Wait, That’s the History and Meaning Behind Wedding Bells?

It’s time for us to chime in.
Illustration of wedding bells
Illustration: Tiana Crispino
chapelle johnson the knot associate editor
Chapelle Johnson
chapelle johnson the knot associate editor
Chapelle Johnson
Associate Editor
  • Chapelle writes articles for The Knot Worldwide. She covers all things wedding-related and has a personal interest in covering celebrity engagements and fashion.
  • Before joining The Knot Worldwide, Chapelle was an editorial intern for Subvrt Magazine.
  • Chapelle has a degree in English writing from Loyola University New Orleans.
Updated Jul 10, 2024

If you're a Broadway love song enthusiast, you definitely started singing Hairspray's "I Can Hear the Bells" as soon as you read the title. But do you know why wedding bells are symbols of marriage? Well, if your answer is "no," you're not alone. We researched how and why bells came to be the romantic soundtrack for weddings so you don't have to. Plus, we've gathered eight real wedding examples of how to include this classic wedding tradition in your celebration.

Wedding Bells Meaning

If you've ever asked yourself "What do wedding bells symbolize?" then you've come to the right place. Two church bells attached by a rope or ribbon at the top are widely accepted as a representation of a marriage, but why? Well besides the history of the iconic percussion playing a factor, wedding bells also symbolize two people joining together and ringing in harmony.

Origin and History of Wedding Bells

Now, how did wedding bells become such commonplace emblems in the wedding world? The exact date this tradition started is unknown, but historians say church bells ringing at weddings originated in the Celtic lands, like Ireland and Scotland. At the time, it was thought that wedding bells were perfect instruments for warding off evil spirits and making wishes come true. A more practical reason wedding bells were used was because the sound was a way to announce that a couple had gotten married to those near and far. This makes sense since bells were often used to mark the top of the hour (which is still done today), spread the news about a disaster and let people know about births and deaths.

Today, the Irish wedding bell tradition involves ringing the church bells, bells given as good luck charms to the couple or Bells of Ireland flowers in the bouquet and decor arrangements throughout the wedding. Wedding bells are also seen in Guatemala where the groom's family is in charge of hosting the reception. During this event, it's a Guatemalan wedding custom for a ceramic white bell, filled with rice, flour and grains, to be broken by the groom's mother once the newlyweds arrive as a symbol of prosperity. For non-Irish and Guatemalan couples, wedding bells still ring out after church wedding ceremonies to declare a couple is married and that the ceremony is over. (Psst. Try to remember all these fun facts so you can have them in your back pocket for your next trivia night.)

Wedding Bell Ideas

Like the Irish, you can incorporate wedding bells into your ceremony and reception in numerous ways. Here are eight creative options for couples who want to ring in their union the right way.

1. Arch With Hanging Wedding Bells

    Don't get lazy decorating your wedding arch. Instead, steal this couple's rustic idea and hang meditation bells from your arch. Remember, if you're doing this outdoors, wind will cause the bells to chime throughout your ceremony.

    2. "Ring for a Kiss" Wedding Bell

      If you're into your guests doing a task to get you and your new spouse to kiss, try this. Forget the classic clinking of the glasses and have cowbells on each reception table to influence you and your partner to share a peck.

      3. Brass Wedding Bells as Escort Cards

        Take your escort card idea to the next level like this couple did. At this wedding, the bride and groom had the seating assignments written onto brass bells, which doubled as favors. Also, brass bells are a great option for those wanting a vintage look for their celebration.

        4. Wedding Bell Drink Station

          Wedding bell drink station at wedding
          Photo: Rene Zadori Photography

          We love this interactive wedding bell cocktail hour station. The top read, "Marriage has a nice ring to it," which went perfectly with the bells placed beneath. Once rung, a white-gloved hand would give the ringer a glass of champagne.

          5. Ringing the Wedding Bell as Newlyweds

            What better way to announce your marriage to everyone than ringing the wedding bells yourself? This special moment will be unforgettable for you and your partner and a beautiful photo opp.

            6. Bells of Ireland Centerpiece

              Bells of Ireland centerpiece at wedding
              Photo: Willett Photography
              Florist: Emily Ellison Studio

              A subtle way to embrace the bell tradition is by asking your florist to add Bells of Ireland to your arrangements. From the bouquet to the sweetheart table garland, there are infinite ways to include this symbolic bloom.

              7. Custom Wedding Bell Escort Card Display

                At this earthy affair in Southern California, the couple's escort card display was anything but ordinary. "Ring True" was displayed at the top of the structure with brown and beige bells in peekaboo holes. If you look closely, you'll see name cards tied to small conical and cylindrical bells.

                8. Wedding Bell Ceremony Exit

                  Want to hear chiming bells for your wedding send-off? Hand out miniature wedding bells to your loved ones before the ceremony or during the reception so when it's time for you and your partner to make your exit, you're greeted with beautiful jingles.

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