As we researched the meaning behind the traditions we practice in our wedding ceremonies we found so many differing stories as to how they originated. We now realize that we may never know the true origin behind any of them.
You may find that you’ll come across other contradictory stories that claim to tell how these traditions got started. What is told below may or may not be the original symbolism behind each one. We THINK they are but we can’t be certain.
As you read through the information below you need to decide for yourself what you want to use in your wedding and what you don’t. You need to follow the conviction of your own heart(s).
Many of these findings may have been based on folklore and superstition, so we personally questioned whether different traditions should be used at all in such a sacred ceremony.
The prayerful conclusion we came to is to encourage others, such as yourself, to concentrate on what each one of them means to you at this point. Some of them can be used to just have fun with — to bring fun into such a joyous occasion. And others can be developed to hold a deeper meaning in the wedding ceremony than the “original” tradition may have intended.
With all of this in mind try not to get too involved in the meanings behind these traditions. Look at the information below and then decide for yourself what meaning you want attached to them and make your wedding day one that is filled with deeper meaning which honors God, each other, and the guests you’ve invited, and also a day filled with joy and laughter.
The following information (and more) can be found on:
Those in [brackets] were found on a web site that we can no longer locate.
Many of today’s popular wedding ceremony and reception traditions can be traced to ancient Egyptian and European customs.
Many of these were based on symbolism, superstition, and folklore. The early belief was that evil spirits could bring disease and death to newlyweds and crops (the focal point of many farm-based early cultures).
The exact origin of many of these early wedding traditions are unclear. But popular acceptance has allowed them to flourish. Besides, many of these wedding traditions are just plain fun!
According to various sources, some of the early marriages were literally carried out by the Groom (and his Bridesmen or Bridesknights). He would kidnap a woman (the origin of “carrying a Bride over the threshold”) from another tribe! The Groom (and his fellow conspirators) would then fight off the female’s family of tribesmen with swords held in their right hand. The Groom would hold the captured Bride in his left hand. This may be why a “Bride stands on the left side of the Groom” at a wedding.
After a successful capture, another practice was for the Groom to hide his new Bride for one month for mating purposes. It is said that the word “honeymoon” was created to describe this one month cycle of the moon. During that time they would drink mead. (This is a honey sweetened alcoholic brew that effects both sobriety and the acidity of the womb thus increasing fertility.)
Later, in the more civilized (?) years (1000 – 2000), some marriages were nothing more than trading chips. They used in bartering land, social status, political alliances, or money between families. (No checks or credit cards were accepted.)
The word Wedding:
It comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “wedd.” It meant a man would marry a woman and pay the Bride’s father. If only there had been an early equivalent to television’s Miss Piggy, this practice no doubt would have ended quickly!
Wedding bouquets were originally made of strong herbs (thyme and garlic). This was to frighten away evil spirits, and to cover the stench emitting from people who had not bathed recently!
[The presence of flowers in the wedding ceremony symbolizes fertility, new life and never ending love.]
In ancient times, it was believed that a Bride was especially lucky on her wedding day. Guests would sometimes tear at her dress for a souvenir piece of good luck to take home. The Bride’s tossing of her bouquet grew from her desire to offer a good luck souvenir. It was also meant to prevent guests from bothering her during her reception.
[The word itself is old English, and was a name for ‘cook.’]
Early Brides and Bridesmaids wore similar dresses to confuse evil spirits. [Bridesmaids and groomsmen—The tradition of having both bridesmaids and ushers present during a ceremony derives from a Roman law. It mandated that there was to be ten witnesses present at the ceremony for the purpose of fooling the evil spirits who were believed to cause mischief. The bridesmaids and groomsmen would be dressed in clothing matching identical to the bride and groom. This was to keep the evil spirits from figuring out who was actually getting married.
The Brides Placement to the Left:
[When a bridegroom secured his bride and prepared to marry her, she was placed to his left in order to protect her. This left his right hand free for swordplay if need be.]
Back in the days when weddings were arranged by family members, a poor Dutchman fell in love with a girl whose father refused her a dowry. Their friends showered her with enough gifts to help them start a household. According to another lore, the first “Bridal Shower” occurred at the end of the 19th century. At a party, the Bride’s friends placed small gifts inside a parasol. They then opened it over the Bride’s head. When she opened the parasol, she was “showered” with presents!
