In Talmudic and pre-Talmudic times, the first step of the wedding or Kiddushin (or Irusin, see here) was celebrated one year before the actual wedding ceremony or Chupa (or Nisuim).
During that year the couple was formally engaged but not married, i.e., they could not live together. Still, the woman was considered me-orasa or formally betrothed. Thus, if the couple decided to brake the Kiddushin, the process of a ritual divorce was required.
The year between the Kiddushin and the Chupa was consecrated to prepare the new house, the wedding dresses, the food and everything needed for the Chupa and the seven-days party or Sheba Berakhot. That year also served to strengthen and build up the relationship between the bride and groom in the spiritual and emotional realms, in anticipation for their life as husband and wife.
This waiting period between the Kiddushin and the Chupa is not in practice anymore. Why? There were many practical issues which made this tradition virtually unmanageable. For example, because of the many persecutions Jews suffered in exile, many times the groom and his family had to run away to save their lives, and the bride, who was now in a state of betrothed-but-not-married, was not able to remarry again because she needed now a Get (a formal divorce). For this and other practical reasons we do now the Kiddushin simultaneously with the Chupa. The Jewish wedding ceremony consists today of the giving of the ring, the Ketuba and the Chupa, the Sheba Berakhot, etc. These two steps (Kiddushin and Chupa) are already integrated and most people don't realize that they are formally two different ceremonies.
New customs were also developed or adopted in Jewish communities to replace the formal and public announcement of the bride and groom's relationship and the setting of the date of the wedding. That is what we call today: an engagement ceremony (Shir lama'alot, namzadi, arusi, etc.).
(to be continued...)
by Charlie Harary,