Today, a chuppah is a common thing to be found at a wedding. They have a truly beautiful aesthetic and can be a great focal point for a bride and groom to stand under during their ceremony. However, a lot of people who were not raised with a Jewish understanding of the symbolism of a chuppah don't really grasp the meaning of this beautiful focal point. Here is a little history on the meaning of a chuppah...
Chuppah's are of Jewish origin. Jewish people believe that the chuppah is a symbol of the home that the bride and groom will make together. Jewish tradition calls for open sky to be above the chuppah, so naturally most Jewish weddings are held outdoors. Jewish wedding ceremonies are made up of two parts; the betrothal ceremony, or exchanging of the rings, and the second is the actual wedding ceremony which takes place underneath the canopy of the chuppah. (Also, Jewish ceremonies require the use of solid wedding bands, without stones or embellishments, to represent unending love, which originated the concept of having a wedding band as well as an engagement ring.)
The chuppah was not always the structure that it is today, but originally it was thought to be a veil or cloth that the groom would take at the beginning of the ceremony and cover the bride's head with (hence why bride's traditionally wear veils). Eventually it evolved to cover both the bride and groom's heads, and then finally it became a tent-like structure for the couple to stand underneath.
The cloth covering the top of the structure represents the presence of God in the couple's marriage, and the four openings on the sides represent the importance of hospitality in Jewish culture (as well as paying tribute to their history by representing the open tent of Abraham). Traditionally the groom will enter the space underneath the chuppah first to show ownership of the new home and life he will be providing for the bride, and then he will invite the bride in as a symbol of how he will provide herwith shelter and livelihood.
Naturally, today people take liberties with the chuppah. For example, a lot of them will be inside or have the back side closed off for decoration, or not have a veil over the top of the structure. This doesn't change the fact that they are full of history, and everyone should know where their traditions came from. It's interesting how much of wedding tradition didn't just come from the need to decorate.
You learn something new every day! I'd be happy to hear feedback from anyone who can offer any more information on the subject!