Spanish Culture and News

How Do Spanish Weddings Work?

Spanish wedding

After a recent bout of the ceremonials in Valladolid, I thought it might be interesting to further explore the archetypal Spanish wedding…

Church or ‘Civil’

Everything starts with the ceremony. If as a guest you are lucky, this will be a civil affair, probably in the local town hall. Presided over by the Mayor (if you have friends in the right places), or a local councillor, the ceremony lasts approximately 2 minutes and 45 seconds, during which the bride (Novia) and groom (Novio – collectively know as the ‘Novios‘) are required to agree to a couple of legal statutes, swap rings, say I do, and get the hell out of there to stop wasting any more municipal time.

If you are less fortunate, you may be subjected to the the rigours of the Spanish church wedding. Of unknown length (bank on an hour) and religious ferocity, the church wedding is usually an unutterably boring experience that involves lots of catholic process completely unknown to your average guirri like me.

In theory you are allowed to skip the church part if you don’t fancy it and go straight to the party afterwards, but in practice you suspect your absence will be noted and feel far too guilty to sit this part out in a nearby bar where many of the more canny Spanish males are hiding out.

Note: to get married in a church in Spain, the Novios are required to go do several pre-training sessions at the church, where they swear their allegiance to the cross and generally become re-religiousified (I claim that word!)

In the ceremony itself they are forced to make all sorts of rash promises about educating their children in the ways of the church and the eyes of god and so on, promises they mostly have no intention of keeping. The fact is that 9 out of 10 couples don’t marry in the church because they are devout believers, but rather because it just looks nicer than the average town hall.

Also note: Getting married in the church is pricey. You pay a hefty fee, and are forced to use the churches florist and photographers, both of whom kick back to the guy at the altar.

After the service

What happens next is subject to a strict, practically unbreakable, formula. Everyone races off to a local restaurant/golf club/country house – anywhere that is set up to screw money from newly-weds in the mighty Spanish wedding business.

First up is the “cocktail”, where everyone mills about on the lawn outside or in some sort of reception area, being fed exquisite tapas (foie gras, jamon iberico, gambas rebozadas, tempura de verdura, that sort of thing), and the first round of booze.

Spanish wedding meal

Just as you feel you can’t eat another thing, it’s off to the tables for dinner, which usually involves a couple of seafood dishes, followed by meat and, finally, an almost inedibly sweet cakey desert of some description.

Throughout the meal white wine is followed by red, and Cava is served with the cake for everyone to toast the happy couple with at the end of the meal. Finally comes the coffee (dancing energy) and, as if anyone actually needed it by now, the liqueurs (pacharan, liquor de hierbas…)

Note: there are no speeches at Spanish weddings. However, it is customary for the drunker and younger members of the crowd to constantly heckle the increasingly annoyed happy couple throughout the meal, with shouts of ‘Viva la novia‘ (long live the bride) and, the one that really embarrasses them, ‘Que se besen’ (kiss each other!), which once shouted out is taken up and chanted by the entire room until the couple oblige.

This is considered slightly tacky behaviour in polite circles, especially when, during the resulting kiss, the drunkest table continues to chant ‘con lengua, con lengua’ (with tounges!)

Bara Libre and Baile!

Now for the fun bit! The Novios open the dance up with a traditional waltz that more often or not they haven’t bothered to learn properly in advance, but isn’t that hard after you’ve seen it at 100 other weddings and you’ve been on the vino all night in preparation for this moment.

While they sway around the dance floor, everyone except the oldies is completely ignoring them, hell bent instead on getting their first free copa of rum and coke or gin and tonic (top 2 drinks) from the free bar.

With the waltz out the way, a hard night of boozing, bad dancing and worse music, now ensues, with Spanish fiesta classics and international megamixes from the 80’s keeping everyone happy until at least 6 am (see also Spain’s coolest DJ).

And everyone is indeed extremely happy, something that may not only be down to the fact that they are drunk, and their friends/relatives have tied the knot, but also, on a deep psychological level, because they have paid to be here in the first place….

Money or Gifts, and the Corte Ingles Wedding List

Going to a Spanish wedding is a pricey affair. Apart from all the usual travel etc costs, you are expected to give a very decent gift, and 90% of the time that gift should be money. If you know the couple well (hay confianza), you get a bank account number long before the wedding (on rare occasions it arrives with the invite!) and you simply hand the money over the wires before the big day.

Alternatively you can slip them an envelope after the meal, hoping they aren’t drunk enough to mislay it. The big idea is that you are helping them to pay for the wedding, which seems entirely fair enough considering how much these things cost these days.

What’s the going rate? How much should you hand over? As a mid-thirties couple we usually stump up 250 Euros. As one heads off into middle age this number tends to increase, and I have a feeling those of Marina’s parents age may well hand over double this at the wedding of a close relative.

Some couples will set up a wedding list, more often or not at the Corte Ingles department store. You go in, choose a gift from their list (carefully created by the Novios to include objects in a wide range of prices) and pay for it.

What many people don’t know is that this money goes into a special Corte Ingles bank account that the Novios can then spend on whatever they like in the store. They may never end up with what you actually spent hours deciding to buy them.

Your Thoughts….

So there we have it, your typical Spanish wedding. What have I missed out? Please add your thoughts in the comments below!