A wedding is the ceremony in which two people are united in marriage or a similar institution. Wedding traditions and customs vary greatly between cultures, ethnic groups, religions, countries, and social classes. Most wedding ceremonies involve an exchange of wedding vows by the couple, presentation of a gift (offering, ring(s), symbolic item, flowers, money), and a public proclamation of marriage by an authority figure or leader. Special wedding garments are often worn, and the ceremony is sometimes followed by a wedding reception. Music, poetry, prayers or readings from Scripture or literature is also optionally incorporated into the ceremony.
A number of cultures have adopted the traditional Western custom of the white wedding, in which a bride wears a white dress and veil. This tradition was popularized through the wedding of Queen Victoria. Some say Victoria's choice of a white gown may have simply been a sign of extravagance, but may have also been influenced by the values she held which emphasized sexual purity. Within the modern 'white wedding' tradition, a white dress and veil are unusual choices for a woman's second or subsequent wedding. The notion that a white gown might symbolize sexual purity has been long abandoned, and is criticized by etiquette writers like Judith Martin as distasteful.
The use of a wedding ring has long been part of religious weddings in Europe and America, but the origin of the tradition is unclear. Historians like Vicky Howard point out that belief in the "ancient" quality of the practice are most likely a modern invention."Double ring" ceremonies are also a modern practice, a groom's wedding band not appearing in the United States until the early 20th Century.
The wedding is often followed by a reception, in which the rituals may include toasting the newlyweds, their first dance as spouses, and the cutting of a wedding cake.