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07/02/2004 Archived Entry: "Kissing the Bride"
Summer is a time for weddings and these are made jollier by all the traditions and customs which accompany them, one of the nicest being kissing the bride. It seems that this custom originated among the poorer people, when the privilege of being the first to kiss the new bride was restricted to the person who gave her away. This was not her father; in many cases when a poor person was married in church, the bride's father was not present and neither, in some cases, was her mother. It was considered unlucky for the bride's mother to attend the wedding ceremony, just as it was unlucky if a pig ran across the path ahead of the bride.
In the absence of her father, another man - usually a trusted family friend or relation - was charged with the duty of giving her away for marriage and it seems to have been his right to be the first to kiss the new bride. Apparently there was the occasional dispute about this as some vicars claimed the privilege because it was they who tied the proverbial knot. Whether the act of kissing the bride was a nationwide practice is rather uncertain but it appears to have been widespread in the north, i.e. Scotland, County Durham and the North Riding of Yorkshire in particular.
In the area around Stokesley and Guisborough, it appears the person who gave away the bride was the one who could exercise this privilege whilst in County Durham, it was the vicar who claimed the right, although it was not unknown for some Yorkshire vicars to enjoy the custom! In his book "Folk Lore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders", published in 1866, William Henderson tells two delightful stories about kissing the bride.
One was in Yorkshire when the clergyman, who was a stranger to the county, found the wedding party waiting around outside the church after the ceremony, as if expecting something else to happen. When he asked what they were waiting for, the new bridegroom said, "Please sir, you haven't kissed Molly." Henderson does not tell us whether or not he obliged!
The second tale concerns a bride from County Durham who got married in the south of England. After the ceremony, she expected the vicar to be the first to kiss her and was very surprised when he didn't. Not to be outdone, however, she strode up to him and planted a handsome kiss upon a rather surprised clergyman.
I've no doubt he thought there were some funny folks up north!
So far as Scotland is concerned, it seems the custom was not restricted to either the vicar or the man who gave away the bride. The moment the Scottish wedding ceremony was complete, there was a mad rush by all the young men to claim the first kiss of the new bride. It seems the custom in Scotland dated to the middle ages although in Ireland, the conclusion of the wedding ceremony was marked by the priest turning to the husband and saying, "You may now kiss your wife."
There is some suggestion that kissing the bride might date from pre-Reformation times when the kiss of peace was given during Mass. In some instances, a sacred object such as a crucifix or reliquary was passed around the congregation to be symbolically kissed in lieu of the kissing the people. This was called the pax, pax being the Latin for peace. Kissing the bride might have been regarded as a pleasant way of wishing her a peaceful and happy marriage.