How to Plan a Traditional Bermuda Wedding
Long gone are the days when every Bermuda nuptial involved a horse and carriage and a walk through a moongate, but that doesn’t mean you can’t honour local tradition on your wedding day. Although we may not know the origin of every single one of our local practices, it will never stop us from participating in them, enjoying them and relishing the way they add a distinctive touch to a Bermuda wedding. Here’s our list of the top ten local wedding traditions to observe at your Bermuda wedding.
1. Plant a Bermuda Cedar Tree
As everyone knows, the Bermuda cedar tree is endemic to our island. Its existence weighed heavily on the survival of Bermuda’s first settlers, having been used as cattle feed, for building homes and ships and for medicinal purposes. For as long as anyone can remember, a Bermuda cedar tree was planted by a bride and groom on their wedding day as a symbol of their growing love, but the tradition took on particular importance during the cedar blight of the 1940s when the juniper scale wiped out almost every cedar on the island. Today, at most local nurseries, you can find Bermuda cedar saplings ready to put down their roots in your backyard.
2. Bermuda Cedar Sprig Cake Topper
Traditionally, couples topped their wedding cake with a Bermuda cedar sprig, suitable for planting—taking their wedding cedar from cake to earth.
3. Gold- and Silver-Leaf Cakes
Although two become one at a wedding, the same does not go for traditional Bermuda wedding cakes; the bride’s cake and the groom’s cake are very different and serve different purposes. The groom’s cake is a single tier of plain pound cake, made in a large, round cake tin. The cake is covered in boiled icing and gold leaf, symbolising that the groom is the breadwinner and provider, presenting his new wife with all his worldly goods. The bride’s cake is a three-tiered fruitcake, symbolising faithfulness and fertility. It is covered in silver leaf (although today silver leaves are also common). The three tiers serve individual purposes: the top tier holds the cedar sprig, the second is doused in black rum to preserve it and is served at the christening of the couple’s first child, and the third tier is cut and served to wedding guests.
4. Walking through a Moongate
Moongates became popular in Bermuda in the 1920s when the Furness-Withy shipping line commissioned the Duke of Westminster’s gardener to design the gardens of the old Bermudiana Hotel. Bermuda’s first moongate was imported from China and set in the gardens of the legendary hotel. The same moongate stands today at the Par-la-Ville Road entrance to Par-la-Ville Park. It is the custom for a bride and groom to walk through a moongate on their wedding day as a way to garner luck and good fortune in their lives together.
5. Arrive at or Leave Your Wedding in a Horse and Carriage
The tradition of travelling to and from a wedding in a horse and carriage obviously derives from the time when it was Bermuda’s most common form of transportation. Old Bermudians can recall a time when the carriage and its horses were decked out in full wedding regalia of bells, bows and ribbons, and children would run out into the road at the sound of the horses clip-clopping along, hoping to catch a glimpse of a bride and her wedding party making their way to the church. In those days, a large carriage would transport the groom and his groomsmen to the church and then head out to pick up the bride and her bridesmaids. This was to ensure the bride that her groom was already at the church awaiting her arrival.
6. Welcome the Good, Avoid the Bad
Of course, as islanders, Bermudians have a long list of superstitions, and as tradition dictates, one’s wedding day is the most important day on which to welcome signs of good luck and avoid bad luck entirely. According to Bermuda legend, it is bad luck for a bride to see a lizard on the road while en route to the church, although a black cat is a good sign! It is also considered bad luck to arrive at the church before a funeral is over. Seeing a rainbow on your wedding day is considered to be very lucky in Bermuda—more so than if it is a perfectly sunny day. If a Bermuda bride catches rain in the palm of her hand on her way out of the church, it is said to be a sign of riches to come.
7. Wedding Crashers
Although not considered etiquette by today’s standards, wedding crashing is as much a tradition as anything else on this list. Uninvited guests at your wedding reception should not be tolerated during a sit-down dinner, but when you’ve invited 500 people to an informal reception, you shouldn’t worry about a few extras.
8. At-Home Wedding Reception
Hotel wedding receptions would never even have been discussed back when our parents were tying the knot. In those days, a Bermuda wedding reception usually took place at the home of the bride’s parents. Simple cocktails, tea sandwiches and homemade wedding cakes were served instead of a three-course dinner or buffet. Guests gathered in the family garden and the dramatic exit of the bride and groom signalled the end of the party and the time for guests to pack up and go home.
9. Local Entertainment
When at-home wedding receptions were customary, local bands and musicians would set up their instruments and serenade the couple and their guests. Nowadays, there are plenty of local musicians to play at your wedding, including the Kennel Boys, Working Title and others. If you choose not to hire a band, supply your DJ with a few songs from the Talbot Brothers to add a nostalgic element to your wedding reception.
10. Wedding Registry
Gift registries of yesteryear were made up of more than wastepaper baskets and plasma screen TVs. Couples were gifted with good quality china, crystal and sterling silver— gifts they would have for a lifetime. Be selective when choosing your own wedding registry: make sure each item is something you absolutely love, and something which, like a happy marriage, will withstand the test of time.