French weddings are unquestionably lovely and unforgettable, from the history to the gorgeous cities (we’re looking at you, Paris!). French wedding customs are another feature that distinguishes them from other weddings.
French weddings are steeped in rich traditions and cultural significance, making them a truly enchanting experience for couples and guests alike. From the elegant attire to the delectable cuisine, every aspect of a French wedding exudes sophistication and romance.
Whether you’re a French or non-French couple planning your special day in France, want to include French influences in your wedding or just sent your RSVP for a French wedding you were invited to, it’s helpful to learn more about the cultural traditions, including what to wear, what gifts to give and what to expect at the ceremony and reception. For more information about French wedding customs, continue reading.
The Engagement Ceremony
Engagement ceremonies are an important part of French weddings, and they typically take place several months before the wedding. During the ceremony, the bride and groom exchange rings and declare their love for each other. They may also offer gifts to each other to commemorate their commitment.
In some parts of France, it is customary for the family of the bride and groom to gather around a table in order to share a meal. This meal marks the start of the engagement period and often involves both families. After this, the couple signs the official engagement documents, and the families exchange gifts.
Another important part of the engagement ceremony is the exchange of symbolic items. It is not uncommon for couples to exchange a bouquet of flowers or a simple but meaningful token such as a ring or necklace. Additionally, some couples will make an offering to the Catholic Church. This offering usually consists of a small donation or perhaps a prayer said in honor of the couple.
Once the engagement ceremony is complete, the bride and groom are officially engaged! At this point, wedding planning can officially begin and friends and family can celebrate the couple’s commitment.
French Customs Before Marriage
There are often no pre-wedding customs preceding the big day at a traditional French wedding. For instance, it is not customary to hold a bridal shower, rehearsal dinner or even a rehearsal. There is one exception, however, and that is that the soon-to-be newlyweds are frequently given bachelor and bachelorette parties.
Additionally, both families are heavily involved in the wedding preparation process in French marriages. Compared to American weddings, the groom’s parents, especially his mother, play a considerably bigger role.
How Long is the Celebration at a French Wedding?
As has already been established, French weddings are designed to be appreciated slowly. So, do not anticipate them to act quickly. They frequently go on well past midnight and into the wee hours of the morning.
You might stay out until six or seven in the morning. We suggest you take a snooze before and wear comfortable shoes. However, the celebration seldom lasts until three in the morning at destination weddings in France, which is already late for American couples, whose ceremonies often close around midnight.
What Are Customary Wedding Presents in France?
Another custom is to provide wedding gifts to visitors. Favors are frequently delectable treats that visitors may eat, such as macarons, chocolates or Jordan almonds. Alternatively, the favor might be something regional, like a lavender sachet or a product made in the area where the wedding celebration is being held.
Unsure of what to give the delighted couple? In French weddings, the couple typically makes it simple for guests by setting up a registry. However, what makes French weddings special is that the registry frequently takes the form of a “kitty,” where guests can give a certain amount of money and the couple can then choose whether to use it toward a gift on their registry or take it as cash.
Wedding Attire in France
The traditional wedding outfit for the bride-to-be is a white wedding dress. On the other hand, depending on the formality of the ceremony, grooms have a few alternatives to pick from.
Grooms may select a “morning suit,” which is a three-piece suit, typically in a gray tone, for traditional French weddings. The suit includes a jacket with tails and a top hat completes the look.
Grooms who like a more contemporary appearance might go with a precisely fitted suit in blue or a light hue like tan or cream. A black suit is often not a good choice. Some grooms even go for the “high-low” style by wearing white shoes with their suits.
The couple must also select two to four témoins for their French wedding, who will act as witnesses and sign the civil marriage certificate. “The témoins are usually friends or siblings, and their role is similar to that of maid of honor and best man.
French Marriage Ritual and Tradition
To get married in France, prospective spouses must first undergo a civil ceremony at their town hall or city hall. Couples frequently take care of the civil ceremony before traveling to France for destination weddings. Then, on the day of their wedding celebration at their preferred wedding site, they can, if they so choose, have a religious service or a symbolic ceremony.
