10 Irish Wedding Traditions for Your Big Day
With their origins in the Emerald Isle, these cultural customs are sure to make all eyes smile—not just Irish ones.
Aitin’ the Gander
Here’s just the excuse you need for one more pre-wedding dinner party. In Ireland, the bride’s family would invite the groom over for supper, either once the engagement was confirmed or the night before the special day, in a ritual called Aitin’ the Gander. Originally, this event was when the families would sign elaborate marriage agreements called The Bindings, which specified details such as how the newlyweds would take care of their parents in their old age—even how often they would make sure the elders would get to mass on Sunday. Once the agreements were signed and the dinner was eaten, there was no way the groom could get out of the wedding, which is how we get the expression, “His goose is cooked.”
Saying Your I Do’s During Shrovetide
In addition to saving money, here is another reason to consider scheduling your wedding on a weekday. Irish weddings were most commonly held during “Shrovetide,” or the days preceding Lent, with the most popular day for a ceremony being “Shrove Tuesday,” or the day before Ash Wednesday.
Contrary to modern practice, Saturday was the least recommended day, according to a folk rhyme attributed to the Celtic region:
Monday for wealth,
Tuesday for health,
Wednesday the best day of all,
Thursday for losses,
Friday for crosses,
And Saturday no luck at all.
Exchanging Claddagh Rings
Featuring two hands clasping a crowned heart, this Irish ring symbolizes love and loyalty and can be worn as an engagement ring or wedding band. The Claddagh is often passed down from mothers and grandmothers and worn to convey one’s relationship status. If it is on the right hand, with the point of the heart toward the fingertips, the wearer is single or looking for love; if it is on the same hand and pointing inward, she is in a relationship. When the wearer is engaged, she would switch the ring to the left hand, with the heart pointing toward the fingertips; once married, it would be turned to point inward.
Take a cue from Irish brides, who generally carried wildflowers, whether in bouquets or in crowns atop their heads.
Carrying a Horseshoe
In Celtic cultures, it was common for brides to tote an upright horseshoe (sometimes in their bouquets and sometimes sewn into their dresses) down the aisle for good luck. Today, we see the motif incorporated in many ways, from horseshoe-shaped desserts to escort cards.
Consider tying the knot, literally, by incorporating the ritual behind this commonly used phrase. Just as a handshake seals a deal, handfasting was the Celtic act of publicly binding hands using a ribbon or cord to signify your betrothal.
To keep evil spirits away and to ensure a harmonious family life, bells were historically chimed at Irish weddings. Because of this folklore, they are now a common gift for newlyweds, and some Irish brides even carry small bells in their bouquets as a reminder of their sacred wedding vows.
Raising a Glass of Mead
Raise a glass of bubbly or a drink made from honey called “mead.” In ancient Ireland, it was common for wedding guests to toast the newlyweds after the meal with this fermented beverage poured into goblets.
Taking a Honeymoon
After the bride and groom enjoyed mead at their wedding, their parents would also make sure they had a supply to last a month, or a full cycle of the moon, which is where we get the term “honeymoon.” It was believed they would be blessed with a son within a year.
Gifting a Wedding Coin
On the wedding day, the Irish groom’s presentation of a coin to his bride symbolized his intention to support her. Put a modern spin on the custom by both exchanging one, maybe after the first look, when you have some time alone together.