A Cross-Cultural Guide to European Wedding Traditions
There is a great range of wedding traditions across cultures in Europe with some unique customs. Here are some European wedding traditions that you can use to celebrate your wedding day, particularly if you are of that countries heritage.
You can use them to add a special flavour to your wedding or even incorporate them into your ceremony at a destination wedding. These European customs are noticeable different to the English ones we are used to.
European Wedding Traditions
Some traditions cover more than one country. These include:
Cutting the cake with a sword
The tradition of cutting a cake with a sword at the wedding reception is common in many countries across the world, including Germany, France, Italy, Russia, Portugal, Japan, and Sweden. While of course here in the United Kingdom, we replace this with a specially designed cake knife.
Bridal Couple Procession
This wedding procession is common across Europe, especially in small towns, where the bride and groom lead a procession of family and friends through the town, often with music and dancing.
Greece is a historical country with a rich culture and vibrant customs. Greek wedding traditions have evolved over the centuries and have been influenced by the country’s unique history and culture.
One of the most important Greek wedding traditions is the “Krevati”. This is a ritual performed the night before the wedding, where the bride and groom exchange blessings and gifts. The ritual also involves bedding the couple in the “krevati”, a bed of flowers and herbs, symbolizing their love and fertility.
This is a best man-like figure who stands with the couple at the ceremony and helps them exchange their vows. The Koumbaros is usually a close relative of the bride or groom, and is tasked with providing moral support and guidance throughout the ceremony, and exchanges the stefana crowns.
Wedding Crowns (stefana)
Crowns worn by the bride and groom on their wedding day signify a tradition where rulers were crowned and symbolize wisdom, justice, and integrity. In addition to these symbols of authority, they also represent Aphrodite-Goddess of love. Crowns from historical Greek weddings are typically made out of olive branches or vines.
The a reception held after the wedding ceremony where the bride and groom are showered with confetti.
The high spirits and fun involved in smashing plates on your wedding day have been linked to the idea of Kefi, a wellness concept that outlines good luck and happiness. It’s become iconic in mainstream media as well- it is a cultural staple among Greek traditions. If you want to incorporate some form of cultural wellness into your marriage, try this out for size! Make sure you put some Greek music alongside the act.
Greek Wedding Dances
Dancing at a Greek wedding is not only for the bride and groom, but it’s great fun for all guests to participate. The Tsamiko dance is popular with everyone because it’s a traditional folk dance that can be done by anyone who wants to get involved! For this style of dancing, you’ll need some beautiful Greek music playing in the background.
Aside from Paris, the most romantic city in the world™, France also holds a list of wholesome French wedding traditions that have symbolical meaning. Such traditions take your wedding day to an elevated level of romance and uniqueness.
Jumping of the Broom
The broom is a symbol of sweeping away the old and welcoming in the new. Couples may jump over the broom at the end of the ceremony to signify the start of their new life together.
Two Family Union
In French weddings, traditions focus on the civility and harmony of two families- the bride and grooms. There is also less emphasis put on gender in these weddings, with brides being able to offer another type of gift or jewellery when they get one from their groom.
The tradition of following the bride and groom is called La noce in French, which translates to ‘the wedding.’ The idea behind this ceremony is for guests to follow the newlyweds to different locations on their wedding day while making as much noise as possible as a form of celebration.
A wedding croquembouche is an alternative wedding cake that is a traditional French dessert, consisting of high conical towers made from choux cream filled with pastries. It’s optional to top it with chocolate sauce and caramel, or cover it in strings of sweets like caramel and almonds for decoration.
Many people choose to have their weddings in Italy because of the luxurious atmosphere that the country has to offer, as well as its striking architecture and visual appeal. Aside from this, Italian wedding traditions are very different by providing a cultural distinction with an additional layer of interest and sophistication.
White Dresses Not Allowed
The non-white dress tradition is mainly for the guests and has been around for many years. You would need to consider this tradition if they want your wedding filled with colours.
Throwing of the Rice
In ancient Roman times, rice throwing was a tradition that symbolized fertility for the newly married couple. This has long continued until today and At the end of the night, the bride and groom are showered with rice, a symbol of fertility, good luck, and prosperity.
La Tarantella is an Italian folk dance that comes from Italy and is commonly performed at their weddings. It’s similar to the bunny hop where people form a line, but it’s played in circles instead around the couple – and you are required to go and spin faster around the couple as the song tempo goes up.
Spanish weddings are traditionally Catholic. This means that couples usually opt to get married in a church rather than an outdoor or distinctive type of wedding plan. Spanish weddings also tend to be livelier than their traditional weddings.
La Novia de la Medias
My favourite of the Spanish wedding traditions. The bride wears a pair of medium-length white wedding stockings, usually embroidered with the groom’s initials.
The bride and groom exchange crowns during the wedding ceremony. This symbolizes their union and that they will be each other’s kings and queens.
A set of 13 gold coins are blessed by the priest and given to the groom by the bride’s father. The coins represent the groom’s commitment to provide for the bride.
