Monday, February 3, 2014

Weddings Across the Board: Italian Wedding Traditions

Today's wedding traditions and rituals come to us from Italy. While some traditions vary depending upon the region of Italy, others are the same across the board (like the vast selection of food- sometimes up to 14 courses)! From getting the father's permission (sometimes a difficult task) to tying a ribbon across the church's doors (one source of the phrase, "tying the knot") to carrying the bride over the threshold, you'll be surprised how many common parts of today's wedding celebration originated in Italy- and what makes celebrations there totally unique. Know that some of the historical elements of an Italian wedding have carried on through time and some have changed. Enjoy, and be sure to click the link at the bottom to check out the Italian Wedding Traditions Pinterest Board! 

Before the Wedding

Getting Permission-
Italian tradition requires the groom to approach the bride's father, profess his love for the man's daughter, and get his permission to ask for her hand in marriage. At one time, long ago, he would to bring the ring along, and the father would take his time meeting with a family council before giving an answer. The father would have the final say, but information that was presented to him often came from careful research into the potential suitor and his family- sometimes looking back up to 5 generations  (intense, right?)Today, a man proposes directly to a woman, giving her a ring with a diamond which is a symbol of the eternity of love, and the decision is up to her.  Of course, it is recommended that the groom still get Dad's permission! Here are some great tips from WeddingChannel for this big step. 

Scheduling the Wedding-
We all have considerations when scheduling large celebrations. In Italian tradition, the wedding must be held at an appropriate time of year. It cannot be held during Lent, Advent, or in the month of May (which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary) or the month of August (which is said to symbolize bad luck and sickness). The day of the week is a matter of superstition and importance as well: It is said that you should not get married or leave for a trip on Tuesday (as Tuesday-Martedì- comes from the God of War) or Friday (the day when the evil spirits were created). 

Wedding Party-
Italian culture places less of an emphasis on wedding parties, which often include just a Maid of Honor and Best Man to serve as witnesses. The Maid of Honor and any bridesmaids historically have worn similar outfits to the bride to confuse evil spirits- a tradition that has developed in many places to a point where bridesmaids dress in a similar way to each other, but not necessarily to the bride. 

Borrow a Wedding Dress-
It's considered an honor in Italian culture to pass a wedding gown from one generation to another.

Prepare a Trousseau & Shower the Bride with Gifts-
Traditionally, the Italian bride would prepare a trousseau or hope chest of household items, clothing for herself and sometimes even clothes for her future husband. Her family would provide her a dowry consisting of monetary and possibly domestic goods. They would add items throughout her childhood and have it ready at the time of the wedding, as the newlyweds would move in together right after their honeymoon. 
Today, the bride is showered by her friends and relatives, receiving gifts in a similar fashion to the U.S. and the groom often celebrates with his friends and relatives at a stag (or bachelor) party. Hen or Bachelorette parties for the bride have also become popular, and typically consist of dinner or a night out with female friends a few weeks before the wedding.

Rehearsal Dinner Toast-
Before the pasta is passed at the rehearsal dinner, the best man toasts, “Per cent'anni,” or “A hundred years!” to wish the new couple a century of good luck, often with a glass of prosecco, an Italian champagne. 


When & Where- 
A traditional Italian wedding ceremony takes place on Sunday morning, as most Italian weddings have Roman Catholic religious roots. Other prominent religions in Italy are Protestant, Muslim and Judaism. Of course, any wedding that is not Roman Catholic will have some variations.  

During the ceremony, a ribbon is either tied or placed across the door to the church. This represents the couple's harmony and shows anyone passing by that a joyous event is taking place inside. 

The night before the wedding, it is recommended that the bride wear green, as it is a good omen, and represents abundance and fertility to the marriage. The day of the wedding, she shouldn't wear any gold jewelry other than her wedding ring. She may also want to wear something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue (and/or if she prefers, something green for good luck) and something she has received as a gift.

In some parts of Italy, the groom walks the bride and the wedding party to the church. This symbolizes the journey of marriage. According to tradition, the bride's bouquet is the last gift from the groom as a boyfriend. In Northern Italy, he chooses it, buys it, and either has it delivered to her in the morning or meets her with the bouquet at the front of the church, handing it to her as she arrives. In keeping with international tradition, the bride will later throw it and the girl who catches it is believed to be the next to marry. 

These tricksters are known to play a game where they try to convince the groom that the bride isn't coming, saying things like, "Maybe she forget where the church is" or, "Maybe she doesn't want to get married after all". According to Italian folklore regarding metals, a groom with a piece of iron in his pocket will prevent that from happening, and will avert other misfortunes as well.

The Veil-
The bride's veil tradition comes from ancient Rome, when it was used literally to cover the face of the bride (not simply as a symbol of purity). Back then, weddings were arranged and couples could not meet before the wedding, preventing second thoughts. It was only once the celebration was completed that she could reveal her face.

The traditional symbol of a wedding is represented by rings. In order to seal the union of the couple, the ancient Romans would exchange iron rings. These rings in some regions of Italy are called “vera”, meaning “faithfulness”. In the Italian culture, if the man's family owns a ring, they should leave it to their eldest son, who will give it to his fiancee as a symbol not just of love, but also to welcome her into the family. Another customary practice is for the bride and groom to engrave each other's names inside their wedding bands.

When the bride and groom exit the church, guests throw confetti, symbolizing money, prosperity and fertility. This can be rice, paper confetti, nuts, grain, etc. 

