2 wedding ceremonies??

This post is also published at www.lilacspecs.com as a guest post. Korie has given up her entire familiar world to move across the globe to follow her heart. She lives in Ghent with cabanaboy and is currently preparing their wedding. It's quite interesting to here the cultural challenges she comes across in such a international wedding. Since we're both preparing our wedding, I thought I'd explain some of the Belgian traditions. Please do stop at her blog after reading this post and go and say hi to her!

"Are you going to have the ceremony outside"
"2 wedding ceremonies, huh, what do you mean?"

What seems total obvious to me often causes confusion when I am chatting with some foreign friends. I think I might have an idea what a North-American wedding could look like for as far as the many foreign movies and series on tv.
I picture a church or a beautiful outside park or ... with a minister (or anyone authorised to marry 2 people) waiting in front and a nervous groom with his groomsmen. Then music starts and multiple bridesmaids walk down the isle and the bride follows with her dad as last.

Belgian weddings aren't fundamentally different. Yet we have one big contraint: the only legally accepted wedding is the "civil marriage" at the town hall executed by an authorised civil servant. If you want a religious ceremony....great, go ahead AFTER the civil marriage. But as church and state are seperated, Belgium only considers you as a married couple by that civil wedding. This dates back from the Napoleontic laws and is still a current rule in Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, France, Turkey, Argentina and Russia.

Each city can have its own regulations as when these civil weddings can take place. In Leuven for example you can marry on Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday morning, Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. In the city I grew up, all weddings were on Friday afternoon with some rare exceptions on Saturday morning. As for the location: that is the wedding hall in the city hall (of the city one of the partners is registered?).

You must apply for your wedding at least 2 weeks in advance and maximum 6 months in advance (whereas you must book your wedding venue a year in advance on average!). Your ID, birth certificates and all other necessary documents get checked.

...and you must answer the question "will you exchange the rings then or later? " , which is basically the question whether this is going to be your only wedding ceremony or not.

In the past all wedding applications were posted on a bulletin board in the city offices to make them public and enable anyone who'd oppose to this wedding to make an objection. Much to the chagrin of the old gossip ladies in town who'd enjoy such bulletin boards, this measure isn't executed anymore. Our administrations have figured out there's probably more modern ways to find out when a wedding is about to be fulfilled whereas these boards might not quite be as efficient anymore in a global world.

The actual civil marriage is a quite boring brief ceremony where in many cases only the wedding couple, their 2 witnesses and the close family show up. It's not uncommon that the next wedding couple walks in already when the previous couple is leaving the room. Some cities have the courtesy to book a gap of 5 to 10 minutes in between 2 scheduled couples. In Leuven the wedding conveyer belt starts a new ceremoney every 15 minutes. You are officially not allowed to have a toast inside the city hall building because you need to move on.

As you might have noticed, this mandatory civil marriage lacks a tiny little bit the possibility to personalise the ceremony or cater your personal wishes and style.

So although the Belgian population is becoming ever more secular, a lot of couples opt for a second (religious) wedding ceremony, most often a catholic service in church. Weddings outside in parks etc are still quite rare. But having 2 wedding ceremonies is on the other hand quite common.

Since the legal requirement states that the civil marriage must take place before any other wedding ceremony and it's not always easy to execute the 2 ceremonies on the same day, it's quite possible to have couples that have their civil marriage a couple of days, weeks, more than a year before the other one. The big party with all invited guests usually takes place then the second day. Sometimes this is also done for practical reasons such as mortgage negotiations and fiscal benefits.

Anyway we had booked our wedding location and church 15 months in advance. That's truly how you determine your wedding date in Belgium, not in the reverse order. Much to my relieve in January I heard at the city administration that there were still free wedding slots on our wedding day so we will combine both ceremonies at the same day.

...counting down!


Virtualsprite said…
That's really interesting. I had no idea! I thought just planning once ceremony was tough.

Best of luck. When is the big day?
anno said…
I was intrigued by this as well. Is it that the state won't vest priests with the authority to (officially) marry, or that the church resists the interference of the state? Scheduling two ceremonies does sound like a challenge! Glad it's going to work out for you.
Goofball said…
@virtualsprite: well there doesn't need much planning to be done for a civil wedding. As I said, it's simply routine work in the town hall, in and out in 15 minutes just answering some questions and sign documents, say yes and smile.

You just have to book it and show up really. If you only want a civil wedding, you plan the big party afterwards if you wish.
If you want a religious wedding, you focus your planning on that.
If it doesn't fit on the same day, you just arrange your civil wedding before the true "big day".

@Anno: As I said the civil wedding has been introduced by Napoleon which brought the French revolution/Enlightment ideas over such as strict division between church and state.
So yes the state doesn't want to grant the legal authority to any religious representatives to marry people. Church and state are seperate so the only legally recognised wedding for the state is the civil marriage in the town hall executed by a state official.

But since there's freedom of religion you are free to plan any other ceremony afterwards as you wish.
Jenn said…
I love learning all this new stuff =)


Popular Posts