Mexican wedding traditions: Clothing, flowers, food and decorations
Traditions and customs of Mexican wedding ceremonies and receptions incorporate religious practices with family-oriented cultural mores intended to strengthen the marital bond.
There is very little that is low key abut a Mexican wedding. With traditions that date back to the time of the Aztecs, it is an occasion that artfully blends religious fidelity and secular festivity in launching the new couple on their wedded journey.
Nearly half of America’s Mexican population identify themselves as being Roman Catholic. Accordingly, Mexican wedding ceremonies traditionally incorporate a full mass and are, thus longer in duration than those of other faiths. Within this context are spiritual elements that have been taken from Native American cultures, early Spain, and the ancient Jews.
The adage that a marriage is bigger than the two people involved holds particularly true in the Mexican community. As recently as 300 years ago, both sets of parents—as well as grandparents—needed to give unanimous approval of the union before anything could proceed. Given the fact that matrimony often revolved around the acquisition and merging of real estate, engagements tended to be a year or more in order to lock down all of the formal details.
During this extended period of betrothal, the young man was not only responsible for giving his intended a promise ring (a Celtic custom) to advertise that she was unavailable on the marriage market but also bestowing a succession of gifts and food on her family to compensate for their loss of a daughter. This latter custom actually has its roots in the Aztec civilization whereby a groom took on the tribal mantle of providing for the welfare and protection of all of his in-laws. Taxing as this could potentially be on his own strength and resources, his best hope was to produce at least one daughter who would marry a man who could reciprocate the favor.
Although modern Mexican grooms are probably relieved that this particular practice fell by the wayside, family participation in one’s wedding plans is still a significant component of a successful and long-lasting union. It begins with the appointment of sponsors to assist with the financial considerations of the wedding and to act as spiritual mentors after the couple start their married life. Being chosen to be the padrino and madrina is a high honor and equivalent to that of godparents. Interestingly, it is the padrino—and not the bride’s father—who ultimately walks the young bride down the aisle on her wedding day.
Because they are sharing a sizable cost of the event, the sponsors also have a major say in the number of attendants and the kind of cake, flowers, music, etc. Since such details are, further, a reflection of their own status and success, none of the production aspects are left to chance.
Mexican weddings utilize a large number of attendants, each assigned to a special role in the ceremony and symbolizing connection to the Catholic faith. The ring bearer and flower girl, for instance, are dressed exactly like the groom and bride and reflect the youthful innocence of the impending union. One of the attendants will carry a lasso of rosary beads, which will be entwined around the couple as they recite their vows. Two others will respectively carry flowers as an offering to the Virgin Mary and goblets of sacramental wine for the toast. Yet another will carry a box or tray containing 13 coins.
The coins—representing Jesus and his apostles—are a religious tradition that began in Spain and are given to the bride by her groom as a symbol that he is prepared to trust her with all of his worldly possessions. She, likewise, acknowledges that she accepts this responsibility and will keep his possessions safe. The coins and the wedding lasso, both blessed by the priest, are given to the couple as part of their wedding keepsake, along with prayer books, rosaries, and the embroidered pillow upon which they knelt to exchange their vows.
In earlier times, by the way, the vows were actually exchanged outside the chapel door. It wasn’t until they were united in the state of holy matrimony that the man and woman could walk into the church together for the full mass.
There is no shortage of color or flamboyance in either the wedding attire or the decorations. Lace mantillas, ruffled Flamenco dresses, matador-style pants and bolero jackets hearken back to a time when the only occasion that common people could dress up in their most colorful finery was on their wedding day. Bold, primary colors as opposed to muted pastels are a popular choice, a theme that is carried over to the table centerpieces, the flowers, and the paper maché piñatas that literally burst open with candy when struck.
Nor is the music subtle. While organs and harps are still the number one choice for the bride’s march, both the recessional and the reception will be lively with the strains of mariachi tunes by costumed musicians. Accordions, horns, drums, and flamenco guitars are just a prelude to the festive noisemaking, the original intent of which was to drive off any neighborhood spirits who might be inclined to harm the new couple. Their first dance together is at the center of a heart-shaped ring in which all of the invited guests hold hands, ensuring that nothing evil will ever penetrate the bond of love they have just forged. Subsequent dances may or may not involve the pinning of paper money to the bride and groom’s wedding clothing.
In concert with the saucy music is the spicy food and drink. Mexican receptions are neither the time nor the place to start a diet! Regional dishes that showcase fiery salsas also incorporate beans, rice, cornmeal tortillas and either Mexican beer or a fruit and wine concoction known as Sangria. The traditional wedding cake contains fruit and rum as its signature ingredients, though many modern couples are now opting for one made with Mexican chocolate and decorates with flowers.
Finally, as they prepare to embark on their honeymoon, the newlyweds have brightly colored red beads—instead of rice—thrown at them for everlasting luck and happiness.