A traditional Spanish waltz is danced by the bride and groom.
El Beso de las Campanas
After the ceremony, the bride and groom kiss beneath a set of bells, which is meant to bring them luck.
Family and friends bid farewell to the couple with confetti, rice, and flower petals.
Orange blossoms are common in Spain and a beautiful tradition of Spanish weddings. For many Spaniards, the orange blossom is a representation of contentment; it speaks to achieving hope for the future for the husband and wife.
Spanish weddings are much less likely to have white dresses in them than black wedding dresses, at Catholic weddings. And this is because the colour black symbolizes loyalty and commitment – it’s usually part of a traditional wedding phrase “until death do us part”. Currently, the bride may wear either black or white depending on preference.
The Seguidillas Manchegas is a traditional dance that originates in Hispanic cultures. This dance has also been called the money dance, which symbolizes good fortune for eternity for the wedded couple.
Germany has some special traditions and customs that are unique to the country. These German wedding traditions are mainly brought in from many years ago and include.
Abducting The Bride (Brautentführung)
This German wedding tradition is a widespread one. In this specific case, the groom’s best man would be tasked with abducting her in order for them to have a pub crawl. The bride would then need to leave small clues for the groom on where they could be found. On finding them, he’d pay the bill to release her.
Bridal Veil Dance (Schleiertanz)
The German legend says that whoever tears the biggest piece of fabric from a veil will be married next. Female guests and bridesmaids do this by holding it over the bride and groom and tearing at it until someone has torn off more than anyone else.
This is the traditional bouquet that the bride carries down the aisle. It is usually made of fragrant flowers and herbs, such as roses, lavender, and thyme.
This is a traditional German wedding game, often played during the reception. The game involves the bride and groom in a series of humorous tasks to test their love and commitment.
The traditional German wedding pre-party, usually celebrated the night before the wedding and is a chance for family and friends to get together and have some fun.
This includes old tradition of smashing porcelain and stoneware to get rid of evil spirits is still practised in some parts of Germany.
Some people also burn the groom’s trousers or bride’s bra, symbolizing the end of bachelorhood and a new beginning as a married couple.
Swedish weddings are often quite traditional and follow many of the same customs as other Nordic countries.
Bride & Groom Share Kisses
In Sweden, the bride and groom kiss everyone at their wedding, not just each other. This Swedish wedding tradition is normal; it simply shares the special day with wedding guests on a more physical level so don’t be too shocked when you see a queue of men lining up for the Bride.
If you have friends that like to chat, here’s a Swedish tradition for you. Weddings in Sweden take a longer period of time due to the number of speeches given by the bridal party. The custom is that there should be over ten speeches delivered by the wedding party. If your friends want to tell embarrassing stories about each other, try and see if only one or two of your friends will give a speech!
Bride & Groom Walk Down The Aisle Together
This cultural addition to the wedding ceremony is a break from tradition and sees the bride and groom walk side-by-side down the aisle rather than with their fathers. It symbolizes the journey that the couple will have in marriage.
Belgium is famous for its fascinating culture, with two linguistic groups (Dutch and French) along with some German speakers. The many wedding traditions from Belgium come from its famous cultural history and influence from their neighbours.
In this tradition, the bride walks into her wedding ceremony with two flowers- one for her mother and one for her spouse’s mother after the vows. After she gives a flower to both of them during the vows it symbolizes that the bride welcomes her acceptance into her new family.
Wedding Seating Plans
A Belgian wedding seating plan may just be for you if you enjoy organization and planning. The order of the guests goes as followed: those who are most important will always be seated at the head of the table, with other guests to their left and right.
One fun and long-term tradition for families with mostly female members is to embroider their handkerchiefs and hang them on the wall of their home. The next girl in the family who gets married will then inherit that same handkerchief, which her name will be embroidered onto- passing it down through generations!
Icelandic weddings share many similarities to American and British wedding traditions. There are some of the unique features of Icelandic weddings that set them apart from other weddings in the world.
Kransekake is a layered and crumbly pastry where wrapped candy pieces can be put in the pastry. This is a traditional food that typically would only be served at weddings, christenings, confirmations but it has an Icelandic twist to make your wedding day even more special.
Ganga í eina sæng
This is the traditional way for a couple to be blessed in the bridal bed together by the pastor while sipping from the same cup. It symbolizes the unity between the newlyweds.
Portugal, like Spain, also delivers a Catholic-based wedding due to its religious history. Portugal sets itself apart by contributing the following traditions in an otherwise considered Portuguese wedding.
Bride’s Money Dance
The money dance is a ritual of paying for the privilege of slow dancing with the bride at wedding receptions. The money given to her, usually by groomsmen or any young man, will be donated to a charity chosen by the bride and groom.
The Great Wedding Escape
The groom and bride will try to escape their own wedding to spend the first night together as husband and wife. The guests are encouraged to stop them by any means necessary, from trying to steal their keys, to hiding their luggage.