One of the first steps in wedding planning is selecting the wedding party. For a bride, that means bridesmaids and her maid of honor. For the groom, that means selecting the best man and groomsmen. But how exactly did the tradition of having groomsmen come about? Our wedding photographers break down the history of this long-standing tradition.
Groomsmen, or ushers, have been around for a long time. The first recorded use of the word “groomsmen” dates back to 1698, but the concept of them has been around for longer. Back in the day, being a groomsman involved more than planning a bachelor party. It involved real fighting!
In Biblical times, a bride-to-be had to receive her family’s permission to marry. If it didn’t happen, the bride was forcibly removed from her home by the groom and a troop of “bride-knights” in what was known as “marriage by capture”. Groomsmen were expected to fight the bride’s relatives so that the groom could escape with the bride.
Groomsmen didn’t just kidnap the bride though. In old times, groomsmen also served as a bride’s bodyguards. The practice back then involved the bride’s family presenting a large dowry, which made the soon-be-married couple a target for robbers and bad spirits. Groomsmen, like bridesmaids, would dress like the groom to confuse evil spirits and fight anyone that tried to attack or rob the couple.
Meaning and Role
Historically, the main role and meaning of a groomsman were to be a protector. Groomsmen were selected not just on their closeness to the groom, but on their skills as a fighter. In fact, the bed man was selected because they were the best fighter, not necessarily because they were the closest to the groom.
The role of groomsmen has changed a lot from the old days. Groomsmen are no longer expected to kidnap or fight for the bride. Today, their main responsibilities include supporting the groom, planning the bachelor party, helping guests to their seats, and giving speeches. Some grooms also plan choreographed dances with their groomsmen for the reception or door-games.
One of the major changes between then and now (besides the lack of violence) is that groomsmen had reduced interactions with the bride today. Groomsmen mostly support the groom and have limited interaction with the bride and bridesmaids besides walking them down the aisle. Grooms these days also select groomsmen based on relationships and not their fighting skills!
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