The traditional Italian wedding remains popular throughout Italy, but above all in the south.
When an Italian couple get together, they are referred to as 'Fidanzati' throughout their relationship, whether they end up getting married or not. If they do decide to get married, they mark their engagement with the 'Promessa di Matrimonio', which consists of a large family celebration, together with certain formalities. If the couple chooses, the whole wedding process can be a purely civil affair, conducted at the local comune. However, in Italy, church weddings are more traditional and, if that is the couple's choice, preparations need to be made at least six months before the chosen date.
The process starts with attending a pre-marriage course, which lasts about two months and which consists of a series of meetings where the priest, and others in the community, help the couple prepare for married life together. Once this has been successfully completed, the couple can begin the process. The first part of the 'Promessa' takes place at the church, where the couple must answer a few questions about their past lives and future intentions, asked by the priest. Having completed this short process, they then move on to the comune, where the second part, the official state registration process takes place. The 'Promessa' is marked by a large family party in a local restaurant or hotel, similar to the wedding itself. There is usually a one or two month gap between the 'promessa' and the wedding ceremony.
After the Bride and Groom, with their family and friends, have completed the wedding ceremony in the church, they move onto the more informal celebrations. The journey from the church wedding to the reception is often marked by a large cavalcade of cars, all decorated with a white flower, all hooting their horns relentlessly. An outsider would be forgiven for thinking that a war had broken out amongst motorists!
An Italian wedding lunch, especially in the sun-drenched south, is truly legendary, sometimes catering for up to 600 guests. The cost of a large traditional wedding is offset by the custom of the 'Busta'. Each individual guest donates an envellope of cash to the bride to the amount of 150 euros each. Special family friends might pay 500 euros each.
An extract from 'Homicide by Hospitality' by Frank Macri
"The home of the intended bride was artistically festooned with garlands of fresh flowers and diaphanous fabric. Guests arrived at the bride's family home, unending Prosecco was poured and mounds of sweet and savory snacks appeared out of nowhere. I enjoyed having a little wine for breakfast and casually sampling the snacks. This 'pre-event' was familiar to me since we had all gathered in the very same spot 30 days earlier to celebrate 'La Promessa', (The Promise). This wedding day had actually started a month prior at La Promessa where we ate and drank until the intended groom arrived. After he arrived, we really got down to business and the toasting and snacking started in earnest. We ate, drank, well-wished the happy couple, and ate some more before licking our plates, downing the final few drops of wine and careening off with horns blasting to the commune, (town hall) to sign the official documents. Afterwards, the bride and groom and guests were joined by city officials and several policemen who were wandering around town hall. We were all very pleased to eat pastry and have another glass or three of Prosecco. Excessive, you say? Maybe, because all this was just 'practice' for the party to come.
And today was the day... the wedding. I was as nervous as the bride. I felt like a tender young goose whose liver was soon to be plucked. I paced myself through the morning event and subsequent dash to the church; through the religious service and raucous convoy to the reception hall; and arrived right behind the wedding party at what must surely have been the pearly gates of hospitality heaven.
Stretched out before me was a cavernous ballroom with at least one hundred huge and sumptuously set tables. Each table was extravagantly draped in color-coordinated linens and adorned with elaborate silver and crystal centerpieces, 4 bottles of wine (two reds and two chilled whites) plus all the silver and crystal in western Europe; everything sparkled under dramatic lighting. I was momentarily staggered."
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Wedding photography in a traditional Italian wedding is a work of art. As well as the traditional photographs of the couple and assorted family members, the photographers often let their imaginations run wild, photographing the couple in extraordinary and exotic settings. One example was a couple in Cagliari in Sardinia, running barefoot around a busy roundabout in the city centre, narrowly avoiding the city traffic as they went. Another was a bride photographed running along a beach being chased by the groom, trying to pull off pieces of her wedding dress with his teeth! These photographs end up in several gigantic albums, usually stored for posterity in a large suitcase!