Italian Wedding Traditions and Toast

An Overview of How Italians Celebrate Their Weddings

Spreading a terrain not too much larger than UK, Italy comprises as numerous a culture and tradition as Mediterranean and European one can imagine, weddings included. So when we talk about Italian weddings, in today's cases they will be a sort of mix of prevailing traditions within the country. If we imagine being on a journey to Italy's regions and provinces, we will see and hear such richness in their wedding customs and may begin to develop a sense of wonder and longing for having one for ourselves. Let's take the journey.



Until the late seventies when couples used to get married in their teenage years—an age range we consider too young to get married today—parents played almost-exclusive dominant roles in finding their sons' and daughters' lifetime brides and grooms together with setting up ceremonies and receptions. When parents and the family of a young man wished for him to marry a girl, his father, uncle or another male relative—preferably an older one—would go over to the girl's father or male guardian to ask for his permission.

It was also permissible, in some parts of Italy, for the groom-to-be to speak directly, in the company of his family, to the father or male guardian of the bride-to-be. In this custom, the young suitor would usually make a prelude to his intention by showing off his outstanding (or lack of) vocal skills and singing a serenade before her house, his friends supporting him by playing the musical instruments.

In rarer cases, a matchmaker got involved by sending the message of the groom's and his family's wish to marry the bride to her father and family. Although matchmaking has been a field of profession of its own for quite some time, it has been employed by Italians as frequently as doctors employ valium and sleeping drugs; they're there for the most extra-ordinary cases only.

Nowadays, parents whose children are old enough to get married but shy, timid or otherwise not too motivated to embark on a nuptial journey, are likely to assume their previous generations' roles in helping to arrange their children's matrimonies. It seems that most Italian parents almost can't wait to have daughters- and sons-in-law for their bachelor sons and daughters.

serenata napoletanaAnd perhaps out of self-cultivated respect for their cultures, or super confidence in their singing abilities, some of today's young suitors will not let the opportunity of persuading their women by serenading go away. They will prove their love and show it in public so every passer-by can hear and witness their willed tunes for wedding the women. The friends of the suitors—by having a chance of flexing their muscles on chitarra battente (four-steel-stringed guitar), zampogna (bagpipe), raganella ('cog rattle' percussion) and others—will have a venue of an opportune jam-session much needed to accumulate performance hours for future professional careers, if they so decide to take later on.

In any case, when a proposal has been made to them, the father and family of the would-be bride will hold a family meeting as serious as a parliament's assembly and as solemn as praying monks' congregation. Every relative invited and present is given time (and food and drink) to voice his or her opinion and concern. Ideally, most of them will have similar views on the suitor's personality and family; in this case, it will be a piece of cake for the father or male guardian to respond with a 'yes' or 'no' to him and his family. But, at times, the meeting may go tumultuous as members of the girl's family have disputing opinions about the proposal. An uncle may say that the would-be groom has not shown sufficient responsibility in public accounts. An aunt may defend his obedient nature towards the elders. And so on. The heat can go up and conflicting words can be flying around, but it's okay. In this case, hard as it may be for the father to wisely consider all concerns voiced and reach a decree, he has to decide; and whatever he decides, the family will respect and accept it. Embracing or rejecting the suitor is the result of a process combining democracy and authoritarianism.

When a suitor's proposal has been welcomed, the next traditional stage is engagement. Diamonds have been the most popular stone for engagement rings. Their popularity is due to the age-old belief that diamonds must have been formed by the fire of love. Modern couples, however, may opt for a different stone especially when they are shouldering most of the wedding expenses and purchasing diamonds may postpone the wedding to a considerable delay, or when they simply prefer another stone.

During the time between the engagement and wedding day, the bride will customarily collect clothes, jewellery, bed and table linens and other household items and put them in a chest called 'Hope Chest' to be brought to the groom's home. A bride may even put men's clothes in to the chest as presents for her would-be husband. Other contents of the chest may include dowry and gifts from her family.

Although on the wedding day itself most brides will wear white dresses, they often follow an Italian tradition of wearing green clothing on the wedding eve. This tradition is based upon the belief that the colour of green has a power or influence to bring good luck and fortunes to marrying couples.

