O Canada! Classic Canadian Weddings
by: Michael Kabel
The wedding customs of the Great White North have a special warmth all their own, the perfect antidote to all those chilly temperatures. Blending English and French customs with the traditions of many other nations, the modern Canadian wedding includes traditions and bits of each, while remaining true to itself, too. Canadians are unabashed about their love of a good party, and the wedding is often the biggest kind of celebration.
In many areas of the nation, weddings and wedding celebrations are similar to those found in the United States. For French Canadians living in Quebec and elsewhere, the wedding ceremony and reception take a turn a turn for the Gallic, incorporating the traditions and customs of the French countryside.
Before the Wedding
In many parts of the country, a special dance is held as a fundraiser to pay for the wedding celebration. In Manitoba, these dances are known as “socials,” while in Ontario they’re referred to as a “buck and doe” or “stag and doe.”
An older tradition, now considered largely obsolete, was the “trousseau tea.” The mother of the bride would host a luncheon or dinner party for those passing acquaintances and anyone else not necessarily invited to the wedding. The bride’s accoutrement, including the trousseau, would be placed on display. In the Western Canadian prairies, an assortment of cakes, pastries, and confections known as “dainties” were sometimes served.
For the Wedding Ceremony
In parts of Quebec, the groom and his friends and relatives will meet the bride at her house, and the new couple travels to the church with the bride’s parents in a procession of cars, some of which are decorated for the wedding celebration. The procession will honk their horns and yell out the windows, telling everyone about the wedding. The people they encounter will shout their good wishes back, and offer advice and friendly kidding as the procession moves, parade-like, through the entire town. Upon arriving at the church, the entire wedding assembly enters the church together.
Perhaps the most eclectic French-Canadian tradition involves the unmarried brothers and sisters of the bride and groom. At some point during the wedding reception, they’ll conduct a whimsical dance wearing elaborately colorful or ugly socks, and move to the accompaniment of a special tune. The sillier the dance, the better, and guests will throw money at the dancers as they hop and gyrate comically. The money is then given to the bride and groom, to help them start their household.
In parts of Manitoba, a Ukrainian dance called the “butterfly” is still performed during socials and receptions. Trios of dancers alternate between slowly and elegantly promenading across the dance floor.
Rather than gifts, some receptions request that all guests bring money to give to the new couple. A discreet line on the invitation reading “presentation only” informs the guests of this structure.
The reception dinner is sometimes elaborate, or may be a light snack before the real celebrating begins. Champagne is served along with plenty of “dainties,” and contemporary as well as modern music is played for dancing. Receptions last well into the night, even after the bride and groom have departed.