I think it’s safe to say most of us have dreamed of weddings in Italy, and of course, it makes sense no? Movies have made it seem that Italians are full of passion, full of romance, full of life, that weddings in Italy must be incredible. While I will say a destination wedding in Italy can be unforgettable, the actual Italian wedding reality is a bit different than what we have all been imagining.
It’s good to remember that there is a pretty big difference north to south, and all the regions in between. Having only attended a few Italian weddings on my own, I asked around and received hundreds of responses sharing all your experiences with Italian weddings. I realized every wedding is different, yet heard some similarities that I thought I would share. Keep in mind there are barely any set in stone traditions, if you are planning your own wedding- make it your own, no need to please your soon-to-be Italian family. If you want to consult an Italian wedding planner, I have a few contacts I would be happy to connect you with! For now, let’s jump into weddings in Italy.
In Italy, there are only two legally recognized ceremonies: Civil, or the Catholic Church. If you choose to do a civil wedding, it still isn’t as simple as a walk-in and signs a paper like the courthouse marriages we might think of. Civil weddings involve renting out one of the rooms in the municipality, bringing along at least two witnesses each, and standing around for a long list of what it means to be married in Italian law. The process actually is a bit longer if you are a foreigner+Italian couple – for full details check out the Moving to Italy Guide where I go in-depth on all the paperwork you will need for a civil wedding in Italy.
For a Catholic wedding, you will need to get permission from the municipality, then follow the Church’s own preparation process. When it comes to the actual ceremony it will last about a half-hour, involving hymns, a small sermon and reading from the priest, a communion offering, and then the actual exchanging of rings.
Something that I have continued to be surprised by, I have yet to witness personal vows. When I asked around many told me the same, that the idea of tear-jerking vows isn’t really a thing. There are the basics in sickness and in health, I do, and that’s it. Weddings in Italy appear not to be the emotional spectacles that I have witnessed with many American wedding ceremonies.
As for the wedding party, it is custom to only have your two testimone, no best man, maid of honor, or large wedding party situation. These are your witnesses, who sign your marriage documents. They also usually are the ones to organize the bachelor and bachelorette party as well as give a hand on the wedding day. It also isn’t very common to see these witnesses in matching outfits as we might assume for a bridal party.
Having talked with a few wedding planners, I have heard another option many couples may choose to do is to do an official ceremony in the municipality with just their witnesses and family. This is then followed by an emotional, personal ceremony at the event location with an official of their choosing.
Dress Code & Pre Wedding Traditions
In the South of Italy, large traditional families may opt for a weekend-long event with dinners and lunches non-stop. There often also is a tradition of the groom serenading the bride the night before the wedding. Instead in the North, there is often a breakfast aperitivo before the wedding. Bright and early in the morning, friends and family head to the house of the bride or groom and enjoy a light aperitivo while spending more time together. This is a particularly nice tradition because it allows for more time with the wedding party, as the truth is once the festivities start it flies by.
The dress code is usually the same as you might expect – formal, with no white or black dresses, I have also heard from some brides that bright red is seen as highly offensive. While this is true, I have attended a few weddings that women wore white and black, and surprisingly the bride was not too angry. But better to be safe than sorry, and if you have any doubts, maybe ask the wedding party directly.
Weddings in Italy are of course, all about the food. While I imagine weddings in the US all about drinking and dancing, Italy is truly 100% about food, the quality, the quantity, and the constant changing of dishes. From the second you leave the ceremony you will be met with an abundant aperitivo, and watch out. The number one mistake you can make is assuming this is the main serving of the day – it’s only the beginning.
After usually a social aperitivo on your feet, it’s time for lunch. Lunch will include multiple appetizers, multiple first courses, and multiple second courses. Plan to get comfy because you will probably be at a table for 3 hours. Small cigarette or bathroom breaks are usually taken between each course, but they will just keep rolling food onto your table.
It is during this time that there may be a dance or two to break up the constant eating. But speeches are surely not a thing, and if someone attempts to give one, expect the audience to be loudly chatting or eating through it.
After the second course, there will probably be a longer break, some people may dance, but there usually isn’t a dance floor, nor a large dancing crowd. Just a few moves here and there. Most likely people will take this break to walk around, enjoy the location and digest a bit.
When it comes time for the cake, there is the usual spectacle to cut it, surrounded by sparklers, then the guests can enjoy a buffet of sweets with wedding cake and other small sweets. I hope you still have a little room in your belly after this because then it is time for my favorite little tradition: confetti! Not our sparkly version, but the candy version, usually chocolate covered almonds in many different flavors. I adore these and love grabbing a bag to take home and enjoy later on.
The wedding festivities can wrap up between 9 to 10 as this is when most catering companies and locations duck out. However, in larger events, you might stick around until into the early morning!
Instead of registries, most couples request money wired to them to set aside for their honeymoon.
For your honeymoon, if you have a regular contract, you are allowed extra vacation time to enjoy the honeymoon. This time off is usually about 15 days and you will have to show your marriage certificate as proof.
In Italy, they may be a little less in the party mindset as we are in America. If you ask me all the events I would assume to have for my wedding I would say Engagement Party, Bridal Shower, Bachelorette Party, Rehearsal Dinner, and Wedding. In Italy, it appears there is the Bachelorette and the Wedding. If there is a rehearsal it is only with the couples, parents, and witnesses (though I have yet to hear of one).
Some things that surprised you:
I asked around for your opinion and have to say I agree with so many of these things so I wanted to share them here:
- How Dry Italian Weddings Are. Totally agree, while there is no lack of alcohol, it usually is reserved to spritz during the aperitivo and then just wine with your meal. Of course excellent wine is great, but red wine especially, paired with all that food it tends to really tire you out. This can be a good thing because you are less likely to have drunken shenanigans at your party, but it also means people can get pretty tired pretty quick. On the other hand, speaking with some bicultural families about their wedding, they said a full open bar turned out to be a bit of a mess.
- The Amount of Food. Yep, it never ceases to amaze me, bring some Maalox or antiacids because the food is so good you won’t be able to help yourself and trust me, you will leave with an upset belly.
- The waiting for the Bride & Groom. This I have seen at some weddings but not all, some weddings are organized so that you cannot start the aperitivo until they arrive, but they are off taking a million photos so this sometimes takes a minute.
Need help planning?
If you are looking for a wedding planner in Italy I suggest checking out La Vita è Events and if you need a photographer look into booking Rhianna May Photography.