While a modern Italian groom- or bride-to-be may have been influenced by the culture of stag and hen's night, other couples, particularly in the south, do not do it. The reason is not clear, but it may be because everyone is saving up energy for the big day itself, when a lot of physical activities such as standing, sitting and bending on knee in the church, throwing confetti, talking, shouting, drinking, eating (especially!) and dancing during the reception, must be exercised without excuse. It's Italian!


Wedding Ceremony

Church Wedding (Matrimonio in chiesa)

matrimonio chiesaSince most Italians (87.6%) profess to be Catholics, most Italian wedding ceremonies are held at Catholic churches. A church, then, will have its entrance decorated with a big ribbon as some sort of a press release that a bride and a groom are going to be united in a holy matrimony there.

The church, however, will traditionally reject requests for conducting wedding ceremonies during Lent (forty days before Easter in April), Month of Mother Mary (May) and Advent (four weeks before Christmas). In addition, most brides and grooms avoid marrying in August. Some have said that August brings bad luck; others have rationalised that because many people go on holidays during the month, they will have a low number of attendees at their weddings in August. Whatever the reason, double check your invitation card if you think your Italian friend's wedding is in any of those months.

Whichever other month a marrying couple or their families choose, Italians will try their best to seize a Sunday spot. Again, it is the luck factor that contributes to this behaviour. Sunday is considered to be the luckiest day to hold a wedding ceremony.

While in most weddings the groom goes to the church separately from the bride, one in the Veneto region (northeastern Italy) will take on a different tradition. He will go to the bride's house to pick her up and they will walk to the church, and their families will make an entourage following them behind. While they are walking on their way to the church, the neighbours and spectators will have a chance to 'test' their preparedness. Someone will put a broom somewhere on the road, and if the bride catches it in her view and promptly puts it aside, she will be considered to become a good housewife. Another person may poke a baby to cry, and if the marrying couple can comfort it and stop its cry, it's a sign they will make good parents. Possessing good heart and compassion is tested and proven when they stumble upon a beggar and charitably hand him money.

Apart from those in Veneto, most other grooms are expected to arrive at the church earlier than their brides. Upon his arrival, the groom then waits for the bride and her family by the church's entrance. While waiting, his friends pull his legs by jokingly ask him something along 'Where's the bride? You may not have your wedding today because she may just not show up! Next time make sure you double tell her and her family the date of the wedding day.'

The bride then comes in veil. The veil is believed to steer away evil spirits who are on the look to snatch her. But the groom is encouraged to tear or open his bride's veil to bring, again, good luck. And doing his own part of warding off envious and malicious invisible beings, the groom inserts a token made of iron in his pocket.

A bride in northern Italy is traditionally handed a bouquet of flowers by her groom before they enter the church. She will not know the colours of the flowers and their arrangement beforehand, and therefore they are to be a delightedly heart-pounding surprise to her.

After the ceremony, guests and relatives shower them with rice or paper confetti when they walk out of the church and through the town's piazza to greet as many people as possible. These confetti are a symbol of good fortune, an important element in a married couple's life.


Civil Wedding ( Matrimonio Civile)

While traditional Italian weddings are sanctioned at churches, non-denominational couples may opt for civil ceremonies. The legality of civil ceremonies carries as much weight as that of the churches'. This makes it conveniently practical for international couples to get married in Italy since paperwork at Italian churches may pose a challenging task to those not familiar with it.

Many towns can conduct civil ceremonies in English upon request. Even better, small towns—such as Amalfi of the Campania region on the west coast and Cinque Terre villages of the Liguria region on the northwest coast—provide an opportunity for brides and grooms to be united into marriage by the towns' mayors!

Another advantage of undertaking a civil ceremony is the flexibility of writing and citing the couple's own vows and readings or poems. Most civil ceremonies will let the couple recite their self-written wedding vows and poetry, if any.

Lastly, obtaining a marriage licence through a civil ceremony doesn't close the doors to having another, religious ceremony at a church afterwards. In fact, going through a civil ceremony first and then a church one will involve less complex paperwork and create fewer headaches. So couples, especially international ones, who still yearn for the aura and sacred surroundings of a church may well arrange for church ceremonies subsequent to their civil ones. Most of the challenge will just be the finances.

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