15 Cuban Wedding Traditions to Keep the Culture Alive

Cuban wedding traditions are vibrant and rooted in faith.
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by
Elizabeth Ayoola
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Elizabeth Ayoola
The Knot Contributor
  • Elizabeth contributes a range of lifestyle content to The Knot.
  • She also works as a full-time writer at NerdWallet and contributing writer at ESSENCE and POPSUGAR.
  • Elizabeth has a degree in Environment, Politics, and Globalization from King's College London.
Updated Jan 17, 2023

Weddings are something many people dream of from the time they're old enough to know what a wedding is. Since it's such a life-changing event, making it memorable is a must. Infusing cultural traditions into a wedding ceremony and reception is one way to make it a day you'll look back and smile on. Many Cubans in the United States and abroad have mastered the art of creating memorable weddings by including Cuban wedding traditions as part of their big day. Here are a few traditions you should know about, whether you're simply curious or planning a Cuban wedding.

A Brief History of Cuban Wedding Traditions

Weddings were once a lavish and religious affair in Cuba. However, the 1959 revolution, and the economic shifts that happened as a consequence, result in them looking much different today. After the revolution, Fidel Castro saw the Roman Catholic Church as a threat to communism and attempted to minimize its presence. As a result, Cuban weddings now integrate fewer religious practices, and people who do uphold them, hold out until the reception.

In addition to religion not taking front and center stage, not everyone can afford to have a lavish wedding post-revolution. Low wages and rationed food due to living under the communist state makes weddings a luxury. Nonetheless, Cuban people make the most of their circumstances and still find ways to celebrate love, and practice their wedding traditions. Also, those in the diaspora, as well as second generation Cubans, can continue the traditions below no matter where in the world they are.

Cuban Pre-Wedding Traditions

Before the wedding, Cubans celebrate the couple in ways that are different from American weddings. There's a focus on blessing the marriage as well as gifting the soonlyweds with extravagant gifts.

Misa De Fianza

A few months before the big day, Cuban couples may engage in what's called a misa de fianza. This is a ceremony where the couple exchanges wedding rings and shares a special dance. You can liken this tradition to the introductions that take place in Nigerian wedding traditions as the misa de fianza is also when the parents bless the marriage.

Expensive Gifts From Parents

Parents have an expensive task at hand when their kids are getting married and that consists of buying lavish gifts. These gifts are a way to celebrate the union and mark the beginning of their children's new life together.

An example of an extravagant gift couples may receive is a new home. In Cuban tradition, homes are typically passed down through generations. Since we're on the topic of large gifts, it's important to note that the bride's parents traditionally pay for the wedding.

Cuban Wedding Attire

Most weddings require that you come dressed in your best, whatever that looks like for you. As in most weddings, the bride and her dress are the center of attention, but the guests should stand out too.

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Luxe White Dresses

In Cuban wedding traditions, white dresses are reserved for virgins. Reason being, Cuban brides are expected to be "pure" on their wedding day. This is such a big deal that a day after the wedding, the newlyweds may be asked to bring the sheets they used on their wedding day to prove she was indeed a virgin. They're also not allowed to have contact before walking down the aisle, which is probably why they get ready in different locations.

In terms of the dress, Cuban brides often wear dresses characterized by floral motifs, satin, silk and ruffles. Full skirts tend to be another common theme among their dresses.

Colorful Guests

Weddings in Latin America are often colorful and festive, so if you're going to a Cuban wedding, dress accordingly. While the bride stuns in white, wedding guests can wear bright attire on the wedding day.

Cuban Wedding Ceremony

Many ceremonies in Cuba are officiated by a priest but it could be different if it's a civil ceremony. In that case, a judge could officiate the wedding. During the ceremony, you'll see many traditions inspired by religion such as the unity candle, the arras and the white bouquet.

Arras

This Cuban wedding tradition is influenced by Christianity as a way for the groom to vow he'll financially care for his new bride and support her. The groom gives the bride 13 gold coins during the ceremony. The coins are blessed by a priest beforehand and represent Christ and his 12 apostles. While the bride keeps 12 coins, the thirteenth one is placed in her right shoe to say she'll never lack.

