Bolivian Wedding Customs

Train Graveyard

Photo by Byron Carr

During my recent trip to South America, my husband and I paid a visit to the country of Bolivia. It was like nothing I was expecting, but I was absolutely thrilled that we were able to go to that beautiful and diverse country. I’ve always wanted to be able to say that I have been to Bolivia, and I think it is in part because of my insane obsession with Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider chronicles, because there were several levels of the game where Lara was exploring the Bolivian jungle.

My visit to Bolivia was nothing like Lara Croft’s- it was three days crossing over the amazingly photogenic salt flats, blasting classic rock songs in our 4WD as the only people for miles, and visiting amazing train graveyards. It was interesting and complex, and of course I delved deep into the world to find out what getting married in Bolivia is like compared to the Western world.

Traditionally two ceremonies

In Aymara and Quechua traditions (traditional Bolivian people) weddings are a giant social event and are fundamentally started with a general religious and state formality before moving into a classic wedding reception. According to tradition there are two parts of Bolivian wedding ceremonies that take place. The first is in a church and the second is “by the state” where the couple getting married signs government papers verifying their marriage and witnessing it before the guests. This is similar to what occurs in Western style weddings, but are generally set as two separate ceremonies.

The bride and groom generally wear the similar dress styles that you would find in Western cultures (such as the groom in a suit and the bride in a white dress) but the main differences in traditions tend to be the food, drink and icons used in the wedding.

Dakar

Photo by Byron Carr

Drinking deeply

Like Peruvian wedding customs, alcoholic offerings to Pachamama are often performed by pouring the first part of your drink on the ground in solidarity with the Earth mother, before the bride and groom partake in their first dance. Drinks served are either Paceña or Chuflay, which are a Bolivian brand of beer and a traditional Bolivian drink respectively. The Chauflay is a drink made on the rocks in a tall glass with singani (a pomace brandy liquor) and mixed with ginger ale or lemonade. Apparently the drinking involved in a Bolivian customary wedding is extremely important, so get downing!

Differences in wedding activities

Like the popularity of having summer weddings, having your wedding in Bolivia in December is said to be the best month, and as customary in many other countries monetary gifts are given to the bride and groom in the form of coins. This symbolises God’s blessing for the family and the marriage.

An interesting activity that happens in a specifically Bolivian wedding is the turning on the head of the idea of the tossing of the bouquet. In a Bolivian tradition wedding, there isn’t really a tossing of the bouquet, but rather there is a series of different wedding cakes (smaller than the specific wedding cake) that have ribbons attached and dangling from inside each cake. These ribbons are attached to small trinkets that are buried in the cakes, and one of the trinkets are actually a small gold ring. Similar to the bouquet throwing tradition, the girl who pulls the ring from the cake is suggested to be the one that is meant to be married next. This activity is celebrated in most Bolivian weddings and always means more cake! Hooray!

Hand of God

Photo by Byron Carr

Dancing differently

While the bride and groom are traditionally performing a waltz for their first dance, and are later accompanied be speeches from the parents of both the bride and groom, the music that is played at Bolivian weddings are Latin American salsa or folk dances. Guests who get into the spirit of dancing (and generally do after downing all those spirits from before!) dance in lines that are matched up boy to girl, in order to match people up with other couples.

These weddings are very similar to those conducted in the Western world, and still succumbs to the general traditions and customs that are set depending on religions. These traditions are very similar to others within South America, so I am sure you will read about similar customs when I write my next International Wedding Inspiration piece about the last country my husband and I visited on our South American trip – Chile! Until then, enjoy! And let me know by leaving a comment below if you plan on using these traditions in your own wedding – the alternative idea of tossing the bouquet sounds like so much fun!

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