Sunday, October 31, 2010

An Italian Wedding

Ornamental crossI've always been interested in world religions but am generally more versed in the doctrines than the rituals, which is why I almost wasn't going to participate in this edition of the COG.  But I figured this would be a good opportunity to learn more about the rituals that were so important to my ancestors.  I was especially interested in learning more about my grandmother's family and the religious rituals they might have partaken in.

My grandmother was a first generation American, the daughter of Italian immigrants who settled in Warren, Trumbull, Ohio in the 1920s.  Like most Italians, they were Catholic and attended the local church (St. Mary's).  But my grandmother left the church as an adult as did her mother after my grandmother's father died.  Therefore none of the Catholic traditions my grandmother knew were passed down and I know very little about them.


I was particularly interested in the religious rituals of the family in Italy.  Since my great-grandparents marriage was the most recent religious ritual in the family that took place in Italy, it is the concentration of this post.  Information on a Catholic Wedding Mass (aka the Sacrament of Marriage) can be found everywhere online and seems to be the same or similar in most countries so this post will focus on only the cultural elements of marriage found in Italy.  What I learned:


It wasn't uncommon for a marriage to be arranged and a bride always brought a dowry (including a hope chest) with her to the marriage.  The dowry and hope chest would contain things (like dishes, clothes and other household items) the couple would need once they started their life together.


The marriage would be held in a church in the hometown of the bride.  No marriages were allowed during Lent and Advent and May and August were deemed inauspicious months in which to marry.  Most weddings were held on Sundays as it was considered the luckiest day of the week (though widows and widowers would usually marry on Saturdays).   A bride usually worn green (fertility) or white (purity) and in some places, even black and grooms would carry a piece of iron for luck.  Brides would usually carry a fan, even in cold months.  It was also considered lucky to tear the bride's veil and break a glass or vase after the ceremony.  Each piece of broken glass was thought to represent a happy year in the new couple's marriage.  


Other married women would accompany the bride and act as bridesmaids and unmarried women were not allowed to witness the marriage.  The new bride's mother-in-law would stay at her son's home in order to greet the new bride with a kiss of welcome. 
Confetti, nuts and grains were thrown at the end of the ceremony and small bags of mesh with candied almonds were often thrown.  This was to bring luck to the couple and the small bags of almonds were meant to represent the bitter-sweetness of life.  


The reception would consist of a large meal (between seven and eleven courses) though cake wasn't always served.  Instead candied almonds might be eaten, again to represent the union of bitter and sweetness.  After eating and drinking, the dancing would commence.  The "tarantella" is the traditional wedding dance throughout Italy.  I've found many versions and anyone who has seen The Godfather knows it.  The most common (and well known) version seems to be the Neapolitan one:



But since my family is Pugliese, that is the version I prefer:





I had a hard time finding any videos of anyone actually DANCING it but this seems to be the closest I could get:



The tarantella is a common dance in Italy, but when at a wedding it consists of the couple dancing together and the other guests dancing around them.


At the end of the reception everyone would say "Evviva gli sposi!" (Hurray for the newlyweds!) and in Southern Italy, envelopes of money would be given to the new couple. 


It should be noted that every region in Italy is very different from the other so some of the traditions mentioned above might not apply to everywhere in Italy.  I was especially hoping to find information on Pugliese wedding traditions but had no luck.


In researching this topic, I came across many excellent articles.  If you would like copies of my sources, contact me.  One source I used was the book Marriage Customs in Many Lands by Henry Neville Hutchison, which covers WAY more than just Italian marriage customs.  I don't know how up to date or accurate it is (it was published in 1897) but I encourage you to check it out.  It can be read here.


NOTE: October is also Italian Heritage Month.  I almost let it go by without notice, shame on me!  Consider this post my contribution.

4 comments:

  1. I've been to a lot of Italian weddings and some of these tradition survive even today near Boston. Especially the candied almonds, and the envelopes of money- except usually the money is pinned directly to the bride's veil during the dancing.

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  2. I'd never heard of tearing the veil for good luck but your post reminded me of a Belgian wedding I attended many years ago. There the bride tore pieces of her veil off and gave them to guests as she visited with them during the reception. I'd never seen anything like it before or since, but I wonder if it relates to your point.

    Great post!

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  3. Very interesting. I always wondered why the Italian deli/bakery I go to always has candied almonds. They don't carry other candies or nuts just what we, in this part of the country at least, call Jordan almonds.

    Thanks for the interesting post.

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  4. Very interesting post indeed. I just wonder: "unmarried women were not allowed to witness the marriage", have you found a reason for this? I find it quite curious.

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