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By David B C

British customs

A wedding carriage in Bristol, EnglandThe Western custom of a bride wearing a white wedding dress came to symbolize purity, not virginity, in the Victorian era. Within the “white wedding” tradition, a white dress and veil is not considered appropriate in the second or subsequent wedding of a widow or divorcee. The specific conventions of Western weddings, largely from a Protestant and Catholic viewpoint, are discussed at “white wedding”.

A wedding is often followed or accompanied by a wedding reception, which in some areas may be known as the ‘Wedding Breakfast’, at which an elaborate wedding cake is served. Western traditions include toasting the couple, the newlyweds having the first dance, and cutting the cake. A bride may throw her bouquet to the assembled group of all unmarried women in attendance, with folklore suggesting the person who catches it will be the next to wed. A fairly recent equivalent has the groom throwing the bride’s garter to the assembled unmarried men; the man who catches it is supposedly the next to wed.

The Wedding Breakfast is one occasion where every member of the family who has had at least some role in the wedding is present. It is also important as the first time the newly married bride and groom share their first meal together as a lawfully wedded couple. The word Breakfast comes from a more ancient tradition of fasting before the wedding ceremony, the Wedding Breakfast is therefore ‘breaking that fast’. The modern Wedding Breakfast includes the service of food to guests that can range from traditional roasts, buffets, or regional treats such as in the case of a London Wedding in the ‘East End’.

Another Victorian tradition is for brides to wear or carry “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” during the service. It is considered good luck to do so. Often the bride attempts to have one item that meets all of these qualifications, such as a borrowed blue handkerchief which is “new to her” but loaned by her grandmother (thus making it old). Another addition to this custom is to wear a coin in one’s shoe to bring prosperity.

The full text of the verse is:

Something old, something new,

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Something borrowed, something blue,

And silver sixpence in your shoe.

French customs

In France, only civil weddings are legally recognized (due to the concept of lacit), they are performed in the town hall by the mayor (or another civil servant acting on his/her behalf). At least one of the spouses must reside in the town where the ceremony takes place. Since many people choose to also have a religious wedding, the religious ceremony often takes place immediately after the civil one. Town halls often offer a more elaborate ceremony for couples who do not wish to marry religiously.

If the two ceremonies take place separately, the civil one will usually include close family and witnesses. Once the civil ceremony is complete, the couple will receive a livret de famille, a booklet where a copy of the marriage certificate is recorded. This is an official document and, should the couple have children, each child’s birth certificate will be recorded in the livret de famille too. The civil ceremony in France is free of charge.

In smaller French towns, the groom may meet his fiance at her home on the day of the wedding and escort her to the chapel where the ceremony is being held. As the couple proceeds to the chapel, children will stretch long white ribbons across the road which the bride will cut as she passes.

At the chapel, the bride and groom are seated on two red velvet chairs underneath a silk canopy called a carre. Laurel leaves may be scattered across their paths when they exit the chapel. Sometimes small coins are also tossed for the children to gather.

A traditional French wedding celebration at Chteau de HattonchtelAt the reception, the couple customarily uses a toasting cup called a Coupe de Mariage. The origin of giving this toast began in France, when a small piece of toast was literally dropped into the couple’s wine to ensure a healthy life. The couple would lift their glass to “a toast”, as is common in Western culture today.

In south west France it is customary to serve spit roast wild boar (or sanglier in French) as the wedding breakfast, a local delicacy.

Some couples choose to serve a croquembouche instead of a wedding cake. This dessert is a pyramid of crme-filled pastry puffs, drizzled with a caramel glaze.

At a more boisterous wedding, tradition involves continuing the celebration until very late at night. After the reception, those invited to the wedding will gather outside the newlyweds’ window and bang pots and pans; this is called a shivaree. They are then invited into the house for some more drinks in the couple’s honor, after which the couple is finally allowed to be alone for their first night together as husband and wife. This practice spread throughout France as a way to celebrate special occasions. Decorative replicas of these special sabres can be purchased from artisans in Lyon, (the French capital of cutlery).

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