Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cutting Ties

Growing up in Australia, I’d been to many weddings, mostly the traditional white-poufy dress and penguin suit affairs. I thought I’d seen it all, but nothing prepared me for a wedding Brazilian style.

I’d been backpacking through Brazil and had made some friends with the locals in the coastal city of Rio de Janeiro. A melting pot of cultures, Rio had enthralled me from the moment I set foot on the sandy beaches. Anywhere that you can order Brazil’s national cocktail, caipirinha, while sunning yourself on a city beach has to be appealing, right? And as is the South American tradition, new friends are always invited to family milestones and this one happened to be a wedding.

Although the bride and groom lived in a bustling, modern city, they hailed from the north-eastern coast where a lot of Brazilian traditions are still observed. Bumba-Meu-Boi is when the groom has to tame an unbridled donkey to prove his worth as a responsible husband. And if he’s successful, he can marry the daughter of the man who owned the donkey. There were no donkeys at this wedding, but I loved the image all the same.

We made it to the church just in time to see the priest lead the procession, with the groom and his mother following. In place of a flower, his buttonhole had a tiny Brazilian flag pinned to his lapel. Following the groom were the Padrinhos, couples who are relatives and close friends of the groom and bride. It doesn’t matter if they are married, boyfriend and girlfriend, brother and sister or friends, the important thing is these Padrinhos serve as wedding attendants.

The bride took her time. So we waited. And waited. And waited. I knew she had to be at least ten minutes late due to tradition, but I was beginning to wonder if she was stretching it out, thinking the longer she made the groom wait the better luck they would have in their marriage. It turns out the maximum time a bride can be late is 30 minutes and I am sure the bride rocked up with one minute to spare.

90% of the population of Brazil is Catholic, so there were no surprises this was a Catholic ceremony done with a Brazilian flavor. The rings were tentatively exchanged, both parties making sure their nervous fingers didn’t fumble the shiny bands of gold and drop them. For if they had, it would be have been a bad omen and the longevity of their marriage would be at risk. When the traditional prayer in Portuguese was read, there were many teary eyes, including mine. I had a minimal understanding of the words, but it was the heartfelt way it was said that made me well up. The church was filled with so much love and adoration it was about to burst.

When the ceremony finished, everyone broke into song. I couldn’t figure out the words but the tune was familiar. It took a while to sink in, but when it did, I realized it was the Brazilian national anthem. All those hours spent watching Brazil playing in the World Cup soccer had finally paid off.

The reception was where the real party began. And boy, do Brazilians know how to have a good time. A river of caipirinha flowed, the bride and groom danced the pagode, a samba originating from Salvador and Bahia. It’s commonly used in celebrations and with the way things were turning out, it was going to be one big party.

It worried me a tad when one of the groomsmen brought out a pair of scissors and started wielding them like a machete. He strode over to the groom, grabbed his tie, pulled him forward, then snip-snipped just below the knot. The groomsman chopped the tie into tiny pieces and started selling off the remnants to the guests to help alleviate some of the wedding and honeymoon costs. With the rate of reales flying through the air, there was a good chance they could afford two honeymoons.

Instead of table numbers, seating arrangements were identified by Brazilian cities. But no one sat for long. People ate finger food on the go, dancing from one group of friends to the other, shouting greetings, hugging, and laughing. This went on for hours and it wasn’t until the food ran out, a tradition that signifies the end of the wedding, that the guests got ready to leave. Everyone was handed casadinhos, Brazilian marriage cookies made of two short-bread like biscuits and joined with jam or fudge.

Brazil has a wonderful blend of African, Portuguese and Indigenous cultures. Celebrations are colorful, loud, happy, and full of love. The atmosphere is contagious and it’s easy to get caught up in the pure joy of celebrating the milestone of someone’s life with old friends and new. And by the end of that night, I’d made a bunch of new friends that I felt like I’d known forever.

Have you ever experienced a celebration from another culture? How did you feel and what did you learn?


  1. Loved the story Ali!!! Weddings from other cultures are so much more fun than beef/chicken!! Megan

  2. How fun, Alli! I felt like I was there.

  3. How fascinating, Alli! And I had my first caipirinha in the Brazil booth at the Food & Wine Festival at Disney World a couple of weeks ago - loved it!

  4. Megan, that is very true!

    Supriya, I'm glad you felt part of it.

    Kathy, aren't caipirinha's the yummiest?

  5. What a fun wedding! Too bad you weren't able to watch the donkey ritual, Alli. The Brazilians sure know how to party. At the translator's conference I just came back from (and attend most years), everyone heads for the bar at the end of the day, and you can usually tell where the Brazilian contingent is sitting. They're the boisterous ones, who are also usually singing. :)

  6. Hmm, I guess what some people call tying the knot, others call cutting the tie...Love the story!

  7. Uh, I want to know what happens if the groom failed to tame the donkey? Is the wedding off or do they skip off to Vegas?

    I mean the bride and groom to be, not the groom and the donkey........


  8. Hey Alli, what a great experience for you, what a great story! I was lucky enough to get invited to a Saudi wedding, I tell you the story would be a little different to yours!!
    It's so special to be able to experience something like that!

  9. Dave, you've made me wonder now...

    Kaz, a Saudi wedding would have been very interesting indeed! Yes, how lucky are we to have these experiences!