Italian Wedding Traditions: Clothing, Flowers, Food And Decorations

Italian wedding customs vary (or even conflict) from region to region, as well as from era to era. Have fun picking the ones that suit you, and buona fortuna!

So you are Italian and engaged?Congratulazioni!You want a traditional wedding?Buona fortuna!

Your first bit of good luck is that you live in the 21st century:your marriage most likely was not arranged by your families, but rather the outcome of a courtship based on true love.(Of course there is a downside to that; the groom won't be buying the bride from her family, for a price calculated in precious stones -- nor, on the other hand, will the bride's family be paying a dowry to the groom!)

Since Italy has a very long history (and there are many subcultures within the country) you have enough tradition to keep you busy planning and fulfilling your wedding right into the 22nd century.(Some are even contradictory!)Many of these traditions are now universally followed in the western world and have simultaneous origins.Here's a simple one that has become international:the groom seals the engagement with a diamond ring (as diamonds were created by love's flames) -- but if it contains any gold, the bride should not wear it until she has also received her wedding band!(As you may know, the ancient Romans appropriated Greek culture and religion for themselves, renaming all the gods but keeping the essentials.Thus they most likely believed, as the Greeks did, that a vein from the third finger of the left hand possessed a vein leading directly to the heart.Hence the ring finger!)Nor should she wear her entire wedding costume (which she should not make herself) before the big day.It must also remain imperfect or incomplete until she actually walks down the aisle.The complete outfit includes "la borsa" -- a little satin pouch in which she collects monetary gifts from her guests.

The bridal shower is derived from the custom of the bride's packing a trousseau with which to begin her new life; these days, her friends and female relatives give her gifts instead.Showers and bachelor parties are not common in Italy, however.

The night before the wedding, the bride should wear green for good luck; green has long been the color of fertility!

On the wedding morn, there is both the tradition of the groom's coming to the bride's house to "pick her up" and walk her to the church, and the conflicting tradition of the groom's not even being allowed to see the bride until she is brought down the aisle to stand by him for the marriage ceremony.(The bridal veil not only hides her from her husband but more importantly protects her from evil spirits.)Yet another tradition has the groom waiting in front of the church for his intended; he has brought a bouquet to present to her (the bouquet including some fragrant herbs, again to ward off those pesky evil spirits), carries a bit of iron in his pocket, also to defend against the "evil eye"); his friends tease him by pretending the poor fellow is about to be left in the lurch.The front of the wedding chapel door has a ribbon nicely tied across it (as have the doors of thehouses between the bride's house and the church), representing the tying of the knot between man and woman.

If the groom does walk the bride to church, she should leave, right foot first, from her front door, and the community should throw challenges in their path, such as a broom (she should pick it up, proving herself a good housewife) or a crying child (both bride and groom should prove themselves good potential parents by comforting it).If they meet a pig, their luck will be bad, but a black cat will bring good fortune.A funeral bespeaks ill, but sunshine or a rainbow forecasts fortune.The bride and groom might be confronted with a sawhorse, double-handed saw and a log; they must show their true spirit of partnership by sawing the log in half together.(Sometimes this is done between the wedding and the reception.)

The church service, or sposalizio, which takes place most luckily on a Sunday but neither during Lent nor Advent, nor in May orAugust, generally begins with a Catholic mass.Whether the bride has arrived with the groom or hidden herself away until the last moment, she ends up standing on his left -- possibly to free his right hand to defend them with his sword should a rival come to kidnap his love!Don't drop the ring!It's bad luck.

The bridesmaids and groomsmen, present because ancient Roman law once required 10 witnessed at any wedding, dress quite like the bride and groom in order to confuse... you guessed it:jealous evil spirits.Some couples release a pair of doves outside (these days pigeons are used) and allow themselves to be pelted with rice, paper confetti or real 'confetti: little tulle bags containing either three (for children), five or seven candy-covered almonds, to promote fertility.They drive or are driven to the reception in a car decorated with ribbons and flowers.

The reception is a fabulous affair.Decorations usually include tied ribbons and fresh or ribbon flowers.

The best man acts as the greeter, serving sweet liquor to the women and strong liquor to the men prior to the meal, for toasting purposes.The toasts will continue during the entire reception, too.Some common toasts:

"Per cent'anni" ("for a hundred years.")

"Evviva gli sposi" ("hurray for the newlyweds.")

"Bacio, bacio" ("We want a kiss," meaning the bride must kiss the groom; more often today in English "Kiss for the bride")

The mothers-in-law have a table by the reception entrance for "raccomandazioni o favori," the repayment of favors: debtors (be the debts monetary or in the form of favors) may (nay, MUST!) take this opportunity to make repayment; a notebook is kept with all the repayment details, and this is not done unwitnessed!the bride herself presents her new mother-in-law with an olive branch, symbolizing peace.

