Hispanic/Latin Wedding Traditions
Before the ceremony, a Spanish groom sometimes gives
his Bride thirteen coins, symbolizing Christ and his 12
The bride then carries them in a small bag during the
ceremony as a sign that the groom has pledged his support
and care of her.
As part of the wedding ceremony, thirteen gold coins,
which represent the groom's dowry to his bride are blessed
by the priest and then passed between the hands of the couple
several times and then placed on the Bible.
A large rope or rosary is wound around the shoulders
of the couple in a figure 8 to symbolize their union.
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"A DONDE CASARSE?" (WHERE TO MARRY?)
Choose a meaningful spot for your wedding. Look for a place that
holds Latin-American significance, such as a cultural museum, an
important church, a historical site, or a Latin-owned restaurant.
Or look for a site with a Latin feel, like a Spanish mission, a
hacienda, or even the tropical foliage in a local botanical garden.
And don't forget about the decorations. Use brightly colored linens,
flowers, and pottery. You can even hang "pinatas" from the ceiling.
At Puerto Rican weddings, a doll dressed in a bridal gown
is placed at the head table.
"PARA LA NOVIA" (FOR THE BRIDE)
Trying to decide on your "vestido de bodas" (wedding dress)? For
a subtle Latin feel consider wearing a dramatic mantilla veil, or
a slim dress with a bolero jacket. Or look for a dress with Flamenco-style
ruffles at the hem. Need something blue?
Brides in many Latin-American countries wear a light blue
petticoat or slip beneath their dresses. White not your color? Well,
in Spain, brides wear black dresses to show their devotion until
death. Touches of red and black, for both bride and groom, also
add a Latin touch. If this seems like too much for you to handle,
consider dressing your wedding party in red and black.
"LA PROCESION" (THE PROCESSION)
Who's walking you down the aisle? At Argentinean weddings, the bride
is escorted by her father. There are no bridesmaids or groomsmen,
and only the couple's parents and godparents stand with them at
the altar. Similarly, in Chile, only the parents stand at the altar
with the couple.
During Catholic ceremonies in Spain, Panama, and Mexico, the groom
presents the bride with 13 gold coins, known as "Arras," to represent
his ability to support the bride. The coins are blessed by the priest
and passed through the hands of the newlyweds several times, ending
up with the bride. Want to make the ritual a little more balanced?
Consider giving each other coins, to symbolize shared responsibility.
"LOS ANILLOS" (THE RINGS)
Not everyone waits until their big day to get their wedding bands.
In Chile, engaged couples wear rings on their right hand until they
are married and switch to the left hand after the wedding. Argentinean
couples also exchange rings when they get engaged.
"MADRINAS Y PADRINOS" (GODPARENTS)
Throughout Latin America, specially chosen godparents guide couples
through their wedding ceremony. In Mexico, "madrinas" and "padrinos"
serve as wedding sponsors, supporting the couple both financially
and spiritually. In Bolivia and Equador, "compadres" or "compadrazgo"
are chosen either at birth or marriage. They play a large role in
the wedding, and continue to support the couple throughout their
"ATE EL NUDO" (TIE THE KNOT)
In Guatemala, the couple binds themselves together during the ceremony
with a silver rope. Mexican couples perform a similar ritual, where
a rosary or white rope is wound around their shoulders in a figure
eight to symbolize their union. While the couple is bound together,
the priest may recite the following: "Let the union of binding together
this rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary be an inspiration to you
both. Remember the holiness necessary to preserve your new family
can only be obtained by mutual sacrifice and love."
Time to celebrate! Have your bartender mix up a giant batch of sangria,
a delicious punch made from a secret combination of wine, brandy,
sugar, fruit, and seltzer. Or serve a selection of Latin-American
cocktails. Consider the time-tested Cuban favorite, rum and Coke.
Or serve "Caipirinha," a Brazilian potion of fresh lime juice, sugar,
and sugar cane liquor. As for wine, Chile, Argentina, and Spain
all produce excellent white, red, and sparkling wines. For non-alcoholic
drinks, Mexican sodas come in a variety of tropical flavors, and
"batidos" are popular fruit shakes made from fresh fruit, ice, and
milk. And don't forget to serve some strong "cafe con leche" with
your wedding cake.
"COMIDAS LATINAS" (LATIN FOOD)
For appetizers, try "pasteles," Puerto Rican meat patties, or "empanadas,"
Colombian pastries stuffed with meat and vegetables. Spanish "tapas"
make perfect appetizers. These bite-sized morsels come in an astounding
variety, such as pickles, olives, spicy veggies, cheeses, omelets,
garlic shrimp, and chunks of grilled peasant bread. For real Latin-American
flavor, set up stations of make-your-own fajitas and tacos. Other
must-have dishes include rice and beans, paella, "arroz con pollo"
(chicken with rice), "ropa vieja" (beef stew), and fried plantains
(bananas). And for dessert? Flan, of course. This delicious custard
made from milk, eggs, vanilla, and caramelized sugar is the perfect
way to end the night. In Mexico, Panama, and throughout the Caribbean,
traditional wedding cakes are made with nuts and dried fruit, then
soaked in lots of rum. Ask local Spanish and Latino restaurants
if they do catering, and you're on your way.
"BAILEMOS" (LET'S DANCE)
There is an endless variety of Latin music to choose from: salsa,
merengue, mambo, flamenco, and samba, to name just a few. For a
really dramatic first dance, take some tango lessons before your
big day, and surprise your guests with a performance. Hire a Mexican
mariachi group or Cuban big band to get everyone dancing. Before
the dancing really begins at Mexican weddings, guests gather around
the couple in a heart-shaped ring. Cuban weddings often include
a money dance, in which each man who dances with the bride attaches
money to her gown.
In Puerto Rico, small favors, called "capias," are presented to
the guests in a receiving line. They are made of feathers tied with
ribbon and printed with the couple's names and wedding date. For
your wedding, you can give guests little Mexican wedding cookies
wrapped in tulle, Spanish fans, a volume of Pablo Neruda's love
poems, or note cards with paintings by Frida Kahlo or Diego Rivera
tied with ribbon. If you're up for it, the little bride and groom
skeletons used during the Mexican holiday "Dia de los Muertos" (Day
of the Dead, which is really a celebration of life) would be perfect
"DONDE ESTAN?" (WHERE ARE THEY?)
Can't wait for the honeymoon to begin? Well, in Venezuela, it isn't
uncommon for a couple to sneak away from their own reception. But
no one gets upset once they discover the newlyweds are missing--it's
actually considered good luck.
Robin Beth Schaer is a third-generation New Yorker. She
has worked as a writer and editor for several newspapers,
magazines and websites, and has taught literature and writing
at Columbia University and Cooper Union. She was educated
at Colgate University and Columbia University's School of
the Arts. Her poems have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize,
and have appeared in Rattapallax, Small Spiral
Notebook, Denver Quarterly, and Guernica.
to Latin American Wedding Traditions Author:
Robin Beth Schaer