Are you attending a Brazilian wedding and not sure what to expect? We'll give you a hint: bring your dancing shoes. In a place known for its vibrant and celebratory culture, it's only natural that weddings would follow suit. When we asked Brazilian bride Gabriela Schmidt to describe a typical wedding from her home country in one sentence, she replied, "A big party where no one is sitting!" Instead, after the ceremony, guests are up and moving about—mingling with friends and family throughout the generally colorful décor, plating sweets from multiple dessert tables, or breaking a sweat on the very full dance floor.
"Here in Brazil, we have all kinds of different brides and styles," says Brazilian wedding planner Samantha Cooley. "More and more, they're not concerned about protocols and traditions of old; they just want their wedding to have their style." Still, she says, there are some rituals that have stood the test of time, and others you might recognize because they're also common in the States.
Meet the Expert
Samantha Cooley is a Brazilian wedding planner and the owner of Noiva Tranquila (which, ironically enough, means "relaxed bride" in Portuguese).
Before we break down the many customs and traditions of a Brazilian wedding, here are the answers to some frequently asked questions:
- What should I wear to a Brazilian wedding? The dress codes in Brazil tend to skew towards the more formal, but it is always best to consult the wedding invitation and take into consideration the formality of the event and time of day. Men should wear a suit, and women typically opt for knee-length or long dresses, depending on formality.
- How long does a Brazilian wedding ceremony last? A typical nuptial ceremony lasts for approximately one hour. This includes readings, vows, the switching of rings, and the signing of the marriage certificate.
- Where does the ceremony take place? Since the majority of Brazilians are Catholic, it's traditional for the wedding ceremony to take place in a Catholic church. However, just as in the States, the ceremony can be held at either the couple's preferred house of worship or at a separate venue, like the beach.
- Should I bring a gift? It is customary to give a gift—either a household item or a monetary present—when attending a Brazilian wedding. Although some couples have wedding registries, traditionally listed under the groom's name, some may not. If there is a registry, it is usually mentioned in the invitation.
Below, Cooley walks us through a modern Brazilian wedding, and Schmidt shares special insights from her own.
In Brazil, a wedding is more likely to be a whole weekend than a single day, Cooley says. The day before the wedding, the bride usually spends some time pampering with family at a local spa. Then comes the ceremony, which most often takes place on a Friday or Saturday afternoon, since it's followed by an all-night reception that can lead into a day-after-wedding party. Most couples choose a venue at the beach or a beautiful ranch house outside of a major city so that they're able to host an elaborate event. It's not uncommon for a Brazilian wedding to have as many as 200 guests!
Customized Dress Hems
One favorite Brazilian pre-ceremony task involves the bride writing all the names of single friends on the inside hem of their wedding dress. It's done the day of the wedding while getting ready and is considered good luck. According to Cooley, it's said to help their friends get married faster.
Madrinhas and Padrinhos
Akin to American bridesmaids and groomsmen, Brazilian couples have madrinhas and padrinhos to serve as witnesses to their ceremony. Typically, there isn't a best man or maid of honor. The to-be-weds choose a few couples (traditionally three) to stand by their side at the altar. Sometimes, they are in romantic relationships, but they can also just be friends or family members the couple has chosen to pair up.
A Mismatched Wedding Party
Unlike in the U.S., members of the wedding party don't wear the same outfit. While the padrinhos may wear the same color tie if it was gifted to them by the couple, madrinhas almost never wear the same dress—instead, they'll be wearing different, brightly colored gowns. In fact, it's considered bad luck for the madrinhas to wear dresses of the same color!
A Grand Entrance
Expect grand entrances for the groom, the bride, and their attendants. In Brazilian culture, the groom's entrance is (almost) as important as the bride's. Before the bride arrives, the groom enters the ceremony venue with their mother or a close female relative. Then, the bride will arrive, usually 10 minutes after the groom (for good luck) in a fashionable car. There will be music playing, and you can also expect to see some little ones walking down the aisle before the bride officially makes their entrance. "There's always a child carrying something," says Cooley, "like a bouquet of flowers, a big lollipop, or a cute board." Schmidt had multiple children in her wedding party adorned with flower crowns and toting precious bouquets, but it's traditional to have just two flower girls, one to scatter flower petals and the other to hold the rings.
