‘Colored and scented’ wedding rice in a can
The cardboard can was almost hidden among the other small vintage items on the table. I didn’t notice it while I was eyeing the handheld grater and other kitchen gadgets. When I ventured to the other side of the table, there it was.
The scripted-in-black words “Grade ‘A’ Fancy Colored & Scented Wedding Rice” on an off-white backdrop seemed to glare from the front of the can. I turned to its back before twisting open the top. The can had some heft to it, so I knew that something was inside: perhaps the rice, perhaps not.
The back was actually two sides: one had recipes for the contents and the other had directions for using the rice to throw at weddings. It also came with a warning: Not to be eaten.
The recipes included using the rice as a keepsake (mix something special in the can with the rice and open again at the first anniversary), a surprise (place some rice in the suitcase, the groom’s pocket and the car’s glove compartment as a honeymoon surprise) and trailfinder (punch a hole in the top of the can, tie a six-foot cord to it and follow the path left by the rice to trail the couple).
The directions were simple: Remove cap on rice, pour some in everyone’s hand and toss at couple. The maker, Village Bath Products of Minnetonka, MN, also promised that the rice will “bring happiness and joy” to the couple but also “to those who cast it.” The scent of the rice was supposed to evoke “nostalgia and memories for years to come.”
This can of rice had the aroma of lemon, as stamped on one edge.
I finally opened the can, and saw both yellow and white kernels. There was no indication of how old this rice was, but Village Bath Products was founded in the 1960s by the man who created Softsoap.
In some cultures, throwing rice at weddings is a symbol of life and fertility for the new couple. It is used in different ways in other cultures, but the meaning is seemingly the same. There appears to be no clear answer about how this tradition got started – either in China, or Egypt, Assyria and Israel, or by ancient Romans (who were said to have thrown wheat).
The tradition has survived, although it has been poked along the way. Rice was said to harm the stomach of birds that consumed the leftover kernels that landed on pavements and grass after having been thrown. During the 1980s, a Connecticut legislator introduced a bill to outlaw it, and columnist Ann Landers advised against it. It is not true that rice is harmful to birds, and that notion has been debunked.
But if rice isn’t your thing, there are alternative stuff to toss: confetti, lavender buds, roses or other flowers, and pompoms.