As the weather gets warmer, you will be getting more wedding invitations than ever, which is the same in France. When you are invited to a wedding in France, and especially if it is your first time attending a French wedding, there are some certain things you should know before attending. Let's see 12 interesting wedding customs in France.
In France, it takes quite a long time to prepare a wedding. It is rare to have have a venue like a 'wedding hall', and in most cases, they need to book a restaurant or hotel and preorder food catering or at the kitchen after counting the numbers of guests in advance.
On the invitation, there are two schedules; one for the wedding ceremony, and the other for the wedding party. You don't need to inform the bride and groom whether you are attending the ceremony or not, but you must RSVP for the wedding party as they need to know how many people to prepare food for.
In some countries, while preparing for the wedding, bride and groom visit the wedding dress shop together to decide which one to choose. However, in France, it's kept as a secret what the bride will wear until the wedding day. Normally, the bride chooses the wedding dress with her mom and never shows herself with wedding dress on to her future husband.
In France, it's common that the couple lives together before getting married, however, they have the tradition to sleep in their own houses separately the night before the wedding. The next day, they will dress up and meet with their loved ones with excitement for the wedding.
In some countries, couples visit a wedding studio together to take pre-wedding photos a few months before the wedding. In France, they take pre-wedding photos on the morning of the wedding day, not in the studio but mostly outdoors.
In France, to get offically married, the couple needs to go to the city hall of where they or their parents live. A few months before they want to get married, they need to visit the city hall with documents and reserve the wedding day. It only takes around 20-30 minutes for the wedding ceremony in city hall. The bride and groom, and witnesses from each side will sign on the documents in front of the guests, and the mayor also signs the paper.
When they offically get married by signing on documents in city hall, they get a family note which is called 'livret de famille' in French, and it is a certificate of marriage. This family note is one of the most important documents for the French administration, and there will be information added on the pages if they have a baby.
After the wedding ceremony in the city hall, they directly go to the wedding party venue or sometimes, there is another wedding ceremony in a church or cathedral. For wedding ceremonies in a church or cathedral, the bride and groom need to visit the priest a few months before to schedule and prepare for the event.
When the newly married bride and groom comes out after the wedding ceremony, they used to have the tradition to throw rice over the bride and groom. However, since rice can injure someone by hitting their eyes or cause someone to slip on it, nowadays, guests throw lavender seeds instead.
In France, for the wedding ceremony, especially for the one in the city hall, each side needs to bring a witness, who will also sign the wedding document.
In France, first the groom and his mother enter together, and followed by the mother of bride, father of groom, and lastly the bride guided by her father.
In France, the guests should avoid wearing a white dress, as it's a symbol of the bride, and avoid a black dress as well as it's often used for funerals.
French guests wear classic or clean suits or dresses rather than fancy or showy clothes. It is not appropriate to wear hats indoors. When there is a break between the ceremony and party, the guests sometimes change their clothes for something more comfortable, and they can wear something more casual the next day for brunch.
In some countries, it's more common to give congratulatory money to the bride and groom, however, in France, gifts are considered more special and common. Normally, the bride and groom make a list of what they need, and guests choose what they will give amongst themselves.
Nowadays, some couples prefer congratulatory money than gift even in France. It's also because many couples live together already before getting married, and they often have everything they need. When they collect money than gift, they will receive it as 'expense for honeymoon' than congratulatory money.
Traditionally, they have the custard cream puff towered cake for the wedding party. They stack up custard cream puffs, and each of the guest can have 3-4 of them each, so the more guests they invite, the bigger and taller custard cream puff towered cake you will see.
After the main course, they put candles in the cake and congratulate the married couple, and then cut pieces and serve them for the guests. Not only the custard cream puff towered cake is used, but they use the normal cakes as well like the above photo.
You will find the small gift like above on the table, prepared for each person. It's called Dragées Mariage, which is a return present from bride and groom. They look like pebbles, but actually, they are coated almonds or chocolates.
Coated almonts used to mean immortality, so they were given during the baptism from the Middle Age. 5 almonds also mean happiness, prosperity, abundance, share, and a welcome for bride and groom.
In France, the bride and groom, and also guests need to go to separate wedding party venues after the wedding ceremony. At one side of the wedding party venue, they project childhood photos of the bride and groom.
In case the wedding ceremony starts in the afternoon, it will be around 6p.m. when you arrive to wedding venue. Finger foods and aperitif will be prepared before starting a meal.
Around 8 p.m. after the light snacks, when everyone sits down at the table, the dinner will start. The bride and groom assign the seats in advance, so you can find your name on the table to be seated. On the table, there is a menu, and the meal is served from appetizer, main menu, cheese, and dessert, accompanied with wines or champagne for each menu option.
Food comes in order slowly, not all at once, and there are some events or games in between each dish served, so it often midnight by the time you finish your meal.
After the meal, the dance party starts! Starting with the bride and bride's father, groom and his mother dance a waltz, and guests also come out to join them. After the waltz, the music will be played constantly so that all guests can enjoy dancing together for hours. It is a fun time to see the kids and adults enjoy dancing togehter.
Because of all of the dancing, the wedding party can go on until 5a.m., or even longer. The day after, everone has brunch together then finally the wedding is finished! If you are attending the wedding in France, get prepared to enjoy a weekend of fun.
Words and Photographs by Yuna Lee