A World Tour, Part I: Escape to Gretna Green

"It is said that like the metals he forged,

 the Blacksmith would join couples together in the heat of the moment

but bind them for eternity."

As romance junkies, certain stories make us yearn for a runaway wedding in the wilds of Scotland with a roguish jo at our side and a fierce gale bellowing outside the blacksmith's walls. (Or maybe we just miss Outlander.)

And there are few destinations as steeped in romantic lore as the sleepy village of Gretna Green.

For nearly four centuries, the Scottish village – conveniently located just over the border with England – has welcomed young lovers who were denied marriage rights elsewhere.

In 1754, the Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act enforced a minimum age of 21 to marry without parental consent in England. Scotland, however, allowed boys as young as 14 and girls as young as 12 to wed with or without parental consent.

And so, as the story goes, by the 1770s, runaways were fleeing into Scotland… with furious fathers in hot pursuit. The first building they came to across the border was The Old Blacksmith Shop in Gretna Green.

Almost anyone in Scotland could officiate a marriage as long as two witnesses were present. So the blacksmiths performed thousands of impromptu ceremonies, at the end of which they would clang their hammer down upon an anvil. The ringing could be heard across the village – a celebration of yet another match made.

Thankfully, 12- and 14-year-olds are no longer able to marry in the Las Vegas of Scotland. But it remains a popular wedding destination. Every ceremony in Gretna Green is still performed over a blacksmith's anvil to honor the original "anvil priests." And legend tells us that touching the anvil will bring good fortune in love and luck.

You might not be able to make your way to Gretna Green. But when you can't do, you mimic. What else can you mimic from the British Isles? 

Handfasting, From Scotland

Staying with our Scottish theme for a moment, the phrases "to take your hand in marriage" and "tying the knot" come from the ancient Celtic tradition of binding lovers' hands together for a betrothal, and later as the wedding ceremony itself.

The fasting cord is often made of materials with significance to the couple – a family tartan, a scarf, even a ribbon or strip of clothing. The couple clasps hands and the cord is draped across them. With each vow given, the cord is wrapped around their hands and a knot is tied.

Honeymoon, From Ireland

We thought the term "honeymoon" came from watching the moon with your honey. Wrong! It originated in Ireland with the "month of honey." Following the wedding ceremony, guests gave the newlyweds enough honey mead – similar to honey wine – to last one full moon. Drinking the mead was said to bring good luck as well as fertility.

Love Spoons, From Wales

Until the late 18th century, officially marrying wasn't common in rural Wales. Most couples simply pronounced their love and began their lives together. This typically began with the offering of a love spoon – a decorative wooden spoon hand carved into intricate designs. The more detailed and creative the design, the more it symbolized the suitor's devotion and skills… and the more likely he would win the heart of the fair maiden. Today, many grooms still present their brides with a love spoon on their wedding day and – as in ancient Wales – display it proudly in their home.

That's all folks, for your first stop on our whirlwind tour of unique wedding traditions around the globe. Next time, we'll take a look at nuptials in the rest of the Western World – some of which you might want to incorporate into your own wedding (and some which may be better left to the history books. You decide).

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Writer Fawn believes in the power of a well-crafted story, the promise of an adventurous future, and the perfection of a Nutella-covered strawberry.

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Cover photo by Will O on Unsplash