Universally, a wedding is about three C's—ceremony, commitment, and celebration—but so much of the experience depends on who and where you are. Take a walk down someone else's aisle for a change—with our Weddings Around the World series that explores marital traditions all across the map. This stop: Brazil. 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," wedding planner Samantha Cooley says. "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 owner of Noiva Tranquila (which, funnily 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.
- 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, Samantha Cooley walks us through a modern Brazilian wedding, and Schmidt shares special insights from her own—with photos that are so breathtaking, you may actually want to sit down for this.
The average ceremony lasts about an hour and may include 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."
Expect grand entrances for the groom, the bride, their attendants, and "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.
In the past "only male priests or ministers conducted the ceremony," says Cooley, but nowadays there are plenty of popular options for couples who want more unique proceedings—including women officiants or having the bridesmaids and groomsmen lead the service. "Sometimes the whole thing is just the couple doing their vows," says Cooley.
The party goes 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."
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) and the bem casado (translation: "well married), a small fluffy cake usually filled with dulce de leche.
Tons of Dancing
In addition to bands or DJs, many Brazilian couples choose to have a live attraction "like samba dancers from our carnival celebration," says Cooley, and "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."
Lifting 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!"