Ben and I have been to a lot of wedding ceremonies. Still, I can count the number of times we have been invited to a Swiss wedding party on two hands. They are small, only family and the very best of friends are invited.
The Swiss usually get married twice, once civil and once in the church, on two different days. I’ve often asked people which date they celebrate as their wedding anniversary. They usually say the church service because that was the day of the big party, but not always.
Ben and I got married in the States and only once so we know when our anniversary is. Our American wedding was miniscule compared to other American weddings but huge in comparison to Swiss weddings. The Swiss law says you must have a civil ceremony to be officially married and a church ceremony is optional. Luckily, they accepted our church marriage certificate so we are officially married.
The Swiss Wedding
Swiss weddings are divided into three categories. There is the civil wedding, the church ceremony and the meal and festivities or, in other words, big party. The civil wedding is usually reserved for the bride and groom along with the witnesses. Possibly the parents will attend but not many more. Invitations are sent out to friends and acquaintances for the church ceremony. Usually only the closest of friends and family are invited to the meal and party afterwards. Everyone else is invited to the appetizer directly after the church ceremony.
All the weddings I’ve been to have been beautiful. Okay, all weddings are beautiful. When the bride and groom come out of the church there is usually a group of people standing at the entrance. The group is either from a club or association that the bride, groom or both belong to. They could also be people from work but everyone stands in two rows. I’m not sure exactly why they do this, but they do. I’ve done it as a part of a tap dance group.
We brought the bride’s tap shoes as a surprise and also put on a little show during the appetizer. That was fun, try tap dancing in a bridal gown! Once the bride was a policewoman, what looked like the whole police force came in uniform. There were police cars complete with flashing lights (but thank goodness, no sirens) to greet the newlyweds when they came out of the church. That was scary, my first thought was “did we accidently park in a no-parking zone?”
The Appetizer and Festivities
Of course, everyone who is not invited to the festivities is invited to the appetizer. That is usually held directly after the church ceremony outside the church. It could be in a party tent if the weather doesn’t allow being outside. During this time the people invited to the party usually get a special pin with their first name on it. This way they will be able to talk to the other guests and use their first name while doing so. At some point all these “special guests” are carted away as a group either by bus or boat to the dinner party destination. This is usually a restaurant but can also be a castle. At one of the weddings we were at the bride and groom were whisked away by helicopter to the party. Talk about spectacular.
These parties are sometimes very ornate and are organized by a master of ceremonies. This is a designated person or persons who may or may not be the maid of honor and best man. Usually the bride and groom organize the food and music. The master of ceremonies organizes games, newlywed newspaper, slide shows, group gift, special entertainment and anything else they think will be fun and memorable.
The beautiful bride
During a class to get a permit to run a small restaurant, a restaurant owner told the following wedding story. The meal and festivities were at his restaurant following the church wedding. The bride was a beautiful woman with a southern temperament. Southern temperament usually means of Italian decent; talked a lot and used her hands and arms to express herself.
While the guests were mingling and talking to each other, the waiters served a before dinner drink. Just as one waiter was walking behind the bride, she said something to the person she was talking to and using her arms to articulate, accidently hit the waiter. He dropped the drink he was serving onto her wedding dress. That wouldn’t have been half as bad if the drink had been water, but it was tomato juice. The bride burst into tears, then the restaurant owner came to the rescue. He took the bride to one of the hotel rooms to see what could be done.
It had been a morning wedding so the “spill” happened around 3 pm. He decided to call a bridal gown shop and get a new gown. When finally someone picked up the phone he said “This is an emergency, I need a bridal gown, now!”. The person on the other end said “Right. A bridal gown emergency? Look buddy, I don’t need you to make a fool out of me.” and hung up. The owner called back and this time said “Don’t hang up!”, then he explained the situation.
The Happy End
In the end he got a new bridal gown, the bride was happy. The guests were impressed and applauded when she came back downstairs in a beautiful new white gown. Most importantly, the waiters were more careful the rest of the evening. Years later the owner had guests coming for parties and big dinner parties because they “had heard” how he handled the situation or had actually been there. This was Swiss public relations in action.