Spanish Weddings vs. American Weddings—The Reception

So, we’ve heard about the actual wedding ceremony. What about the reception?

A wedding party in Spain is, without a doubt, way more fun than in the US. Now, I love the US, but … seriously, just go to Spanish wedding and try not to have fun. Once you go Spanish, you can’t go back.

José Antonio Fernández SánchezI’m in it for life. With the godmother and godfather (L-R): María Jose (godmother), Mario, Alberto (godfather), me.
Photo by Mario’s talented cousin, José Antonio Fernández Sánchez.

  • Who’s invited? That depends on how much you want to spend, of course. In our case, we only had about 85 people, because most of my family wasn’t able to make it.
  • Who pays? As Erik explained on my Facebook page, “Typically the guests pay for it themselves. When you attend a Spanish wedding, you’re expected to bring an envelope with, at a bare minimum, 100€ per member of your party. We had just over a hundred guests for my Spanish wedding, and the bill (mainly for the exquisite meal) was about 10,000€. We broke even with the cash donations.” I remember my first Spanish wedding, and I was (naturally) surprised by our gift to the couple. I soon realized, however, that it’s the norm, and you’re paying for a great party, great food, dancing, and an all-you-can-drink bar. So, you’re getting a pretty good deal in the end.


  • What do you eat? Everything. No, but there’s always a lot of food. In my experience, the eating has been as follows:
    • El cóctel (Hors d’oeuvre): After the wedding ceremony, the bride and groom generally go and take pictures. Thus, the guests are left waiting. Said guests are usually hungry. Thus, the Spanish people, great eaters that they are, invented what they refer to as the cóctel, the cocktail party before the reception. There are waiters carrying trays of drinks (beer, wine, soda, water) and all sorts of appetizers. I’ve been to weddings where they served freshly-sliced jamón ibérico.

José Antonio Fernández SánchezJosé Antonio Fernández Sánchez

  • Entrante (Appetizer): After the bride and groom arrive, the guest are ushered into the dining room, after which the bride and groom will enter, with or without music. The drinks are served (white wine, red wine, and water), and the appetizer comes out. This dish can vary greatly. At one wedding I attended, the appetizer was merged with the fish dish, because no one really needs the appetizer anyway. But that’s besides the point.
  • El pescado (Fish): Next comes the fish, which can be any sort, from merluza (hake) to rodaballo (turbot), which we had at our wedding.
  • El sorbete (Sorbet): Time to cleanse your palate. Next comes the big dish, the meat! We had a mango-flavored sorbet at ours.
  • La carne (Meat): It all depends on where you are, but usually the restaurant has a specialty. In our case, the specialty was lechazo, basically lamb. In Castilla y León, they are known for their lechazo.
  • El postre (Dessert): Not many Spaniards have what we would think of as a wedding cake. In our case, it was a type of chocolate mousse (delicious, by the way). Nonetheless, we did have the pleasure of cutting a cake, though we did not eat it. And yes, we used a sword, which I found hilarious because Mario said such a thing was only done in the 1990s. He was surprised!

José Antonio Fernández SánchezThe unification of two great countries. Juan is enjoying his mango sorbet in the corner.
Photo credit: José Antonio Fernández Sánchez

  • Are there toasts? Not officially. I suppose if someone wished to do a toast, he or she could do so. My father-in-law read a very special essay he wrote for us during the ceremony, which I felt was similar to a toast. (He made us all suspiciously teary-eyed.) We also had a wonderful wedding video made by someone who claimed to be anonymous, although information quickly leaked out, and we learned it had been Mario’s cousin and godmother, María José.
  • Can your clink your glass to get the couple to kiss? Well, no, but they have something better, shouting, “¡Que se besen! ¡Que se besen!”, meaning basically the same thing. Another fun thing they shout is, “¡Vivan los novios!”, which the others respond to with a hearty, “¡Vivan!”, meaning “Long live the bride and groom!” basically.

José Antonio Fernández SánchezPhoto credit: José Antonio Fernández Sánchez

  • Is there a bouquet toss? Sometimes. Other times, like in my case, the bride can pick the person to whom she wants to give the bouquet, usually the next to marry. In my case, it was easy. My future sister(-in-law), Colleen, was there, and she’s getting married on September 15, so I presented her with it.


  • What about the garter? Um, sometimes (like at the wedding I attended last June), but I chose not to do so. Not my thing.
  • What about the dancing? Oh, there’s dancing. Mario’s family is notorious for their dancing. They love it, and I’ve learned to love it nearly as much as they do. Usually the first dance is a waltz (much to my chagrin; I have two left feet), and we stuck with tradition. Almost all of the songs are very danceable, and meant for all ages. Thank God, there’s no such thing as the “Dollar Dance” or the “Cha Cha Slide.”

IMG_1379My brother and Mario’s dad getting down on the dance floor. Mario’s dad is basically the best dancer ever. He gets the party started.

  • Open bar? Yes, always. There’s no such thing as a dry wedding, because “no one would go,” as Mario so delicately puts it.

Tell me your experiences with Spanish weddings. I’m sure they vary. Also, why are Spaniards so good at throwing parties?

21 thoughts on “Spanish Weddings vs. American Weddings—The Reception

  1. Baaah love Spanish weddings so much! I’ve now been to an even number (or maybe one more in Spain) and have had the most fun at the small gatherings and the American/Spanish ones. I love picking up on the cultural cues. Lauren of Spanish Sabores had an airpopper serving popcorn well into the night!

