When wedding guests throw rice at a newly married couple, it's not because they didn't like the bridesmaids' dresses. Couples who choose to celebrate this tradition generally distribute small bags of uncooked rice to each guest. When the couple emerges from the ceremony venue, guests toss handfuls of the rice in the air so it showers down over the couple.
The tradition of throwing rice goes back centuries. Ancient Romans would shower a newly married couple with wheat, which symbolized fertility. By the Middle Ages, wheat had been replaced with rice, which was also considered to be a symbol of fruitfulness. Showering a new couple with rice was believed to help them have children. In these times, the act of throwing rice was also believed to help keep evil spirits away from the bride and groom.
Although Americans might still choose to throw rice, other cultures around the world celebrate the same ritual with different objects. In Italy, guests throw candy at the couple to give them a sweet marriage, while in France guests still use the ancient Roman tradition of showering the couple with wheat. Newly married couples should be glad they don't live in England during the Tudor era, when guests would throw shoes at the couple.
Today the tradition of throwing rice is not practiced by all couples. Ceremony venues like churches often forbid guests from tossing rice because it leaves a mess on the sidewalk and walking over the grains of rice can cause guests to slip. A rumor has circulated for years that birds and other critters can get sick from eating rice but, according to the USA Rice Foundation, this rumor is untrue. Couples might also be hesitant to pass out rice because being pelted with it can be painful.
There are dozens of alternatives to throwing rice that still pay tribute to this ancient tradition. Some couples use birdseed, although this can be just as unpleasant as being hit with rice. Having guests throw rose petals, fly paper airplanes or blow bubbles makes for a beautiful photo opportunity. If couples prefer their guests not throw anything, they can pass out paper streamers or miniature noisemakers so guests can celebrate their new marriage without creating a mess.