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What are Nuptials?

Wedding rings on top of a marriage contract.
The wedding cake is a key aspect of the big day and is cut by the bride and groom.
The term 'nuptials' refers to marriage-related things.
An engagement ring.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2014
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The word “nuptials” is an adjective which means “relating to a marriage.” Some people may use it to refer literally to the wedding ceremony itself, and others use it to discuss objects or events which are related to a wedding, such as the nuptial vows and the nuptial bed. The use of the word in English dates from 1490, and the word is derived from the Latin nupta, which means “to take a spouse.”

A wedding is an important life event for the participants. Most cultures have a series of nuptial rituals which are designed to ensure that the marriage is fortune, long lived, and blessed with progeny and other desired life events. In many cultures, these nuptial rituals are very rigid, while in others they might seem more like superstitious traditions, yet they are still carefully observed.

Some well known examples of nuptial traditions from cultures around the world include the crushing of a glass at a Jewish wedding and the tradition of wearing white by Christian brides, symbolizing virginity. Many nuptials are accompanied with very traditional garments which are often formal and beautiful to look at. In addition, the participants recite a set of vows and engage in a series of rituals like cutting cake or breaking bread together to bless the union.

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The events which occur before the start of a wedding may also be known as nuptials. Many people are familiar with the concept of a prenuptial, a word which dates to the mid-1800s. In prenuptial agreements, the engaged couple agrees on the division of assets and support in the event of a separation. Other events such as engagements and the signing of marriage contracts are also celebrated as important nuptial milestones which will eventually lead to marriage.

Biologists also use the term “nuptials,” in reference to plumage displays and behaviors by other animals during the mating season. Nuptials can provide clues to biologists who want to learn more about the creatures they study, since they are often highly complex and very interesting to observe. The same might be said of some human nuptials; many ethnographers include a study of marriage in their work for this very reason.

Incidentally, the word “wedding” is an Old English word which has been used since at least 1300 CE, and it originally referred to the state of being wed or married. The official term for a marriage ceremony was “bridelope,” referring to the practice of taking the wife to a new home. The phrase “wedding cake” first appeared in 1648, although cakes and breads to celebrate marriage have been around much longer, as classical symbols of fertility at this very important ceremony.

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