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Wedding traditions in the Caribbean

Discover traditional weddings in the Caribbean: embark for dream destinations where a wedding is traditionally an excuse for the whole village to come out and party.

In the Caribbean islands, weddings are often organized following the same main traditions. We'll take you to Jamaica and also we'll go to Cuba and Puerto Rico, discovering some typical wedding traditions on the way.

Wedding traditions in the Caribbean: multiple cultural influences

In the Caribbean islands, wedding traditions are derived from a unique cultural mix between traditions from both African and European culture. Christian religious ceremonies and ancestral rites from Africa blend harmoniously in Caribbean wedding celebrations. However Caribbean marriages have also been heavily influenced by American traditions from the United States due to its geographical proximity. Therefore today in the Caribbean, it is extremely common for the bride and groom to hire a wedding planner, as many American couples do.

Attending a wedding in the Caribbean is a unique opportunity to experience a party that knows no bounds. In an exceptional setting and accompanied by the sound of local musical instruments, weddings in the Caribbean islands are great celebrations that can last up to three days.

jumping-broomIn the Caribbean, the bride and groom traditionally go to the church together from the family home of either one of them, followed by their guests. The custom is to ring the church bells to announce the marriage to the inhabitants of the island. The wedding guests are not only close family or friends because in some Caribbean islands, wedding invitations are given by word of mouth! Generally, everyone is welcome to the wedding, especially during the procession that makes its way to the religious ceremony. People can mingle with the procession and may also follow the religious celebration in the church from the outside.

In the Caribbean, the marriage ceremony usually follows the Christian tradition, in particular the Catholic tradition. However, African influences are also present in wedding ceremonies alongside Anglo-Saxon traditions, including the jumping the broom ceremony (pictured right).

The villagers are accustomed to take to the streets to witness the procession of the bride and groom and their families. They share their impressions about the clothes and especially about the bride’s wedding dress.

The guests give gifts to the couple: this is often handicrafts and furniture for their home but it can also be animals or food.

A wedding reception in the Caribbean often offers free-flowing rum punch and local dance is at the heart of the party. People usually dance, eat and drink until the end of the night and on some islands, they start again the next day!

On the menu at a traditional wedding in the Caribbean are very spicy dishes and a lot of fried food like meat fritters or fried fish, and fruit-based recipes.

The wedding cake is a huge cake with a traditional recipe passed down from generation to generation. In the Caribbean, wedding cakes are mainly made of the typical fruits of the islands, lots of dried fruits and alcohol. Some ingredients in these cakes are kept in jars for months before the wedding date.

In the Caribbean, the couple will often spend their honeymoon on an island other than their own but if they cannot afford to travel their families and the villagers agree to leave them alone for a week.

Traditional weddings in the Caribbean: Focus on Jamaica

In Jamaica, a traditional wedding is an event of such utmost importance that the family prepares well in advance. Like most islands in the Caribbean, weddings in Jamaica bring together the wedding guests but also the villagers who can help out with cooking, decorations, making the bride's dress or preparing drinks.

At Jamaican weddings, the cakes are often carried on a long walk throughout the village and surrounding villages. The cakes are carried by married women but the bride should not see the cakes and they are well covered with a white cloth for the occasion.

Jamaicans usually go to church on the Sunday morning after the wedding reception and then organize a second wedding reception! Often the first wedding reception is held in the family home of the groom and the second in the house of the bride's parents. The second party is a livelier party than the first. A traditional dance opens the party with the bride and groom, their parents and witnesses.

As so often in the Caribbean, the wedding cake takes pride of place at the wedding reception. Custom dictates that the first piece of this cake is offered to the priest or pastor who celebrated the wedding Mass and then the next piece is reserved for the bride and groom.

Jamaican wedding cake is a fruit cake with rum and requires a long preparation time. Jamaicans usually offer the leftover pieces of cake to those who could not come to the wedding.

As is generally the case in the Caribbean islands, a couple who cannot leave the island for their honeymoon is entitled to one week vacation during which their privacy is respected by all. However the couple’s families provide them with their food and some take the opportunity to deliver advice on married life: a woman learns how to satisfy her husband, a man is told how to make his wife happy.

A traditional wedding in Jamaica involves the whole community whether or not they are invited to the wedding. These traditions are no longer as vivid as marriages take place in town more often. However, in Jamaican villages it is still common to marry according to tradition.

Weddings in Cuba and Puerto Rico

doll-with-capiasIn Cuba, a traditional wedding in wealthy families is a big party at which music and dance are essential. Families rent out a beautiful traditional house for the occasion and hire vintage cars to make a beautiful procession through the streets. It is also fashionable to hold a wedding reception on the beach for Cuban families who can afford it. The bride and groom used to receive gifts from the mayor, but this custom has been abandoned.

Many Cuban weddings are primarily civil unions and the party for all the family takes the form of a meal at which everyone participates to help the couple to celebrate the event: family, friends and even neighbors.

In Puerto Rico, the religious ceremony is of great importance. It is customary for the priest to bless money that is given to the couple: a symbolic gesture that is done with coins. Once the couple have said "yes", the groom offers these coins to the bride. This old tradition is intended to bring good luck to the couple and also the hope of a happy and prosperous life.

Another wedding tradition in Puerto Rico is a bridal doll, dressed like the bride and covered with favors, known as “capias”, decorated with the bride and groom’s names and date of the wedding. During the reception, the bride pins these capias onto each guest as a memento of the day and to ensure that she gets to talk to each guest.

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