18 Portuguese Wedding Traditions for Your Special Day

Marriage is universally acknowledged and celebrated in various ways around the globe. Each nation has its unique history influencing its perception of marriage, and consequently, every culture embraces different wedding traditions. Portugal exemplifies a country rich in distinctive wedding customs deeply rooted in its predominant Roman Catholic faith, history, and cultural heritage.

The Portuguese, primarily identifying as Roman Catholics, infuse their wedding ceremonies with traditions reflecting their religious and cultural influences. These traditions form an integral part of the celebrations, making Portuguese weddings a fascinating blend of solemnity and festivity, underscored by deep religious and historical significance.

This article illuminates 18 engaging Portuguese wedding traditions, offering readers insight into the celebratory practices in Portugal. From the Copo-d’Água and reception escapes to prolonged processionals, each tradition adds a layer of enjoyment and cultural significance to the nuptial festivities.

Cherished Traditions of Portuguese Weddings

wedding reception

1. All-Night Receptions with Lots of Food

It is a well-celebrated Portuguese wedding tradition to have a reception that lasts until the next day, a custom also shared by cultures such as Spanish, Puerto Rican, and Haitian. Depending on your venue of choice, the reception can end anywhere from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m.

Upon entering, the guests are given a wedding cocktail. You might have a signature cocktail, or you can go with what the venue or caterers offer. If you prefer alcohol-free options, they can also serve sparkling water, juices, and water.

Afterward, guests can line up at the canapé buffet. In this buffet, you will find a selection of seafood, grilled meat, cured meat, charcuterie boards, cheeses, and hot or canapés. Make sure to leave some room for the main dinner. 

Traditionally, Portuguese wedding dinners can have 4 to 5 courses: starter, seafood course, palate cleanser, meat course, and dessert. The fish served is typically Bacalao, or codfish, as it has a rich history that dates back to the 1500s. You can modify this to include vegan-friendly options or remove one course to save some money on food.

Once everyone has finished their meals, it is time to party. As mentioned above, Portuguese wedding receptions can run until 7 a.m. To account for this, you can set up a cheese and charcuterie table. Your guests can quickly grab something to chew on while they dance — or take a break from dancing. In some cases, the hosts also serve breakfast to mark the end of the night-long celebration.

Traditional music plays all night, and every guest is encouraged to dance the night away on the dance floor. Concurrently, guests will share stories and anecdotes about the newlyweds with each other. If the couple wants to, they can play a few wedding reception games. They can also incorporate some popular wedding traditions, such as the bouquet toss.

2. Asking for the Bride’s Father’s Blessing

two men talking

In accordance with Portuguese traditional wedding customs, the father of the bride’s blessing is crucial. Historically, the groom would send a representative, often his father or a close friend or relative, to seek permission from the bride’s father for the union. Upon receiving approval, the groom-to-be can then formally propose to his intended bride.

This practice has its roots in the history of arranged marriages where families would determine the marital matches based on factors like social status, wealth, and reputation. In contemporary times, the emphasis has shifted, with more individuals choosing their partners based on love.

3. Bachelor’s Party with the Oldies

oldies walking on the streets

Typically, bachelor’s parties are associated with wild and unhinged parties. However, this is often not the case with Portuguese bachelors. For one, Portugal is mostly a Roman Catholic country. Thus, its population adheres to the teachings and commandments of God.

Another reason why Portuguese bachelor’s parties are typically tame is because of Portuguese wedding traditions. Custom dictates the groom-to-be to invite the oldest people in their community to his party. He will undergo the transition to married life in the company of his friends, loved ones, and wise individuals.

4. Barefoot Dancing at a Sibling’s Wedding 

two woman dancing on a party

Portuguese families are commonly tight-knit. As such, a lot of Portuguese wedding traditions revolve around familial relations. If a person’s younger sibling gets married before the eldest, the latter must dance without shoes at the former’s wedding. Failure to do so would mean that the eldest sibling will never find a partner.

5. Copo-d’Água(Cup of Water)

wedding reception hall

Receptions can get a bit hectic, especially when it is as long and fun as Portuguese wedding receptions. The Copo-d’Água tradition ensures that the newlyweds have an opportunity to socialize with all their guests. They will go from one table to another, engage in conversations with their guests, and ask them if they are enjoying the reception so far.

The next day, the newlyweds will try to visit their guests once again. The purpose of this visit is to personally thank them for their presence, love, and support.

6. Cutting the Cake Is a Proper Ceremony

bride and groom cutting cake

In many cultures, cake-cutting is a quick portion of the reception. Couples take a slice of the cake, feed each other a bite, then the program moves on to another part.

However, the same cannot be said for Portuguese weddings. A typical cake-cutting ceremony occurs near midnight, and venues usually have a dedicated spot for this tradition. Similar to Lebanese weddings, fireworks are set off as the cake is sliced.

The cake itself usually has a Portuguese egg paste filling. An almond marzipan layer forms the exterior of the cake. A popular choice of drink for this ceremony is Port or sparkling wine.

The first slice is usually given to an unmarried friend of the newlyweds. This custom is seen as a way of wishing them luck in their love life. Moreover, it is believed that if a guest places a slice of cake under their pillow, they will dream of their future partner.

