Whether you are planning a wedding in France or looking to include French wedding styles into your big day, looking to the past at wedding traditions can be a great way to bring something a little different to your big day. Our resident wedding planning expert Fabienne Slater owner of Elian Concept Weddings and Events and member of UK Alliance of Wedding Planners, to share her 10 French Wedding Traditions.
There is no doubt that France is a favourite destination to celebrate a wedding, as it has so much to offer in terms of venues, food, weather and locations, therefore it is easy to understand why. Rightly echoing such enthusiasm, the wedding blog world is keen to inspire brides and grooms with images of French Weddings, but is this really what a wedding looks like in France? We thought it could be interesting to look through some of the usages and traditions that make a typical French wedding. For the couples wanting to give an extra French touch to their day, some may even be well worth considering.
Not so much a tradition more a legal obligation, the marriage ceremony needs to be performed by the mayor at the town hall. It is meant to be a ‘public’ event and the doors of the room have to stay open. This is traditionally to allow somebody who wants to oppose the marriage to do so. There is no other way to be legally married in France. French couples can also choose to have a religious ceremony at their place of worship afterwards, though this will be purely spiritual.
Legal wedding in France – Source: Un beau jour
Town hall ceremony – Source: Un beau jour
The so-called ‘cortege’ stands for two lovely traditions: Firstly the entrance to the ceremony where the groom leads the way with his mother, followed by the rest of the wedding party (mainly close family) in a set order of entrance, and secondly the presence of children, comparable to flower girls and ring bearers. They either walk down the aisle in front of the bride spreading petals or follow holding her train. They are all dressed the same and choosing their outfits is as much of an affair as it is to choose the bridesmaids. Oh and by the way, there is no bridesmaids or best man; the words do not even have a translation in French. They are ‘temoins’ i.e. witnesses, usually one for the groom and one for the bride, although this is changing.
Flower girls – Source: Julie Derache Photographies
The word defines all the festivities related to the wedding as well as the wedding party and guests. A tradition, was for the noce i.e. all the guests, to follow the newly weds to the various places (very commonly from the town hall to the church, drink reception, dinner location) making as much noise as possible. Modern times have replaced the walk in the village or the neighborhood by a car procession following the bridal vehicle with car horns blaring all the way.
French wedding tradition – Photo credit: Nicolas Chauveau
La voiture balai
Direct translation, “The broom car” is a dedicated car that follows the bridal and guest cars from one location to the other. Typically quirky, heavily decorated and carrying a trail of pans or tins, its task is to ensure that all guests find their way to the party. A fun custom, although not the epitome of elegance!
Le vin d’honneur
This is the cocktail reception. Guests attending the ceremony are invited to join the couple and their families for drinks and canapés. It is an opportunity to please everybody by inviting not so close friends and work colleagues and including parent’s acquaintances. Family and close friends will stay for the dinner, which is served much later. Often a timing challenge, especially if they happen at the same location.
Drink Reception – Source: The bride next door
They are going a bit out of fashion with modern brides, though this is a very French tradition – sugar coated almonds offered to the guest as a keepsake. They were typically given in a cornet or an organdy pouch but more creative presentation are seen now. They are a symbol of long lasting love and are easy to include as a French touch in a wedding anywhere, I have even seen winter weddings where all the guests have classic trapper hats, it was funny and cool at the same time, visit FurHatWorld to buy yourself one.
Traditional French Favours – source: Dragee Paradise
La piece montée
The croquembouche, as we know it in English is the conventional wedding cake at a wedding in France, a pyramid (the most characteristic shape) of choux buns filled with custard and held together with toffee.
The macaron version is becoming popular and a prettier alternative offering more choices of colour and flavour.
It is not on display from the start of the dinner, mainly because it has to be kept refrigerated; instead it is ceremoniously presented to the guests with sparklers at the end of the diner or after the first dance. By then, it’s often already midnight.
La fontaine à Champagne -Champagne tower.
The striking pyramid of flutes or coupes is the highlight of the evening, when the Champagne is poured into the top glass and from there fills all the glasses below. If you would like to impress your guests with such a display it is wise to let professionals build the tower! They can now be arranged with special lighting effects.
The first dance
This is a sweet custom that sees the bride and her dad opening the ball with a waltz or similar piece of music. The bride will then change hands to continue with her husband.
Father-Daughter Dance – Source: Style me Pretty
La soupe à l’oignon
Onion soup is at the core of French cuisine, no wonder that on the wedding day (or shall I rather say the wedding night) it takes a special place. It is served in the early hours of the morning to help recover from a long night of partying. At best to all the guests still present. At worst it is combined with another French tradition, the “pot de chambre”. Much dreaded by French brides, it is slowly dying out, a blessing for most as who would want to be woken up on their wedding night to drink out of a chamber pot (Be aware the mixture can be anything your friends fancy, not necessarily onion soup!).
Here is a treat for you: click on the link below for a yummy recipe
Onion Soup – Source: Strawberry Plum
They are many, many other traditions likely to be related to a particular region, but this could an all-new story!
For now, I hope this insight into some of the wedding traditions that make a French wedding will have given you some ideas to add a little ‘Je ne sais quoi’ to your own celebrations.
Fabienne is owner of Elian Concept Weddings and Events, who is a bi-lingual wedding planner who is available for weddings throughout France. For more information visit: www.elianconceptweddings.com