A Thing Or Two Learned About Mexican Weddings

Last month I wrote about Anai’s upcoming wedding
Which we were told would be in November.
On Monday this week, we were told
That the civil wedding would be this Friday

And the religious/church wedding on Novemeber 28th.
Will we please come with them?
I have been trying to learn what it means
To be a madrina for Anai’s wedding.
Thank god for the internet because I found a great site,
A Mexican woman who was raised in the US
Who discovered that the tradition of the madrinas
And the Padrinos, is really nothing more
(and this is a little simplified…)
Than that the family, friends and extended family
Are  each given a job, related to the wedding.
This means that you could be the madrina for the music,
Or the madrina who buys the dress, the jewelry, the shoes,
Or the madrina who buys the cake, the carnitas, the tamales.
Or in our case, we were asked to be the madrina/padrino
For printing the invitations, which we accepted.
Really, it’s a great way to pull off a wedding
Delegating as much as you can to everyone
Who will attend –  I rather like this idea.

For years, American friends of mine have always said
‘Whatever you do, just don’t ever agree to be a madrina’
You’ll be paying for college educations, operations,
Medical treatment, and whatever else the family cannot afford.
Naturally, when I was asked to be the madrina
I did a little polite backtracking,
Asked for more information
Tried to buy some time to find out
What I was really getting into.
So now I know, or at least I thought I knew
What there was to know about a Mexican wedding.

So, on Friday, Anai had her civil wedding
I assumed this was the formal wedding
Signifying the beginning of living together,
As they were now legally, formally, married.
We all drove over to the Registro Civil,
Upstairs from the ‘old Gigante,’
For those of you who have lived here,
You will know that atrociously ugly,
First attempt, at a mall here in San Miguel.
Nevertheless, this is where everyone in the town
Files birth, death and marriage papers,
Plus civil weddings are held here.
Similar to a justice of the peace.

Anai and Julio enter and go to the counter.
Both families, about 15 of us,
Wait near the door while they fill out papers,
And more papers, And more papers.
Then they sign, the parents of both sides sign,
Both sets of witnesses sign,
While Aron, Anai’s father,
Who is normally very open,
Stands with his arms crossed,
Looking very stern. and serious, while Ariel,
Keeps trying to get his attention
With an action figure.
The families don’t talk with one another.
Eventually, the signing is done,
We all go into a small room,
Crowding together around Anai and Julio,
Who sit at a table, so they can sign more papers,
Anai, Julio, the parents, the witnesses,
The magistrate, or whatever they are called here,
Everyone signs the final document.

The magistrate, who is a woman,
Reads the rules of marriage.
This is not a game,
It is for life,
You are committing for good and bad,
For health and life and death,
You get the idea…
She reads to Anai, who agrees
Till death do us part, then to Julio, who agrees.
Anai cries
The parents join them, and they are married.

There is a court photographer.
He takes their photos.
Then asks for photos of all the witnesses,
All the family, including me.
Outside the office, on the steps.
The families exchange very stilted hugs
And back to the house for the festivities.

At the house,
It is clear there is judgement
On behalf the brides family,
About the family of the groom.
They don’t quite want to accept his family.
I can’t quite figure out why,
Because they seem quite nice,
Although a little quiet and reserved,
Except for the grandmother,
Who loves champagne,
Gets a little tipsy,
And rambles off a brindis – a toast,
For about a half an hour
While everyone on both sides,
Roll their eyes, as politely as possible.

As the evening goes on
I notice that Anel,
Who is Anai’s sister,
Whom she lives with,
Has not come over.
It turns out they had been fighting
Over sisterly things, and Anel
Decided to punish her by not coming.
Normally, you can’t keep her away
So I bring it up to Marta & Aron,
Who eventually go get her and her kids.
They don’t like it either, and want her there.

Now, I’m sitting there thinking,
This isn’t good, It’s your wedding night,
And you have to go back to your sister’s house
With whom you are not speaking
Have to go to bed in the room next to hers,
Be civil – or not,
Enjoy your first night together.
So to help out with things,
I give Anai and Julio money
For a hotel.
They graciously thank me
And the party goes on.

Shortly, Julio’s mother,
Takes the two of them into the living room.
It is clear she is lecturing them heavily
On what I don’t know but it seems serious,
And goes on for at least 45 minutes.
They come out for more partying.
Next, Marta, Anai’s mother calls them in.
An hour later they are still there.
Anai is crying,
Julio is looking right at Marta
Wringing his hands.

I ask Anel what they are talking about.
Anel says that they are ordering them
To live apart until the wedding in November,
Not to sleep together,
Not to be getting in a situation
That sleeping together would happen.
Telling them to put that aside
While they organize their lives
And not make any babies before November
When the REAL wedding takes place,
The church wedding,
Which is the one that counts.

Taking all this in,
I realize I have just given them money
To go do exactly what both mothers
Have ordered them not to do.
I tell Anel about the money for the hotel.
She bursts out laughing,
Tells me this isn’t the real wedding,
They can’t go off and be together,
They have to WAIT.
The civil wedding is only paperwork,
Not the real marriage.
Meantime, she is laughing away,
Calls over her husband Moises and tells him.
Laughing and pointing his finger at me
He says, oh no, you are in trouble!
Of course they all think this is hysterical,
Now I don’t know how I am going to tell Marta,
Who is my friend and I don’t want to offend.
And Anel is telling everyone else
Who all think the joke is on me,
And are having a good hard laugh.

Moises pulls me aside and says
“Suzan – that’s why I didn’t ask for Anel’s hand.
Once you ask the parents, you have to wait,
Live by a bunch of rules, which are impossible.
So Anel and I just started living together
And having babies, maybe we’ll get married in December’

So the lesson learned is –
There is a civil wedding and a church wedding:
1. They don’t happen at the same time
2. They don’t mean the same thing
3. There is a reason for two parties instead of one.
4. The civil wedding – is kind of like an engagement party
5. It gives the parents and families time to get used to the idea
6. It gives the bride and groom an event with a lot of people
to ask them to be madrinas and padrinos, to help
with the expense and party for the real wedding,
7. Which is held at the church, with a mass
8. Followed by a reception
9.  Then the night in a hotel.
10. If you give money for the hotel early
the mother will confiscate it and save it.
for the night of the REAL wedding.

Eventually, everyone found out I had given money for a hotel.
No one was angry,
My reputation in the neighborhood is intact
They all understood that I didn’t understand.
But, they do bring it up and have a good laugh,
At my expense – every time the see me.

3 thoughts on “A Thing Or Two Learned About Mexican Weddings”

  • Suzanne

    Loved this one. A real story and not the Expat type of story that only sees the surface and reduces Mexicans to some simple folk who have great pageants. But then the story is also you and loved how you became the butt of the joke but in a nice way.

  • Oh my God I couldn’t stop reading this. I couldn’t believe what happened. This was the best. No wonder so many Mexicans don’t get married legally it is far too difficult.

    Good story Suzanne one of life’s little memories.

    Too kewl!

  • Ahh Mexico!
    Nice story.
    Here in Baja Claifornia Sur the civil ceremony and the church wedding take place on the same day.
    Church first.
    Big party, lots of dancing.
    We have been to secular weddings as well, no churhc.

    In one weekend in december I went to two baby showers, a wedding and a going away party!
    We are always treated like special guests.
    Nice story!
    I am coming to your gorgeous city on Monday July 20 for a week to see if we would like to live there!

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