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Spanish Weddings

Find out about traditional Spanish weddings, customs, food, and gifts.
Weddings are big affairs in Spain, and you're likely to find the whole extended family and the entire village turn out to celebrate. Expect at least 200 guests at traditional bodas. Some of the customs are similar, such as throwing rice, but others are less familiar. In line with most social events in Spain, most Spanish weddings start late (often the ceremony won't start until 7 p.m.) and finish very, very late (or early, depending on how you look at it).

The use of the mantilla (a form of headdress) as an everyday accessory goes back to the 17th century, but the custom has been lost and the mantilla is now sometimes worn by older generations as part of a costume or in religious ceremonies. However, the mantilla is making a comeback in modern times as part of a young bride's wedding attire: brides who want a traditional wedding are opting to wear the traditional lace mantilla instead of a velo nupcial (wedding veil).

The mantilla is exceptionally long and can trail several feet behind her traje de novia (wedding gown). A traditional wedding custom in Spain used to consist of the groom presenting the bride with 13 coins known as arras (unity coins), which represent his commitment to support her. However, times have now changed and today's brides and grooms exchange the coins as a symbol of the wealth and finances they will equally share. In Spain, the alianza (wedding ring) is worn on the ring finger of the right hand.

Spanish weddings do not include bridesmaids or groomsmen. The couple stands together at the altar with no one else in attendance. There is no Best Man or Maid of Honor. Also, the groom's mother accompanies him down the aisle. Bridesmaids are not a traditional part of Spanish weddings, but with Hollywood's influence, they are becoming so. At the reception, the head table is traditionally set for six: the bride, the groom, and their parents. Another difference from other Western weddings is that there are also no speeches. Spanish weddings can be quite noisy with plenty of loud firecrackers going off once the happy couple emerges from the church.

Rice is still traditionally used, along with flower petals. During the banquete de bodas or convite (wedding feast/reception), the bride and groom circulate from table to table carrying a basket with small detalles (wedding favors) that they personally hand out to each guest. The men will be offered a cigar or a mini-bottle of wine and the women a little present — usually something that looks and smells nice. This may be the time in which guests also give the preferred wedding gift: money… in sobres (envelopes). Some couples also send out the number of a bank account along with the invitation. The custom of cutting the groom's tie into pieces and then auctioning them off for good luck is still actively practiced today by the groom's closest friends.

Days after the wedding, the newlyweds present their Acta de Matrimonio (Marriage certificate — for a civil wedding) or their Libro de Matrimonio (marriage book - for a religious church wedding) in order to receive their Libro de Familia, where their children's birth will be recorded, hence the name "Family Book."