Invitations are as much a part of a wedding today as the bride and groom! While many couples send traditional formal invitations, casual invitations are gaining popularity in today's society. Whatever invitation the happy couple chooses, there is little doubt that for every wedding planned, invitations will be created and sent by one means or another.

When did wedding invitations first come into use? Most people agree that the tradition began in the 12th Century with the town crier, who would walk through the town and announce important events to the public. Word of mouth was an important means of spreading news, and anyone within hearing of the town crier was, by default, invited to the wedding!

During the Middle Ages, when great numbers of people were illiterate, noble families would commission monks to hand-letter and illuminate wedding announcements in calligraphy. These invitations often included a family crest or coat of arms, an important symbol that helped identify the family of the engaged couple. Many people today include such a family crest or coat of arms on their wedding invitations as a nod toward tradition and heritage.

In the 1600s, literacy increased and it became common for weddings to be announced in the newspaper. At the same time, the technology of engraving emerged as a new way to print announcements. Soon, middle class citizens began to send customized, engraved wedding invitations. To create an engraving, a metal plate was engraved in reverse with the desired text. Then the plate was inked and stamped onto paper to create the finished product. Engravings were often covered with tissue paper to prevent the ink from smearing. Many modern invitations still include tissue paper, though it is largely a decorative element now.

In the late 18th century, the art of lithography was developed, making it possible to create beautifully printed invitations without engraving. Invitations at this time were generally still delivered by hand, so they were often sealed within a second envelope for protection. This is another tradition that modern society still observes.

Modern wedding invitations became more widely-used after World War II. The development of thermographic printing allowed more sophisticated designs to be stamped on invitations at less cost than tradition engraving. Thermographic printing creates a raised effect that is often used for letterheads, business cards, and even Braille. Its versatility lends itself perfectly to the artistic nature of modern wedding invitations.

Today, invitations are often creative and individual expressions of the couple's personality. Some couples might send a small gift as an invitation, such as a box of chocolates. Other couples may send an invitation with a framed photograph and a personalized letter. Some people choose nontraditional papers, such as handmade stock with flower petals pressed into it. Invitations may even include favorite cartoon characters, symbols such as an Irish claddagh, ribbons, bows . . . the list is endless!

So next time you open your mail and find that distinctive envelope amongst your letters, take a moment to ponder the history of how that invitation came to be. Just think, it all started with the lowly town crier!