[When a father did not approve of his daughter’s marriage, some of the local townspeople would come together. They would give the bride an assortment of household items to be used as a dowry.]
When marriages were arranged by family members, the newlyweds very rarely were allowed to see one another. Family members exchanging a dowry were afraid that if the Groom didn’t like the appearance of the Bride’s face, he might refuse to marry her. This is why the Father of the Bride “gave the Bride away” to the Groom at the wedding ceremony. Only after lifting her veil just prior to the ceremony did the Groom see the Bride’s face for the first time! Early Greek and Roman Brides wore red or yellow veils to represent fire, and ward off demons.
[It is speculated that the tradition of wearing a veil came from one of two possibilities. It is a throw-back to the time when the groom would throw a blanket over the head of the woman of his choice. When he captured her and carted her off, or when marriages were arranged, the bride’s face would be covered until the ceremony was complete. That way it would be too late for the groom to run off if he didn’t like the look of his bride.]
Carrying the Bride over the Threshold:
When a Groom used to steal his Bride from her tribe, he was forced to carry her kicking and screaming. This act of thievery has evolved into a more romantic gesture welcoming the Bride into her new home.
[It was tradition for the bride to enter the house through the front door before the groom. If she tripped or stumbled it was seen to be very bad luck. Hence it became a duty for the groom to carry his new bride over the threshold.]
Brides originally tossed a garter (rather than a bouquet) at a wedding reception. In the 14th century, this custom changed. The Brides who were tired of fighting off drunken men who tried to remove the garter themselves! According to legend, the garter toss in England evolved from an earlier tradition of “flinging the stocking.” On their wedding night, guests would follow the Bride and Groom to their bedroom. They would wait until they undressed, steal their stockings, and then “fling” them at the couple! The first person to hit the Bride or Groom on the head would be the next person to marry.
[Originally, when the groom “kidnapped” his bride he would take her into hiding. Usually, by the time the bride’s family found her, she would already be pregnant. At that time a price for her would then be negotiated.]
[In Roman times a kiss was seen as a legal bond that sealed all contracts. It has become a staple ending to a wedding ceremony.]
According to one custom, when arranged marriages were common the Groom collected a dowry only after his marriage was consummated. The money dance insured that the couple would have some money before they left their wedding reception. According to another wedding tradition, the people of the village gave gifts. They consisted of pottery, livestock, and garden plants to the newlyweds. This is because the Bride and Groom had no money to acquire these items until they had children. After that time a dowry was exchanged.
Penny in Shoe:
This is a European tradition to bring the Bride good luck, and protection against want. After the Wedding Day, the lucky penny can be turned into a piece of jewelry as a pendant, charm for a bracelet, or ring setting.
Prior to the 5th century, the ring finger was the index finger. Later, it was believed that the third finger contained the “vein of love” that led directly to the heart.
Shoes on Vehicle:
Ancient Romans used to transfer to the Groom his authority over his Bride when her Father gave the Groom her shoes. In later years, guests threw their own shoes at the newlyweds to signify this transfer of authority. Today, this tradition is kept alive by simply tying old shoes to the back of the newlywed’s vehicle before they leave their wedding reception celebration.
Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue:
This superstition of the Bride wearing something that fits each of these four categories originated in Europe to ward off evil spirits. Something Old: This tradition symbolized the sense of continuity while making the transition from a single person to a married couple. Something New: This tradition symbolized that marriage represented a transition to adulthood. There is also Something Borrowed: This tradition symbolized the belief that by borrowing something from a happily married couple, good fortune would follow the newlyweds. Something Blue: In ancient Israel, blue was the border color of the Bride’s dress symbolizing purity, constancy and fidelity.
This is the male equivalent of the Bridal Shower. Roman Empire soldiers would feast with the Groom the night before his wedding to say goodbye to his irresponsible days of bachelorhood. They would also to renew their vows of allegiance to their friendships.
Believing newlyweds brought good luck, guests used to shower them with nuts and grains to insure a bountiful harvest and many children to work the land. During years of a poor harvest, rice was tossed instead. This tradition continues today with rice, birdseed, or bubbles to wish the Bride and Groom happiness. Incidentally, it is only a superstition that birds eating rice thrown after a wedding will have their stomachs enlarge and eventually explode. This myth may have evolved from church/synagogue employees weary from cleaning after every wedding ceremony!
