Favors are a common sight at weddings – these little keepsakes are given by bride and groom to their guests, as thanks for sharing in their special day. The custom has been around for centuries, but how did it all start? What were the first favors like, and how did the custom as we know it come to be?
History is unclear on exactly when the custom of giving gifts to wedding guests first began. The most reliable records historians have show that the first wedding favors were given out by European nobility, in the form of a small gift box known as a bonbonniere. Many people believed that bridal couples were symbols of good luck, and that the giving of gifts would “share” this luck with guests. The hosts would fill these boxes, often made of porcelain or gold and studded with diamonds, with sugary treats and confections – a delicacy at the time, because sugar was rare, expensive, and believed to have healing properties.
This tradition was by no means limited to Europe, however. At the time, all cultures had some form of favor giving custom, and in many cases, a specific gift was preferred. One example of this would be candy-coated almonds, a staple of many Middle Eastern weddings. Their bittersweet flavor was seen as a metaphor for life, while the candy coating represented a hope that the new couple’s life together would be more sweet than bitter. These were often given in batches of five, known as Jordan almonds, with each almond representing a wish for happiness, longevity, fertility, wealth, and love.
This practice was carried over to colonial America by the European immigrants who settled it, but the customs we know of today didn’t really begin to form until around the time of the Industrial Revolution. The middle class that rose as a result of the revolution, found themselves able to afford the grand, lavish weddings that were once the domain of the wealthy. Many fathers took to competing to see who could provide the bigger wedding for their daughters, and passed this tradition down to their children. This popularized the idea that a wedding is the single biggest event in a young girl’s life, and helped spawn a multi-million dollar service industry to cater to it.
Today, the wedding industry is one of the biggest service industries America, made up of thousands of different companies specializing in all aspects of wedding planning and execution. There are companies for everything from the wedding favors, to planners, attire, and even real estate.
Thanks to these changes, wedding favors in America take a vastly different form from their traditional roots. Food is still the most popular gift, with millions of monogrammed cookies and candies being sold every day, but modern wedding favors can pretty much any item under the sun, from simple decorated place cards to luxurious bottles of vintage wine with personalized labels.
From their roots as simple treats given as gifts of gratitude to the million-dollar industry they’re part of today, wedding favors and favor gift boxes have become a standard part of weddings the world over. The next time you attend a wedding, think back on the origin of the wedding favor and wish your hosts the best of luck in starting their new life.