The History of Wedding Favours

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November 24, 2014

Guest writer Alex Volkers is editor of Bane + Antidote, the party planning blog.

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Having recently got married herself, she wanted to learn more about the curious tradition of giving wedding favours. After taking a look at the history, she concludes that this is one pastime that persists with good cause.

Wedding favours have become an automatic feature on the to-do lists of couples about to wed, but the prospect of sourcing a small something for each and every guest can be daunting. This tradition, materialistic as it may first appear, is nonetheless steeped in ritual and history and has remained a prized opportunity to thank guests for centuries. Dip into the history of wedding favours, and it is hard to remain untouched by their symbolism.

The origin of this tradition lies with the French aristocracy in the 16th century who would present guests with ʻbonbonnièresʼ, delicate jewel encrusted boxes containing sugared almonds or sweets, at their opulent parties and weddings. The intention behind this gesture was not merely extravagance, as it was believed that sugar had health-giving
properties; a gift of a bonbonnière was a symbol of care extended to all guests. Sugared almonds carried additional significance at weddings, as the bitterness of the almonds and the sweetness of the sugar was thought to symbolise the bitter-sweetness of marriage.

It is impossible to say whether the tradition spread outwards from France, or emerged contemporaneously around the globe. But it is certain that hosts have practiced bestowing guests with a symbol of gratitude and care at important occasions in many countries for hundreds of years. In Greece the traditional gift was also of candied almonds, called ʻbom bom yaraʼ. In the Middle East the bride gave guests five almonds to bless each of them with fertility, longevity, wealth, health and happiness. In Spain as in France, faith in the health-giving properties of sugar was historically called upon and guests were given small chocolates symbolising fulfilment and happiness. In England alone was the gesture not originally linked with the elevated position of sugar in society. Here giving hand-crafted ʻlove-knotsʼ, made of precious ribbons and lace, was the in vogue method of expressing gratitude to guests.

As the price of sugar and other precious commodities fell, and as a greater section of society became able to throw wedding parties with many guests, the tradition became more prolific, and sadly the intentions behind it more diffuse. Today, wedding favours are just one of the many things that couples getting married ʻjust doʼ. The understandable excitement that accompanies a coupleʼs forthcoming nuptials can end up sweeping all symbolism aside that does not directly relate to the bride and groom. It has become fashionable in recent years to give guests personalised items such as framed pictures of the couple, CDs of their favourite music or nic nacs commemorating the date of the marriage. Arguably this approach misses the point, and turns a ritual of gratitude and care into yet another opportunity to remind guests that the day is all about the bride and groom. Ultimately, only a motherʼs love could look upon personalised landfill as a welcome gift to
be treasured!

When planning my own wedding, my initial reaction was to shy away from this seemingly wasteful component of the standard wedding format. However, after looking into the history and original symbolism of the practice, I was struck by the loveliness of the giving wedding favours if taken as an opportunity to thank guests for their attendance, love and friendship. And so I started by asking the question, ʻwhat would they want?ʼ. In light of the spectacular mischievousness of our attendees, we decided to give everyone a Faustʼs Potions herbal hangover cure, to ease their heads the morning after! They looked wonderful and none were left on the table after dinner… but the possibilities are endless. Being able to use wedding favours as a gesture of care and gratitude ultimately depends on a thorough knowledge of your guests. Whether they would enjoy pasting each other with glitter whilst wearing fake moustaches, or tucking a little packet of foraged herbs and seeds delicately into their pockets, the answer lies with them. Despite having a rather unconventional wedding, this is one tradition we were very glad we adhered to. And from what Iʼve heard, so were our guests!

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Alex chose to give her naughty guests a Faustʼs Awake Potion herbal hangover cure, to help them perform at their best!

If you want to learn more about wedding favours you can read Alexʼs post on How to Choose the Best Wedding Favours here.

From Lisa and the Team at Wasing Park