Have you ever been to an Italian wedding?
I don’t mean a U.S. wedding with an Italian theme or a destination wedding in Italy filled with foreigners, but a real, authentic Italian wedding in Italy?
If you have, you know what fun they can be. But to be totally honest, they can also be a little stressful.
The culture and customs being different from what you are used to can cause some anxiety over how to be a good guest on someone’s most important day.
In my time in Italy, I’ve had the privilege of attending weddings in the north and the south, for both family and friends, and I’ve come up with a few differences worth noting as well as some advice on how to fit in.
1.) The weddings are interactive.
If the ceremony is in a church, it will be interactive.
Italians don’t sit idly through a two-hour wedding and mass without uttering a word.
They stand up, they sit down, they repeat prayers and answer others, they greet those around them with a smile and a “pace” (peace) and it is expected that everyone knows the right time to cross oneself.
It can be a lot to take in for non-Catholics or just non-native Italian speakers since the ceremonies are conducted in Italian.
If you’re not sure what to do, sitting quietly will be fine, but, if you get a libretto (booklet), I recommend trying to follow along.
Personally, my favorite parts about church weddings are at the end when the congregation asks various saints to pray for them.
It goes something like this for about 10-15 minutes:
Priest: Santa Caterina.
Congregation: Prega per noi.
Priest: Santa Felicita e Santa Beatrice.
Congregation: Pregate per noi…
and on and on….and on and on.
It’s amazing how many saints are mentioned on someone’s wedding day!
2.) Food is integral.
I have never seen, nor eaten, as much food as at my cousin’s wedding in Southern Italy.
I am not kidding when I say we ate from 1pm to 10pm. Even in the north, a large display of food is the norm, so come hungry.
3.) Fish is everywhere.
Especially in the south, having a fish course or many fish courses is a sign of wealth.
Don’t be surprised if every dish has fish somehow integrated into it (those with allergies beware!).
At my friend’s wedding in September, for example, we ate crab, lobster, turbot, salmon and shrimp just during the sit-down portion of the meal.
At the cocktail hour there was another spread of seafood that included raw fish, fried fish and squid salad.
4.) Expect some throw-back songs on the dance floor.
Italians love a good old school jam from the USA. I’ve heard everything from the YMCA to Gloria Gainor to Ghostbusters.
If it’s a song you can sing loudly and dance to, it probably will be played.
5.) Traditional weddings include photos with the bride and groom and every single guest.
Normally, the bride and groom wait in a specific room and one by one (or in couples) the guests will go to take their photo with them.
Everyone must be in a photo, including babies and children.
Also, no matter how you know the couple, the women stand next to the groom and the men stand next to the bride.
Don’t make the mistake I did by trying to stand next to my cousin (the bride) – the photographer nearly dropped his camera in shock.
6.) You can wear black.
It used to be that wearing black to a wedding was bad luck (and I’ve heard stories involving elderly nonni spitting on the black clad guests!).
However, at both of the most recent weddings I attended, I noticed many guests in black and no one was bothered by it.
It seems this old tradition has mostly gone away, but if you want to be safe, avoid black (or white) and stick to seasonal colors — darker in the winter and lighter in the spring or summer.
7.) Wedding favors almost always include confetti or candy coated almonds.
Even if these aren’t provided in little satchels (bomboniere) at your seat, they are almost always provided in a bowl on the table or at the exit.
White is the traditional color, but now you can find them in the wedding colors as well.
Often times they are given out in fives to represent happiness, fertility, longevity, health and wealth for the sposi (bride and groom).
8.) The traditional Italian wedding cake is called a millefoglie cake.
This is a type of thin cake made with many flaky, crunchy, pastry layers and lots of delicious cream, berries or chocolate in between.
Lately, however, the American style cake is becoming popular in Italy and people are opting for those cakes instead.
Sometimes they will provide both so that both the traditional guests and more modern guests are happy.
9.) Gifts are given – but usually they’re monetary.
A bridal registry is still a new thing in Italy and not very popular, so money in an envelope with a nice card is still considered the gift of choice.
Oftentimes the bride and groom (sometimes with their parents on either side of them) will receive guests in a line and as they approach, guests are expected to give over the “donations” and lavish the couple with auguri or well wishes.
10.) The luna di miele, or honeymoon, comes after the wedding.
And by after, I mean long after.
For example, if a couple is married in the summer, they may wait until the winter to escape to somewhere warm.
As long as the honeymoon happens in the first year of marriage it is totally normal to wait awhile before heading out on vacation.
What about you? Have you ever attended a wedding in Italy? Was it hard to blend in?