Although there are many types of white doves, the ones released in ceremonies, white rock doves, are actually white racing pigeons. Doves and pigeons are part of the same bird family, but people tend to disassociate the two birds; one is thought of as beautiful, the other foul. Whether you refer to them as white racing pigeons or white rock doves, releasing these birds at ceremonies and events carries symbolic meaning.
For centuries, people have viewed the white dove as a symbol of peace and love. The ancient Greeks and Romans exchanged doves as wedding gifts. White doves are also present in the Bible as a symbol of holiness, and they sometimes represent the Holy Spirit, saints or guardian angels. Christianity isn’t the only religion that incorporates the white dove as a symbol; Chinese people view the bird as a symbol of peace in the next life. When released during ceremonies, doves carry these meanings with them.
Doves commonly seen in pet stores are ring-necked doves, which are typically unable to survive in the wild. To prevent harming these gentle birds, white rock doves, or racing pigeons, are often substituted for ring-necked doves. Most people can’t tell the difference between the two species, so conscientious animal handlers use white pigeons, which are trained to fly back home unharmed, after a ceremony. The release of white pigeons in ceremonies incorporates the same symbolism and meaning as releasing white doves, without any endangerment to the birds.
White rock doves are typically released as a pair during wedding ceremonies to represent the bride and groom. White doves mate faithfully for life and raise their young together. These birds symbolize hope that newly wedded couples will also remain faithful, start a family and live out their days together. The bird’s white color signifies breaking away from the past and starting over. When they depart together, these birds represent the beginning of a journey into a new life together.
Releasing white rock doves at a funeral symbolizes the journey of the deceased individual’s spirit into a world of peace. The number of birds released also carries symbolic meaning. A single bird represents the deceased's spirit, while four doves symbolize the Holy Trinity guiding the deceased into heaven. Ten to 20 doves represent angels traveling with the deceased's spirit, guiding the person to her final destination.
The release of white rock doves represents peace, prosperity and success, no matter what the occasion. Witnessing these birds take flight at any important event, including graduations, religious ceremonies, or even sporting events and concerts, is a beautiful, memorable sight imbued with hope for a positive outcome. The release may specifically symbolize future prosperity for a recent graduate or company, devotion and hope for a religious ceremony, or excitement for a parade, concert or sporting event.
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