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How the Maid of Honor and Best Man Practices Originated

It wasn’t always about planning the bachelor party or assisting at the shower

© Everett Collection Inc./Dreamstime.com

Today, being part of a wedding as the best man or the maid of honor is about celebrating the close bond you have with the groom or the bride and supporting them on their special day. In ancient custom, however, it was possibly more dark than that.

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Today, people in the wedding party will help with planning the reception and ceremony, and it is usually their sole responsibility to plan the bachelor and bachelorette parties. They may also assist with the bridal shower and are generally the bride and groom’s right hands on the big day.

It is believed that in Ancient Rome, however, the roles were taken as a form of witness or servantry. The men might have been friends, but the women’s bridesmaids usually were the women who served her day-to-day needs. On the day of the wedding, the people in the wedding party were used to ward off evil spirits that might haunt the ceremony or to protect the couple from other unwanted threats.

As for the role of best man, it wasn’t so much about warding off evil spirits as it was about stealing the future bride. This practice appears in several cultures. If a woman’s family disapproved of the man who was going to marry her, his companions or aides were his backup. It is believed that the best man was chosen because of his skills that would help in fending off potential kidnappers or family members of the bride trying to get her back.

Now, the best man likely doesn’t have to fend off attackers as the bride walks down the aisle to meet her future spouse. Instead, he might be a brother or close friend of the groom who stands up to support the marriage with the other groomsmen. The same goes for the maid of honor. Rather than being a woman hired by the family to serve the bride, she is likely the close friend or sister of the bride.

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Just as the roles for best man and maid of honor have changed, so has wedding day etiquette. Here is a modern guide for guests on the bride and groom’s big day.