Weddings in Italy: traditions and superstitions

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Getting married in Italy is enriched by great traditions (and some superstitions), many of which are still kept alive to this day.

In the past, marriages would often be arranged by the families of the potential couple or even through the use of an official matchmaker, with engagements being based more on agreements than romance. Today of course, it’s all about amore!

The groom’s family would have paid a dowry to the bride’s family. The bride rather would have, over the years, collected household items, linens and clothing (even clothes for her husband-to-be) that would be placed into a fancy marriage chest – known as a cassone. The cassone would remain a prized possession, often being so elaborately carved that they were more valuable than the actual contents within.

Italy weddings are typically held in the church, with the ceremony commencing with a mass. Normally they take place on Sundays, although do not occur during Lent, Advent, nor in the months of May or August. For couples who do not wed in the church, they may choose a civil service in the local town hall or other officially determined location.

The best time to get married in Italy has traditionally been in June, due to the Roman goddess of marriage Giunone (Juno), a strong almost military figure, being the protectress of women and the symbol of fertility, birth and wealth.

On the day of the wedding, grooms would carry something made of iron for good luck. In fact, the Italian version of the ‘touch wood’ to avert superstitious bad luck is ‘tocca ferro’ – touch iron.

The bride’s wedding dress was not to be finished until the day of the wedding, so a final stitch was left to be completed just before the bride entered the church. Greek and Roman brides often wore white as a symbol of purity, however the traditional colour in later times for brides to wear was a rich green. This stems from the Italians considering green the colour of good luck, as opposed to the ‘something blue’ common in other cultures.

During Roman times, brides would be protected from evil spirits by wearing a flame-coloured veil known as a ‘flammeum’. Bridesmaids would enter the church first, also sporting a flammeum, in order to distract and confuse any lurking evil spirits intent on harming the bride. Once wed, the bride’s veil would be ripped, again for good luck.

And if the veil didn’t scare off the evil spirits, then the bouquet of herbs and flowers presented by the groom to the bride should have done the trick!

There were also many traditions and superstitions involved in actually entering the church.

In some areas in Italy, the groom would carry the bride into the church. Their way would be blocked by a tree trunk which they would have to saw in two (a saw was provided, at least) as a symbol of their unity. In other regions, the bride would enter alone, only to have her path obstructed by various items placed in her way by the wedding guests. These could be a crying baby, a beggar or some household item. How she responded reflected on how good a wife and mother she would be.

Once the bride made it to the altar, the groom would stand to her right so as to have his sword-hand at the ready should any unsuccessful suitors try to make a last-ditch claim.

The bride would also carry a little silk purse in which guests could deposit money. Sometimes the best man would cut the groom’s tie into pieces and ‘sell’ them to wedding guests as another means of collecting money for the couple’s future.

There are several other common wedding tradition for which we have the Romans to thank.

There is the ring itself. The circular nature of the ring represented eternity, whilst the wearing of a ring on the third finger of the left hand stemmed from the belief that the vein in this finger connected directly to the heart. Engagement rings were on occasion given as part of the dowry, but would not be worn until after the wedding as it was considered bad luck for unwed women to wear gold.

And then there is the kiss. In ancient Roman times, the kiss was considered a legal bond that sealed the deal. Guests would tap a glass with a spoon until the couple kissed. Nowadays this glass-tapping may take place during the wedding reception instead of at the church.

Confetti was thrown at the newlywed couple as they left the church – but not in the form you may think. “Confetti” is the Italian name for sugared almonds. Whilst thought to have originally come from Rome, the Abruzzo area is now most famous for their quality confetti. They were thrown in bundles of three, five or seven as another symbol of fertility. That wasn’t the only nut-throwing involved in traditional Italian weddings however, as the bride was also to throw nuts at any unsuccessful suitors when the couple were departing from the ceremony!

We even have the Romans to thank for the cake. Well, kind of. In ancient times, bread was also a symbol of fertility. A loaf of bread would be broken over the bride’s head, with the crumbs then being served to the guests. This wedding tradition has become sweeter with the serving of cake instead, still served amongst the guests for good luck.

As to the food served, as with any important celebration in Italy, it is served in abundance. Traditionally, the meal would include at least thirteen courses, with the reception being held in the bride’s family home. Music and dancing would then follow. During the reception, the newlyweds would also break a glass, with the number of shards said to show how many years their marriage would last.

Upon departing the reception, guests would often hand the couple gifts or money. As a token of appreciation, the couple would give the guests a bomboniera. Today, it is common to give parcels of confetti, often inside elaborately decorated boxes, or other traditional crafted items.

Whilst the custom of going on honeymoons did not come about until the 19th century and emerging from Great Britain, Italy soon became a top honeymoon destination. Rome,  Venice and the Tuscany region (with Florence it’s capital city) are arguably the most popular (and romantic) places to visit in Italy on honeymoon.

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Our Artviva Italy wedding specialist experts can take help organize a dream wedding in Italy, from the reception through to fun things for the wedding guests to do during their stay in Italy. Email staff@artviva.com for more details.

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