Until the 20th century, the Groom simply wore his “Sunday best” on his wedding day. It is said that President Teddy Roosevelt popularized the modern tuxedo.
Tying the Knot:
This comes from the days of the Roman Empire when the Bride wore a girdle that was tied in knots. The Groom untied the knots prior to the consummation of their marriage.
Also during the days of the Roman empire, wedding cakes were baked of wheat or barley. At the reception, they were traditionally broken over the head of the new Bride by the Groom as a symbol of her fertility. Guests would then scramble for pieces of the cake, and take them home for good luck. It later became a tradition to place many small cakes on top of each other as high as possible.
The newlyweds would then try to exchange a kiss over the top of the tower of cakes without knocking them down. During the reign of King Charles II of England, a daring baker added icing. Thus, the modern style of wedding cake was born. It is unclear when the tradition of the newlyweds smashing wedding cake into each other’s face first began. It’s also uncertain if that marriage lasted more than one day!
According to some historians, the first recorded marriage rings date back to the days when early man tied plaited circlets around the Bride’s wrists and ankles to keep her spirit from running away. Approximately 3,000 BC, Egyptians originated the phrase “without beginning, without end.” It described the significance of the wedding ring. These rings were made of woven hemp, which constantly wore out and needed replacement.
Although Romans originally used iron, gold is now used as a symbol of all that is pure. Diamonds were first used by Italians. They believed that it was created from the flames of love. In some European cultures, the wedding ring is worn on the right hand. In other cultures, an engagement ring is worn on the left hand, and the wedding ring is worn on the right hand.
It is said that this tradition first began in France. Bread would be placed in the bottom of two drinking glasses for the newlyweds. They would then drink as fast as they could to be the first person to get to the toast. According to legend, the winner would rule their household!
White Wedding Dress:
This was made popular in the 1840’s by Queen Victoria (instead of the royal “silver” wedding dress). Prior to this, Brides simply wore their best dress on their wedding day.
[Not only does white symbolize purity and virginity, but it was also thought to ward off evil spirits”.]
White Aisle Runner:
[This is supposed to symbolize God’s holiness and walking on holy ground. It is believed that by having this runner present in the place of marriage, God will be actively involved in the ceremony.]
POPULAR ETHNIC and RELIGIOUS WEDDING TRADITIONS:
Various wedding customs have their roots and popularity based on ethnic origin:
At some African-American wedding ceremonies, newlyweds “jump over a broom” to symbolize the beginning of a new life. The ritual was created during slavery when African-Americans could not legally marry. Some people trace this wedding tradition to an African tribal marriage ritual of placing sticks on the ground representing the couple’s new home. Today, the jumping of the broom is a symbol of sweeping away of the old, and welcoming the new. Broom Jumping can be performed either at the wedding ceremony after the minister pronounces the newlyweds husband and wife, or at the wedding reception just after the Bridal Party enters the reception area.
A fully decorated broom can be purchased at ethnic stores. Other couples may prefer to use a regular household broom decorated with bows/flowers/other trinkets in the wedding colors. At some receptions, guests may participate in the ceremony by tying ribbons around the broom before the Broom Jumping begins.
As the Bride walks up the aisle at her Wedding Ceremony, the Bride stops and hands her mother a flower from her bouquet and they embrace. After the Wedding Ceremony is finished, the new couple walks to the Groom’s side of the church and the Bride gives her mother-in-law a second flower from her bouquet and they also embrace.
The Bride may wear a red wedding dress symbolizing love and joy. At the wedding reception, a nine-course meal (lasting up to three hours) is very popular. A family member may act as the official “Master of Ceremonies.” They orchestrated family introductions, toasts, comedy sketches, and a reenactment of the newlywed’s courtship.
Eastern Orthodox Church:
The rings are blessed by the Priest taking them in hand and making the sign of the cross over the Bride and Groom’s head. The “Koumbaros” (Best Man) then exchanges the rings three times. They would take the Bride’s ring and place it on the Groom’s finger and vice-versa. This exchange signifies that in married life, the weaknesses of the one partner will be compensated for by the strength of the other. Also, the imperfections of one were compensated by the perfection’s of the other.