The guests receive, as wedding favors, little pottery or glass dishes, each filled with a bag of 'confetti, representing bitter and sweet the married couple will encounter in their long life together.Sometimes these are set at the guests' places at table and sometimes they are distributed by the bride and groom from a bomboniera, or basket.

The bouquet-toss and garter toss have become a part of just about every western wedding tradition, and Italian weddings are no exception.The bride tosses her bouquet behind her to the eagerly gathered single gals, and whoever catches is will be the next to marry.The groom removes his wife's garter from her right leg and tosses it to the single men; the lucky catcher places the garter on the right leg of whoever caught the bouquet.

Italian wedding food is famously gorgeous.It may consist of more than a dozen courses and was, in ancient Rome, preceded by the breaking of a loaf of barley or wheat bread over the bride's head!(Perhaps this showed who THOUGHT he was the master of the house, but then, there is the famous Italian saying, "La moglie e' la chiave di casa!" (:The wife is the key of the house.")The guests gather up the crumbs for good luck and to help the couple become fertile; the evolved into the gifting of guests with pieces of wedding cake, and some still believe that one who sleeps with a piece of wedding cake under the pillow will dream of his or her future spouse.

Of course the meal begins with antipasto (literally "before the pasta") and includes bow-ties, or wanda (small pieces of twisted, sugared dough).Italian wines are served, as are many kinds of pasta, pickled peppers, fried squid and olives.The meat is usually a roasted lamb or a roasted piglet.Bags of roasted peanuts are traditional fare as well.

During the meal, the toasting (especially the repeated call for the couple to stand up and kiss) continues and the dancing begins.First the bride and groom dance together.

The father of the bride cuts in and the groom asks his new mother-in-law to dance.The groom's father replaces the bride's father, who ousts the groom and dances with his own wife.The displaced groom now dances with his own mother.The inlaws change partners among themselves.Now the best man invites the maid or matron of honor, the best man takes his turn with the bride, and the rest of the wedding party joins in.Only then, the other guests step into the action, which continues into the wee hours.

Every man dances with the bride (holding his coat open to expose his shirt, to show he has brought no weapon to such a joyous occasion) and this is a good time for the bride to collect money (buste) in her borsa.The men all kiss the bride too!Meanwhile the groom allows his tie to be cut in pieces, which he sells to the guests.(Some say this is to help pay for the honeymoon, others that it simply pays for the band.)

Everyone joins in for a Tarantella, or "spider dance."Datign back to medieval times, this dance is performed in a wild circle and resembles the frenzy of a spider-bite victim.Another tradition is the "cookie dance," in which the couple leads guests in a dance that ends up at a table where each may take one of the many cookies waiting there.

Modern weddings often have a D.J. instead of a live band; whichever is chosen, here are some Italian favorites, old and new:

"Al di La"

"Angelina"

"Besame Mucho"

"Cé la Luna: (dance the Tarantella to this one!)

"Chitarra Romana"

"Coma Prima"

"Funiculi, Funicula"

"Lauretta"

"Mambo Italiano"

"Mamma"

"Mattinata"

"Non Dimenticar"

"Oh Marie"

"O Solo Mio"

"Piccolo Fiore"

"Quando, Quando"

"Sciuri Sciuri"

"That's Amore"

"Volare"

The wedding cake is white (for purity), tiered and topped by figurines representing the bride and groom.It was once the custom for the bride to cut the cake alone, to prove herself not only a good wife in terms of being able to serve food, but a good lover (the knife is a male symbol, and even today, the first cut will often bring a gush of cream from the cake's interior).These days the bride and groom cut the cake together, the bride's left hand over the groom's left, which is over her right.They feed each other the first slice.Sometimes a less expensive cake is baked as well and distributed to the guests if there are too many for even a large, fancy wedding cake to accommodate.Coffee is served to the guests along with the cake, for dessert.

In ancient tradition, guests would rip the bride's clothes in an attempt to inherit some of her luck of the day.This has been replaced by a more sedate tradition: the tearing of the bride's veil for good luck, and the breaking ofa vase or wine glass in order to count into how many pieces it shatters:one for each year of married bliss.

The bride and groom don't get much rest; they go about from table to table, greeting and chatting with every guests, so no one should feel left out.Some guests will count themselves out on purpose, preferring to devise practical jokes for the couple.Watch out for itching powder in the bed or a door that is stuck shut!

After the reception, the the bride and groom retire to their new house, where no one must ever have slept before.(This will be difficult to achieve in today's world; perhaps a new bed would satisfy that requirement?)The groom must carry the bride over the threshold so waiting evil spirits will miss their last chance to capture her.

Perhaps oddly, it is traditional for the married couple to leave their wedding gifts untouched, even until after their honeymoon!In some cases, the in-laws do the honors.Speaking of honeymoons, now that the wedding is over, choose a wonderful honeymoon destination and start your own tradition!

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