Blogiversary: 10/2/2013

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Traditional French-Canadian Weddings

Being of French-Canadian descent, I was curious as to how the French-Canadians of yore married.  Of course, like most, they married through the church, but these are my best gatherings as to how a French-Canadian wedding would have been conducted in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, based off my own research of both modern day French-Canadian, historic French-Canadian and French traditions in general. Considering the early French-Canadians were directly from France or marrying a person immigrating from France, they most likely practiced French traditions before they evolved into more modern traditions.

Wedding Attire:
The bride's dress would have been whatever she owned, most likely her best or favorite dress, decorated with her favorite laces, bows, beads and jewels.  Up until the 19th century a French-Canadian bride wore any color dress she wanted.  If the groom was a widower or if her own father was deceased, she might have worn black to the wedding.

In the colder months, the women's winter head wear would have included an "étoffe du pays" (homespun) wool and flax bonnet called "la nuage" which translates to "cloud."  It was held in place by a scarf.

The groom would wear his best clothing, and a "ceinture fléchée," a colorful, woven, wool sash would wrap around his waistcoat to keep the cold from coming in.  It was a practical and fashionable accessory that  was popular among both the bourgeois and habitant classes of men.  To keep his head warm, he would wear a "crémone," the male version of the female's "la nuage."  It was a homespun wool and flax hat.

To protect their feet during winter and cold months, they wore "Bottes Indiennes," or moccasins made of moose leather, or they would wear shoes with soles, that were imported from France called "Bottines Francais."

Trousseau and Wedding Armoire:
The bride had a trousseau, which was a pack of her linen and clothing containing her outfit that she would wear after she removed her wedding dress.  It also contained her lingerie for her honeymoon and  linens with hers and her husband's initials sewed into them.  The bundle of linens would go into her wedding armoire also called a "hope chest."  The wedding armoire would have been given to her by her father during her adolescent years, so she could fill it with her favorite things, prior to getting married.

Trousseau Tea:
The Trousseau Tea is not a common tradition today, as most young women move out of their family home to work, live with their boyfriends or go away for college.  However, in New France, girls usually stayed at the homes of their parents until they were married.  The mother of the bride would host a lunch or dinner party at her home for those who were not invited to the wedding or were acquainted but not particularly close friends of the bride.  The bride's Trousseau and wedding gown would be displayed for all to admire and share in the joy of the family.  The guests would enjoy tea, cakes and pastries as well as dainties and petite fours (petite fours came about during the 18th century).

Before the Wedding: 
Most of the weddings took place during the fall, due to the preparation time of growing the crops to be used for the wedding dinners.  Sometimes, the wedding took place in Winter or Spring.  Despite the harsh snows, it actually made it easier for family from afar to attend a wedding if the river was frozen, as they could walk across easier.  Rarely were weddings performed in Summer.

Weddings usually were performed on a Monday or Tuesday, as the marriage contract was typically drawn up on the Saturday before. [Marriage Contract]  Because divorce was unheard of, marriage was a very serious ceremony.  The bride, groom and their parents, as well as other close relatives and friends would attend the church and sign the contract.

Sometimes, a special dance was held as a fundraiser to pay for the wedding.  This would also be when the Trousseau Tea party was held.

The week before the wedding, the men of the families and male friends of the families would get together and build the bride and groom a home.

Per Roman Catholic superstitions, on the eve before the wedding, the bride would hang her rosary on her clothesline outside, in prayer for a beautiful sunny wedding day.

Bachelor Party:
In the 18th century, the Bachelor Party tradition began.  Just like today, the groom was given a party called "Enterrement de la vie de Garçon."  It was the burial of the bachelor. It was a mock funeral where the groom layed over planks and was given a eulogy and praise.  In some traditions, the groom may even bury a coffin with his former identity in it such as his boyhood toys, clothing, fetish, as well as any left-over liquor he may have, etc.  If available, the groom may have been intoxicated at the urging of his friends and taken to a brothel.

The Bachelorette Party didn't come till the 20th century for women.

Wedding Ceremony: 
 The groom and his friends and family would have met the bride at her home and the couple would travel together to the bride's church with her parents, while a parade of musicians played songs.  The friends and family would follow behind, announcing out loud, about the couple.  Anyone they encountered on the way to the church would respond with good luck and well wishes.  Upon arrival, everyone would enter the church together.

The Wedding Cake:
The wedding cake prior to the 17th century was typically a fruit cake, no icing on it.  Fruit represented fertility.  During the 17th century, the croquembouche cake, which was a tower of crème puffs called profiteroles and topped with a halo of spun sugar, became the traditional wedding cake in France, a custom and style taken from England, and brought to New France.  However, the importance of a wedding cake in modern days was next to nil back then.

The Reception 
Wedding music was made by fiddle and singing.  The unwed oldest siblings of the bride and groom would conduct a silly dance, typically in a pig's trough or wash basin, in modern days it's the norm to dance in un-matching and silly socks.  This was a way to punish the older siblings for not being married first. Money and jewels would have been thrown at the feet of the dancers, and later swept up to give to the bride and groom to begin their life together.  The bride and groom would form 2 lines, each taking turns dancing with guests.  The guests would give them money during the dance, and when the music stops playing, the last people to dance with the bride and groom would receive a take-home gift.  Acadians would put a spruce branch on top of the church steeple and try to shoot it off.  The person to knock it down first would win a prize.

 The reception dinner was elaborate, with foods that were grown during spring and summer and harvested for the fall wedding. Champagne was served with dainties.  Many of the guests would have also brought their own food to the wedding to share, as the festivities would be days long.

Le Charivari:
This was a custom after the wedding that was happiness for some at the expense of others.  When the ages between the bride and groom were significantly different or if the widower or widow showed obvious haste to get remarried, the neighbors were quick to show their disapproval.  The neighbors would go to the home of the newlyweds on their wedding night, equipped with noise-making instruments such as horns or pots and pans, and party in front of their home till dawn.  It didn't allow for any romance or comfort the first night in their bedroom together.

Dance of the Unwed Older Sibling
Michigan Historic Collection
French Wedding Traditions
Wikipedia Fruit Cake
Delicious History
Wikipedia Ceinture Fléchée
Wikipedia Le Charivari
Traditions de Nos Ancêtres
Trousseau: A French Origin Wedding Tradition
The Trousseau Tea: A Lost Pre-Wedding Tradition
Wedding Superstitions
French-Canadian Americans
Wikipedia Enterrement de vie de célibataire
Thank you to the group friends on Facebook at Great Lakes French-Canadians  and French Canadian Descendants.  I appreciate your help in links and information.


  1. Great post! it was definitely a good read. I wish there were pictures as well because it sounds great. My wedding is also around the corner and we have shortlisted some of the wedding venues NYC for that. I got to know a lot from this post, and I guess it will make my wedding a smoother one.

  2. Merci beaucoup. Congratulations n your upcoming wedding.