At 11:30 p.m. on a recent Friday, a sword held by the bride and groom cut through a massive wedding cake during our friend Hector’s wedding.
Our family was lucky enough to be invited because it was a true cultural experience, as well as one of the best times we have had in Spain. Even though the wedding began at 6:30 p.m., at midnight people were asking us if we were going to stay for the “party.” We realized early on that weddings, like most parties in Spain, require commitment and stamina. We are glad that we embraced the experience as best we could, returning home at 3 a.m. with the party still continuing in the distance until around 5:30 a.m.
It was a chance encounter that brought Hector into our lives. My husband, Mike, was hiking on the mountain behind our house at the beginning of our stay in Spain. As he crested an outcrop, Hector was cresting it from the other side. After merely saying “hola,” Hector could tell by his accent that Mike was from America. He told Mike that he needed to improve his English for his job as an engineer for a container factory outside Puzol. So, they agreed to hike together to practice. What started as an occasional language get-together has become a family friendship.
Hector, who is only about 34 years old, has hiked with Mike almost every Saturday of our stay, as well as running with Carson, our son. This tradition has grown to include the typical Saturday “almuerza” of a bocadilla and beer at one of the bar/cafeterias in town afterward. We have learned how to cook paella from Hector and eaten meals at each others’ houses. He loaned Carson winter coats for Carson’s Model UN trip to the Netherlands, and Hector and his girlfriend, Julia, had a birthday party for our daughter, Celia. Through this fortuitous relationship, we have learned details about how most Spaniards live. His wedding was another wonderful part of our education.
He and Julia held a non-religious wedding. In Spain, if a wedding is not held in a Catholic church, there are many “event centers” where most people hold weddings and communions. The wedding was held at one such venue called Jardin de Azahares in the town of Catarroja outside of Valencia. There were two other weddings and a communion going on at the same time, but each was not affected by the other. An outside trellis was beautifully decorated with flowers as the guests arrived.
Men wore suits and women wore very dressy outfits of either long taffeta or very short and sleeveless sequined fabric. Both outfits required very high heels. My son noticed that other than me, most women older than 50 had their hair cut very short, while most women younger than 50 had their hair in an up-do of some kind. So, I stood out a bit, but I got the heels right since I now realize that very high heels are the norm for women in Spain. We settled back in our bench with the approximately 150 attendees to watch the nuptials, which were like nothing we have ever seen.
The wedding was joyous and raucous. Everyone stood and clapped as the groom came down the aisle and kept standing and clapping for the bride. When the bride reached the altar, she had to take about five minutes to kiss at least 20 people on the cheeks before she could join Hector. Then, fireworks were set off (one of at least three launches of the night).
The wedding was part ceremony and part roast of the couple with lots of stories being told as the couple stood at the altar. They had a band and a PA system, so there were lots of songs and continuous clapping and laughing. They were serenaded by friends, and they symbolically mixed colored sand together. After the ceremony, the guests threw rice and birdseed as they made their way down the aisle. Then we were ushered to the next area for the dinner and reception.
After about an hour of bebidos on the lawn, we were starving. We were finally allowed into the dining room for a four-course Spanish meal at 9:30 p.m. This is where the fun really started. It was hard to talk because of the noise. On one side of the room was a table with Hector’s wedding party and the other with Julia’s. Their jobs were to each try to outdo the other on noise, drinking, performances and dancing. So, throughout the dinner each group would take turns counting to 10 to make Hector and Julia kiss, counting to 10 while someone chugged a bottle of alcohol, performing choreographed dances in front of the bride and groom and their parents and waving their napkins in the air. This was all done with the full participation of elderly guests and 4-year-old children alike.
After gifts for all of the guests, shots of Jagermeister were brought to each table. Hector changed into a spandex running outfit to participate in Olympic games that constituted the next activity. This consisted of race stations where baudy drinking games between the men and women were set up. Mike got pulled into one where he had to put a balloon on his lap, which someone bounced on until it popped.
The dancing began in earnest after that, with old people with canes dancing with each other amid children and friends. Celia was the life of the party as most of Hector’s friends were lined up to dance with her and blew her kisses all night. Friends of Hector hugged and put their arms around Carson’s shoulders. Booths were set up for crazy hat pictures, and at about 2 a.m., fruit and a chocolate fountain were brought out with, of course, more fireworks.
Hector had rented a bus for people from Julia’s village and a bus for people from his village to take people home after the party, so their was no need to hold back. We, however, had to drive home. As we left the party, many of our new best friends walked us out, demonstrating again the openness and inclusiveness of most Spanish people we have met. We drove home drenched in both happiness and nostalgia as Celia promptly fell asleep in the back seat. Needless to say, although we woke the next day still glowing from the memory, we all indulged in a long Spanish siesta.