Have you ever wondered why we shake someone’s hand on meeting them, why a best man and bridesmaids are in attendance at weddings, or why we say bless you when someone sneezes?
These are just a few examples of some of the habitual things we do without giving it too much thought. Let’s have a little look at where some of these long held traditions came from.
Weddings are positively littered with traditions that we don’t even think about, from rings and first dances, to tiered cakes and confetti. We just go through the motions when it comes to getting spliced but specifically, why does the groom have a best man at his side for the ceremony? It is probably safe to assume that most of us would think the role is to provide some kind of support for the groom and be of some assistance with keeping the rings safe etc. Well, although that seems to be how the role has evolved in modern times (thankfully), its origins are rather more sinister for the prospective bride-to-be. In primitive times, the best man was he who was considered the most adept when it came to abducting women; sometimes from neighbouring villages when local female pickings became scarce, whom he deemed suitable for the groom. Often, best men were required, since the act of kidnap might well require some extra muscle. Seems fair.
Like her male counterpart the best man, the bridesmaid of today has the honour/duty of ensuring the bride is well supported and looked after, assisting her and telling her how fabulous she looks and so forth. However, the tradition is firmly rooted in Roman times, when the wedding ceremony required ten witnesses by Roman law. Fine, but there was a bit more to it than that. Of course nowadays one would never dream of upstaging the bride on her big day but back then the bridesmaid had to don the exact same gown as the bride, in order to confuse evil spirits that may wish to spoil the proceedings. Seems fair enough.
The customary handshake is deemed to be the polite way to meet and greet someone, a sign of respect and trust, or good sportsmanship but do we even know why we’re doing it? This practice can be traced back to ancient Greek, Egyptian and Roman times, with these cultures all using the gesture as a means to assess whether or not any newcomers or adversaries were wielding a weapon. Although this may seem extreme today, it was a justified procedure then, when weaponry was often concealed in the right sleeve; using the left hand was not clever, since it was considered to be a mark of the devil himself. So, a quick shake of the right hand and arm would dislodge any nasties hidden up the sleeve, Job done.
Saying bless you when someone sneezes
Shortened from God bless you, this blessing is offered almost automatically when someone sneezes, be the offender a speck of dust irritating the nostrils, or an allergic reaction. Its origins though, are to be found in medieval Europe, from a time when sneezing was very likely a sign of the producer’s soon-to-be demise. The continent was afflicted with the plague and Pope Gregory I deemed the blessing necessary to curtail the dreaded disease, or at least comfort the afflicted on their way to the hereafter.
Why do we drive on the left/right?
This tradition actually precedes driving. Coming once again from ancient Roman, Egyptian and Greek times, this rule was enforced to ensure that there was sufficient leeway for men on horseback to swing their sword and the rule was to stay to the left. This set-up enabled the sword to be drawn from the rider’s right (since as previously mentioned, left handedness was very firmly associated with the devil) and fighting and general bloodshed could then commence. The changeover to the right is thought to come from America for similar reasons, as they kept their guns on their left side. So, if you’re from the UK or another nation that still drives on the left, well they’ve kept it real.