Weddings in Sicily

Every winter I take a vacation abroad, and I always try to crash a wedding if possible. Preparing in advance I want to learn about the local traditions. This year it’s Sicily, and as you read this I’m there right now!

As I studied up on their wedding traditions I’ve learned that for Sicilians, a wedding is probably the most important event of a lifetime. Historically it was a necessity – adding to social status, bringing the couple into the community. Unmarried people were considered weird, unlucky and not worthy of attention. 

the town of Cefalu in Sicily

As in other parts of the world, marriages were mostly arranged by parents or relatives, and couples often married without even knowing one another. 

Christianity was established in Sicily in the 5th century. The Byzantine, or Orthodox Church became their tradition, but by the 13th century the Roman Catholic Church made inroads on the island. 

I found this tidbit to be fascinating: many Sicilian wedding customs, especially before the 20th century, were based on Muslim practices dating back to medieval times when Arabs dominated the island. The church may have supplanted the mosque, but many Muslim traditions held on. It is not uncommon around the world  to find subtle influences rooted in ancient customs, and it shows us the power of history, religion, ritual and tradition. 

The bride on her way to church.

For Jews of course, the story is different. The Jewish explosion from Sicily was at its height in 1493 when the Spanish Inquisition reached the island.

But after 500 years, today there is a slight resurgence of the Jewish community when the Great Synagogue of Palermo was reopened in 2017. The building had been taken and used as a monastery, but it has now been returned to its historic owners.

The famous Godfather movies have two Sicilian weddings in the films. It is interesting and relevant to this discussion that they are very different. One is more modern and one very old-fashioned. One movie scholar writes that ‘As noted in the screenplay, Michael’s wedding is the same in feeling and texture as it might have been five hundred years ago, with all the ritual and pageantry, as it has always been, in Sicily.’

Lengthy engagements are still the norm but that is mostly due to financial concerns. Having a good job to support a family and pay for a home leads to courtships as long and six or seven years. And when the couple finally announces their engagement, it could still be another year or two until the wedding. The bride’s family bears most of the costs of the wedding. There are no bridal showers are we know them, but they do now use the bridal registry, which helps the couple establish their home.

His and hers VW beetles wait outside the church. how adorable is this?

Divorce was uncommon until the 1970s. The 1961 film, Divorce, Italian Style, is based on the fact that divorce was actually illegal then, and the story involves a husband fantasizing about getting rid of his wife. Apparently a satire, or ‘black comedy,’ it plays with the concept that its ok to murder your wife. At least that is what I gather, I haven’t seen it.

Until about 1900 most Italian weddings, complete with dowries, were arranged by consent of the spouses’ parents. A girl might be informally betrothed while fairly young, perhaps at fourteen, and wed at around the age of eighteen, although there were instances of girls marrying at fifteen. Sicilian marriages are no longer arranged by parents, and today your will even see public displays of affection and all the trappings of modern love and modern life. And today you can choose to have a civil ceremony, officiated by a mayor or civil registrar. Shocking! Same-sex civil unions and unregistered cohabitation have been legally recognized since June 2016.

Due to immigration and the exposure to the rest of the world, especially the EU and the U.S. the modern, western style wedding is in full swing. Even without travel opportunities, through TV and magazines, most Sicilians have adopted modern attitudes. 

find me on facebook – Lois Heckman, Celebrant, and Instagram – Lois Heckman

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