Weddings in Spain: Etiquette, Customs, and Traditions
With the advent Spring, so comes another season. It's wedding season in Spain. That’s right ladies and gents, wedding season is upon us. If you’re like me, you’re at that age when a seemingly never-ending stream of wedding invitations begins to pop up in your mailbox. If those weddings are taking place here in Spain, you’re in for a treat. Weddings here are a BIG deal and come with their own set of unique customs. Here are few tips to help you navigate your first Spanish wedding.
When it comes to gifts, cash is king
You’ve received an invitation to a Spanish wedding, congratulations! But wait, what’s this little card in the envelope with numbers on it? It’s a bank account number my friend. Cash gifts are the norm here, whether it be cash in a card handed over at the wedding or a direct bank transfer. Some brides and grooms opt for websites like ZankYou which allow guests to contribute funds for the newlyweds, which they can allocate as they see fit, whether it be for a trip or the new set of pots they’ve been eyeballing. While it might seem jarring if you’re more accustomed to giving and receiving physical gifts at weddings, it’s considered a thank you for the wonderful party you’re about to experience.
Dress the part
So what does one wear to a Spanish wedding? Well, it depends. Weddings in Spain are formal events as a rule and one must always dress to impress, elegance is a must. As usual, men have it easy, a dark suit and tie gets the job done. It’s a bit trickier for women. This was the most stressful part for me before I attended my first Spanish wedding, as I didn’t want to look out of place or dress inappropriately.
Daytime Weddings (Ceremony followed by lunch):
Wear a short cocktail dress with subdued jewelry, nothing too flashy. To really fit in, wear a tocado or fascinator. For daytime weddings, you can go big and wear larger hats (sombreros or pamelas) or keep it small with a floral crown, diadem or turban, anything goes.
Evening Weddings (Ceremony followed by dinner):
Evening weddings typically call for long evening gowns, although a cocktail dress in a dark color can work as well. An elegant jumpsuit or midi length dress are also on trend and are perfectly suited for evening. This is the moment to break out your baubles and let your jewelry shine. Some women opt to wear a tocado for evening weddings as well, as long as they’re not the large pamelas and sombreros. Evening tocados should be daintier, more like jewelry for your hair.
The best tocados can be pricey, especially if you have one custom made (although if you foresee going to many Spanish weddings in your future, it’s a worthwhile purchase). Fortunately, brands like Mimoki and M de Paulet offer rental tocados for a fraction of the price. If you’re lacking inspiration, Instagram account @invitada_perfecta is sure to spark your imagination. Last but not least, don’t forget to bring a pair of flat shoes to change into when your feet start to hurt after several hours of celebrating.
Get Some Sleep
If I had to describe Spanish weddings with one word, it would be marathon. Whereas your typical wedding in the US might last around 5-6 hours, Spanish weddings can last for 12+ hours. A daytime wedding with a ceremony at noon will probably last until midnight at least. Evening weddings can carry on til breakfast the next morning. So make sure you’ve had a good night’s sleep the night before, otherwise you may find yourself nodding off during the second course of your meal.
Speaking of meals, get ready to eat more food than you ever thought was possible or decent folks. Spanish weddings are about abundance, showing your gratitude to your guests through food. Spanish novios are very grateful. After the ceremony, you’ll head to cocktail hour (which can actually last for up to an hour and half) where you’ll be served a plethora of passed hors d’oeurves, beer, wine and soft drinks. There might be someone cutting jamón ibérico for guests. After cocktail hour you’ll head to your long sit down meal (which can last for a couple of hours), no dancing between courses here. It can consist of up to 5 courses, not including coffee, tea or a digestif. Then after you’ve danced for a few hours, there’s usually a recena, kind of like a midnight snack, which serves to refuel partiers and soak up the booze a bit. This could be anything from mini burgers to tacos to a candy bar. All of this to say, skip the heavy meals before the wedding and come with a relatively empty stomach.
Beware the Open Bar
Attending a Spanish wedding means a long day of drinking. Between cocktail hour and your sit down meal (which of course comes with an over-abundance of wine), you’ll have already been drinking for several hours, albeit drinks of the lighter side. But then it’s time to dance and the bar opens up; it’s time for copas, mixed drinks. As the party portion of the night can go on for hours, most likely until the next morning, moderation is key so you don’t end up being the hilarious anecdote everyone’s talking about the next day, or worse, not enjoying yourself! Remember, Spanish weddings are marathons, not sprints. Slow down and enjoy the revelry!
Though it may seem like there are a lot of things to keep in mind when it comes to Spanish weddings, most of what you’ll experience will be familiar. You’ll the love shared by two people who are embarking on a new life together. You’ll see family and friends sharing stories and laughs. And most important, you’ll have fun busting some moves on the dancefloor and celebrating a couple of lovebirds. ¡Vivan los novios!
Christine is a native New Yorker who moved to Madrid, Spain in 2011 and hasn’t looked back since. She’s always on the hunt for something beautiful, whether she’s exploring Spain, country hopping or seeking the next culinary delight. Follow her adventures @xsteene88 on Instagram.