From the romantic streets of Paris to the picturesque coastline of the French Riviera, France is indeed one of the most spectacular countries in the world to soak up history and culture. The country’s ability to retain a breadth of unique traditions make it an interesting topic of research, whether you are of French heritage or are just interested in some of the country’s customs.
Any Francophile who has wedding bells on the horizon may be interested in learning more about French wedding traditions and customs. The country approaches wedding celebrations in its own unique way, which may spark some fun ideas for your own wedding day celebration – or better help you understand your ancestors’ experiences.
Read ahead for some authentic and historic French wedding celebrations and see why French weddings are unique for all who attend.
The Groom and the Bride
In many countries, the bride is the main source of attention for most wedding guests. While the bride still gets her fair share of consideration in France, the groom plays a much more important role than he does in other cultures.
Most people are familiar with the tradition that the groom cannot see the bride in her wedding dress prior to the big day. The French flip this custom on its head: one role of the groom is to pick up his bride from her home and escort her to the wedding ceremony. Doing this in America, by contrast, would involve a lot of blindfolds and near-accidents!
There are a few other French wedding customs regarding the happy couple that deviate from the way many weddings are conducted in other cultures.
- For example, upon arrival at the wedding ceremony, the bride cuts ribbons held by children who are blocking her path. This is a historical tradition that signifies the bride’s ability to cut down obstacles that will assuredly come from married life.
- A French bride and groom will rarely have groomsmen or bridesmaids. Instead, they each select 1-2 witnesses to stand beside them as they take their vows and later sign the marriage contract.
- Traditionally, many French weddings were presided over by the mayor of the town. However, this is now a far too time-consuming custom.
Leaving the Ceremony
0nce married, it is a familiar scene to observe wedding guests showering the bride and groom with rice, confetti, or flowers as they leave the wedding venue.
In France, this represents an old belief that rice or confetti will fend off evil spirits that may corrupt the marriage in the future. You can expect to see this scene at every French wedding.
Additionally, French weddings are renowned for the level of noise guests make as the wedding ceremony comes to a close. It is a tradition for the bride and groom to make their way to the wedding reception in a parade of cars constantly honking their horns. This makes for a loud procession from the ceremony to the after-party.
The custom is rooted in the Middle Ages when authorities encouraged French people to have loud wedding ceremonies to alert the town that a marriage had taken place.
At the Wedding Party
The most distinctive parts of getting married in France come during the after-party. A wedding reception in France begins with a bottle of champagne opened by a large sword, a tradition rooted in the Napoleonic era.
Traditional French wedding favors include the giving of five sugar-coated almonds (Dragées) to each guest, which represent joy, health, permanence, wealth, and fertility. While traditional French wedding gifts vary greatly, it is common for the bride’s garter to be auctioned off to a guest during the wedding party. The winner provides the newlyweds with a sum of money and then removes the garter with their teeth.
Furthermore, the French do not provide a traditional wedding cake like most Western European countries, but instead, provide a large pyramid of eclairs filled with frosting. Dinner, including food and drinks, are typically provided by the bride and groom, with an open bar expected at any true French celebration.
After the Ceremony
The combination of an open bar and the joyous occasion of a wedding makes for quite a raucous event in France. French weddings can always be expected to dance the night away until the early hours of the morning, with most parties lasting until at least 5 a.m.
It is a custom for the wedding party to provide traditional French onion soup to guests that remain late into the night, providing some energy to those who wish to continue to dance and drink. Unlike other countries, it is not common for the bride and groom to leave the party and embark on their honeymoon. Instead, they stay with their guests and fully join the festivities.
The guests also provide the bride and groom with food and drink through the pôt de chamber, a collection of different consumable items that the couple must finish throughout the night. If the happy couple goes missing, guests are encouraged to find them and pour them another cup from the pôt de chamber.
Your French Wedding
While a traditional French wedding includes many unique characteristics from their history, the fundamentals are the same. The occasion is marked by a sense of happiness, joy, and love for the new couple, and the customs are integrated for a strong and long-lasting marriage.
Lastly, if you are marrying someone of French descent and would like to take their name, be sure to learn about French last names and their meanings.
- Complete France: 11 French wedding traditions.
- French Entrée: Wedding etiquette in France.
- The French Bedroom Company: 10 French Wedding Traditions.