American Wedding Traditions

Updated March 13, 2018
Victorian wedding couple

American wedding traditions go beyond the customary saying for the bride to carry "something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue." Find out why and how the many traditions used in American weddings came to be accepted customs.

Traditional Customs Americans Follow

The traditions that Americans in the U.S. follow are frequently borrowed from or have evolved from other countries' and cultures' practices.

Wedding Party Traditions

Have you ever wondered why the happy couple invites special friends and family members to participate in their wedding? This American wedding party tradition dates back to ancient Roman times. Several women were asked to dress similar to the bride in order to confuse any evil spirits that may attempt to kidnap the bride. Nowadays, the bridesmaids may dress differently from the bride, but they wear similar dresses to each other for good luck.

The best man and other groomsmen also have roles steeped in tradition. In ancient times, brides weren't exactly willing parties. Instead, they would be abducted by the groom, his best man, and other close friends. These men are now representing both consenting parties by being groomsmen.

Traditional Bridal Showers

The bridal shower wasn't originally intended to be a party for the bride to receive gifts. Rather, they were intended to help raise dowry money for brides and their families who couldn't afford one in Europe (1500s). Today's showers started emerging around the 1800s in the U.S.

Wedding Cake Customs

wedding couple with cake

The cake isn't just to provide a sweet end to a wedding feast. In ancient times, there was a different meaning. A small cake was broken over the brides head during the ceremony to symbolize fertility. The guests would pick up the bits of cake that fell to the floor and keep them for luck.

Cake toppers came to be when Queen Victoria wed Prince Albert in 1850 and she had small figurines of herself and the Prince created for the top. By the 1950s, this was commonly seen in U.S. weddings.

Finally, the groom's cake is a uniquely American custom that started in the South.

Carrying the Bride Over the Threshold

A favorite tradition of television newlyweds is to carry the bride over the threshold before entering their home to start a new life together. The reason? It's bad luck for a bride to trip upon entering the couple's home for the first time and if she is carried, she will not bring "evil spirits" in with her. Her husband carries her so this won't happen.


Some say the honeymoon stemmed from the bridal abductions. The kidnapped bride and her groom would run off to a hidden location so no one would find them. They were usually gone for about a month. Others highlight that the reason for the honeymoon was to travel to visit friends and relatives who couldn't attend the wedding itself. Either way, the honeymoon is now firmly embedded in American wedding culture.

Other Wedding Customs in the U.S.

If you attend a traditional wedding in America, you can expect to observe a few customs. Again, while they may not have started in the U.S., they are often practiced across various religions and cultures within the country. Couples may observe just a few or all of these customs.

  • Tossing the garter - The bridegroom removes the garter from the bride's leg. He tosses the garter to the single men who attempt to catch it. This is a humorous "sign" that the man who catches it will be the next to be married.
  • Birdseed bags for wedding guests
    Tossing the bouquet - The bride tosses her bouquet behind her to the waiting crowd of single women. The lady that catches will be the next to be married, according to folklore.
  • Tossing bird seed for luck - This tradition evolved from Ancient Rome where the tossing of things like coins or seeds was meant to give the couple good fortune and fertility.
  • Flowers - Historically, flowers have been used in everything from the bride's hair to the reception venues of today.
  • Exchanging rings - During the wedding ceremony the bride and groom will exchange rings as a symbol of their love. However, jewelers also capitalized on the custom to make this popular.
  • Location - Couples were frequently married in their homes or the homes of their pastors in the 1800s.
  • Dancing the first dance - At the wedding reception, the couple will have their first dance together. This dance is usually followed by the bride and her father, then the groom and his mother.
  • Giving guests gifts - As a thank you, some wedding couples give guests keepsake gifts, called wedding favors.

Modern American Wedding Practices

While many of the traditional wedding events and customs are still practiced, things have evolved over the years. A few areas that are changing in modern U.S. weddings include:

  • Seeing the bride before the ceremony - Couples today are choosing to have pre-wedding photographs so they don't keep their guests waiting and they can get more photos taken.
  • Vows - Brides and grooms today often write their own vows instead of using the traditional text.
  • Lighting unity candles - Lighting a unity candle (or creating a unity sand vase or similar item) is a new concept that originated in the U.S. in the late 20th century. It involves the bride and groom each taking a lit candle and lighting a larger one in the center together as a symbol of their new union.
  • Wedding gift registries - While couples have received gifts of money and other items for years, the wedding registry is a relatively new phenomenon that is very American. Macy's department store is credited with creating the first wedding registry in the 1920s.

Customs Evolve

American wedding traditions are a fun part of the festivities. While customs will always be evolving, add a few of these practices into your American wedding for a traditional ceremony and reception.

American Wedding Traditions