Women who may be quite feminist or even who despise supporting commercial culture (Bed Bath and Beyond almost owns the market on bridal registries these days, doesn’t it?) willingly engage in an old practice. I’m talking about women gathering together (often older, mostly married) with younger “friends of the bride” and relatives to shower a bride-to-be with kitchen gadgets, slightly risqué underwear, and advice on surviving your first marital quarrel.
At a recent shower, one thread in written bits of advice for the bride was dealing with quarrels or spats.
Where does the tradition get its roots? Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, the practice stems from ancient dowry traditions. When the parents of a woman/girl were not wealthy enough to provide a dowry—a sum of money or gifts for the new household, like a cow—friends and relatives would step up. Or they provided help if the father was not in favor of the marriage and therefore refused to come up with the customary dowry.
I remember my mother talking about her and her friends saving things for a hope chest (sometimes literal, sometimes just a shelf or drawer for things, or a box): fancy embroidered pillowcases, sheets, fine china or silver pieces. In Mennonite circles, and before an engagement ring was common practice, some men bought a cedar chest for their bride-to-be to serve as a literal “hope chest” for storing these linens or special items before (and after) a wedding. I never had one as a bride but after 35-some years of marriage I now have a hope chest sitting in my bedroom, bequeathed to us by my husband’s aunt.
Traditional shower gifts were either for the bedroom or kitchen, emphasizing traditional roles. It seems to be more of a U.S. and Canadian thing, with some also throwing bridal showers in Australia, adopted from U.S. customs.
Originally showers were quite informal; a group of friends just arrived at the bride’s home with gifts, unannounced. Hence the popularity of surprise showers. One of the showers for our wedding was a surprise by church and office friends. My husband-to-be was in on the surprise.
Another older type of shower is a “pounding,” a particular kind of kitchen shower where guests bring pantry staples—a pound of flour, a pound of sugar, a pound of butter or shortening and so on. It helped lessen the impact of a first big grocery bill when establishing a new home or apartment. Today when kids have already been living independently from mom and dad’s well-stocked pantry, poundings are not needed as much. But my sister-in-law threw one for us.
Bachelorette or “hen” parties came into vogue after I got married so I’ve never been to one even though my daughters have been to many.
What I really enjoy at bridal showers, more than the pretty flowers, party favors, savories, and fancy tea cakes from a European-style bakery shop, is the custom of sharing advice and feeling camaraderie with others regarding how to get along with your husband. Now that may feel very old fashioned indeed because the advice and hints certainly should go both ways, but at a recent shower, one thread in written bits of advice for the bride was dealing with quarrels or spats.
Especially when there are multiple generations attending a shower, it is somehow comforting to hear women who’ve been married 20, 30, 40, 50 years and beyond who are stable, steady, pillars of the church and society, hint that they too have had some pretty heated quarrels over the years when they wondered if they had made a big mistake.
As I reflect back, it was our church community which gave us the most affirmation in moving ahead with our marriage. I felt that support in a very big way at the shower they held for us. My own family, as conservative as it was, wasn’t so sure about their Mennonite daughter marrying a Lutheran, among other things. Issues of our differences were actually weighing pretty heavily on my mind the night of our surprise shower. Somehow I took it as a sign and blessing that we were supposed to move ahead.
Thirty-seven years later, I’m glad we did. We’re for keeps.
For my free booklet with advice on marriage, “Seven C’s of Marriage” write to Melodie Davis, Another Way, Box 22, Harrisonburg, VA 22803 or
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