    Did you do your vows in Spanish because of the high number of hispanos? And give Mario a high five for the open bar part. LOVE!

    1. You would have liked this one, then — small and Spanish/American. :) Popcorn sounds awesome!

      We did our vows in Spanish and English. Some parts were bilingual, like the vows and the reading of the Gospel, and we translated everything. So we had my brother do a reading in English, but it was all translated to Spanish for the other guests, and my mom did a peticin, which was also translated. And my parents had it all translated into English. The only part they didn’t understand was the homily, but what can ya do?

  2. I’m pretty sure that if I ate everything in those courses, I wouldn’t be doing much dancing later. It’s cool to see the differences in wedding customs.

    1. Haha, well, I always try not to eat everything, because I just can’t. As a bride, I was up and talking to people, so I didn’t even get the chance.

  3. Great explanation Kaley! I agree that Spanish weddings are much more fun than American weddings in general– people really celebrate! One thing I don’t like is the gift/money part. We actually had people tell us that they couldn’t come to the wedding because they didn’t have enough money. We provided a bus to and from the venue and obviously once there everything was included so they didn’t have to spend a dime. There is so much pressure to give as much as the plate costs (el cubierto) that people forget that we invited them to share our special day– gift or not! And as much as I love getting cash, I don’t see a problem with a nice gift that is much less expensive. As much as wedding gifts can disappoint in the US (and many did at my US wedding) it’s nice that in the US people aren’t 100% focused on that factor. I also thought it was really tacky that people ask around or even call the venue to find out how much the cubierto costs. Give what you can and want to, punto!

    1. I agree (and felt the same when I attended two Spanish weddings, with that same pressure to cover the cubierto). Weddings in NYC are similar in terms of the expectation that guests pay for their meal. In my view, if you have to pay, you are not a guest and it is not a party – you are a customer and it is an event. Not the tone my husband and I wanted to convey, you know?

      Lovely photos and post, Kaley!

      1. It’s a weird thing. I wonder how it got that way, because — for example — Mario’s older aunts and uncles all had their weddings in their villages and their dinners at their houses and on the streets around their houses! I’m sure there was no sense of “cubierto” at that time.

        I hope that we didn’t convey that at all. I mean, I know of one person who didn’t get us a gift actually, and do I think for a minute, “How dare he!”? No. Of course not! We threw the party, the guests came, and I hope they wanted to give us a gift. I hope.

        1. Oh no no no, you didn’t convey that at all! I was speaking more generally, not about your approach specifically, you know?

          You two look so gorgeous and happy that I’d like to give you a gift myself, even though I don’t know you, LOL. Boatloads of happiness to you!

          When do you move to Madrid (or are you there already?)?

    2. Really? Wow, I’m not sure any of our guests did such a thing. I cannot believe people called to ask how much it was! So crazy. A lot of Mario’s parents’ friends, who we didn’t even invite to keep the guest list down/not obligate them to buy a gift, still did, but they bought us things I’m used to in the States: cutlery, a set of dishes, things for the house, etc. It was weird to me, a bit, to get just cash, no card, but I suppose it’s what people do.

      I totally agree that it’s nice in the US that people don’t expect a certain amount from you. Some weddings are more expensive, and others less so. But it’s up to the bride and groom how much they want to spend, isn’t it?

  4. No cha-cha slide??

    Ha, I’ve never been to a Spanish wedding, or any wedding outside of the states. The thing that surprised me the most was the cake-cutting sword, but then I remembered that a coworker had shown me pictures of the same thing from his wedding in León last year!

    1. No Cha Cha Slide. Spaniards don’t seem to know it! Yeah, I remember that Kelly from said she went to a wedding and they cut the cake with a sword. So I asked Mario about it, and he was like, “Hmph, they only did that in the 90s. I can’t believe they still do that.” And then they brought out our “cake” to us, and what do ya know? A sword.

  5. That does sound like a lot of fun!! its actually sounds very similar besides the bouquet and the kissing,but the traditions basically match up. Ultimately, no matter what you choose to do at your wedding, it’s usually for the fun of it!

  6. The cocktail part is also tradition in France! It is called the “aperitif” or more simply “the apero.” You start drinking while you wait for the bride and groom to show up. And there are also waiters coming up and offering you small hors-d’oeuvres to eat with the champagne/wine.

    No toasts either really. However, for my cousin’s wedding, his friends went all out and did funny parody videos and organized games. I was included in one of these games (I guess they decided who the participants were before the wedding because I was very surprised when my name was called). About 12 people sat on chairs and the MC told us we had to find a specific object from one of the other guests. Once we had it in hand, we had to run back to our chairs as quickly as possible. With each round, a chair was taken out so it was kind of like musical chairs but we had to run around the room (instead of around the chairs) finding the objects we were told to find. It was A LOT of fun and so ridiculous. The objects ranged from a high heel shoe, a belt, a sock, a shoelace etc… people stuff had on them/in their bags. I didn’t win but I was eliminated more than halfway through so I was pretty proud!

    (The last object called was a condom but nobody fessed up to having a condom for the last 2 participants hahaha… so I think it was switched to bra. French weddings are just plain crazy).

  7. Interesting to read more about how it all works! Just one thing- if there is a cake to cut, why isn’t it being eaten? Then again I think there might have been something in your last post about a fake cake, what on earth is that? :)

    1. Because, well, we had picked out a dessert, but I suppose most couples still wanted the opportunity to cut the cake, so they give everyone an opportunity to do so. I bet they sell the cake at the restaurant, but we don’t know for sure.

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