Mexican weddings tend to be large family affairs, oftentimes even treated as family reunions. Everyone from all sides of the family is invited, along with handfuls of friends, which means guest lists often exceed 200 people. Whether or not you’re related to the couple—if you’re celebrating, eating, and dancing together, then you’re family.
Mexicans are overwhelmingly Catholic, so most Mexican weddings are rooted in faith and take place in a Catholic church. If you’re invited to a Mexican wedding, it’s helpful to gain an understanding of the symbols and customs you’ll see in order to fully appreciate the intricacies of the ceremony and their significance to the couple’s life together.
“Mexican weddings are very festive,” says Father Ryan Zamora Carnecer, the pastor at Divine Providence Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas. “Many times there are mariachis that play during the mass, and the church is beautifully decorated with flowers and colorful decorations. At the same time, it’s very faith-based, and there’s a focus on God and our Blessed Mother, Mary, to guide the couple through this journey.”
Meet the Expert
Father Ryan Zamora Carnecer is the pastor at Divine Providence Catholic Church, which is part of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Texas. He’s been serving Hispanic communities for over ten years and performed at hundreds of Mexican weddings.
Read on for the most common traditions you'll see at a Mexican wedding.
Los Padrinos y Madrinas
Los padrinos y madrinas are chosen by the couple and play a significant part in the wedding. They’re like godparents, and often sponsor portions of the wedding, like purchasing the Bible or other elements of the ceremony, giving the readings during mass, and hosting the bridal party. There are no defined roles and responsibilities for los padrinos y madrinas, and no minimum or limit to how many can be included. It’s an honor and privilege to be asked, and those who are asked are often examples of faith, love, and devotion that the couple would like to emulate in their marriage.
Occasionally, the couple will hire mariachis to sing the hymns and religious songs performed during mass, as well as at the reception.
Marriage is one of the seven sacraments in the Catholic faith, along with sacraments like baptism, confirmation, and reconciliation. The church is considered the house of God, and it is a place of worship, so Catholics consider it very important to perform this holy sacrament in the church. “The rite of marriage is not just between two individuals, but also God's presence,” says Father Ryan. “It’s their prayer, so that’s why it’s inside the church.” Depending on the couple, certain parts or the entirety of the ceremony might be in Spanish. “Even if a couple primarily speaks English, they may ask that the wedding be performed in Spanish for their parents and grandparents,” says Father Ryan. You’ll often see both parents walking their respective children down the aisle. Mexican culture honors both parents equally, and walking their child down the aisle symbolizes both parents’ consent to the marriage.
Mexican weddings take place within a mass, which is similar to the mass that takes place every Sunday, but with the addition of marriage rituals. Those rituals include the exchange of consent (or vows), and the nuptial blessing, which we’ll get into later.
At different points throughout the mass, the couple (along with guests in the pews) will kneel to pray. Los padrinos y madrinas will often gift these kneeling pillows to them, typically white and embroidered with lace. The couple will keep the pillows as mementos of their special day.
Exchange of Consent
“The exchange of vows is essential to the marriage rite, where each one exchanges their consent and is followed by a reading from a Bible,” says Father Ryan. After the traditional mass, the pastor performs the Exchange Of Consent, otherwise known as vows. By promising before God and the rest of the church to love each other faithfully for the rest of their lives, the couple forms an unbreakable covenant.
The couple will exchange rings as a symbol of their love and commitment to one another.
Las Arras Matrimoniales (Marriage Coins)
The arras are 13 gold coins inside an ornate gold box, and they’re often a gift from los padrinos y madrinas. During the ceremony, the pastor will bless them, and the groom presents these 13 coins to his bride as a gift. This Mexican tradition signifies the groom's commitment to supporting the bride and serves as a representation of Jesus and his 12 apostles to show that their relationship to God is crucial to the success of their marriage. “The coins remind the couple that their treasure is now one, and they will share in all that they have together,” says Father Ryan. “At the same time, it reminds them to help those who have less than them.”
