Weddings in Spain

In the spirit of this being the most popular season to tie the knot (in the northern hemisphere, at least), I wanted to share with you some of the most unique features of weddings in Spain... from a Brit's point of view, at least.

Having lived in Spain for approaching 10 years and having attended my fair share of summer weddings, as well as getting married on the south coast, I will talk about the 5 things I found somewhat perplexing at first.

I hope this will be of interest to readers who are either well-established in Spain, with family and friends who are due to get married soon, or those who are due to attend a wedding in Spain over the coming months… or anyone who’s interested in learning a bit about Spanish culture, for that matter!

So, let’s start with the immediately obvious…

1. The whole town, not just the nearest and dearest

The size of a typical wedding in Spain is around 150-200 guests, although this obviously varies depending on the size of the bride’s and groom’s families, how active they are in the local community and how-invitation-happy the couple get in the run-up to the wedding.

Big, right? Well, yes, but bear in mind that this is considered a reasonably modest number and some weddings involve everyone either the bride or groom – or both – have ever come into contact with (I have heard of up to three or four hundred attendees at a couples’ big day!).

And sometimes this is literally the case. For many families – especially in small, tight-knit villages or “pueblos” and less so in big cities – it is considered good form to invite neighbours (or even your relative’s neighbours), which swells the invitation pool exponentially.

Another reason for having every man and his dog at your wedding in Spain is the following…

2. Give a ton, not a toaster

What I mean to say here is that, as a guest, you are expected to give cash as a wedding present. Hence, the more people you invite, the more money you inevitably make back to cover some of the costs.

I know what you’re thinking, and I completely agree. This does seem, to a non-Spaniard at least, a bit… cold. Devoid of feeling. Apathetic, even.

But there is some justification. Spanish wedding etiquette dictates that giving cash essentially covers the cost of the food at the wedding, which can cost anywhere between 80 and 150 euros per head. So, if you have a particularly posh “menú de boda”, be prepared to give a little bit more than if the catering is mediocre.

Still not convinced? Well, there is good news: guests actually receive a wedding gift from the couple! Cigars for male guests and fans for women are examples of common presents handed out after the meal as a token of a couple’s appreciation for you turning up, while some gifts are way more elaborate.

At this point I will point out that I got one of those annoying finger spinner toys at the last wedding I went to, so I didn’t exactly score a home run, but it’s the thought that counts. And the alcohol.

Blimey, the alcohol. Yes, another sweetener is that there is almost always a free bar at weddings in Spain. And we’re not talking an arbitrary 100 euros your uncle puts behind the bar as your wedding present (which he subsequently drinks away single-handedly and has to be bundled into a taxi way before the first DJ set starts): free drinks all night for everyone in attendance.

3. Bed at 10am, not 10pm

It would be no exaggeration to say that weddings in Spain finish when the sun comes up the following day. If you are used to a midday or 2pm ceremony and sitting down to eat at 3:30pm, let’s say, you’re in for a bit of a shock.

It is not unusual for church ceremonies to start at 6pm or 7pm, meaning everything gets pushed back a few hours compared to elsewhere in Europe.

For the uninitiated, starting the celebration so late may seem like madness, but I challenge you to stand outside in a three-piece-suit in July or August in the heat of the Spanish sun!

Besides not sweating quite so much and being more culturally acceptable, starting in the evening provides a great opportunity to finish the ceremony when it’s a bit cooler and then slip seamlessly into the canapes and sit-down meal etc., just as the sun is going down and making for some of the most stunning sunset wedding photos. How romantic.

4. Ring on the right hand, not left

Another thing I didn’t know before coming to Spain was that here your wedding ring is worn on your right hand and not your left.

Forgive my ignorance if this is common knowledge, but Spanish women wear their engagement ring on the ring finger of their left hand, while both the bride’s and groom’s wedding bands are worn on their right ring finger.

It’s something I’ve often been pulled up on in Spain (I wear mine on the "English side"), but not something I feel one should have to change. Just FYI, so to speak.

5. Rice, not confetti

Throwing rice as the newly-weds leave the church is the Spanish version of throwing confetti. Originally hailing from the Far East, the tradition of showering the married couple in rice is to endow prosperity and fertility.

Nowadays, however, the practice is not so common and rose petals are used instead. I would imagine this is simply because rice doesn’t look as good in photos, but part of me suspects a vermin-related problem or pigeons ruining photos by swooping down to eat the rice might be at the crux of it.

Of course, there are many more differences you should be prepared for, (cutting the wedding cake with a sword, for example!), so my best advice is to just into it with a very open mind. What I would say, though, is have a siesta beforehand, as your in for a very long and heavy day and night.

Have you ever been to a wedding in Spain? Did you find it very different from weddings in your own country? Let me know in the comments below, too, if you’re going to any nuptials this summer!