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By Rafi Michael
In ancient times, the Portuguese used to marry simply to build a family. Given that the parents decided on all details regarding the wedding — including the selection of the Groom and the Bride — love was not necessarily the main reason for marriage.
Everything involved an agreement between families. The Bride’s family would be responsible for the hosting of all the parties, while the Groom’s family would be responsible for giving a large gift to the newlyweds — usually a house. Nowadays, even though there are many traditional and conservative families, marriage is a synonym with a promise of mutual love that will last as long as both parties shall live.
In days past, the Bride’s family would hold the engagement party. Tradition called for the Groom to send a friend or a relative to ask the prospective Bride’s father for permission to ask for the daughter’s hand in marriage. Often, the Groom’s father performed this task. If the Bride’s father agreed, the young man could formally ask for the girl’s hand in marriage, and having thus received the father’s blessing, the wedding was allowed to take place. An ancient tradition — long abandoned — called for the prospective Bride to pretend to be a cow that needed to be recognized by its owner, her soon-to-be husband, before the wedding celebrations could begin.
Considering that the majority of people in Portugal are Roman Catholic, a mass would follow the engagement. After this mass, close relatives would be invited to a small reception. The Bride would choose a ‘Madrinha’ — a Maid of Honour — and the Groom would choose a ‘Padrinho’ — a Best Man. In some cases, two couples would be chosen to fill those roles.
A Portuguese couple’s wedding invitation traditionally carries both the Bride’s and the Groom’s addresses, since it is customary to live with one’s parents until married. All wedding gifts are traditionally sent to the Bride’s house, and put on display to be admired by relatives and close friends who come to visit. On those occasions, tradition calls for a cup of tea and a piece of cake to be served.
Since Portugal is a very conservative country, with a large Roman Catholic population, bachelor and bachelorette parties have always been rather innocent — consisting mostly of friends and relatives getting together for food and drinks. It is customary for the oldest members of the Bride and Groom’s community to attend the Groom’s stag party, where he bids farewell to his single life and his single friends.
The big moment for the Groom would take place at the church, since he could not see his Bride until she entered the Church. The Bride’s big moment, however, would start as soon as she left her home. Tradition — closely upheld in small villages and communities — calls for the Bride to walk to church with her wedding party, closely followed by the wedding guests.
Portuguese wedding ceremonies usually consist of a Roman Catholic mass, where traditionally the priest would bind the couple’s hands with his stole, or call for the Bride and Groom to exchange rings, and then cover the couple with his stole, to unite and protect them. As the newlyweds exit the church, friends and relatives customarily throw bonbons and flowers, in lieu of tossing rice.
In Portugal, many weddings used to be small and restricted to direct family, while others would be larger affairs where friends and relatives would all lend a hand in planning and organizing all the details of the wedding festivities. In Canada, Portuguese communities have been influence by other cultures and old customs are beginning to change.
A new tradition involves serving the infamous ‘Seafood Plates’ or ‘Seafood Buffets’. Portuguese people interviewed, such as Mr. Albino Silva, Chef at Chiado Fine Dining, and Ms. Maria do Carmo Nogueira from the Portuguese Trade and Tourism Commission, tend to disagree with this new extravagant custom. In Portugal, weddings have always been fashioned after European traditions, where food is abundant but not extravagant.
Portugal is renowned for its wine, and the Romans used to associate the country with Bacchus, their God of Wine and Feasts. Popular wines include Vinho Verde, Vinho Alvarinho, Vinho do Douro, and Vinho da Bairrada, as well as sweet Port and Madeira wine, and wedding guests indulge in frequent toasts to the happy couple.
Wedding receptions typically do not have a firm schedule: parties can last long into the night, and it is not unusual for breakfast to be served. Meal structure allows for free time between courses, giving guests a chance to dance and build up an appetite!
Portuguese wedding guests, traditionally, are served only what the hosts can afford. Many families chose to prepare their own food, trusting that all dishes they prepare themselves will always be the very best. Farmers and people from small villages would traditionally serve their own chickens and pigs, as well as fresh-grown tomatoes and potatoes. Each region of Portugal has its own traditional dishes. Codfish is a favourite throughout the country, and it is said that there are over 365 ways to prepare it.
Portuguese wedding receptions usually take place at a private home or, more commonly, these days, at a restaurant. They typically involve traditional music and a lot of dancing, while guests exchange stories about the Bride and Groom. The ancient custom of passing the Bride’s shoe around to all the guests, to receive monetary donations that will help the couple set up their new home, is still maintained today, and guests eagerly join the festivities and participate in this ritual. Traditionally, there will also be a money dance, where the Bride’s shoe is passed around the dance floor, as young — and not so young — men pay for the privilege of dancing with the Bride.
Another important part of the reception is called ‘Copo d’ Agua’ (cup of water.) During this ritual, the Bride and Groom go from table to table to spend time with their guests, and ensure that everyone is having a good time and enjoying their meal; a champagne toast is offered as the newlyweds cut their wedding cake, and offer the first slice to a single friend, to bring them luck. The Bride then customarily throws her bouquet into an eagerly awaiting group of single girls.
POST – WEDDING RITUALS
It is traditional for the newlyweds to leave the party before the end, to spend their first night together. This is not as easy as it sounds: the newlyweds must escape and avoid all the games played by their guests. Their exit turns into a huge competition, where the guests will try to stop the couple from leaving by playing small and innocent pranks such as hiding their luggage, taking their car away, or putting them under the spotlight all night long.
If they are lucky, the Bride and Groom will manage to leave the party without being spotted, and get to enjoy their first night together — alone.
The following day, traditionally, the new couple will visit all of their guests to personally thank each and every one of them for attending their wedding, and sharing the most important day of their lives.
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