A guide to French wedding traditions
Published on February 10, 2023 / Updated on January 3, 2024
Weddings are a wonderful occasion that celebrates the union of two people and brings together two families. While many cultures follow similar wedding formats, every culture has its own traditions and the French are no different. In this article, we’ll explain what a typical French wedding is like from start to finish. You’ll learn about French wedding traditions, what goes on at a wedding in France and many other interesting points.
Unlike in many English-speaking countries, French weddings are generally a more modest affair. It’s less about the bride and more about a couple joining their lives and families together. Once a location and date have been chosen, a French couple will send out their invitations, known in French as les faire-part. These will include information about the wedding and how to RSVP.
Bachelor and bachelorette parties are fairly common nowadays in the run-up to a wedding in France. The French term for these parties might surprise you and even make you giggle: un enterrement de vie de garçon/jeune fille. This literally means “a funeral for a young boy’s/girl’s life!”
The biggest difference when it comes to getting married in France is that the only legal way to do it is at the mairie, or the town hall. It’s possible to get married in a church, but a couple must get married at the town hall first. Many people will do this on the same day, but some may do it separately. Another way getting married in France differs from getting married in the US (and some other places) is that it’s not uncommon for the bride (la mariée) and groom (le marié) to arrive together at the town hall. In other words, there’s no superstition about hiding them from each other prior to the ceremony.
At the beginning of the ceremony, or la cérémonie du mariage, a French wedding tradition is to have children walk down the aisle. They are known as les enfants d’honneur. Bridesmaids and groomsmen don’t exist! The closest equivalent is the témoins (witnesses). The bride and groom can choose one or two témoins each to sign the marriage certificate after the couple says “I do.”
On the big day, the mairie will also give the newly married couple a livret de famille (family record book). This is a small booklet in which the couple’s wedding date and information are written. If the couple later has a child, the child’s birthdate and relationship to each parent will be noted in this same booklet.
Now that the formalities have been dealt with, the party can begin! The vin d’honneur is a very common event that takes place after the ceremony but before the meal. It is the equivalent of a cocktail hour, but it generally lasts two to three hours. Everyone can toast the bride and groom with champagne (this is France, after all) and enjoy some canapés and musical entertainment.
Side note: If a French wedding takes place across multiple venues (for example, in a town hall and in a restaurant), a delightful French tradition is that all guests follow the bride and groom in decorated cars, driving slowly and beeping their horns!
Le repas de noces, or the wedding reception, tends to be a formal, sit-down dinner. It usually starts late, around 9 pm, and carries on for several hours. France offers some of the best food and wine in the world, so providing an excellent meal is a serious affair for couples getting married in France.
Several courses are typically served, along with a cheese course. French wedding cakes are not common; instead, couples often opt for a pièce montée, a large sculptural dessert in the shape of a pyramid. The meal is then followed by music and dancing until the early hours of the morning.
Other French wedding traditions include les dragées, a French wedding favor in the form of a small sweet (usually sugar-coated almonds). Couples will often personalize them with their names.
Regarding gifts for the couple, the most common present is money. At a French wedding, you’ll probably see a box where you can pop in an envelope of cash for the newlyweds. The money will often be used for a honeymoon or a new house. Lastly, the couple traditionally departs for a honeymoon (lune de miel or voyage de noces) after the wedding.
To round off this guide, we’ve put together a list of French wedding vocabulary. It includes terms covered in this article, plus some extra words.
|The wedding invitations
|Un enterrement de vie de garçon
|A bachelor party
|Un enterrement de vie de jeune fille
|A bachelorette party
|La cérémonie du mariage
|The town hall
|A wedding ring
|Les petites filles d’honneur
|The flower girls
|Les petits garçons d’honneur
|The page boys
|Le livret de famille
|The family record book
|Le vin d’honneur
|The cocktail hour
|Le repas de noces
|The wedding dinner
|La pièce montée
|French wedding cake equivalent
|The wedding favors
|Une lune de mielUn voyage de noces
If you’re invited to a French wedding, hopefully this article will help you to navigate the French traditions and make sure you make the most of this incredible occasion. We also recommend reading up on some famous French bands and singers so you can be ready to boogie on the dance floor.