Published: Thursday, Sep. 23rd, 2021
Italian American weddings have big energy, no matter what size the guest list is.
These wedding traditions are spirited celebrations of life, love, community, and family. And because they’re rooted in a rich history of Italian culture, folklore and magic, witchcraft and superstition, deep passions, decadent feasts, and dancing that lasts long into the night -- they’re always memorable.
The 14 traditions and superstitions below will help you bring this same vibrancy and energy to your own wedding ceremony and reception -- from tips on how to ward off “the evil eye” and uninvited evil spirits, to how to walk down the aisle, exchange rings, and dance the night away in style.
As any wise nonni will tell you, Friday’s the day evil spirits are created… so schedule your wedding on another day of the week if you don’t want these troublemakers at your ceremony! Perhaps a Sunday ceremony would work best… Italian folklore says it's the ideal day for blessing a new marriage with material abundance and many children.
Old Italian superstitions warn against a bride seeing her reflection in her wedding dress before the ceremony -- unless she first removes at least one glove or shoe. We’re not sure, but we suspect this goes for pre-ceremony selfies, too… because modern times call for evolving superstitions! And just as happens within many other cultures, Italian American couples often choose not to see each other the night before the ceremony, to prevent bad luck from following them into the wedding day.
Speaking of uninvited guests… Carrying a small item made of iron in your pocket while you walk down the aisle is said to keep evil spirits at bay. Those who practice folk magic and witchcraft, including Stregheria (a form of modern Paganism with roots in Southern Europe, similar to Wicca) might also wear a cimaruta charm around their neck, as a talisman or amulet to ward off the malicious magic of the evil eye.
A cimaruta charm, via the Italian Sons and Daughters of America website.
Flowers are a big part of the Italian wedding experience, and you’ll find extravagant arrangements everywhere from the bride’s bouquet, to the hood of the couple’s car, to the centerpieces at the reception. Fiori d’arancio, or orange blossoms symbolize purity and innocence and are traditionally placed in a bride’s hair or added to her bouquet, or used to decorate the wedding cake. White flowers or flower petals have been placed along the aisle for centuries, leading from the door to the altar during the processional.
The couple are the last people to leave the ceremony at a traditional Italian wedding, following even the wedding officiant! As part of the recessional, friends and family stand in a ‘receiving line,’ outside the venue to witness the couple’s first step into the world as married people. Guests celebrate the moment by tossing colorful paper confetti or rice and shouting "Evviva gli sposi" and "Auguri!" (“Long live the newlyweds!” and “Best wishes!”)
For good luck, Italian brides will sometimes make a small tear in their wedding veil. This custom has its start in old Italian folklore, which says that the tear is an opening through which good luck flows into the marriage. Custom also says that veil length should be proportional to the length of an engagement -- about 3 feet for every year betrothed.
White flower petals on the path to the wedding altar are considered good luck.
You’ve definitely heard of this one: For years, brides have incorporated something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue into their wedding day outfits as a way of honoring their ancestors, passing down heirlooms, and bringing good luck to their union. Traditionally, Italian brides add another ‘something’ to the mix, and also wear something they received as a gift.
Ever wondered why wedding bands are commonly worn on the fourth finger of the left hand? The tradition began with the ancient Egyptians, who inspired the ancient Romans, who believed that the ‘vein of love’ ran up the fourth finger and led directly to the heart. By placing rings along the Vena Amoris, they symbolically bound together two lovers’ hearts… a tradition still practiced widely today! Not long after the ring exchange and pronouncement, it’s likely guests will shout, “Bacio, Bacio!” (“Kiss, Kiss!”), as the newlyweds clasp hands.
After the ceremony and wedding photos are taken care of, an Italian groom cuts his tie into many small pieces and offers them to guests at the reception in exchange for money. The snipped bits of fabric are said to bring good luck in life and love, and the money helps pay for a fantastic honeymoon!
The ‘garter toss’ is still a popular tradition in modern Italian weddings. Guests watch with delight as a groom lifts the skirt of his wife’s dress to remove her garter (the risque satin strip she wears around her thigh) and tosses it into a group of single men to predict which of them will be next to marry. Like a bouquet toss, the garter toss often leads to laughter and playful ‘competition’ among family and friends as those eager to marry clamor for the prize.
Where there’s an Italian wedding, there’s sure to be sweets! Small boxes of candy, called bomboniere, are filled with confetti -- small egg-shaped treats with a sweet outer coating and special filling -- and handed out as gifts. The most common confetti found at weddings are Jordan almonds, made by coating bitter almonds in sugar or chocolate to represent the ‘bitter and sweet’ qualities of marriage. These sugared almonds are given to guests in odd numbers, usually quantities of 5 or 7, for good luck.
Other varieties of confetti might have a hard candy shell, filled with strawberry cream or milk chocolate. Confetti is so popular that the reception might have an entire table, called a confettata, filled with dozens of flavors.
A table of wedding confetti, called a confettata.
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Expect many courses during dinner and many bottles of wine -- it’s an Italian wedding, after all! Traditional weddings sometimes have a dozen courses or more, and multiple tables filled with antipasto and pastries, fresh salads, and cakes soaked in rum or strega and filled with cannoli cream. But you won’t find Italian wedding soup anywhere… The famous dish isn’t actually served at weddings, instead getting its name from the recipe's unique ‘marriage’ of ingredients.
An old Italian tradition of breaking a glass vase or plate on the floor after the reception is said to ‘predict’ how many happy years the couple has ahead of them. This tradition isn’t as popular with modern Italian American couples, but might be making a comeback. If you include this custom in your own wedding, be sure to smash the plate thoroughly to guarantee lasting joy!
Gather round, it’s time to dance the tarantella! This popular Italian dance is performed by all guests linking their arms or holding hands in a circle, to dance around the newlyweds in happy celebration. The name comes from the Italian tarantola, which means 'tarantula.' Receptions might also include one or two Pavorotti hits for tradition's sake (Funiculi Funicula, perhaps?), some Dean Martin or Sinatra for the elders, and some Ariana Grande for the younger crowd.
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