Origins: Numerous superstitions surround the bride's trip to the church. To a lesser extent, the groom's and the guests' journeys are also perceived as omen-filled.
Though it is now considered highly unlucky for the bride and groom to see each other before the ceremony, not so long ago a common practice was for the bride, groom, best man, and maid of honor to form a mini-procession and walk to the church. The bride would go first, with the best man, groom, and maid of honor following behind. On the return trip, bride and groom would walk in front, with the best man and maid of honor walking as a pair behind them.
The bride must leave her home by the front door, and must step over the threshold leading with her right foot. It is lucky if she sees a rainbow or if the sun shines on her. Being snowed on is also lucky. A windy day, however, announces a turbulent marriage, and a rainy day a sad one. (This last superstition probably dates back to the days when weddings were conducted at the entrance to the church, where a rainy-day bride risked getting thoroughly soaked.)
To ensure good luck, sometimes the groom would make a point of giving a coin or a gift of food to the first person the party encountered. On the way back from the church, this duty would fall to the
It is most fortunate if the first one encountered on the way to the church is a black cat, a grey horse, or a chimney sweep. Meeting an elephant is also considered fortuitous (not to mention unlikely).
A pig running across the road, however, is a sure sign of evil. Encounters with members of the clergy, police officers, doctors, lawyers, and the blind are also bad signs. The worst of all omens is to encounter a funeral on the way to the church, or even to catch a brief glimpse of one.
To cross running water was considered unlucky, and often one of the party would be charged with transferring the ill luck this brought to a small object by way of reciting "Bad luck cleave to you," then chucking now-cursed item into the water.
Bridal parties should never enter a church through the lychgate; that is reserved for those accompanying funerals.
A different route should be chosen for the journey back.
If a carriage is used to convey the bridal couple, it has to be drawn by grey horses. (No galloping, please — that's bad luck.) But of course it's a bad sign if the horses are reluctant to start, either on the way to or coming back from the church. Once the bride has alighted at the chapel, the wise coachman drives the carriage on a ways to avoid turning the horses immediately outside the building, an action that would bring ill luck to one of both of the married pair.
As carriages became less the norm and automobiles took their place as the conveyances of choice, the superstitions attaching to carriages came to be transferred to cars. Therefore, a car that won't start is now every bit as bad a sign as a balky horse was in its day, and a bridal conveyance (horse-drawn or horseless) that breaks down during the trip bodes no good for anyone.
Barbara "marital breakdown" Mikkelson
Last updated: 27 June 2005
Hole, Christina. The Encyclopedia of Superstitions. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1996. ISBN 0-76070-228-4. Opie, Iona and Moira Tatem. A Dictionary of Superstitions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989. ISBN 0-19-282-916-5. Pickering, David. Dictionary of Superstitions. London: Cassell, 1995. ISBN 0-304-345350. Tuleja, Tad. Curious Customs. New York: Harmony Books, 1987. ISBN 0-517-56654-0.