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How ‘Here Comes the Bride’ Became the Song You Hear at Every Wedding Ceremony

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There are many superstitious wedding traditions, but some have pretty clear origins.

One of those is the music most commonly associated with Western weddings. The “Wedding March” and the song perhaps best known as “Here Comes the Bride” are both believed to have been first performed at a wedding that took place 160 years ago this Thursday, when Princess Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise, Queen Victoria‘s oldest child, married Frederick William IV of Prussia on Jan. 25, 1858, in the Chapel Royal at St. James’ Palace.

But neither song was actually composed to be performed at a wedding. Rather, German composer Felix Mendelssohn wrote the “Wedding March” for an 1842 production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and “Here Comes the Bride” was the Bridal Chorus from Richard Wagner’s 1850 opera Lohengrin.

It was the 1858 royal wedding that is thought to have started the practice of a “full choral processional from the church entrance to the altar” and playing music as the bride walked up the aisle, “a change from the usual practice of having music only at the reception,” according to Elizabeth Hafkin Pleck’s Celebrating the Family: Ethnicity, Consumer Culture, and Family Rituals. “A patron of opera who loved Mendelssohn and Wagner, the princess chose the music for her ceremony.”

As still happens at many weddings today — though many couples now choose to branch out, for reasons both personal and political — the Wagner chorus was played as the Princess processed to the altar, and the Mendelssohn march was played as the newlywed couple recessed back up the aisle. Once the royal couple used that music in their ceremony, it caught on more widely.

Plus, starting Western wedding traditions clearly ran in the family: the Princess’ mother, Queen Victoria, was the one who popularized white wedding dresses.

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Write to Olivia B. Waxman at olivia.waxman@time.com