What Southerners Aren't Telling Everybody Else About Our Bourbon Burying Wedding Tradition
Couples from outside the region might be adopting this wedding tradition, but only Southerners know what secrets it reveals.
The South is odd—but in a good way. For example, we argue with each other about our own traditions and superstitions. Some of us say that the wedding custom of burying a bottle of bourbon to guarantee good nuptial-izing weather stems from an old, old Southern wives’ tale. Others say it started in Charleston. Or Virginia. Or maybe it was Kentucky or Tennessee, which would make the most sense, given their whiskey-making proclivities.
Still others say bourbon burying is part of a marketing campaign that launched in the 21st Century. We absolutely refuse to believe that. Where’s the romance? The sense of style? No. Bourbon burying deserves a much better story than that. Let’s start telling everybody that the tradition of burying spirits to ensure good wedding weather came over with our Scotch-Irish ancestors in the 17th century. That sounds better than anything else we’ve come up with, and by the time the Ancestry.com crowd figures out whether it’s true or not, a lot of Southern brides will have enjoyed fabulous weather for their garden weddings.
No matter where or when in the South it originated, the gist of bourbon burying is this: Lots of Southern brides get married outdoors because our climate allows it during much of the year. That makes weather a serious issue. To guarantee sunshine and blissfully blue skies when they say their “I do’s” in front of Mama’n’em, the bride and groom should bury an unopened, full bottle of bourbon on their wedding site, as close as possible to the spot where they will take their vows. It should be buried upside down exactly one month before the ceremony. Then on the Big Day, the bourbon is dug up for the bride and groom to enjoy with their guests.
Aside: Recent bride and Southern Living Contributing Editor Elly Poston Cooper tells us that she and her husband were both living out of state and couldn’t get to their ceremony site a month in advance, so they recruited her parents to conduct the bourbon burial. “It worked alright,” Elly said. “We had 80 degrees and blue skies all day! I was busy being a bride, but the guests went out the evening of our wedding and found the spot and dug our bourbon right up. I caught a glimpse of that bottle being passed around on the dance floor.”
While couples from north of the Mason Dixon have co-opted this bridal ritual, they likely don’t know all that we know about it. For example . . .
The burial ceremony is a character test for the groom.
He should behave like a Southern gentleman and dig that hole with skill and aplomb. If he makes a mess of it, the bride might think twice. If he hands her the shovel, the wedding’s off. And that little mister better hope Daddy doesn't run him out of town altogether.
You might need a coon hound.
The happy couple can get so caught up in their wedding festivities that they completely forget where they buried that bourbon. Best to fix Ole Blue a plate of heavy hors d’oeuvres—he's partial to beef tenderloin—and a bowl of water in the reception tent so he’ll be at the ready.
We determine everybody’s religious persuasion by the way they imbibe.
Do they joyfully sip, feeling no need to hide their adult beverage from Mama? Catholic or Episcopalian. Do they stoically sip—no more than one drink and in a dignified manner befitting the occasion? Presbyterian or Methodist. Do they hide in the bushes, take the quickest, teensiest, guiltiest sip, and run before Mama catches them? Baptist.
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When the wedding party is roughly the size of the Mississippi Mass Choir, you know a Kappa from Ole Miss is about to get married.