7 Things to Expect at a French Wedding

French weddings are a unique mix of tradition and modern sensibilities. While there used to be some rather strange traditions involving leftover alcohol and chamber pots, today’s French Wedding thankfully retains the lovelier aspects of a traditional French union. France, being the country of romance, inspires many couples from all over the globe to have their weddings held over there as well.

Today, let’s talk about the qualities of a French Wedding, and how to celebrate this extravagant celebration of love.

The Engagement Is a Big Deal

The engagement in French culture is often just as big a deal as the wedding itself. It is known as “Fiançailles”. After all, the couple’s engagement is what starts the journey. If there’s one thing everybody loves, it’s a grand entrance, and an engagement is an entrance to married life. French couples will often go on vacation to other countries to celebrate an engagement. They also have engagement parties with their friends and families. This is a tradition that all French families expect and couples respect.

Dual Ceremonies

There are two ceremonies done for French weddings. The first is the civil service and occurs on the first day. This is an intimate affair and includes only the closest family and witnesses. It is what makes the marriage official in the eyes of French law. 

The symbolic wedding comes the day after and is celebrated with all the guests  This is also when all the traditions happen, as a show of the couple’s love to a bigger audience. The gorgeous wedding that people imagine happens on this day and is considered the “real” union in many people’s eyes.

Cocktail Hours                     

For two to three hours, weddings will have a cocktail hour, and it is considered one of the most important parts of a French wedding. After the vows have been said, everybody gathers around the couple with good food and drink. 

As the cocktail hour ends, the couple arrives in a vehicle that is called the la Voiture Balai or “broom car”. It can be any vehicle that the couple wants, but traditionally, it is a vintage vehicle or a carriage.

French Cuisine

This is the most obvious tell that you are at a French wedding. The French people are proud of their food and wine, and there is no better time to show off than a wedding. France is considered one of the most luxurious gourmet countries in the world. They will waste no time proving that reputation true. 

French weddings have several different, high-quality wines to offer the guests. The cuisine is composed of iconic mainstays: For starters, foie gras, scallops, and lobster are served. Main dishes traditionally consist of lamb, beef fillet, veal, smoked salmon, and duck. For liquor, champagne is the traditional choice. Champagne fountains are to be expected at French weddings. These are glass pyramids of champagne that brighten up any celebration.

Perhaps the most important of the French wedding food is the dessert. Delicate caramel and cream-filled puffs called croquembouche are served to the bride and groom. The name croquembouche means “crunch in the mouth”. Similar to the feeding of the cake, this cream puff dessert replaces the cake in this tradition.

Weddings Have Special Witnesses

French weddings do not follow the familiar tradition of bridesmaids and grooms. Instead, they have witnesses, or “témoins”. These witnesses are not locked by age or gender. They can wear whatever they please as well. As their name implies, they are the main witnesses to your wedding and are treated with importance. For people who have close loved ones that aren’t of the same gender as the bride or groom, this is a breath of fresh air. Wedding photos with the witnesses tend to be some of the most treasured in these affairs

The Presence of Parents

Le cortège is the tradition of the groom and their mother walking down the aisle together. Traditional weddings in other western countries tend to only have the bride accompanied by their father, but the le cortège occurs before the bride and father.

Once the reception starts, the father and daughter dance open the ball. Unlike other western countries where this is after the groom and bride dance, this is done first as a sort of “blessing” of the father to let the groom take care of her daughter. The bride is turned over by the father to the groom, then the couple finishes the dance together.

Cutting of the White Ribbon

In the old French tradition, the groom would visit the bride’s home before the ceremony started. Performers and musicians of all kinds would parade all the way back to the chapel. The bride and her father would be at the front while the groom and his mother would remain at the back. Once at the chapel, children would stretch out long white ribbons on the path to the entrance. The bride would then run through them excitedly, cutting ribbons as she passed. This tradition represented the bride breaking through all the hardships of marriage.

These days, couples go through a heart in a white sheet to maintain the spirit of the tradition, but different couples have paid respect to the tradition in their own ways.

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