Doves & Logs-
In some regions of Italy, the bride & groom release doves while the confetti is being thrown, to represent love and happiness. In other regions, the bride and groom work together to cut a log in two with a double-handled saw after the wedding. This symbolizes the couple's partnership in marriage.


Italian tradition has, in the past, called for an abundance of flowers and ribbons. 

The first dance belongs to the bride & groom, and is followed by formal dances involving different members of the bridal party. After formal dances, the guests are invited to join in. 

The Tarantella-
The Dance of the spider, aka "La Tarantella" (or “the tarantula”) is a crazy but fun way for guests wish the newly married couple good luck, and no Italian reception would be complete without it. Dancers hold hands and race clockwise until the music speeds up, and then they reverse directions. The tempo and direction continue to change until the group gets too dizzy to continue. This dance originated in Southern Italy and was once said to have the power to cure a poisonous spider's bite.  An odd origin, but a fun tradition nonetheless. Looking at YouTube, it seems that there are a few different versions of La Tarantella's dance, but the music is unmistakable and you'll recognize it right away! 
Often during the banquet, guests tap glasses with spoons to encourage the Bride and Groom to kiss several times. 

Greeting Guests, Sugared Almonds-
In Italy, the bride and groom make a point to go from table to table, greeting and chatting with every guest so that everyone feels welcomed. Oftentimes, they'll give guests a little pouch or a handful of sugared (or jordan) almonds. These represent the bitter and sweet of life and marriage, and each guest should receive an odd number of them (often 5 or 7, as these are lucky numbers). Sometimes, the bride even carries a dish and spoons these out into the outstretched hand of each guest. 

La Borsa- 
Italian brides carry a satin bag (la borsa) at the reception for guests to place envelopes of money in, a tradition called the “buste.” Daring brides even wear it around their necks for male guests to drop in money in exchange for a dance.

As you can imagine, food is the focus of an Italian wedding, as it is the focus of everything in Italy, and it is in copious supply. Traditionally, weddings in Italy can include up to 14 courses and the eating portion alone can last up to 5 hours, so be prepared if you're attending a wedding in Italy, especially in the Southern regions. These courses will undoubtedly include many customary Italian items, such as:
- Antipasto (This first-course dish, which literally means, "Before the meal", traditionally includes Italian delicacies such as prosciutto, olives, stuffed mushrooms, pickled peppers, various cheeses, salami and even fresh fish and calamari)
- Italian wedding soup
- Pastas, breads, meats, fruits, salads and cheeses
- In Italy, either a roasted baby pig (porchetta) or roasted baby lamb (bacchio), depending on the region, may be served, accompanied by two pasta dishes and assorted fresh fruit. 

As serious as Italians are about dinner, many Italian weddings are just as serious about dessert. A variety of desserts, including pastries, cakes, candies, fruits, cookies and wedding cake are often served. Did I mention Italians love cookies? You may even see a cookie dance! This starts like a line dance, where the bride and groom lead guests dancing around the reception, and ends up in the cookie area, where each person takes a cookie. Then non-dancers can indulge, and guests will most likely will be able to enjoy an espresso as well.  Sounds like my kind of dance!

- Wanda (or ‘quanti’ in Italian) is a traditional powdered sugar-coated, bowtie-shaped dough twist dessert. These can often be found at Southern Italian weddings and are said to bring good tidings to the bride and groom. 

- Pizzelles, a waffle-like sweet pastry, are often served as well.

The words "evviva gli sposi," meaning "Hurray for the newlyweds!" is traditionally exclaimed throughout the reception as wine glasses are raised in celebration. Young gentlemen make take advantage of opportune quiet moments to shout, "Bacio! Bacio! Bacio!" to get the bride and groom to kiss again.  

Tie for Sale, Bouquet & Garter Toss-
In Italy in the past, female guests would want a piece of the bride's dress for good luck. Eventually, a garter was created to save the bride's dress from being ruined, but then the tradition evolved and today, at some weddings, particularly in Northern Italy, the best man cuts the groom's tie into little pieces. The pieces are put onto a tray and sold to the guests. This is said to help pay for the band. 
  The bride throws her bouquet to a lucky lady, the groom removes the garter from the bride's leg and throws it to a lucky guy, and then the two of them need to dance together.  If the man asks her to wear the garter and she says yes, the bouquet premonition (that she'll be the next to marry) may come true sooner than expected! 

After the Wedding

Breaking a Glass-
At the end of the evening, the couple breaks a glass or a vase and the shards are counted. This is said to represent the number of years that the couple will stay happily married. 

Carrying the Bride Over the Threshold-
One of the most common traditions worldwide is that the groom carries the bride over the threshold. Actually, this comes from a Roman legend that tells the groom to help prevent the bride from tripping over the entrance, as it would bring bad luck to the union.

'Honey Month' and Thank You's-
Once the wedding is over, it's time for the honeymoon. In Ancient Rome, newlywed couples had to eat honey during an entire “moon” (a month) after the wedding, to start their lives together on a sweet note. Today, the meaning has evolved, but the name has stayed the same.
  Oftentimes in traditional Italian weddings, guests were still eating, drinking and dancing and the bride & groom would quietly sneak out and leave for their honeymoon, without opening a single gift. The guests would know that the wedding banquet was over when they couldn't eat or drink any more.
   In some areas of Italy, such as Naples, brides have been known to send out small thank you gifts (such as cakes) when they have returned from their trip. 

Intrigued by Italian weddings of the past and present? Be sure to check out the Italian Weddings Pinterest board here to see and learn more! 

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