A guide to the perfect Celtic wedding

Wear a Claddagh ring at your traditional Celtic wedding.

There is an Irish proverb that says: "Marry in May and rue the day; Marry in April if you can, joy for maiden and for man."

Whether you choose to believe this superstition or not, no matter what month you marry in, you can recreate an authentic Celtic wedding, complete with traditions that Irish couples have practiced for thousands of years.

1. Wear a Claddagh ring

A Claddagh ring is a traditional Irish ring that represents love, loyalty and friendship through a heart, a crown and a pair of hands. It was traditionally worn as an engagement ring when the crown was worn nearest to the knuckle, and as a wedding ring when crown was worn nearest to the nail. The heart represents love, the crown represents loyalty and the hands represent friendship.

2. Add a lucky horseshoe to your bouquet, turned up for good luck

The horseshoe has always been associated with good luck because of the importance the Celts placed on their livestock, especially horses. Tuck a horseshoe into your bridal bouquet or sew it into your gown. Some modern brides will wearing a simple horseshoe charm on a necklace or bracelet, but always in the up-right position so no luck falls out! Usually made from porcelain or silk.

3. Buy a marriage bell

It's an old Irish tradition to present the bride and groom with a bell. The bell affords good luck, and if at any time during the marriage there is "discord," the ancient Irish remedy for lovers' quarrels is to ring this special bell and break the spirit of discontent and renew again the spirit of love. Buy one for your new home together, or at your wedding ceremony, have your greeters hand out tiny bells to your guests to ring as you process. Guests can also ring their little bells at the reception in lieu of clinking glasses. 

4. Wear old shoes

This is a sign of fertility. Begin your new journey wearing something familiar, and don old shoes at your wedding. If you'd rather your shoes be your "something new," you can tie several pairs of old shoes to the back of your car instead of tin cans.

5. Play "The Irish Wedding Song"

A favorite at Irish and Irish American weddings. Listen to Andy Cooney's version:

6. Hire Irish dancers to perform at the reception

Traditional Irish dance can be either performative or social, so you can all try it together after you watch the pros.

7. Eat Irish Wedding Cake

The traditional Irish wedding cake is a fruitcake filled with almonds, raisins, cherries and spice, laced with brandy or bourbon. The bride and groom must share a piece - a tradition dating back to ancient Rome, that signifies your willingness to share all things with each other. 

8. Drink Bunratty Mead

This is a honey wine, which was drank in courts in ancient Ireland (its tagline is 'The Drink of the High Kings of Ireland). The wine is said to bring virility and fertility, and it was a custom for the bride and groom to drink it during the full moon after their wedding - hence the term "honeymoon." Your wedding guests can toast you with a glass of meade as you depart the ceremony for your honeymoon.

9.  Toast the person who introduced you

This is done to honor Ireland's matchmaking tradition.

10. Give harvest knots as wedding favors

To signify devotion, young people in Ireland would give harvest knots made of straw to their love interest, to be worn on a man's lapel or in a woman's hair. You can decorate straw harvest knots with small flowers or bells to give to guests as favors. Attach a scroll explaining the significance.

11. Invite the "strawboys" to your wedding reception 

A peculiar Irish wedding tradition was for youths wearing cone-shaped straw hats and masks to arrive at the wedding dance, where the leader would claim the right to dance with the bride. They wore straw suits resembling many-layered hula skirts, or white shirts and petticoats decorated with colored ribbons. At the party's end, the strawboys burned their costumes in a huge bonfire. Reenact this scene for a truly traditional Irish wedding.

12. Receive traditional Irish gifts

On your registry, be sure to ask for the following: salt and pepper shakers, so your home will never be without food, wine glasses or tall toasting flutes, so your home will never be without plenty to drink, and a candlestick holder, so your home will always have light.

*Originally published in March 2009.

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