There are few more controversial words uttered in the modern wedding ceremony. The words are so socially loaded to some people's way of thinking, in fact, that if you have a ceremony presided over by a justice of the peace, he or she will likely not say the phrase.
Why? The reason for the controversy is rooted in the origins of the tradition behind giving the bride away. Not very long ago at all, women were considered to be the property of men. This applied not just to wives, but to daughters as well. Many people see the giving away of the bride as an extension of patriarchal systems which for centuries kept women from being recognized as equals. To these people, the phrase is archaic and even harmful in the modern era.
Alternative Meaning: There is also a school of thought that interprets the giving of the bride as a symbolic realization of the Bible verse that describes a marriage as two people leaving their families to start a new life together. In this context, the phrase is used less as an exchange of property and more as the exchange of one support system for another.
Using the phrase today. Most people who choose to include the giving of the bride in their ceremonies today choose to see it as an incarnation of the latter interpretation. In this case, the bride is saying goodbye to her family (and more specifically her father) as the main male role in her life and her father is acknowledging a diminished role.
Alternative phrases. If you are still uncomfortable with the phrase but still wish to include some elements of the symbolic in your ceremony, you might consider some alternative methods to the actual giving of the bride. One practice that is becoming popular is for both parents to acknowledge giving away the bride. Another is both the parents of the bride and the groom replying that they give their children to each other.
Like many of our common practices, giving away of the bride at a wedding ceremony has its roots in a past that was not always fair. Just because the origins of the tradition were misdirected, however, does not mean that it cannot change into something positive. Like nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and organized sport, traditional wedding practices such as giving away the bride can take on a relevant and proper meaning in modern society.
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Article Added on Friday, January 5, 2007
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