7. Escape the Reception

woman looking over a party

Although the reception can last until the next day, the newlyweds must try to leave the party early. They have to devise the perfect plan to escape, as there will be many obstacles along the way. Their guests can go to lengths just to prevent their departure: they can take their car, misplace the couple’s belongings, coax them into dancing as long as possible, and so on.

8. Marriage Is a Family Affair

people talking at a diner

In American weddings, the couple’s families are involved as bridal party members. They may have some responsibilities, but various vendors and service providers will do the bulk of the work.

However, it is a Portuguese wedding tradition for the couple’s families to get deeply involved. Traditionally, the family of the bride hosts the party after the Catholic ceremony. Moreover, they are also tasked with planning, organizing, decorating, and making the food for the party. The groom’s side of the family would help wherever they can.

9. Money Dance

Money Dance @Jeff and Brooklyn wedding  reception

This Portuguese wedding tradition can also be observed in other countries, such as Mexico and Cuba. In a money dance, boys and young men will “pay” to get a chance to dance with the bride. In reality, the money is seen as a donation.

Commonly, the money they receive will be used to shoulder some of the wedding expenses. They can also use it to fund their honeymoon. Ultimately, the money is theirs; they can spend, save, or invest in any way they want.

10. Money in the Bride’s Shoe

During the reception, the bride will take off her shoe. Someone will put some money into the shoe before passing it to the next person. In Armenian weddings, where a similar tradition is practiced, this is done by the bride’s brother or another male relative.

Typically, this occurs concurrently or near the abovementioned money dance. Customarily, the money the newlyweds get from this tradition will be spent on their honeymoon. However, they are free to use it for other purposes.

11. Noisy Bridal Car

Once the wedding is finished, guests will attach various noise-making objects to the bridal car. The Portuguese believe that the noisier the exit, the more positive and fortunate their married life will be. 

12. Padrinho (best man) and Madrinha (maid of honor)

man kissing his wife

Choosing a padrinho and madrinha is a big deal for Portuguese couples. The padrinho and madrinha will not only perform important tasks during the wedding, but they will also guide the newlyweds in their married life. They will provide counsel, advice, and support to the couple for the rest of their journey. Whenever marital problems arise, the padrinho and madrinha are expected to help them.

13. Superstitions Surrounding Marriage

Even though Portugal is mostly a Roman Catholic country, some superstitions permeate everyday life. Here are some wedding-related superstitions that Portuguese people have:

  • If the couple finds a spider in their wedding attire, it is a symbol of good luck and fortune.
  • If you and your partner have the same first letter of your name, do not marry them.
  • It is best to have the ceremony on the day of the week your partner was born. It is even better if you get married on their birthday.
  • Whoever falls asleep first on the night of the wedding will be the first person to pass away.

14. The Priest Covers the Couple with His Stole

Upon the end of the wedding, the priest will cover the couple with the stole he is wearing. This Portuguese wedding tradition can be likened to a unity ceremony. Being covered with the stole represents the church’s promise to protect them as a unit.

15. Throwing Flowers

During the recessional, guests usually throw something at the newlyweds as a symbol of celebration and good fortune. In Portuguese wedding traditions, the common things to throw include flowers, bonbons, candies, confetti, and rice.

16. Traditional Wedding Gifts

wedding gifts

The groom’s family traditionally gave the couple an extravagant gift, such as a new house. After the wedding, they were foreseen to immediately move into this house.

The guests of the wedding are then expected to give gifts that the newlyweds can use in their new home. These gifts include furniture for their living room and bedroom, appliances for their kitchen, knickknacks, and so on. Overall, the guests intend to help the couple acclimate to married life.

To help the guests know what the couple needs, they usually set up a wedding registry. However, the guests are also free to give monetary gifts. This will help the couple with wedding-related and honeymoon-related expenses.

The brides’ and groom’s home addresses are indicated on the wedding invitation. This is because the couple is expected to still live with their parents while the marriage has not been solemnized. The wedding gifts are typically sent to the bride’s family’s house. These gifts are then displayed so that visiting friends and relatives can look at them and talk about them. The family usually serves tea and cake as this happens.

17. Very Long Processionals

bride and her bridesmaid

Walking down the aisle is one of the most unforgettable parts of any wedding. Typically, the processional starts at the entrance of the church. Only the bridal party, including the entourage, gets to walk down the aisle.

However, in Portuguese weddings, this part of the ceremony is longer. The processional starts from the bride’s home, and she will go on foot to the church. The bride is accompanied by the bridal party and all the wedding guests. This Portuguese wedding tradition is more commonly observed in rural or small communities.

18. Wedding Attire

The groom typically wears a white shirt under a dark suit. His outfit is then completed by a sophisticated top hat.

The bride traditionally wears a Chinese-style tunic in the color white. However, brides from northern Portugal typically wear black to represent their vow of loyalty to their grooms. Regardless of where they are from, Portuguese brides elevate their outfits with an array of vibrant jewels.

Final Thoughts

Drawing from its rich cultural and religious roots, each wedding tradition in Portugal adds a unique flavor and aura to the celebration of love. These customs, woven into the social fabric, reflect not only the nation’s history but also the joyous and communal spirit of the Portuguese people.

As we conclude, the vibrant Portuguese wedding traditions encapsulate a profound sense of community, faith, and love, offering an enchanting experience for both participants and observers alike. These delightful traditions, each with its own unique significance, contribute to a festive and unforgettable celebration.

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