According to French law, couples are required to marry in a Civil Ceremony at City Hall prior to a religious church wedding. This is a short ceremony and is usually held in the morning with only family and close friends invited. The church ceremony follows and all guests are invited to this occasion.
Following the religious ceremony, all guests are invited to join in the ‘vin d’honneur’ – a light reception with champagne, cocktails and canapés. This casual party gives the bride and groom a couple of hours to mingle and chat with guests.
Be warned – French wedding meals can last upwards of four hours! Multiple courses of food and drink are enjoyed, whilst family and friends are expected to entertain the bride and groom with readings, games, sketches, poems or serenades throughout the meal. Dishes served include a starter, a fish dish, an alcohol sorbet / small glass of spirit, a meat dish, a cheese plate, a dessert and finally the wedding cake. Often the food will be a locally sourced specialite of the region.
French wedding table plans (plan de table de mariage)
At some weddings in France, the bride and groom choose to seat their close friends alongside them at the top table (in a similar style to the US head table), with parents seated at other tables. However, many wedding receptions in France now follow the more European top table seating plan, with bride and groom sitting with their family, maid of honour and best man.
Other guests are seated in family groups, however spouses are never seated together or facing each other unless they are recently married. Fiancées are always seated together.
A croquembouche or “piece montee” is a wedding cake made from choux buns filled with crème patissiere (a vanilla cream) held together with spun sugar in the shape of a large pyramid. Traditionally, to cut the croquembouche, the bride and groom would hit the top with a sword, silver mallet or even a champagne bottle. The top would crack off and the bridesmaids would catch the pieces by holding up the corners of the tablecloth. However, many couples simply opt to push a knife into the side of the croquembouche, which is then taken away to be dismantled and served as part of the wedding meal.
Dancing at a French wedding starts later in the evening, maybe not until after 10pm, and goes on into the small hours of the morning. Coffee and refreshments are often provided at about midnight, but this does not signal the end of the event – French wedding celebrations can last until the sunrise or beyond! Often, french weddings are held in the town’s ‘salle polyvalante’ – a function room with kitchen and smaller rooms off to the sides. Guests who do not want to dance until dawn may break off into the smaller rooms to play cards, or put mattresses and sleeping bags out for tired children.