The civil wedding can take place on the same day as the religious wedding, but it can also happen on a different day with a smaller number of relatives and friends and be followed by a cocktail reception known as a “vin d’honneur.”
What Are Some Other French Wedding Traditions?
Check out these other similar posts for wedding ideas you can adopt for your big day:
- Ultimate Guide to Chinese Weddings
- Ultimate Guide to German Weddings
- Ultimate Guide to Cuban Weddings
1. The Garter
It appears that the garter’s lineage dates back to prehistory, a period that is quite remote. In fact, prehistoric cave walls have been discovered with drawings of women wearing weird bands around their thighs that resemble contemporary garters.
Surprisingly, the only people who could wear them at the time were warlocks. According to legend, the garters had magical abilities. Then, it started to show up in all legends and stories, turning into magical charms.
Later, in the Middle Ages, King Edward III of England witnessed the lady’s garter falling to the ground while dancing with the Countess of Salisbury. The most illustrious order of British chivalry, the order of the garter, was created when the latter took it up and tied it to his own leg.
Today, the garter is most often associated with purity (white) and loyalty (blue). It is worn by brides on her upper thigh. It stands for her innocence. The Hebrews’ preferred colors of purity and loyalty are white or blue.
2. The snuff box
This is undoubtedly one of the strangest French wedding traditions. This uniquely French practice got its start in the Aveyron area. It represents the transition from youth to maturity. In order to proclaim their marriage to the hamlet, the bride and groom had to walk behind a wagon while holding a chamber pot in each hand. The morning following the wedding, the newlyweds’ friends would search for them early in order to retrieve their chamber pot.
It entails awakening the bride and husband and serving them an odd concoction, frequently composed of chocolate, bananas and champagne, all of which are placed in a toilet paper-decorated chamber pot. After their wedding night, the chamber pot was intended to fortify the bride and groom.
In other words, following the wedding ceremony, the family will gather food scraps and flush them down the toilet in the newlyweds’ room. They wait till the couple has sampled it before leaving.
French Wedding Music and Dance
When it comes to a French wedding, one of the most important elements is the music and dance that come with it. From the traditional waltzes and polkas to the more modern pop and rock tunes, you can be sure that there will be plenty of music to set the mood and get everyone up on their feet!
The waltz is the most popular dance for a French wedding, with guests taking turns dancing in pairs around the room. The music is usually classical or traditional French, such as the popular “Carnaval de Paris” by Charles Trenet. Polkas are also popular, although they are usually shorter and faster than waltzes. For a more modern vibe, couples may choose to have their guests dance to contemporary French pop and rock songs, such as the ever-popular “Viens Danser La Vie” by Jean-Jacques Goldman.
No matter which style of music you choose for your French wedding, it is sure to be an unforgettable experience. Dancing, especially in pairs, is an integral part of a French wedding, so make sure you don’t forget it when planning your own!
When it comes to French weddings, the guest list is a critical component of the event. Traditionally, a French wedding is a large, festive affair that brings together family, friends and acquaintances from all walks of life. The guest list may include up to 200 people, so couples must be sure to keep their invitations succinct and accurate.
The bride and groom will often put together a seating plan for the reception. As in many other cultures, the seating plan is usually arranged according to status or familial relationships. Friends will be seated together, as will family members and other significant figures. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept of a seating plan, it’s important to note that it can be a great way to ensure that everyone gets along and enjoys their time at the reception.
It’s also common for French weddings to include special entertainment or activities for the guests. Often, these will include dancing or music performances by professional entertainers. The guests will often be expected to join in on the fun, so it’s important to prepare accordingly!
Finally, it’s customary for guests to bring gifts or money to the wedding. These gifts are typically given in order to honor the bride and groom and their new union. It is also traditional for guests to bring small tokens of appreciation or congratulatory messages. No matter what the gift may be, it should be presented with respect and sincere appreciation for the couple.
The Wedding Reception
Including entertainment starring their favorite persons is a pleasant French wedding custom that couples may enjoy as they approach married life. The couple’s friends and/or family frequently provide entertainment for the dinner guests at French weddings. This frequently takes the form of entertainment prepared as a surprise for the couple, such as skits, games, music or video presentations.
