There is a goat at the wedding bustling in between guests. By that I don’t mean the derogatory term you may have had in mind when you were thinking of that acquaintance you have trouble tolerating. I was talking about the actual ruminant animal with the white or brown fur, mischievous look and that characteristic complaining sound.
You might think that the goat is part of a farming-themed wedding; maybe the bride and the groom are both farmers or maybe the goat is a prank played on the newly weds. Certainly it is a prank, but the joke is between siblings of the bride and the groom: if the younger sibling is getting married first, the older sibling will receive a goat at the wedding.
This tradition might appear like the cruel vestiges of a time when youth were put under a lot of pressure to marry young, and maybe it is. Amazingly however, I have not been to a goat-appearing wedding, where the reception of the animal was accompanied by shame or pity. On the contrary, the older siblings all accepted the antic with pride and a sense of joy to be a part of the wedding customs and celebrations.
Luxembourgish weddings certainly tend to have a few surprising elements to them, especially since people really enjoy playing tricks on the bride and the groom. Sometimes the aim is explicitly to embarrass or annoy them a little bit, sometimes just to offer them their first few challenges that they have to solve together, or at the very least, just to raise some money for them. Before we get to the wedding party, let’s take a look at some of the elements you might find unusual about the ceremony itself.
Unlike North America, where people choose between either a civil or a religious ceremony, a lot of people in Luxembourg will opt for both. The civil wedding is a must and has to take place at the local commune, unlike other countries that will let you choose your wedding location.
The civil ceremony will also be performed by the mayor (or representative) of the town and not by a wedding officiant of choice. It usually occurs one or several weeks before the Church ceremony.
There is no need for witnesses to be present at the civil ceremony though typically most people take their parents and siblings to the commune. For the Church ceremony, the bride will have chosen a maid of honour, a sister or best friend, and the groom will have chosen a best man, usually a brother or close friend.
If the civil wedding is the only ceremony, the closest friends and family of the bride and groom will come inside the commune to witness the event, while other guests will wait outside the commune and welcome the newly weds as they exit the building.
Another tradition dating back to the times before news could spread like wildfire on the Internet, is the public announcement of the wedding in the commune for ten days prior to the civil ceremony just in case someone is opposed to the marriage. The announcement in Luxembourg is comparable to the saying we all know too well from American TV: “if anyone can show just cause why this couple cannot lawfully be joined together in matrimony, let them speak now or forever hold their peace”.
The way that a wedding is announced in Luxembourg has become a bit outdated as most people nowadays wouldn’t find out of a wedding by looking at the local commune announcements. Today, Facebook alone does a good job broadcasting news like this.
Once the ceremony is over, it is time to gather for drinks at a restaurant or even at someone’s home (parents might volunteer their house or set up a tent in their courtyard). This time right after the ceremony is what Luxembourgers call the reception or “Aperitif”. Often a line is formed headed by the bride and the groom and followed by all the guests who congratulate them one by one on their special day.
Frequently, people invite almost everyone they know including coworkers and neighbours to this reception but then trim it down to their close family and friends for the dinner party. Depending on the humour of the bride and the groom, be prepared for a wealth of games and shenanigans starting at the reception and lasting well into the dinner.
The kinds of games that are played at Luxembourgish weddings are often very creative and elaborate. I remember my cousin had to take down laundry from a line using nothing but a tractor. My uncle’s entire bedroom furniture was dismantled and reassembled in a barn. Every floor in a friend’s house was covered with plastic cups filled with water. More commonly, a game, or a variation thereof, is played where a blindfolded groom has to determine which of the ten bare women’s knees he just touched, belong to the bride.
Usually, the kinds of games and tricks that are played, are tailored to the newly weds’ hobbies. If they play in a musical ensemble, their friends might ask them to conduct an orchestra. If they like sports, the bride and the groom might be asked to compete against each other in a quiz.
Oftentimes, the bride’s wedding dress and shoes are auctioned off in order to raise money for the couple. In any case, it is wise to take between 50€ and 100€ cash in small denominations to a Luxembourgish wedding. Not only will you be asked to make a donation at Church, but you might also be asked to donate some of it directly to the bride and the groom during games. Most couples will also have specified a gift registry on their wedding invitations. Make sure to visit the store soon after you receive the wedding invitations so you still get a good selection of presents to choose from.
You might be surprised to find out that music, dancing and even games might occur in between courses of the meal. This could be a welcoming break from eating in order to make room for the next course. There does not seem to be a typical Luxembourgish wedding menu other than the fact that it will consist of several very festive courses. At the end of the meal, the newly weds will cut the wedding cake and sometimes even serve a second type of cake called “Bamkuch”. This is a delicious cake containing lots of eggs, flour and marzipan whose batter is poured in layers consecutively grilled in the oven to produce its famous striped look.
It is interesting how some of the elements of a Luxembourgish wedding might seem overly formal and rigid, like the ten-day announcement of the wedding at the commune, yet other elements seem unanticipated, even strange, like the goat you might run in to. Of course, as in other countries, the exact mix between tradition and tomfoolery you’re going to experience at your next wedding will depend greatly on the nature and character of the spouses-to-be. As every couple is different, so is every wedding, the only constant is the joy and fun shared when friends or family include us in the celebration of a special moment in their lives.
Copyright 2015: Liz Wenger. Other photos published with permission of Liz Wenger