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Georgia Mountain Laurel Magazine

Ancient Floral Customs and Traditions

Feb 17, 2016 03:48PM ● By cyndi Israel

Photo by Jenn Mac Photography.

The mother of the bride said to me recently “I’d like for my daughter to do some of that.” She’d just seen Carrie Ann’s tussie mussie in wedding pictures and said “I think it’s fabulous. Those kinds of things brides don’t know about- from back in the day. A revival, of sorts.”

Maybe I can help with that ‘revival’?? While I am totally sold on tradition, I am also just as convinced that our ancestors would approve if we update those traditions just a little. What say you? 

We all know about Something Old/Something New, Something Borrowed/Something Blue/and a Sixpence in her shoe. We’ve created really unique and wonderful ways to bring old/new/borrowed/blue to our weddings so surely we can create new ways to observe ancient flower customs.

Although some days I feel like I might’ve belonged in an earlier century, I wasn’t around when most of these customs were started – some are medieval (500AD – 1500), most are Victorian (1837 – 1901). And different cultures and countries had different customs. Did you know that brides didn’t start customarily wearing white dresses until Queen Victoria wore white for her wedding in 1840? Before that, they were mostly blue, which was the color signifying purity. (I know it has nothing to do with flowers but I thought it was interesting.)

Now… about bouquet traditions: Some thought that the early bridal bouquets were a matter of necessity. They were comprised of fragrant herbs and branches so that the fragrances would draw attention to the lovely bride. Personal hygiene back then wasn’t quite the same as it is today. It was also strongly believed that the herbs that healed all sorts of ailments would surely ward off any evil spirits and bring all good fortune to the new bride. History indicates that mostly, brides carried only herbs and leaves, twigs and branches until, again, Queen Victoria’s wedding. Then flowers became more popular. I don’t know about you but I could be quite happy with an updated version of the herbs/twigs/branches/leaves bouquet. And what if we added SUCCULENTS? Or AIR PLANTS? A beautiful bouquet without a single bloom. Hmmm…. let’s try that!

Tussie mussies were quite the rage for a while. To start with, a tussie mussie was small enough to pin to a garment. Evolving into a small bouquet, they were traditionally a big central flower with herbs and leaves arranged encircling the bloom. Sometimes they were placed in holders so that the bouquet would last longer and be easier to carry. Other times they were just wrapped in a doily. But they almost always contained fragrant herbs and flowers like tansy, thyme, sage, mint, rosemary, feverfew, Artemisia and roses.

Carrie Ann had been given this tussie mussie holder years earlier by her aunt, who said “You can use this for your wedding bouquet.” Carrie Ann had saved the silver holder for just that and brought it with her to our first appointment. I felt it my bounden duty to create something that looked like 2015 but give a proper curtsy of respect to Victorian times. Carrie Ann’s November wedding was the perfect time for the orange roses and I even included feverfew and acacia for fragrance. If you have a small bouquet in your wedding day vision (as did Kate Middleton) then you’ll love a tussie mussie. And the holders are as varied as the flowers that they can contain. Look around for an antique if you like the idea of a small bouquet. Consider, too, a tussie mussie for the mothers to carry – instead of wearing flowers at the wedding.

Tussie mussies were in their glory days when flowers, and even certain plants, were given special meaning so that there could be an unspoken message in a floral bouquet. Fun, huh? Here are some popular wedding flowers and their meanings:

When a bouquet was given as a gift, the flowers were chosen based on their meaning and a card was usually attached (handwritten, of course) to tell of the reason and meaning of the chosen flowers. Ever wonder why RED roses for Valentine’s? Well… now you know! Different cultures assigned different meanings over the centuries. Imagine receiving a bouquet of ranunculus from your suitor/beau/boyfriend/groom to tell you just how radiant he thinks you look!

While the custom in some cultures was for the bride AND groom to wear a floral headpiece, brides are now being drawn to the flower crowns and headpieces. They can be worn as a crown – on the crown of the head or around the forehead, even on a barrette or comb. They can be simple and small or luxuriant and full. Ancient Greeks and Romans wore crowns of laurel, oak, herbs, grapevine and myrtle. Wreaths signify eternity. Men and women participated and wore them mostly for celebrations and holy days. Thinking of holy days makes me remember a ‘crown of thorns’.

So…tradition lives on! Traditions and customs in flowers, style and colors are still popular choices today. And so is individuality and uniqueness. Your personal style should always be apparent in your wedding décor. But a nod to the past can bring special meaning to everyday but to a wedding day in particular. And let’s keep dreaming up new ways to honor where and who we’ve come from. I’ll be happy to help that mother of the bride with a ‘revival’ and add more meaning to an already meaning-filled day! Let me know how you bring the past to your wedding. I’d love to hear! I’m on Facebook at Twigs, Leaves & Flowers.

Cyndi Israel is the owner of Twigs, Leaves & Flowers, wedding planner and harpist.

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