Candles are held throughout the Wedding Service, which begins immediately after the Betrothal Service. The candles are like the lamps of the five wise maidens of the Bible. These maidens had enough oil in them to be able to receive Christ when He came in the darkness of the night. The candles symbolize the spiritual willingness of the couple to receive Christ. He would bless them through this sacrament.
The Office of the Crowning, which follows is the climax of the Wedding Service. The crowns are signs of the glory and honor that God crowns them during the sacrament. The Bride and Groom are crowned as the King and Queen of their own little kingdom (their home). They will rule there with wisdom, justice, and integrity.
One early French wedding custom signifies the new alliance created by uniting two families through marriage. During the Wedding Reception, the new couple raises a glass of wine from two different vineyards. They then pour their wine into a third glass and each drinks from it.
During the wedding ceremony, the Groom may kneel on the hem of the Bride’s dress. This symbolizes his control over her. Not to be outdone, the Bride may step on the Groom’s foot when she rises. This symbolizes her power over him!
Some newlyweds wear a crown of flowers during the wedding ceremony. The couple may walk around the altar three times representing the Holy Trinity. At the reception, Greek folk dances are popular with guests lining up in a single file line.
During the wedding ceremony, thirteen gold coins (representing the Groom’s dowry to his Bride) are often blessed by the priest. They are passed between the hands of the newlyweds several times before ending with the Bride. A large rosary or white rope (“laso”) is sometimes wound around the couple’s shoulders. It is wound in a figure-8 during the wedding ceremony to symbolize their union as one.
In the early 1900’s, an Irish couple would walk to church together on their Wedding Day. If the people of their parish approved their union they would throw rice, pots, pans, brushes and other household items at the couple as they approached their church. Today, hen parties (Bridal Showers) have replaced this practice.
Some Irish people wear a claddagh ring for a wedding ring. This ring was created by a master goldsmith, Richard Joyce. He created it 400 years ago in a fishing village called Claddagh overlooking Galway Bay. The claddagh symbolizes love, loyalty, and friendship. On the right hand with the heart facing inward it means the wearer’s heart is unoccupied. It faced outwards, revealing love is being considered. When worn on the left hand facing outward it signifies that the wearer is seriously committed or married.
At some Irish wedding receptions, the Groom is lifted in a chair (“jaunting car”). This celebrates that he is a married man. For good luck, the newlyweds are given a horseshoe to display in their home in the upward position. A traditional Irish wedding cake is a fruitcake.
Traditional Irish toasts (in addition to remarks from the Best Man) are very popular. Irish Marriage Blessing: May God be with you and bless you. May you see your children’s children. And may you be poor in misfortune, Rich in blessings, May you know nothing but happiness. From this day forward.
Some Brides may choose to carry a white silk or satin purse (“busta”) to store gifts of money that are welcomed. Tarantella folk dances are popular at the wedding reception. Another Italian custom is to present five sugar-coated almonds to the guests. This represents health, wealth, long life, fertility, and happiness.
The Bride and her Parents might visit the Groom’s house on wedding day. At the wedding ceremony, the Bride’s wedding gown is often a traditional wedding kimono. She usually changes into something else at the wedding reception. The first of nine sips of sake drunk by the Bride and Groom at their wedding ceremony symbolizes the official union of marriage.
It is a Jewish tradition for a Bride to present her Groom with a tall it to wear for his Aufruf. (This is for the reading of the Torah prior to their ceremony.) The Groom’s family often gives candlesticks to the Bride. They can be used during the actual wedding ceremony.
It is also a custom for Jewish men to cover their heads at all times (especially during prayers) with a kip pot (yarmulkes). It is a form of reverence, and respect. This is also an acknowledgement that God is present everywhere. In some congregations, women also cover their heads to pray.
Some Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform wedding ceremonies take place under a hupah (wedding canopy). The hupah is a rectangular piece of cloth. It is large enough for the Bride, Groom, Rabbi, and sometimes other members of the wedding party. The hupah signifies the new home about to be shared by the newlyweds.
Before the procession to the hupah, the tanaim are signed, and the Groom is asked if he is ready to take on the responsibilities as outlined in the ketubah. He signifies his willingness by accepting a handkerchief or other object offered to him by the Rabbi. The two witnesses to this sign the ketubah. While the actual text of the ketubah is never meant to vary, the border decorations on this document have over the centuries been the subject of remarkable artistic creations.
