The tradition of the 13 Coins

Continuing to explore diverse wedding traditions, weddings in any of the many Spanish-speaking cultures here and around the world are still most often Roman Catholic, but of course, not always.

Keeping in mind that Mexico, Puerto Rico, Central and South America, and Spain, all have specific traditions, certainly makes it hard to generalize. But there is one particular custom I’m highlighting, and it is indeed used in most all of these countries. It is also used in the Philippines. If your background is from any of these places, and whether you want a religious ceremony or not, you might consider using this wonderful tradition.

It is the ceremony of The Arras, or Las Arras Matrimoniales, and in English, The Thirteen Coins. This tradition has many variations but always centers on the concept of giving thirteen coins from the groom or grooms’ family to the bride. The coins are sometimes referred to as unity coins, or wedding tokens.

Pouring the coins back and forth.

The origin of this is reflected in the word ‘arras’ itself, which means ‘bride price,’ or sometimes translated as ‘earnest money,’ or ‘bride wealth.’ The history can be traced back to ancient Spain and Rome. The coins represent a dowry, and some believe that the number thirteen is used to represent Jesus and the twelve apostles. Other say it stands for each month of the year, plus one for the poor.

Today this tradition can be adapted in many ways and is sometime used for Quinceañera, the coming-of-age party for a 15-year-old girl, and even for a Bat Mitzvah, but usually it is for weddings. You might have a young boy bring the coins, similar to a ring-bearer, have the couple’s mothers or fathers bring them forward at the designated time, or simply have the coins at the altar.

Sometimes an ornate box is used to hold the coins, or a pouch. Often the priest blesses the coins. As you give the coins to your partner you make a promise for each one. This might take many forms, but thirteen promises (one for each coin) are: love, harmony, cooperation, commitment, peace, happiness, trust, respect, caring, wisdom, joy, wholeness and nurturing. The pledge, or promise can take other forms as well, giving your vow of responsibility to the marriage.

Beautiful boxes for the coins made by the bride!

I have created several variations of this tradition, sometimes even having the bride and groom give each other coins, symbolizing their commitment to support one another.  It brings a more modern sense of equality to the ritual, yet still holds the original intent: the couple’s hopes for good fortune and their commitment to each other through good times or difficult times.

However this ritual is performed, it is always beautiful. I officiated for a bride who created her own special boxes for the coins, and another couple used coins from their country of origin. You can make it as personal as you wish.

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