The rich, multi-layered history of Italy ensures that its wedding customs go back to several traditions. They are as much influenced by colorful customs from classical Roman times as much as by its deeply ingrained Catholic history. Finally the rural culture and colorful countryside of Italy adds its own vivid hues to wedding customs and traditions of this country.
A traditional Italian wedding begins with the ‘ambasciata’ or a marriage proposal. In the past, Italian weddings were organized by a family member or a matchmaker who would carry a message or “ambasciata” to the bride-to-be’s family. If the bride’s family found the fiancé’s proposal acceptable, bells would be rung as a signal for wedding preparations to begin.
Selecting the date
Several old customs abound in the matter of selecting a wedding date in Italy. Certain times of the year - Lent, Advent and May - were off limits for religious reasons. Before the days of air- conditioning and refrigeration, August was thought to be an inappropriate month for marriage, possibly because of its heat and humidity. One of the most popular axioms about the wedding date is “Di Venere e di Marte ne’si Sposa ne’si Parte” which is an old saying meaning “On Friday and Tuesdays one does not marry and one does not depart”. This could go back to the times of classical mythology when Tuesday was thought to be the day of the God of war “Mars”, while Friday, according to the Cabala is the day in which the evil spirits had been created. According to yet another saying, “Sposa Bagnata, Sposa Fortunata” which roughly translates into “Wet Bride, Lucky Bride”, if it rains on the wedding day, the couple is believed to be lucky since the rain symbolizes abundance and good luck which will spill over onto the new family.
The family of the bride-to-be gathered a "dote" or dowry of household goods and clothing which she would need in her new household. This can be considered the French equivalent of the wedding “Trousseau. In richer families, the dote was usually augmented with money or property.
The night before wedding
In Italy several interesting customs are related to the night before a wedding. On this occasion the bride would wear a green dress to symbolize fertility and children that the pending marriage was hoped to bring. Again in some parts of Italy a party, known as a Serenade, is thrown outside of the bride’s home by the groom the night before the wedding. His friends and family arrive at the bride’s house and wait outside until she appears. The groom then sings to his bride in love and barely-restrained passion. Once his song is sung, the party is invited by the parents of the bride for a buffet hosted by the parents of the bride.
The wedding day
In Italy like in all Christian cultures, the bride wears a white gown, representing purity and her maidenly status. She also wears a white veil since traditionally it was considered bad luck for the bride and groom to see each other before the wedding ceremony. Also the groom should never see the bride’s dress and the bride should never look at herself in the mirror on her wedding day. Brides caught doing so must have removed a shoe or a glove before attempting this.
The wedding procession
In some parts of Italy like villages of the Veneto region, it is still customary for the groom to walk the bride and the wedding party to the church. Sometimes traditional obstacles are kept in their path in order demonstrate the bride's virtues - such as a broom which the bride picks up to symbolize that she will keep a clean home, or a crying baby whom if she comforts, means she will be a good mother. If she encounters a beggar, she is to give him alms as proof of her generous nature.
In other parts of northern Italy, the groom waits for his bride at the door of the church with her flowers in his hand. Since the bride is the last to arrive, the groom's friends pass the time by joking and suggesting she has changed her mind about the wedding. To deal with such unhappy possibilities or more likely as a precaution against invading tribes of yore, the groom would carry a weapon which is now replaced by a small piece of iron. The church door is often tied with ribbons, representing the couple about to be joined in a marital bond.
As the newlyweds make their way to their flower-festooned car, they are showered with bomboniera. This refers to both paper confetti as well as sugar-coated Jordan almonds tied up in tulle to symbolize the union of bitter and sweet in life. Throwing nuts, grains, money and rice on the newlywed couple is actually a throwback to ancient Roman wedding customs when rice symbolized prosperity and plenty. After the ceremony, a pair of doves may also be released to represent the joy and bond of the new couple.
Yet another post-wedding ceremony is the cutting of the tie. This is a very old custom from northern Italy according to which the groom’s tie which is cut into multiple pieces by the best man. The latter is supposed to sell off the pieces to wedding guests raising money for tips or other costs associated with the wedding extravaganza.
The wedding ceremony is brought to a close with the shattering of plate. Bride and groom traditionally smash a plate together and depending on the number of broken pieces, it is meant to signify the number of years of happy marriage they will enjoy as husband and wife.
However no Italian celebration can be truly over without a hearty feast. But before the feasting begins, the best man raises a toast, "per cent'anni," to the bride and groom, to wish them a hundred years together. As the festivities progress, other popular toasts like "evviva gli sposi," a cheer for the new husband and wife will follow. The meal generally consists of various kinds of appetizers, breads, pastas, soups, meat dishes, salads, fruits and dessert and, above all, the wedding cake.
Jordanian almonds are a particular favorite since they symbolize happiness, health, fertility, long life and prosperity. In Sicilian wedding banquets, the dessert course is often presented as a Venetian Table - a dazzling array of pastries, fruits, coffees, cakes, presented in great quantity with much celebration. This is often called Venetian Hour.
The wedding feast is followed by much music and dancing; the newlyweds not only dance with each other but also with important members of both families. Guests too vie with each other to dance with and kiss the bride and are even expected to give her money as a mark of good luck and blessings.