Unity Candle

During a Cuban wedding, the couple will light what's called a unity candle. As the name suggests, the candle signifies unity and the couple becoming one. Some couples save this candle and light it every time their wedding anniversary comes around. If you're getting married Cuban-style, this could be a tradition you and your spouse adopt.

A White Bouquet

Similar to the premise behind the white wedding dress, Cuban brides are also likely to carry a white bouquet when walking down the aisle. As mentioned, white is meant to signify purity, which is of significant value in Cuban culture. In addition, the bouquet can also represent fertility.

Cuban Wedding Reception Traditions

Cuban wedding receptions can last for hours and may even go on until the wee hours of the morning. As with Brazilian weddings, they enjoy partying and having fun, so you can look forward to that at the reception.

Traditional Cuban Wedding Songs

Some of the main genres you'll hear at a Cuban wedding are salsa, merengue and bachata. Listen out for traditional Cuban wedding songs for the new couple and their guests to rock to. Some classic wedding staples include "Suavemente," by Elvis Crespo, "Despacito", "Danza Kuduro", "La Chona", "La Vida Es Un Carnaval", "Mesa Que Mas Aplauda" and "Vivir Mi Vida".

Conga

Most traditions have a dance that gets everyone moving and for Cubans, the conga is probably at the top of the list. Also known as the comparsa, it's a street dance that would happen in the city of Santiago. To do the dance, everyone grabs onto one another's hips and sways. You may also end up doing the rumba, which doubles as a music genre and dance. If you aren't familiar with either of those dances, this is your cue to head over to YouTube and get acclimated with them before the big day.

Money Dance

In Nigerian weddings, they usually have one or more money dances and this is something Cubans do too. A money dance is when the wedding party and guests lavish money on the bride and groom while they dance. The couple can use the money for whatever they want; free money is undoubtedly a great gift to get as a newly-married couple. Aside from the money dance, the first dance between the bride and groom is also similarly significant as in Western wedding traditions.

Gifts for Guests

Party favors aren't uncommon at Western weddings and there is no exception at Cuban weddings. To thank guests for coming to their wedding and celebrating their love, the couple may give out handmade gifts like Spanish hand fans or pottery made by local artists. In some instances, the couple gives guests ribbons with their names on it. If the budget is there, guests may get more expensive gifts, like cigars.

Cuban Wedding Food and Drinks

The beautiful thing about food is that it can be a way to differentiate cultures and also something people can bond over. Food is a main attraction at Cuban weddings and the feast takes place after the ceremony.

Main Courses

Cuban food tends to be vibrant and flavorful. At a wedding reception you may see a range of native dishes such as masitas or fried pork, arroz y frijoles negros, which is rice and Cuban-style black beans, sweet plantains and yuca fritters. For those who have never tasted Cuban beans, they're made with onions, garlic and green peppers.

Cuban Desserts

Most cultures around the world have sweet treats at weddings, even if it's just a wedding cake. Cuban weddings have more than cake—they may also serve traditional Cuban sweets like guava cake, Cubanitas, which are bars with a coconut or fruit base, flan, a rich custard, or dulce de leche, a type of caramel.

Rum Drinks

Cubans and rum are synonymous so a wedding isn't complete without it. Mojitos are a popular drink in Cuba as well as daiquiris and Cubanitos, which can be compared to Bloody Marys. You may also get a Cuba Libre, also known as rum and coke.

Cuban Post-Wedding Traditions

In American culture, when couples get married, they usually move into a home of their own. Cubans, however, do things differently. Some newlyweds move in with parents after getting married—the couple will likely stay with the groom's parents. Traditionally, the couple may end up moving out if a younger sibling gets married, as they then need to make room for that sibling and their new partner. That said, the couple doesn't have to stay at their parents' house indefinitely. They could use the opportunity to save up to eventually buy or rent their own place.

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