French people place a high value on food and wedding menus frequently include celebratory ‘prestige’ foods like foie gras and smoked salmon. Champagne is the main beverage offered during the cocktail hour, which typically lasts much beyond an hour because it is traditionally connected with celebration in France.
French wedding dinners can go long into the wedding night. The celebration frequently gets started at midnight. Wine is a must at a French wedding meal and that it is frequently chosen and served by the families themselves.
It’s also typical for couples planning destination weddings in France to combine American and French wedding customs, which may involve shortening the duration of the seated lunch.
A “pièce montée de croquembouche,” or tower of cream-filled pastry puffs placed in a pyramid or piled in another shape, is the traditional French wedding cake.
The reception is an important part of any French wedding and it is often the highlight of the day. The festivities typically start with a cocktail hour, followed by dinner and dancing. Depending on the size and budget of the wedding, the reception can take place at a traditional French venue such as a chateau or at a more modern location like a restaurant.
At the reception, guests are expected to mingle, chat and enjoy some of the delicious French cuisine that is served. Depending on the region of France, dinner will often consist of several courses, including salads, cheese plates and main dishes like coq au vin or steak frites. A selection of French wines are usually available to accompany the meal.
Once dinner has been enjoyed, it’s time to get up and dance! Traditional French music is played throughout the night, and guests are encouraged to join in the fun. Popular songs include “La Vie en Rose” by Edith Piaf, “Alouette” by Charles Trenet and “Sous le Ciel de Paris” by Yves Montand. It’s not uncommon for guests to don traditional French costumes and make up their own dance moves.
In some cases, the evening can be extended with a second reception in the morning. This can include a brunch with French-inspired dishes like croissants and crepes.
No matter how long it lasts, the reception at a French wedding is sure to be full of joy and unforgettable memories!
Different Wedding Venues
When it comes to French weddings, couples have a variety of venues to choose from. Each type of venue has its own unique charm and atmosphere.
Traditional venues are very popular in France, particularly churches and chapels. Many couples choose to get married in a church or chapel because of the beautiful architecture, stained glass windows and religious symbolism. Plus, many churches and chapels can accommodate large wedding parties.
Wedding halls are another great option for couples who want a more modern venue. Most wedding halls have modern amenities such as catering services and event planners. They also offer ample space for larger parties and receptions.
Outdoor wedding venues are becoming increasingly popular in France. Whether it’s a picturesque beach or a secluded garden, these venues provide stunning backdrops for wedding photos. Couples should keep in mind that some outdoor venues may require special permits for hosting events.
For an elegant yet intimate setting, some couples choose to get married at a private estate or mansion. Private venues often come with lush gardens and luxurious interiors, making them ideal for romantic ceremonies.
Finally, destination weddings are another popular option in France. With destinations such as Paris, Provence and the French Riviera, couples can choose to get married in a variety of unique and beautiful locations.
No matter what type of venue you choose, you’ll be sure to have an unforgettable experience celebrating your special day in France!
French Customs After the Wedding
French weddings sometimes include a brunch the following day for the couple’s close relatives and friends, which is frequently held at the same location as the ceremony.
A French wedding is an experience that is truly unique, from the attention to detail in the decorations to the focus on the guests and their comfort. Every element of a French wedding comes together to create an unforgettable atmosphere and an event that will be remembered for years to come. Whether you are planning your own French wedding or just attending one, there are many traditions to keep in mind and enjoy.
From the traditional dress and engagement ceremony to the carefully chosen menu and decorations, each element of the wedding is part of a larger, beautiful tradition that celebrates two people’s love and commitment. A French wedding is a memorable event and the perfect way to start a lifetime of happiness.
Serena & Dominic are a married couple and parents to 3 wonderful children. They plan weddings, run multiple small businesses, and curate wedding events.
By giving you everything you need to make your dream wedding attainable, you can eliminate stress, get the ‘wedding glow,’ and focus on spending this rocking day with the person you adore. Discover their podcast for more information