Weddings, Dominican style
When are wedding invitations sent?
Invitations should be sent 30 days (or an absolute minimum of three weeks) before the event for guests living in the same city, and 45 days for those residing elsewhere. There are typically two envelopes, within which is a large invitation separated by a silk paper from a small card inviting guests to the reception. Guests never need to take any of these items to the ceremony or reception.
Is it necessary to respond to the invitation?
A response is not necessary unless the invitation specifies “R.S.V.P.”, something which is not particularly common. Although it is considered polite to respond if requested, many people do not bother. If you suddenly find that you are able to attend, proceed with confidence, even if you have already made your excuses. According to wedding photographer Hector Báez, weddings are viewed as “splendid occasions”, and the hosts prepare generously.
If you cannot be present, it is still polite (“obligatory”) to send a gift.
Who may attend the wedding?
Our experts agree that young children should never be taken to weddings unless they are members of the wedding party.
The outer envelope will indicate who is welcome to attend. It is proper etiquette for older children who are invited to be listed separately; however, the common practice is to write simply, “Sr. Moreno y familia”, for example. It is acceptable to be accompanied by a boyfriend or girlfriend, even if this has not been specified on the invitation.
What is the Dominican way to give wedding presents?
Plan ahead. The vast majority of Dominicans deliver their gifts to the bride’s home before the wedding day.
Never take a gift with you to the wedding ceremony or reception. A few couples have been known to place a “treasure chest” at their reception for collecting more loot, but this is so rare you should not take the risk. If you absolutely cannot find time to purchase anything until the day of the wedding, arrange to have it delivered that morning, or leave it until the next working day.
Fortunately, your life is made easier by the fact that most brides register with a store, where a list is available of the items the couple wishes to receive. The shop will also take responsibility for wrapping and delivering the goods.
The challenge is finding out which establishment has been chosen. Sometimes the couple will include a card in the wedding invitation which details information on the shop where they are registered. This is not considered proper, as it indicates an untoward eagerness for gifts, mixing greed with the joy of the occasion (never mind that everyone is obliged to buy a gift in any case). One can scan the local papers, hoping to see the sole advertisement placed by the store congratulating the couple—or one can rely on radio bemba (word of mouth).
The traditional favorites for bridal registries are Casa Virginia, Cuesta Centro del Hogar, Tienda Mary, Alfonso’s Decorations, in Plaza Central, Hache, Americana Departamentos, among many others.
Wedding presents tend to be expensive; they certainly must not appear cheap (or ugly). One may purchase gifts which are not on the official list, but this does increase the risk of buying the same quaint picture frame as 25 other guests.
What should I wear to a wedding?
Anything which you would wear to a coronation would be appropriate, after all, you will be observing a “Queen for a Day”. There are no forbidden dress styles or colors. Black is considered very elegant and thus very appropriate. Technically, white should only be worn if the wedding is held before 6 pm, but the fashion police have observed numerous white suits even after the appointed hour. Forget the idea that you should not compete with the bride; it would probably be impossible in any case.
What time should I arrive?
Approximately 50% of Dominican weddings begin on time. (This is indeed a special event in Dominican society!) The remainder are late by only about 20 minutes.
Caribbean time is much more forgiving than demanding. If you find yourself unexpectedly delayed, do not be embarrassed to attend the reception even if you have missed the ceremony. Do not forget that weddings with over a thousand guests are not uncommon (particularly among older families, which have an extended network of family and friends). Perhaps no one will even notice your faux pas.
What will happen at the wedding?
Sit wherever you please; the church is not divided into “bride’s” and “groom’s” sides. (In front of a fan is always an intelligent choice). Generally there is no musical prelude.
The mother of the groom will accompany him to the altar. Does this make some kind of profound statement about Dominican culture? There is a procession of the wedding party (the cortejo), beginning with children, who may carry the arras (coins used during the ceremony), the rings, or sprinkle flower petals down the aisle. Next come the bridesmaids, usually friends of the bride. The queen herself is last of all, accompanied by her father. Most brides wear pure white, but the new “Big City” feel of Santo Domingo means that even a bride in red and black does not draw undue comment.
A church wedding usually includes a Nuptial Mass (unless the wedding party is extremely tardy in arriving). Much of the ceremony is familiar. As in all Catholic weddings the arras are given by the priest to the groom, who then presents them to the bride as a symbol of how he will provide for his family. (There are those who say that this is symbolic of the finances in most marriages, but we feel we should ignore this ungallant observation.)
At the end of the liturgy, a bewildering number of people go to the altar. These are witnesses, and there may be dozens of them. Asking someone to be a witness is a way of honoring them as a special guest. Many family members and friends will be included. This is the one time when imitating those around you is not a wise course of action—unless you are confident that the couple wants a copy of your autograph.
The newly married couple will be the first to exit the church. Do not try to greet them outside. Instead, proceed directly to the reception.
What goes on at the reception?
First of all, there is the receiving line. The parents of the bride should be the first to greet the guests, as they are the true hosts. The traditional order has the newlyweds next in line, followed by the groom’s parents. For practical reasons, the bride and groom may change places with the latter, so that the bride has the space to arrange and display the train of her dress.
The receiving procedure may take some time, depending on the number of guests. While it continues, and for around half an hour afterwards, cocktails are available. Guests mingle and chat, waiting for the couple to lead the way to the dancing area. The bride and her father have the first dance. They are joined shortly thereafter by the groom and the bride’s mother, until the entire wedding party and family are on the dance floor. After this, guests may feel free to display their own prowess.
A buffet or sit-down dinner begins about an hour later. There will usually be recuerdos at the table, souvenirs of the wedding, possibly including sugared almonds, matches, embroidered bags full of sweets, porcelain boxes or other items inscribed with the date and the names of the novios (bride and groom). After the meal, dancing continues. The bride throws her bouquet and, as in other parts of the world, tradition says that the woman who catches it will be the next to marry.
Most newlywed couples stay until the end of their party, which commonly occurs around 3 am. They are never the first to leave, so if you are an early-to-bedder, do not hesitate to leave before the bride and groom. Any time after the meal is socially acceptable, although you are likely to miss quite a party.
You will have noticed from the above that speeches are rare at Dominican wedding receptions. You will have to go elsewhere for your quota of old, over-used jokes.
Are there any other wedding traditions which have not been mentioned?
As in other countries, tradition says that the bride should not see the groom beforehand on the wedding day. No such fear exists in the D.R., and many brides and grooms see each other in all of their finery three hours before the wedding to have photographs taken. Photographs are also taken of the families and the wedding party.
I am planning to marry in the Dominican Republic. Can you offer any advice as to how I should go about planning my wedding?
If you are a tourist, your travel company should be willing to help you make the necessary arrangements. Large resorts have entire departments dedicated to helping you with arranging your wedding and your honeymoon on their premises.
Residents who can afford to do so should go to a person with considerable experience in planning weddings. If you would like someone to take charge of the details, contact a wedding/event coordinator.