At the beginning of the wedding ceremony, the Bride might observe the Biblical custom of Circling the Groom seven times. This practice is seen as a powerful act of definition. It’s where the Bride will symbolically create the space that they will share as husband and wife.
In Judaism, the number seven is mystical and represents completion and fulfillment. Just as the creation of the world was finished in seven days, the seven circles complete the couple’s search for each other.
The bedeken, or veiling, is a small ceremony in which the Groom lowers the veil over the Bride’s face. By this act he acknowledges that he is marrying the correct woman. This custom originated in the story of Jacob who didn’t see the face of his Bride prior to his wedding. He was tricked into marrying Leah instead of his intended, Rachel.
The Jewish marriage ceremony consists of two parts: Erusin (pre-engagement) and Nissuin (marriage). These ceremonies were historically performed up to one-year apart. But more recently the two have been combined into one ceremony.
The Exchange of Rings
The Eursin ceremony begins with Kiddush, the blessing over the wine. Kiddush is part of virtually all Jewish observances as a prayer of sanctification. The exchange of rings completes the Erusin ceremony. In Jewish law, a verbal declaration of marriage is not legally binding unless an act of Kinyan, a formal physical acquisition is completed. This is reached when two witnesses see the Bride accept a ring from the Groom. He then recites the words of marriage. After the ketubah has been read at the ceremony, wine is often poured into a new glass. The Sheva Berakhot (Seven Benedictions) are recited over it.
The Bride and Groom then drink from the glass of wine. With the ceremony complete, tradition calls for the Groom to break the wrapped glass by stomping on it. This final action symbolizes the destruction of the Holy Temple in Israel. This reminds the guests that love is fragile. The audience may shout Mazel Tov, and the Bride and Groom kiss. Immediately after the wedding ceremony, the couple may spend a few private moments together, or Yichud as a symbolic consummation of their marriage. Later, the Mitzvah, the rejoicing at a wedding reception is incumbent on the Bride, Groom, and guests.
Red beads are sometimes tossed at Newlyweds to bring them good luck.
The Mother of the Bride may choose to place the veil on the Bride before the wedding ceremony. This is to symbolize her last task that a Mother does on behalf of her girl before she becomes a married woman.
A traditional folk song (“Twelve Angels”) is sometimes played at the reception. This allows the Bride to transfer her veil (and good luck to be married) to her Maid of Honor, Bridesmaids, and Flower Girl.
A morning wedding ceremony is sometimes followed with a brief afternoon luncheon. This is several hours of downtime when guests return home, and then a long evening wedding reception. Polka dances and other audience participation events are very popular.
The Groom and his Groomsmen often wear Scottish kilts. The Groom may present the Bride with an engraved silver teaspoon on their wedding day. This is to symbolize that they will never go hungry. A traditional sword dance is sometimes performed at their wedding reception.
A Spanish Groom gives sometimes gives his Bride thirteen coins. They are given in memory of Christ and the twelve apostles. The Bride carries them in a small bag during the Wedding Ceremony. This is a symbol that the Groom promises to support and care for her.
ADDITIONAL WEDDING TRADITIONS
(They come from the web site: Weddingflowersandmore.com
where you can also find additional helpful information):
If you’ve ever wondered why bridesmaids all dress the same, it’s because Roman law required ten witnesses to make a wedding legal. Several of these witnesses dressed up exactly like the bride and groom. This was to confound any malevolent forces who might show up uninvited. Europeans followed a similar tradition. The bridesmaids and groomsmen sometimes did have to defend the happy couple against real-life thugs and warriors.
Ring Around the…
Have you ever wondered why Americans put the wedding ring on the third finger of the left hand? It’s because of an ancient Greek belief that a vein in this finger ran directly to the heart. And if you’ve ever groaned at having to buy both an engagement ring and a wedding ring, you can blame Pope Innocent III. He instituted a waiting period between engagement and marriage in the 13th century. He also insisted that a ring be used in the wedding ceremony. Before that, rings were used to seal an engagement only (as well as other important agreements).
