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French Wedding Traditions and Customs

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The groom customarily walks his mother down the aisle before arriving at the altar to be married. This is a lovely gesture that can be easily adopted and will surely elicit a collective "aww" from the audience. The trousseau originated in France and it literally referred to a bundle of linens and clothing that the bride would take with her after the wedding, which were stored in a hope chest that was hand-carved by her father.

On the day of the wedding, the bride would take a long bath to wash away any thoughts of previous lives or loves. It is traditional for the groom to pick up his bride at her house and walk to the chapel. Typically in small towns, children block their path with white ribbons, which the bride cuts to symbolize breaking through these obstacles.

A pre-cursor to the modern veil may be a tradition that originated in France where the carre, a square piece of silk fabric, was held over the bride and groom’s heads as they received the priest’s final blessing in the ceremony to ward away descending malice and the bride would also wear a wreath of flowers on her head.

The traditional layered wedding cake originated in France, but another common cake is called the croquembouche, which is essentially a pyramid of crème-filled pastry puffs covered in a caramel glaze. These cakes probably originated from the Middle Ages when guests would bring small cakes or pastries and stack them in a pile. If the bride and groom could kiss over the cakes without knocking them over, then supposedly they would have a lifetime of prosperity.

Another fun tradition involves La Coupe de Marriage, which is an engraved two-handled cup (usually a family heirloom) from which the newlyweds toast each other. One interesting tradition which might be fun to incorporate is the beheading of a bottle of champagne. Skilled horse-back riders under Napoleon’s command would use special sabres to strike the bottles which ladies would hold up. The practice became a way to celebrate special occasions and even now it’s possible to buy replicas of the original sabres.

Finally, on the newlyweds’ wedding night, a crowd of their friends would interrupt the couple as a prank called chiverie by clanging pots and pans. The bride and groom were expected to then provide treats and drinks for their guests before they would finally leave them alone.

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