Variations on a Theme

There is an interesting intersection of the many customs and rituals of weddings. One with surprising commonalities is the African-American ‘jumping the broom’ and the Celtic ‘jumping the oak branch’. But today I want to talk about a tradition used in wedding ceremonies in Spain, Latin American countries, and the Philippines:The ‘arras’ or 13 Coins, sometimes even simply called ‘wedding coins.’ This is another great example of the many ‘unity’ rituals performed all over the world.

Coins boxes made by one of my brides!

I’ve had the good fortune to perform the 13 Coins ritual in a few different situations, giving each one its own unique interpretation. Although I’ve written about this tradition before, a few years ago, today I’m going to share variations. These twists or modern takes on the ancient custom illustrate how rituals can be changed to fit any couple and the times we live in.

Traditionally the priest blesses the coins, hands them to the groom, who repeats the words, such as: ‘all that I have is yours, and all that you have is mine.’ For modern couples I have added words and asked the couple to pass the coins back and forth, each one making a promise to the other. After all, why should it only be the man promising support? Doesn’t the woman also have an equal role? I don’t believe it is just money we’re talking about, but emotional support, too. Two brides, or two grooms? Not a problem. Today it’s all about equality, at least I hope so.

If there is no priest blessing the coins, it would be an honor to invite a friend or family member hold the coins through the ceremony and bring them forward as needed. The coins can be blessed, and again, asking a someone to do that is an honor, but they don’t have to be.

Additional promises can be added – something like: ‘I give you these coins as a symbol of my heritage and my love and commitment to you.’ There is no requirement that specific words be used in this tradition making it very open to new interpretations.

It looks nice when one partner cups their hands and the other dramatically pours the coins into them from a few inches above. Don’t just hand the person those coins, pour them with panache.

If one or both partners are fluent Spanish speakers they can repeat in Spanish, but since I don’t speak Spanish, I’ll say it in English. In any bi-lingual group, it’s always good to have translations anyway!

The coins themselves offer opportunities. You might choose coins from different countries, whether county of family origin, or even countries you’ve visited. I have included sobriety coins from AA. There are many ways to express something additional with those coins.

Sometimes there are heirloom coins in a family, especially when they are actual gold coins. Using gold coins, by the way, is traced back to an ancient Roman custom of breaking gold or silver, one half to be kept by the woman and the other half by the man, as a pledge of marriage, but the custom of the giving of these wedding coins originated in Spain and spread from there. The gold coins are sometimes presented in an ornate box or on a gift tray, historically representing the bride’s dowry. Still to this day the custom certainly represents wishes for prosperity.

Modern couples are looking for more personalized ceremonies to express who they are and what they believe. Taking an old tradition and reimagining it is a great way to do just that.


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