A couple of months ago, Matt got a call from one of our friends in Costa Rica. Not just any friend, but the one who probably played the biggest role in our decision to move here. The call was from Roy, the person who introduced us to Costa Rica almost ten years ago. If you’ve read our book, you’ll remember him well. He worked with Matt in the States and convinced us to visit his beautiful country. We fell in love with the amazing wildlife, postcard-worthy beaches, and perfect climate, and traveled to Costa Rica almost every year after that, making sure to see Roy each time. We loved catching up with our Costa Rican friend and hearing how life was treating him.
The news Roy shared on this recent call was his engagement! He had been dating a lovely Costa Rican woman whom we had gotten to know while we were in Manuel Antonio during our first month living in Costa Rica. After we left Manuel Antonio and started traveling around the country, seeing Roy and his fiance became a little more difficult, but we knew we had to make it to their wedding—we had to—even if it meant driving all the way from the other side of Costa Rica (which we did and don’t regret for a minute).
As two gringos going to a Tico wedding, we had to do some research on proper etiquette and traditions. All we needed was to show up wearing a certain color dress or tie only to learn that the color symbolized bad luck, sorrow, or, worse, failed marriages. The Ticos are laid back as everyone says, but are also typically very proper and take formal events seriously.
Our fact-finding mission didn’t reveal any taboo colors but we did learn some interesting things about Costa Rican wedding traditions. First, weddings are a family affair. Everyone from the bride’s and groom’s side attends, even if they live far away. This was no surprise because most Costa Ricans hold family in the highest regard and prioritize spending time with loved ones over everything else. If you’ve ever gone to the beach on a Sunday in Costa Rica and have seen the families set up for a full day together, you know what we mean.
Other traditions which are a bit more foreign to us as Americans are that the bride often wears a black, silk dress, and the groom wears a white shirt that has been embroidered by his wife-to-be, symbolizing the bride’s devotion to her future husband. Another is the exchange of 13 gold coins, which symbolizes dowry and the groom’s commitment to the bride.
One of the more fun traditions is the serenata in which the groom serenades his future bride by singing her love songs along with some of his friends. Finally (no surprise here either), there is a big party after the ceremony with lots of music, dancing, and food. Casados (traditional plates of meat or fish along with rice, beans, and side salads) or arroz con pollo (chicken with rice) are typical fare. The interesting part is that tradition says that the larger the portions you provide, the greater respect you have for your guests.
We didn’t see all of these traditions at Roy’s wedding. He did serenade his soon-to-be wife in traditional fashion a week before, which made us very happy, but the bride wore a beautiful white dress and there was no exchange of coins. We don’t think Roy wore an embroidered shirt either but many of these traditions are probably a little old fashioned and not as common as they were years ago. Some of the differences could be religious too.
What was consistent with tradition was the large gathering of family, the grand celebration after the ceremony, and the plentiful, typical food. After the ceremony, we were invited to join the family for the reception. Everyone sat around together while we ate and drank. On the menu was arroz con pollo, the largest portion of rice pudding you’ve ever seen, and wedding cake for dessert. To drink, we had an amazing concoction of diced tropical fruit in sweetened water. So refreshing!
One of the most interesting things we observed was that the bride and groom helped serve food to the guests. In the United States, the emphasis is definitely on the bride and groom not lifting a finger so the contrast was stark to us. Since we’ve only been to one Costa Rican wedding, we can’t say if this is typical but can surmise that it could relate to the importance of respecting your guests.
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Overall, the wedding celebration was very similar to what we are used to. Every bit of it may have been in another language and there certainly were some cultural differences, but the most important things were the same. The day was all about family and close friends coming together to celebrate love and commitment. It was wonderful to be able to be a part of our dear friend Roy’s wedding and we wish him and his new wife a lifetime of peace and happiness.
Post by: Jennifer Turnbull-Houde & Matthew Houde