Top 12 Celtic Wedding Traditions

Top 12 Celtic Wedding Traditions

Top 12 Celtic Wedding Traditions

Wedding ceremonies are one of the most significant occasions of a person’s life.  Couples dedicate large amounts of time, money and effort planning and preparing their special day to ensure it will be perfect.  A wedding is a time for family and friends to gather and celebrate the beginning of a couple’s new life together.  It is also a time to rejoice and share family customs and traditions. The Celts have a history rich with tradition, and there are many age-old matrimonial customs that are still followed today.  Following are a dozen tried and true Celtic wedding traditions for you to consider embracing for your special day.


One:  Vows and Prayers:  Celtic vows and prayers are two of the most long-standing and revered traditions of any Celtic wedding.   With wording so flawless and eloquent, many Celtic couples choose vows that were written generations ago to express their love and commitment to one another on their wedding day.  The Celtic Wedding Prayer:  Dear Lord, help us to remember when we first met and the strong love that grew between us.  May we incorporate that love into practical things so that nothing can divide us.  We ask for words both kind and loving and hearts that are always ready to ask forgiveness as well as willing to forgive.  Dear Lord, we put our marriage into your hands.  The Traditional Irish Wedding Vow:  By the power that Christ brought from heaven, may thou love me.  As the sun follows its course, may thou follow me.  As light to the eye, as bread to the hungry, as joy to the heart, may thy presence be with me, oh one that I love, until death comes to part us asunder. 

Two:  Flowers:  Flowers have long been a cheerful addition to many a wedding.  The Celtic nations, each having a fondness of their native flowers, have incorporated these blossoms in their own unique way.  In Ireland it was customary for the bride to wear a wreath of native wildflowers in her hair.  If she carried a bouquet, it almost always consisted of wildflowers found throughout the countryside (including Sweet Alyssum, Daisy, Red Clover and Blue Bells).  In Scotland the bride conventionally carried a bouquet of heather, the celebrated purple flower found throughout the Scottish Highlands.  Heather is believed to bring good luck, solitude and protection to the bridal couple.  Scottish brides often swathed the bouquet with their family tartan.  In Wales the bride traditionally included myrtle in her bouquet.  Myrtle is a small, aromatic tree and a symbol of love and marriage.  After the wedding the bride would give each of her bridesmaids a small sprig of the Myrtle to plant.  The notion was that if the sprig flourished, the bridesmaid was expected to wed anon.

Three:  Traditional Dress Traditionally, the Celtic bride’s dress was made from a colorfully printed fabric such as paisley, unlike the unadorned white gown normally worn today.  To honor her family and culture, the bride would add a unique element to her outfit.  Often in Ireland, the bride’s dress featured colors of relevance.  The color blue, for instance, was very popular as it represented the purity of the Virgin Mother Mary.  In Scotland, after the exchange of the wedding vows had taken place, the bride would be adorned with a sash made of her husband’s family tartan to mark their union.  Scottish gents have customarily worn the traditional Highland outfit on their wedding day, including a kilt cut from their clan’s tartan.  Often, the groomsmen are also garbed in the groom’s tartan.  If the groom’s family does not have a clan tartan of its own, he could consider a provincial tartan or the distinguished Black Watch tartan.


Four:  Food and Drink:  The reception, with its merriment and meal, is a much-anticipated part of any Celtic wedding.  Serving traditional foods such as Irish fruit or whiskey cake; or Scottish haggis or meat pies; adds a distinctive touch to any reception.  Traditionally, the bride and groom will drink from special glasses for good luck throughout their marriage.  One of the most enjoyed mixed drinks in Ireland is Meade.  This delightful drink is made by combining white wine, honey and choice herbs.  Long ago, it was believed that Meade promoted fertility and fruitfulness.  It was thought that if the bride gave birth nine months after the wedding, the conception of her baby could be attributed to the Meade consumed at the reception. The recipe for Meade has stood the test of time and is served at plenty of wedding festivities even today.  Slainte.

Five:  Bagpiper and Harp:  Music is a significant aspect of many occasions, and weddings are no exception.  At Celtic weddings, several couples opt for the bagpipe.  This instrument creates sounds that touching as well as vibrant.  The piper dons full Highland dress, which of course, includes a kilt.  The bagpipe can be enjoyed throughout the entire day: as guests arrive at the ceremony, during the wedding ceremony, and afterwards at the reception.  The bagpipe is sure to get the crowd moving with traditional Scottish jigs and reels.  The harp, Ireland’s national emblem, is another instrument of choice at quite a number of Celtic wedding ceremonies and receptions.  With its lyrical tones, the harp connotes feelings of love and romance.