You May Exchange Souls with the Bride:
Yes, this is what the big wedding kiss symbolizes. It’s the swapping of souls between the bride and groom. Even earlier than this Christian belief, the Romans used a kiss to seal a contract. The kiss was considered legally binding. I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that a handshake suffices today. What’s more, a bride marrying in the Church of England had to kiss the minister before she smooched the groom. I would really love to go to a wedding where the minister said, “Now, I may kiss the bride.”
We call it a “toast” when we drink to someone. This is because of an old French custom in which a piece of bread was put in the bottom of the wine cup—for flavor.
Party-goers would drink and pass the cup. When it reached the person being toasted, he would drain it—crouton and all. It sounds pretty unhygienic. But think of how much more excitement a crunchy beverage would bring to the traditional wedding toast.
Tossing a Garter:
Many things are thrown through the air at weddings. Some of them are rice (for fertility), bouquets (for luck and protection), and garters (also for luck). The garter is my favorite.
Apparently, in the good old days, before wedding dresses cost as much as small cars, people used to rip off chunks of the dress for good luck.
In long-ago England, friends of the groom would rip off their socks and throw them. The first to hit the groom’s nose would be the next to be married.
Traditionally, the bride stands on the left, the groom on the right. (The Jewish wedding tradition reverses this.) Weddings used to be a lot more like the ones you watch on TV. Dastardly ex-suitors and other thugs sometimes rush the altar. And of course, some wedding crashers were heroes, just trying to rescue a captured bride. Whatever the reason for the interference, the groom needed to keep his right hand free. This was so he could grab his sword, thus the bride stood clear and to the left. I have no idea what happened when the groom was left-handed.
Probably the most familiar religious wedding traditions to Americans are the Roman Catholic and Protestant ones. The lighting of the unity candle—where two symbolic flames become one—is a particularly familiar image. This is a really nice tradition. But I can say from experience that it is stressful bending over an open flame when you’re wearing a veil.
In some Hindu wedding ceremonies, the groom is responsible for the bride’s clothing. But instead of the familiar white gown, Hindu brides wear a sari. When the bride arrives at the ceremony, she wears clothing from her parents. When all is done, she is dressed in clothing her husband has provided.
It’s an old Islamic custom, not often practiced today, to paint the hands of the bride and groom with henna the night before the wedding. Not only does this look beautiful, but it also helps the bride and groom to get to know each other. There are a few traditions here. One is that a dark hand design (called menhdi) signified the couple would have a strong bond. And if the groom couldn’t find his name written into the design on the bride’s hand, it was believed that the bride would wear the proverbial pants in the relationship.
Jewish tradition of stomping on a glass wrapped in cloth symbolizes the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, among other hardships endured by the Jewish people. Destroying a glass during an otherwise happy ceremony also symbolizes the mix of joy and sorrow in life.
Two Korean wedding traditions involve birds that mate for life: ducks and geese. Korean grooms used to travel to the homes of their brides on the back of a white pony. They bear a goose, which symbolizes fidelity. Nowadays, they use symbolic wooden geese. In another tradition, a pair of wooden ducks are used. One symbolizes the bride and the other the groom. This can indicate whether couples are happy or at odds. After the wedding each spouse places one of the ducks somewhere in their house. If the ducks face nose to nose, the couple is getting along. If they are tail to tail, the couple is believed to be fighting.
The Swedes make the walk down the aisle more uncomfortable for the bride, who often wears coins in each shoe. But the Scottish have a tradition that sounds a lot more pleasant—at least for the bride. The night before the wedding, everyone gathers ’round to wash her feet. The point of this, in case you’re wondering, is not to create a home spa feeling. Rather, it symbolizes sending the couple off on a fresh path together.
In some parts of Africa, a man asks permission to marry a woman. If the family agrees, he presents her with a little money and a kola nut. The bride opens the nut, and shares it with the groom. She then sends a piece via messenger to other families to announce the engagement. After the wedding ceremony, guests shower the couple with corn kernels, symbolizing fertility.
It’s a Cajun tradition for older unmarried brothers and sisters of the bride or groom to dance with a broom at the wedding reception. This mocks their single status.
Older siblings also take center stage—if you can call it that. This is found in a tradition called the Hog’s Trough Dance. For good luck, the siblings have to dance in an empty hog’s trough until it breaks.
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