My parents have come from England to see us to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary — a milestone I can’t imagine but very much hope my husband and I reach (he will have to live to 91 years old). Although I speak from only 13 years of experience being married, I have to say that I think it is a wonderful institution — and yes, I have heard the old joke about “but who wants to live in an institution?”
This has made me think about the state of matrimony and differing traditions here and across the pond in England. While I am sure the “perfect” marriage with never a cross word or difficult moment does not exist outside movies and the pages of romantic novels, there is something truly great and magical about having a life partner you can always count on.
I married in Ohio, my husband’s birthplace and home of my in-laws, in 2000 and was shocked to discover some significant differences between English and American wedding traditions. For example, did you know:
• In the U.K., weddings are traditionally held earlier in the day than in the U.S. (noon is popular) with a seated luncheon, known strangely as a “wedding breakfast” held afterwards, in contrast to the traditional late afternoon or early evening American wedding followed by dinner
• I was confused to learn from my husband-to-be that in the U.S., men often wear tuxedos to weddings and women wear evening gowns. Compare this to British wedding attire that is generally more formal with men wearing “morning suits” of long grey jackets and waistcoats with striped grey (yes, that is how the English spell this color), trousers and women wearing formal day dresses with long matching coats and hats (remember the outfits worn at Prince William’s wedding?) In the U.K., the mother of the bride and the mother of the bridegroom generally confer on their own outfit colors and take into consideration the chosen bridesmaid colors. The waistcoat and handkerchief of the groom and best man is normally the same color as the bridesmaid’s dresses
• Cake traditions are very different between our two nations, as I learned to my embarrassment 13 years ago. I was blissfully unaware until the moment my new husband ambushed me, there is a tradition in the U.S. of “smashing” wedding cake into each other’s mouths. It is very fortunate that I had already taken my vows in church by the time this happened. In the land of my birth, the whole cake issue is much more civilized in my opinion as we simply cut the cake together and then share it out to all the guests
While the wedding day is important, it is the marriage that matters the most, and the symbolism and tradition of exchanging wedding rings are very similar both sides of the Atlantic. Many people choose to engrave the inside of their wedding bands with the date of the marriage, initials, a verse of scripture or the eternity symbol. I had to smile when a jeweler friend told me the story of two unusual requests: the first from a lady who wanted the inscription “PUT IT BACK ON!” inscribed on the inside of her fiancé’s ring, and the second of a man who when asked if he wanted a special “pet” name engraved in his ring (apparently there is a growing trend for ‘Snuggles’ or similar personal nicknames to be inscribed) answered “Rover.”
God bless America!
Lesley Francis grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009.