Six: Claddagh Ring:  The claddagh is the ring style many Celts choose to exchange at their wedding.  The claddagh originated in Ireland and features two hands holding a heart that is adorned with a crown.  The Claddagh ring is often given to a Celtic woman as a token of love, loyalty and friendship.  There are four ways to wear a claddagh ring, and each way expresses a woman’s romantic status:  If she wears the ring on her right hand with the heart facing outward, it implies the woman is not yet spoken for and is searching for love.  If the woman wears the ring on her right hand with the ring facing inward, it means she is in a relationship.  When she wears the claddagh ring on her left hand with the heart facing outward, it implies the woman is engaged.  And lastly, when a woman wears a claddagh ring on her lefthand with the heart facing inward, it means she is married.  The claddagh ring has evolved into a universally-appealing piece of jewelry worn by women and men alike.


Seven:  Lucky Horseshoe:  The horseshoe is a vastly recognized symbol of good luck.  It is thought to catch all good luck that floats above it when it is in the up-right position.  Therefore the horseshoe should, on no account, be tipped downward lest any luck should fall out.  For hundreds of years Irish brides tied an actual horseshoe to their leg on their wedding day (talk about cumbersome!).  The horseshoe was, of course, worn upright so the couple’s marriage would be bestowed with as much good luck as possible.  The horseshoe was not taken off until the couple had been happily married for several hours.  The tradition of wearing a good-luck horseshoe is still practiced, though it has been modified over the years.  Today many Irish brides and brides of Irish descent wear a miniature horseshoe in the form of a pendant on their wedding day.
Eight:  From Bride to Baptism:  Weddings celebrate the union of two people and, for many couples, the anticipation of children.  There are a few Celtic traditions that embrace the willingness of those couples who wish to begin a family.  One old-time Celtic practice that is continued today is for couples to keep the top layer of their wedding cake so it can be enjoyed at their first child’s christening.  Another is the long-standing Irish ritual of the “magic hanky.”  The bride carries a hand-made handkerchief the day of her wedding that is, with a few small stitches, converted into a baby’s bonnet worn by her first-born child the day of his/her christening.  When the child reaches adulthood and marries, a few small snips and the bonnet is reverted back to a handkerchief to be carried by the new bride.

Nine: A Silver Sixpence in Your Shoe:  Customarily, the bride would put a silver sixpence in her left shoe the morning of her wedding and keep it there for the duration of the day.  This Irish tradition was considered to promote a marriage rich in love and money.


Ten:  Honeymoons:  Newlyweds have been celebrating honeymoons after their special day for hundreds of years.  The Celts .  While most honeymoons today are romantic getaways for newly married couples, this was not customary the case.  In times of yore, newlyweds were expected to stay with a close relative or family friend on their farm/in their home.   The bride and groom’s one- to two-week stay was to display their strength and love as a couple as they helped with daily chores.  For those of you planning your honeymoon, perhaps you could consider an amorous trip to one of the Seven Celtic nations where you are sure to find beauty, history and perhaps some lost relative(s) of your own.

Eleven:  Marriage Bell:  It is customary for Irish couples to receive a bell as a wedding gift.  These Bells are thought to impart good luck to the marriage.  The olden Irish antidote for a lover’s spat is, at the onset of any marital disharmony, for this special bell to be rung, thus breaking the spirit of discord and renewing the spirit of love.

Twelve:  Coin:  The custom of the groom gifting his bride with a coin is said to date back to the time when the groom paid the bride’s family “luck money” which was thought to bring happiness and blessings upon them.  This custom evolved into the groom presenting a coin the bride as a symbol of worldly goods shortly after the couple had exchanged their wedding rings.  After the wedding, the coin is often kept as a family heirloom and is passed from mother to eldest son on his wedding day.  Some wedding coins are embossed with Gaelic adages such as, “Ta a lan notai i bport an bhanais” which means “There are a lot of notes in the wedding tune.”  This anecdote teaches us that there is much to learn of each other if we are to sing in tune and live in harmony.  Another familiar wedding coin saying involves the ancient Ogham alphabet that spells “Gra Go Deo” which means “Love Forever,” which is often placed above the claddagh, the Irish symbol for love, loyalty and friendship. Wedding Coin by Boru.

Mary Comerford