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.
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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).
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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.
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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.