As part of our series exploring wedding traditions around the world, we’re heading to Europe to discover the marriage customs of Italy, known for family-focused celebrations and lively events.
Whether you’re attending a wedding ceremony in Italy or just curious about Italian marriage culture, we’ll tell you the need to know, from Italian wedding food to recommended gifts.
Italian wedding traditions
With its lavish villas and breathtaking vineyards, Italy is a popular destination for weddings.
It’s nice to include some of the local customs when getting married in another country, paying homage to the local culture.
Luckily, Italy isn’t short of easily incorporated traditions, with some having an intriguing history.
Remove gold jewellery
In some regions of Italy, it’s thought that wearing any gold jewellery, apart from your wedding ring, can bring bad luck to the marriage. This simple action focuses on the wedding band and allows you to experiment with other jewellery types on your special day.
Avoid your reflection
While it’s customary in several cultures for the groom to avoid seeing the bride in her wedding dress before the ceremony, Italian tradition takes it one step further, preventing the bride from catching her reflection until fully ready. Once gowned, she must remove a glove or a shoe before looking.
Groom pays for flowers
In Italy, once the bride has chosen her blooms and colour scheme, it’s traditional for the groom to pay for the bouquet and ensure its safe delivery. This custom sometimes means handing the bouquet to the bride once she’s at the church.
Good luck tokens
Many countries have ways of making their own luck on wedding days. Italian grooms typically carry a small piece of iron in their suit pockets, while brides tear a small part of their veil.
No white outfits
Apart from the bride, no one else is allowed to wear white at an Italian wedding — this custom still applies even if the bride isn’t wearing a white dress.
Marry on a Sunday
When it comes to Italian weddings, certain days of the week are considered better than others. It’s thought of as bad luck to get married on a Friday, while Sunday is viewed as the luckiest day, promising fertility and success within a relationship. Getting married on a Tuesday? According to tradition, you could be in for a rocky marriage.
Who pays for an Italian wedding?
It is traditional for the groom’s family to cover most of the expenses of an Italian wedding, except for the wedding dress, invitations, bridesmaids’ dresses, and flower decorations, which are paid for by the bride’s family.
As mentioned, the groom pays for the wedding bouquet, while the best man or witness covers the cost of the wedding bands.
Earlier customs also saw the groom’s family paying for the newlywed’s home furnishings and honeymoon.
With a modern wedding in Italy costing anywhere between 15,000 and 100,000+ Euros, it’s no longer uncommon for the couple to pay for the majority of their wedding themselves.
Italian wedding dresses
Like many cultures, white is one of the most popular colours for an Italian wedding dress, symbolising purity and innocence.
Surprisingly, black is also a custom wedding dress colour in the Tuscany area of Italy, paired with a white hat. In Venice, some brides will also choose two dresses, with the more extravagant gown reserved for the first dance.
The bridal veil also has significance in some Italian cultures. Brides in Southern Italy opt for a veil that reflects their engagement length, with one metre for every year.
While there isn’t a specific rule for the wedding dress style, many Italian weddings occur in Catholic churches and follow the modest dress code. This means avoiding bare shoulders, low-cut necklines, and short skirts.
Italian wedding food
Food is one of the most important aspects of any Italian gathering, and weddings are no exception.
As anyone who has travelled to Italy knows, dishes vary depending on the region. However, you can rest assured the food won’t disappoint.
An Italian wedding banquet typically starts with a standing welcome cocktail that lasts around an hour. Once seated, guests receive two or three Antipasti, the first course of pasta or risotto, and then one or two main courses alongside a side dish. If the couple serves meat or fish, it’s customary to serve a refreshing sorbet between courses to cleanse the palette and prepare guests for the next dish.
The main courses are followed by a limoncello, fruit or dessert buffet, as well as the wedding cake. Unsurprisingly, traditional Italian wedding banquets usually end with an espresso coffee.
Italian wedding cake
A classic Italian wedding cake is millefogile, made of puff pastry layers filled with cream or custard. The traditional recipe is simple, but the cake is usually decorated with seasonal fruits, chocolate shavings, or chopped hazelnuts.
Modern couples often opt for more unusual wedding cake flavours and extravagant decorations, and other Italian wedding cake favourites include the sponge cake and Bavarian cream cake.
Italian wedding cookies
A traditional celebration will usually feature Italian wedding cookies, which are light and airy shortbread biscuits made from ground-up almonds and butter.
The cookies are flavoured with anise and covered in a sugar glaze. They are popular at all holidays and weddings, and the wedding cake may be a pile of these delicious biscuits in some celebrations.
During the Italian wedding reception, the bride and groom involve the guests in a cake dance to the cookie table, where they pick biscuits while they dance. Guests are also encouraged to take a cookie home to those who couldn’t attend the celebration.
Attending an Italian wedding
Attending an Italian wedding is a lively and memorable event. Impress the happy couple and brush up on the culture by observing these traditional customs.
Italian wedding favours
Almonds are a crucial part of Italian wedding favours. Five almonds decorate the place settings of each guest, signifying five wishes for the couple — health, wealth, happiness, fertility, and longevity. You’ll find them tucked into pretty boxes or tulle bags known as bombonieres, often personalised with the couple’s names and marriage date.
Other popular Italian favours include:
- A small bottle of liquor, olive oil, or wine, local to the region
- A silver-decorated teaspoon
- Murano blown glass, popular at Venetian weddings
- Small ceramics, customary in the Amalfi Coast and Campania regions
- Florentine leather items, traditional to Tuscany
Traditional Italian wedding gifts
Paying particular attention when selecting an Italian wedding gift ensures you follow traditional gift-giving etiquette, which is still practiced in modern ceremonies.
During the wedding reception, you may notice the bride carrying a satin bag, called la borsa. This is where guests place envelopes of money to help the couple plan for future arrangements such as a house or honeymoon. Some traditions invite guests to place money in la borsa if they wish to dance with the bride.
The amount of money you gift is also significant — in Italy, it’s not unusual for guests to give over 200 Euro to the happy couple. Large amounts are well received by both families, so you should keep this in mind if invited to an Italian wedding.
Physical gifts are also encouraged, especially at less traditional weddings. The newly married couple will appreciate a food-themed present, such as a lasagna pan, Italian dinnerware, or a pizzelle maker. Gift baskets of Italian cheeses, olive oils, olives, herbs, meats, pasta, sauces etc., are also a wonderful wedding present idea.
What to wear to an Italian wedding
The dress code for Italian weddings largely depends on where it’s held. Traditional Catholic weddings require a more reserved and formal outfit, with female guests wearing a jacket or shawl to cover their necklines. On more informal occasions, guests can wear shorter dresses or skirts and reveal more of their upper body.
You may also prefer to wear lighter clothes, such as linen or cotton if attending a spring or summer wedding in Italy. Avoid the colour black — not only will this make you hotter, but it’s also commonly associated with mourning in Italy.