Got an invite to an Italian wedding?
Or have you done the truly impossible and managed to snag an Italian lover to marry yourself?
Do you just love learning about Italian language, culture and traditions?
Whatever the motivation, it’s a great idea to learn about Italian wedding customs, and the vocabulary and phrases you’ll learn here can be useful for other situations, as well.
It’s an exciting thing to go to a nozze italiane (Italian wedding—also sometimes called a matrimonio). You’re in for an exciting parallel universe featuring serenades and rice-throwing, and you’ll survive the experience a bit better if you’ve at least learned some basic words and phrases to interact with the other people at the wedding (and of course it’s also a good idea to review some Italian basics).
I quite recently saw a dear Italian friend married off, and I’ve also spoken to many more people in the know about Italian customs surrounding nuptials.
In this article, I’ll use these experiences and interviews to prepare you for anything you might need to know if you’re destined for such a wedding—whether it’s in the near future, or even if you’re just dreaming of going to one someday.
A Few Things to Keep in Mind About Italian Weddings
First: food. I won’t spend a lot of time on this here, but it shouldn’t surprise you that food is an important feature of Italian weddings, so you may also want to brush up on your Italian food and drink vocabulary.
Italians also love to sing, so knowing a few of the most popular Italian songs could also help (and if you’re going to a Sicilian wedding, you’ll really want to know “Ciuri Ciuri” and “Vitti na Crozza,” though beware that they’re in Sicilian).
As with everything else Italian, wedding vocabulary and customs vary enormously from region to region. There’s also variation depending on whether the wedding is religious, and according to the social class and the particular tastes of those involved.
Because of these differences, we’ll go over the most broadly relevant customs, phrases and vocabulary possible in order to prepare you for what you need to know, no matter the particulars of the Italian wedding in question.
If You Vow to Learn About Italian Wedding Customs, Phrases and Vocab, Say “I Do”
Now let’s get to the words and phrases you’ll likely find useful for navigating a wedding in Italy.
The following traditions or wedding phrases are certainly not observed with all Italian weddings, but you’ll definitely come across at least some of them if you’re at a wedding in the boot.
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Before the Wedding
Before the wedding, some friends of the bride and groom may set up elaborate scherzi (practical jokes) to play on the couple in order to punish them for the obnoxiousness of falling in love. And they might also help set up una serenata (serenade) under the window of the bride or groom, aiding the other to express their devotion from the street, Romeo-style.
Here are other pre-wedding words and phrases to know:
- Celibe / nubile — bachelor / unmarried woman
- Addio al celibato — bachelor party
- Addio al nubilato — bachelorette party
- Lo striptease — the striptease
- Una lista nozze — a wedding registry
- Un regalo — a gift
- Che cosa sarebbe un bel regalo? — What would be a good present?
- Vado a un matrimonio. — I’m going to a wedding. (For more on in vs. a and when to use them, see our prepositions guide.)
During the Wedding
As mentioned before, there are different types of weddings in Italy, and you’ll want to be prepared for the type you’re attending.
If you’re going to a religious (most likely Catholic) wedding, it’s called una cerimonia cattolica (a Catholic ceremony). These weddings are presided over by a priest (called il prete or il sacerdote) and can be much longer than other kinds of weddings, lasting up to an hour, as this is an opportunity for the Church to share its ideas with a public that may not be very church-going. Many Italians who consider themselves Catholic nevertheless only report to a church for a major event like a wedding.
An option for the less religiously-inclined is una cerimonia civile (a civil ceremony). These are usually simple and short, and can be over in as few as 15 minutes. A civil ceremony is conducted by il sindaco (mayor) or else l’assessore or il consigliere (city council members or bureaucrats).
Homosexual couples can have only unioni civili (civil unions) in Italy; these afford the same rights as those given to married couples (except notably for the right to adopt), but also get celebrated as weddings.
Regardless of the type of wedding ceremony, these are some more people you’ll likely find there:
- Il padre — the father
- La madre — the mother
- Il suocero / la suocera — the father-in-law / mother-in-law
- Il cognato / la cognata — the brother-in-law / sister-in-law
- Fidanzato / fidanzata — (male) fiancé / (female) fiancée
- Sposo / sposa — groom / bride
- Marito / moglie — husband / wife
You can also use sono (I am) before any of these words to describe yourself.
A few more phrases you may hear:
- “Vi dichiaro marito e moglie.” — I pronounce you husband and wife.
- “Sposa bagnata, sposa fortunata.” — This saying is broken out if the wedding is rained on, in order to temper the let-down; it translates to something like “A drenched bride is a lucky bride.”
- “La sposa è bellissima.” — “The bride is beautiful.” As in English-language weddings, there is often a sexist expectation to focus very much on the bride’s visual impact, whereas at most one might say about the groom:
- “Lo sposo è elegante.” — “The groom is elegant.”
After the Wedding
When leaving the church, the guests may be given handfuls of rice to throw at the new couple; this is called the lancio del riso (throwing of rice) and is supposed to give them good luck.
The ricevimento (reception) is the party after la cerimonia (the ceremony). It may consist of un pranzo (a lunch) or una cena (a supper), generally with a menu chosen in advance by the bride and groom. Common wedding foods include pesce (fish), risotto and—of course—la torta (the cake). There will be vino (wine) to drink with the dinner, and caffè (espresso) at the end of the meal.
During the dinner, guests may spontaneously chant “Baccio, baccio, baccio!” (“Kiss, kiss, kiss!”) with a long, singsong, exaggerated emphasis on the first syllable. In theory, back in the day, the wedding would have been the first time that the couple kissed, so once they finally were allowed to do so, the voyeuristic guests would encourage them to take full advantage. The baccio can be considered a bit crass nowadays in some circles; certainly don’t try to start this chant yourself.
A more civilized way to celebrate the newlyweds is with a toast.
Here are two toasts that are common at Italian weddings:
- “Brindo agli sposi e gli auguro una lunga vita d’amore.“ — I toast to the newlyweds and I wish them a long life of love.
- “Auguri e figli maschi!” — Congratulations, and (may you have) male children! (This is taken from the quite popular Sicilian-language toast “Auguri e figghi masculi,” which Sicilians have adopted for use everywhere, not just at weddings.)
After the dinner, it’s common for the newly-married couple to have il primo ballo (the first dance), which may be choreographed. Then everyone joins in. There is often a DJ or una cantante e un suonatore di tastiere (a singer and a keyboard player); there may even be a quartetto di archi (string quartet).
These customs and phrases should give you a general guide to surviving your next Italian wedding. For more, there are some good guides to more traditional Italian customs you might see crop up, and notes from wedding planners who deal with cross-cultural issues. You might also watch some Italian movies, and for the comedies you could skip to the third act where the characters inevitably marry.
But the very best guide will of course be the particular sposati (fiancés) in your life, so just ask them any questions you might have about what their wedding will be like. They may in fact be planning an original take on the Italian traditions above, or something entirely different.
And if you’re the one about to get hitched with an Italian, and you’ve come across this article looking for advice for a happy marriage, you’re going to need a whole lot more vocabulary and cultural insight than a single post from a language blog can provide. Good luck with that.
I guess you’ll have a lifetime to learn.
Mose Hayward writes while on an endless roadtrip, frequently in Italy, and blogs about the very best travel gear.
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