Liturgy of the Eucharist (Communion)
Communion takes place after the vows because receiving the eucharist as their “first meal” together signifies the newlyweds’ reliance on God to sustain and support them during their marriage. “You're not supposed to receive the Holy Communion if you’re not Catholic, so guests can stay in their seats if they’d like, but if you would like to receive a blessing, put your hands over your chest in an X and the priest will bless you when you come up to the altar,” says Father Ryan.
El Lazo (Wedding Lasso)
El lazo is a unity ceremony performed after the exchange of vows using a lasso to join the couple. The lasso could be anything, but it’s typically an oversized rosary or a silk cord. El lazo is placed over the couple by los padrinos y madrinas and signifies their new status as one in the eyes of the Lord. “The lasso is a symbol of their mutual support for each other in carrying their duties and responsibilities as a couple,” says Father Ryan.
The Nuptial Blessing
At the end of the ceremony, the priest will perform the Nuptial Blessing, which is a prayer for the couple that unites them as “one flesh.” The priest asks God to watch over them and prays that they may be faithful to each other and live a long, happy life together.
Presentation of the Bouquet
It’s common for Mexican couples to present the bridal bouquet to the Virgin Mary after the ceremony and ask for her blessing. “We are praying with Mary to ask for her intercessory prayer that their desires as a couple be heard,” says Father Ryan. A second bouquet is prepared ahead of time for the bride to carry in photos and at the reception.
La Callejoneada (Wedding Parade)
La Callejoneada is a parade that takes place after the wedding ceremony. Led by the upbeat music of mariachis, la callejoneada is very similar to a Second Line that might take place at a wedding in New Orleans. It’s a walking and dancing celebration that takes guests from the ceremony to the reception and gets them in the mood to party all night.
Mexican wedding receptions are some of the best parties you’ll ever attend. From the never-ending dancing to lively mariachi music, and the incredible food and desserts, it’s a celebration that goes well into the night, and sometimes even into the next day. Traditional Mexican wedding food includes things like tacos, tamales, pork carnitas, chiles rellenos (stuffed poblano peppers), enchiladas mole, and more. Variety is the key here: multiple types of meat, sauces, and salsas will all be options.
Most Mexican weddings will have an open bar, serving everything from traditional Mexican beers and tequila to margaritas. You’ll likely be handed a shot of tequila at some point, at which point you might hear a common Spanish toast: “¡Arriba (up), abajo (down), al centro (to the center), pa' dentro (to the inside)!” Some Mexican weddings will serve aguas frescas for the kids and non-drinkers, which is a sweet, flavored water beverage. Traditional flavors include horchata (rice and cinnamon), tamarind, limon (lime), and sandía (watermelon).
Many Mexican people love sweets, and will likely have a whole table stacked with elaborate displays of cakes, candies, and cookies to choose from. Aside from the traditional wedding cake that the couple will cut together, treats might include traditional Mexican desserts like tres leches cake, flan, polvorones (known as Mexican wedding cookies), buñuelos (fried fritters), and pan dulce (sweet bread).
La Vibora de La Mar (the Sea Snake Dance) is a song and dance where the bride and groom stand on chairs opposite one another and form an arch, which guests pass through while holding hands and dancing. The goal is to not break the snake formation, and that gets harder as the music gets faster.
As for the money dance, guests “pay” for a dance with the just-married duo by pinning dollars on their attire. It’s a way to secure some one-on-one time with the newlyweds—which is rare in large Mexican weddings—and to extend best wishes to the happy couple.
La Tornaboda (After Party)
La tornaboda is a smaller get-together held after the larger reception, or sometimes the next day, exclusive to family and close friends. If they get together the next day, they’ll also use this time together to open gifts. While everyone has a chance to celebrate at the big party, but family is at the heart of Mexican culture, so this is a time where those closest to the couple get to enjoy and celebrate the newlyweds in a more intimate and personal way.