April 02, 2008

Superstitions: Throwing Rice at the Bride and Groom

Some superstitions may have lost their original meaning, but have become ingrained in cultural behavior. These behaviors are no longer tied to a superstitious belief; throwing rice is one of these behaviors that simply became part of the culture. Of course, now you are more likely to see bubbles, flower petals, or birdseed at a wedding in the United States, but most of us have pelted a bride and groom with rice at one time or another.

The earliest known reference to throwing grains at a wedding occurred when a bakerís wife tossed wheat at Henry VII for good luck in 1486, and it became a widespread practice in England soon thereafter. The switch to rice took place around 1870, probably because rice was cheaper than wheat at the time.

Why throw anything? The Victorians liked to say it was to ensure fertility, but it was generally just to wish the new couple lots of luck, happiness, and prosperity. Using foodstuffs as good luck charms is not confined to weddings. We'll discuss salt and garlic another time.

(Cross-posted at DDBBG.)

Reference: Most of the material from this post was found in Steve Roud's The Penguin guide to the superstitions of Britain and Ireland.

Posted by Jennifer at April 2, 2008 11:11 AM | TrackBack


As is the case with pretty much anything you'll ever write (I know very little about history), I had no idea.

Now can you explain the switch from rice to birdseed? The explanations I've heard sound urban legendy.

Posted by: sarahk at April 3, 2008 12:51 PM

Don't you remember when everyone started saying rice was bad for birds some years back? Since then, we've switched to other things to protect the birdies.

Even though the rice-is-bad-for-birds thing is totally false.

Posted by: Jennifer at April 3, 2008 03:14 PM

At the Country Club I worked at, we wouldn't allow rice because it was incredibly difficult to sweep it all up from the parking lot, and it tended to make for dicy footing when it got wet. Bird seed, OTOH, was pretty much gone by the next morning.

And garlic is for luck? I thought it was for defense!

Posted by: Victor at April 4, 2008 08:54 AM

My aunt and uncle got married in her parents' back yard. At the last minute one of her sisters realized we had no rice to throw, so she ran into the kitchen and grabbed a box of instant mashed potato flakes. It actually looked really pretty.

Posted by: nic at April 4, 2008 10:38 AM