led to bachelors dealing with a shortage of acceptable prospects. Since we're talking the Dark Ages, this of course resulted in pillaging neighboring communities -- and since everyone knows that kidnapping is sort of a two-man job, the best man stepped in to help out. Over time, the best man evolved from partner-in-kidnapping to the more bride-friendly role of bodyguard: To protect the happy couple (which became a thing once all the kidnapping died down), the best man would stay nearby to defend them from disapproving family or other suitors hoping for one last shot (we're picturing a dude in a tux wielding a massive battleaxe).
Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images
And of course, there's the modern version.
Moving to the other side of the aisle, bridesmaids also find themselves with sinister origins. In ancient Rome, it was required by law for the wedding party to consist of 10 witnesses. Unlike today, these girls would commit the ultimate faux-pas and dress the same as the bride in order to confuse evil spirits, as the Romans believed that these spirits would otherwise ruin the wedding and plague the couple with bad luck. So, in what was perhaps the birth of the grand wedding tradition of being cruel to your girlfriends, the bride would use her best friends as evil spirit bait.
Not her problem anymore.
Throwing the garter also originated as a way to protect the bride, proving once and for all that today's weddings are goddamned boring compared to their 14th century counterparts (the tradeoff being that they're much less likely to result in serious bodily injury). Back then, the wedding guests would jostle the new couple to the bedroom directly after the ceremony for a sort of crowdsourced consummation. Snatching part of the bride's dress on the way to this live porn show was considered good luck, so naturally the gown would be reduced to rags. As a result, brides eventually began tossing the garter for the guests to fight over while she and her new husband escaped to the bedroom. You know, sort of like how a movie burglar might toss a T-bone to some guard dogs, except instead of stealing a TV, you're protecting yourself from your friends' and family's rapey tendencies. And now, it's time for the Chicken Dance!
Auriane has an incredibly pointless Tumblr, and you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you can wear a suit of armor, Steve recommends that you clank on over to his blog, then head over to the Princeton Tiger for another crescent kick to your giggle glands.
Did you know that the kids who graduate from high school in your town this year will be, on average, 30 IQ points smarter than the average student who graduated in 1923? To put that in prospective, the average student in the class of '23 would be considered legally retarded by modern standards. In this month's Cracked Podcast, Michael Swaim and Jack O'Brien look at the mysterious reason science thinks humans are getting smarter every year. Go here to subscribe on iTunes or download it here. Getting your Cracked fix while driving has never been this unlikely to kill you.
Related Reading: Traditions have a way of shocking us. You'll be surprised to learn that the ancient bushido code of honor only dates back to 1905. You might also be surprised to learn that those ridiculous old prohibitions against pork and beef saved a shitload of lives. Still haven't had enough laughs at the expense of our ancestors? Click this link and read away.