As mentioned before, I got married a few months ago. It’s quite interesting to see the differences between the typical American wedding and a Dutch one. Mind you that I myself did not have a typical wedding with bridesmaids, the walk down the aisle, etc. but of course I’ve been to enough weddings to know what it all entails. I’ve been to three weddings in Holland, once just for the party, once for the ceremonies and party, and once for the entire shebang as a day guest.
Dutch Weddings: Civil then Religious Ceremony
First, the biggest difference is that the Dutch do not recognize religious ceremonies as valid. As they are a secular country and really do mean it, you must have a civil ceremony and then if you want, you can follow that with a religious ceremony. The civil ceremony may take place at town hall, where there is often a specific room that they use for marriages and has seats for the guests. You don’t need to hold your civil ceremony in a government building. The last wedding we went to, they held it in a grape greenhouse – very lovely, unique, and representative of where they come from (Westland). It is always performed by a government official. These aren’t sour faced bureaucrats. For both civil ceremonies we went to, the official was very nice, made jokes, and told the couples’ stories – brief summaries of their lives, how they met, etc. Guests see the couple and their witnesses signing what I presume to be the marriage certificate. Music may be played and songs sung.
After the civil ceremony, a religious ceremony in a church may take place. The church ceremonies that we went to were both very long, with the pastor delivering a religious sermon on the meaning of marriage and on being a Christian (from what I can tell). While weddings in the U.S. often take place in a church with a pastor officiating, the pastor is really just there to marry the couple (with the exception of the super religious or Catholics). In Holland, I felt like I was in Church listening to a Sunday sermon. During the ceremony, various designated family members or friends may go up and do a speech. There were some moments when everyone sang (programs with lyrics provided) hymns. One couple’s ceremony was Catholic so that was longer and more elaborate. There was a small Church choir in the back singing and everyone took communion.
The bride does not walk down the aisle escorted by her father. Rather, the bride and groom sit in front or next to the pastor. I forgot this little detail for the last wedding we went to. I was waiting to use the restroom in the church and figured I had enough time until I heard the procession music starting. Well there was no procession music of course so I hurriedly ran to my seat when the pastor started talking. There are no bridesmaids wearing the same pastel dress that they’ll never wear again, nor groomsmen, standing up there with the bridge and groom. Though there is typically one woman and one man very close to the couple who goes up and does a speech or reading.
Dutch Wedding Rings
As for the rings, they do not have the tradition of the man getting down on one knee to ask the woman to marry him with a big diamond ring. Remember, the diamond engagement ring became popular because of De Beers marketing campaign, which they aimed at Americans. In Europe, gemstone rings and plain wedding bands seem to be amore popular. Diamond solitaire rings are gaining in popularity but the average carat size is much smaller than what you see here, where the norm among girls seem to be the desire to get a 1 carat diamond. Hubby had to look up what an engagement ring was. I couldn’t believe that he didn’t know what it is “supposed” to be. I think Hubby is a bit clueless even for Dutch standards though, as he never watched American romantic movies or shows, didn’t get into discussion about rings with girls obviously, and apparently didn’t care what his male friends did. In Holland, it is common that if a ring is given upon proposal (which is getting more and more common), it is the intended wedding ring and is worn on one hand during the engagement and then switched to other upon marriage. The norm is to wear the wedding ring on the right hand unless you are Catholic. When Hubby went to a jewelry store to size his finger, he put both hands on the counter and asked the salesman “Which one?” The salesman must have thought he was an idiot! Hubby wears his on the right solely because he thinks it’s more comfortable there.
Hubby and I were invited only to certain segments for two of the weddings and once for the entire thing. In Holland, certain guests are invited to different portions of the wedding day. The day is roughly broken into 1) the civil and religious ceremonies 2) dinner reception 3) party. Sometimes there is a cocktail party between the ceremonies and dinner.
Dutch Weddings: Day Guest or Party only?
Here is what it looked like for the wedding we went to as day guests: Only really close family and friends are invited to the whole thing including the dinner reception. If you are a day guest, the day starts really early for you. We got to the brides’ family residence at 10AM for coffee/tea and small bites, photos, and then were transported to the civil and religious ceremonies. The couple opened up their ceremonies to a larger group of people. The small group of day guests then went to the reception site to drink champagne, toast the couple, and eat the wedding cake. Yes, they eat the cake BEFORE dinner. Then they had a cocktail party where pretty much the same people who went to the ceremonies (at least as far as I can tell) came for drinks and small bites. Everyone left except for the day guests who then were treated to a nice dinner. After dinner it opened up to a big party for everyone. So it went from 10AM – about 2AM! Before dinner they did provide us with some stuff to eat so we didn’t pass out from hunger but I was still pretty hungry for a proper meal by the time Dinner came around.
As you can probably tell, there may be some offended feelings from people who felt they were wrongly not invited to certain parts. Breaking up the day into seperate events with seperate guests is easier to do there. Where Hubby is from, pretty much everyone lives in the same area. You don’t have family and friends spread across a country necessisating a 5 hour flight. It’s easy when people just have to drive or bike 10 mins back home. I’m sure people who do have to travel quite a bit would be invited for the whole thing. With the exception of the day guests, guests coming to the ceremonies and/or party come in casual clothes, maybe a little nicer than what they wear everyday but not by much (jeans are common).
The Dutch know how to Party!
Overall I think the Dutch way is a lot more sensible and fun. Religious ceremonies mean more there than here where it seems that a lot of people get married in a church just because that is the norm. Also, the after dinner party is VERY fun with an open bar through the night. The Dutch truly know how to party. Doing it this way is much more practical as you can celebrate with those truly close to you, having a full meal with them as well as the cake. But then you can also celebrate with everyone else in your life, being able to invite more because you don’t have to provide a full dinner for everyone.
So there you have it, some of my summarizing points of the differences between an American and Dutch wedding. I am very lucky to be able to attend these weddings in Holland. The best way to experience a culture is through attending important cultural events such as weddings. Hopefully there will be more in the future. I think Hubby’s family and friends were excited to see what our American wedding would be like it. I had to explain to them that we weren’t having a “traditional” wedding. Oh well, it fit us and that is all that matters.