18 French Wedding Traditions You Will Want to Know and Use
Home to Paris, the ‘city of love’, France is renowned as a romantic getaway and honeymoon spot. Therefore, it is not surprising that French weddings and traditions are thought of as the epitome of romance. When it comes to marriage, the French plan well and party hard, and along the way, they stay true to some very sweet (and sometimes rather bizarre) rituals.
Before the Wedding
It’s Not All About the Bride
You’ve probably seen or a heard a few stories about selfish brides, who are determined to be the center of attention, and a lot of cultures do in fact indulge this. Not the French! The focus of French weddings is much more about the union of two families, and in general, they are a lot less gendered. For example, while only the bride-to-be receives an engagement ring, there is a custom that she gifts the groom a watch.
This is basically a celebration of the engagement, where the immediate family of the couple meet up for a night or a weekend to get to know each other and start discussing wedding plans.
The night before the wedding, the bride and groom-to-be sleep separately. The idea is that their reunion will be even sweeter and more heartfelt on their wedding day.
When the big day finally arrives, it is traditional for the groom to pick up the bride on the way to the wedding. A group of musicians takes the lead, followed closely by the bride and her father. The groom and his mother follow along at the rear. Upon arrival, children block the entrance using white ribbons so that the bride must cut them to make her way through. This tradition is used to symbolise the bride’s strength and ability to handle whatever hardships that married life may throw her way.
French Wedding Ceremony Traditions
The French strictly abide by the separation of the church and government. Hence, a priest can marry a couple in the eyes of the church, but it is not legally binding. So French weddings will traditionally consist of two ceremonies. First, a legal ceremony in the town hall (La mairie), and second, a symbolic or religious ceremony in church.
Bridesmaids and groomsmen do not exist in French weddings. Instead, the couple each choose one or two ‘witnesses’ to be present. These witnesses can be either men or women for both the bride and groom.
French couples do include children in the ceremony. They are usually aged 5-12 and take up roles of flower girls and ring bearers.
The dress code for guests at French weddings is classy, formal, and conservative. So, nothing too tight or low-cut! While women have the option to wear a hat, men do not. It is also traditionally taboo for a female guest to wear a white dress.
Walking down the Aisle
The groom and his mother enter first. Then, children either lead the way with flower petals, or follow behind the bride to hold the train of her dress. The bride and groom then sit on red velvet chairs as they declare their vows.
Saying “I Do”
Instead of saying “I do”, French couples respond with “Je le veux”, which is translated as “I want it.” Something about this overt proclamation is the expressed desire for the union, rather than mere compliance, feels extremely poetic.
Another custom is for the guests to trail after the bride and groom as they make their way between the various wedding and reception locations. They do so with the sole purpose of making as much noise as possible to show off the newlywed couple. These days, instead of walking through the village, a parade of cars follows the bridal vehicle as they honk their horns, yell, and play loud music.
Le Vin D’Honneur
French weddings are highly organized. They even practice a tiered invitation system! A small reception with drinks and canapes is held for those guests who attend the ceremony but are no more than acquaintances. This gesture is an attempt to accommodate everyone since only close friends and family receive an invitation to the dinner reception.
Another typical French wedding tradition is for the guests to stand on their chairs and twirl their napkins in the air when the happy couple walk into the reception hall.
Buy the Garter
Though this is a less practiced tradition, it apparently still happens at some French weddings. Instead of being tossed, the garter is auctioned off. After the bride throws her bouquet, a jar is passed around the room. The lucky guest who bids the highest amount gets a chance to take off the bride’s garter. Oh la la!
The Brioche Dance
At some point after dinner, the newlyweds bring out a large round brioche. They then hold it up over their heads while the guests dance around them and duck underneath the platter. This carries on until everyone has had their turn.
Traditional French wedding cakes sound absolutely delightful. Instead of a white fondant cake often associated with weddings, the French serve a tower of crème-filled profiteroles called a Croquembouche. The balls of pastry are coated with crispy caramel or toffee and held together with some form of icing or ganache. A more modern and increasingly popular version of this is a tower made of colorful macaroons.
Like many modern wedding traditions in France, this is actually derived from an older tradition that was popular during the Middle Ages. Those attending would each contribute a small confectionary item, and they would be placed on top of each other in a stack. If the couple could steal a kiss over the mass without making it topple over, they were to share a long and happy life together.
A Hangover Cure
French people like to party, and weddings often run late into the night or even until the sun comes up. So, towards the end of the celebrations, guests are served La Soupe a l’Oignon (onion soup) to help them recuperate.
Le Pot De Chamber
This is definitely one of the more bizarre and less modern French wedding traditions. Apparently, the wedding party goes on a quest to find the newlywed couple after the celebrations are over. The unfortunate couple are then made to have a sip from a chamber pot containing a medley of booze, cake, sausages, and even toilet paper! We should probably mention that the chamber pot used for this little ritual will be brand new, and it does seem that this tradition is more commonly practiced in the countryside than in the cities.
Another characteristic of French weddings is the offering of sugar-coated almonds for the guests to take home with them. They traditionally symbolize everlasting love.