Italian Wedding Traditions and Superstitions

Get the 411 on a few age-old traditions of “nozze” (that’s “wedding” in Italian) and you’ll make your own Italian wedding truly authentic.

Photo by Annette Dragon

The Rehearsal Dinner

Before the pasta is passed at the rehearsal dinner, the best man toasts “Per cent'anni,” or “A hundred years,” to wish the new couple a century of good luck, often with a glass of prosecco, the Italian version of champagne. Another common toast: "Evviva gli sposi!" (“Hooray for the newlyweds!"). Italian brides once wore green on the eve of their wedding to bring good luck. Revive the tradition by pinning on an emerald brooch or tying a green sash around your rehearsal dinner dress.

The Ceremony

Tying a ribbon across the doorway of the church lets passersby’s know that your wedding is taking place. Superstitious Italian grooms carry a small piece of iron in their pockets to ward off evil spirits, and brides rip their veils for good luck. Italians put less of an emphasis on bridal parties -- there’s usually only a best man and a maid of honor, who serve as witnesses.

The Exit

As you exit your ceremony, expect locals to shout “Auguri!” (“Best wishes!”) and clap, whether they’ve met you or not! You’re sure to attract a crowd if your getaway is a vintage Alfa Romeo. Instead of roping clanging cans to the back, follow the Italian tradition of decorating the front grill with flowers to pave your road to la dolce vita (the sweet life).

The Reception Food

Food is the focus of any true Italian festa -- some Italians eat their way through as many as fourteen different leisurely reception courses! Stick to fresh, seasonal dishes with savory appetizers (olives, prosciutto, and salami) and hearty entrees (pastas with thick sauces, veal, and venison). Serve wanda (bowties), which are twists of fried dough covered in powdered sugar, for dessert.

The Reception Drinks

Visit a few Italian vineyards before the wedding to grab several bottles of regional wine. You can snag high-quality vintage wines straight from the Italian countryside in flavors designed to pair with local cuisine, all at a fraction of what you’d pay for the same wines in the U.S. Check out our wine-pairing guide to pick the perfect variety.

The Budget

Wedding expenses adding up? Not to worry -- your Italian guests will help pay! Italian brides carry a satin bag (la borsa) at the reception for guests to place envelopes of money in, a tradition called the “buste.” Daring brides wear it around their necks for male guests to drop in money in exchange for a dance.

The Dance

"La Tarantella" (or “the tarantula”) is the most frenzied way guests wish the newly married couple good luck. Dancers hold hands and race clockwise until the music speeds up, and then they reverse directions. The tempo and direction continue to change until the group succumbs to the speeding music in a dizzy dog pile.

The Cake

Cake isn’t served in many regions of Italy; guests instead receive “confetti,” or candy-coated Jordan almonds symbolizing the bitter and sweet to come. If you can’t imagine your wedding without a cake but want to stick to tradition, serve another regional favorite, mille-foglia, an Italian cake made from layers of light filo pastry, chocolate and vanilla creams, and strawberries. Or serve up zuppa inglese, tiers of pound cake filled with chocolate and vanilla custard, rum cream, and fruit, topped with sugar flowers or a candy dove, a symbol of lasting love.

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