Untraditional Officiants (or None at All)
In the past, "only male priests or ministers conducted the ceremony," says Cooley. Nowadays, though, there are plenty of popular options for couples who want more unique proceedings, like having a woman officiant or letting members of the bridal party lead the service. "Sometimes the whole thing is just the couple doing their vows," says Cooley.
An Hour-Long Ceremony With Natural Elements
The average ceremony lasts about an hour and includes several readings, the exchanging of vows, and rituals that incorporate water, sand, or fire. "This celebrates the elements of nature and their symbolism that connects to marriage," explains Cooley. "Water equals purification, earth signifies germination or fruitfulness or different paths, air suggests lightness and communication, and fire represents the flame of love and life." This may entail the couple blending two different containers of sand into the same vessel to signify the merging of two units. After the ceremony, the newlyweds and their witnesses sign the legal marriage certificate before heading off to the reception.
Unlike in America where there's a specific engagement ring and wedding ring, Brazilian brides and grooms only have one ring. There's also not so much meaning attached to the engagement ring as there is here in the U.S. Instead of an elaborate proposal, the couple usually makes a mutual decision to get married and then buys their rings together, which are usually gold with no diamonds. Throughout the engagement, the ring is worn on the right hand. During the wedding ceremony, instead of the couple exchanging a second set of rings, the original ring is switched from the right hand to the left to signify the shift from engagement to marriage.
To drink, look out for caipirinha, Brazil's national cocktail made with cachaça (a type of rum), sugar, and lime. Caipirinha is a Brazilian wedding staple, and it's not uncommon for there to be a bar dedicated to this strong drink at the wedding reception. Aperol spritzes, gin and tonics, and Moscow mules are other frequent finds.
Most Brazilian weddings have a sweets table with at least 10 kinds of sweets. "For a 200-person wedding, we have at least 1,000 sweets," jokes Cooley. These may include traditional Brazilian desserts such as brigadeiro (sprinkle-covered chocolate balls) or bem casado (dulce de leche–stuffed cookies—the name translates to "well married"). It's tradition to serve bem casado at a Brazilian wedding, which the couple wraps in a beautiful package and gives out to all the guests at the end of the reception. This little treat is a symbol of prosperity and good luck.
Lifting of the Bride's Dress
During the reception party, signature dance moves include the lifting of the newlyweds in chairs—similar to what you might see at a Jewish wedding—and the lifting of the bride's dress (pictured above). "In almost every Brazilian wedding I've gone to, women surround the bride on the dance floor and lift her skirt," says Schmidt, assuring us that it's in an appropriate manner. "The pictures look beautiful, and I have to confess: the breeze is super refreshing, too!"
Cutting of the Groom's Tie
Though it's a less common occurrence these days, an old-school tradition is the cutting up of the groom's tie into a bunch of little pieces later in the night. Each piece is then auctioned off to wedding guests, and the couple pockets the cash to presumedly put toward their honeymoon. Usually, a close relative or one of the padrinhos will lead the auction.
Tons of Dancing
A Brazilian wedding reception is all about music and dancing. Consider it a huge party with a ton of people and lots of good energy that lasts all night long. In addition to bands or DJs, many Brazilian couples choose to have a live attraction "like samba dancers from our carnival celebration," says Cooley. "It's also increasingly common to see the bride and/or groom participate in a flash mob with friends in addition to the traditional first dance."
Brazilian Food, Plus Dawn Snacks
Naturally, Brazilian weddings feature lots of Brazilian food, which can vary from region to region. Meat, rice, and beans are staples; one popular dish is feijoada, a slow-cooked stew made with beans and meat. In addition to the couple's favorite cuisine, there is often a "dawn snack," explains Cooley, "which is served very late, an hour or two before the wedding ends. Those are usually things like mini hamburgers, milkshakes, fried potatoes, wraps, or popcorn."
An All-Night Reception
Don't plan for a wedding reception that only lasts a few hours. The party goes on as late as the following morning! "When the wedding is on the beach, it usually starts earlier, around 4 p.m., and then goes anywhere from midnight to 3 a.m. depending on neighbors, or sound concerns," continues Cooley. "But when the wedding is in the city, things get going around 7 p.m. and last until between 2 and 5 a.m." It's also not uncommon for the party to last through the next day.