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The Wedding Mantilla: Fading Cultural Connection?

Submitted by on June 11, 2009 – 5:00 am15 Comments
Wedding of Yvette and Henry Sanchez. Miami, 2008.

Wedding of Yvette and Henry Sanchez. Miami, 2008.

lou_galindoWhen I married my (now ex-) husband 150 years ago, it was a civil ceremony in a little, white room at the back of the local courthouse. Both of our mothers and my best friend from high school were there as witnesses.

Twenty minutes and two forms later, we were done.

There were no flowers, no bridal march, and certainly no mantilla, the most traditional – and most Hispanic – of the Hispanic wedding traditions.

Attend a Latino wedding, particularly a Catholic Latino wedding, and you will surely see two women – usually the couple’s grandmothers, or godmothers, or favorite aunts; women of importance and significance to them – drape a large, lace shawl over the couple’s shoulders while the priest recites a prayer. The draping of the mantilla is a tradition passed down from generation to (Latino) generation.

The mantilla has its roots firmly embedded in Spanish culture, originally made popular by Queen Isabel II in the mid-1800s. After her reign, their popularity waned in most areas of Spain. However, the women of Andalusia continued to wear them for religious ceremonies, such as masses, Holy Week and papal visits. It is believed this lead to their use in Catholic wedding ceremonies.

I never have considered myself a traditionalist. I was not one of those little girls who played out her dream wedding with Barbie and Ken. I never really imagined myself getting married, much less having a huge, church ceremony, complete with fluffy white dress and petal-strewn aisle. The thought of using a mantilla in my wedding ceremony had never even crossed my mind.

Wondering if I was alone in my thinking, I posed the question to a few Catholic friends who did have traditional wedding ceremonies. I expected their answers to run along the lines of “I couldn’t wait to use one,” or “It was very important to have one in my ceremony.” I was actually quite surprised to hear that their feelings about the traditions of the mantilla were not entirely dissimilar to my own.

It turns out their reasons for using a mantilla were almost all identical: They did it because someone else wanted them to.

My niece, Yvette (pictured above), basically did it just to make her grandmother happy. Her paternal grandmother is so Catholic, she practically has the Pope on speed-dial. In order to appease her grandmother, and avoid the Catholic guilt trip, she included the mantilla ritual in her ceremony.

An Anglo friend, although raised as a Catholic, had never seen a mantilla used until she attended her first Hispanic Catholic wedding. And when she married three years ago, her Spanish-born mother-in-law-to-be insisted that a mantilla be included. The mantilla, however, was forgotten in the back room of the church before the ceremony and never was used — a fact my friend’s mother-in-law was none-too-pleased about. (Luckily they can laugh about it now).

For Barbara, another friend, the mantilla was – in her words – “a pain.” When I asked if it had any special significance for her, she said that it “meant nothing,” but she still felt obligated to include it, because it’s Catholic tradition (there goes that guilt thing). Barbara also noted she has seen it used less and less at weddings she has attended.

I find it interesting that even though our mothers and grandmothers still are attached to this tradition _ with all its religious and cultural significance _ the indifference my generation has to this rite shows me how some of our long-held traditions are fading as we “Americanize.”

And, I don’t know how I feel about that.

Lou Galindo is a first generation Cuban-American, born and bred in Miami. She is a “marketeer” by trade, and an artist at heart. Her passions include reading, papercrafting, crime dramas and her Mexican-American boyfriend. She posts regularly at her blog, Searching for Normalcy.

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15 Comments »

  • Marta says:

    Lou,

    Great post. I, too skipped the mantilla thing when I got married. Luckily, my mother never insisted. (She’s a wise woman.)

    However, one of my Cuban nieces recently married a Mexican young man. Their tradition involves a giant, satin double lasso. A lasso! (I’m so not kidding about this.)

    As counter-cultural as they like to see themselves, they really embraced that old-school Mexican tradition and anxiously talked about being lassoed. (I know. shut up.)

    The rest of the family? Not a dry eye in the house. Go figure.

    Besos,
    Marta

  • Juju says:

    I did not BUT I think it’s a beautiful tradition that continues to endure.
    I think it’s much lovelier than the candles.

  • Monica says:

    After I got engaged, I made a trip to Spain to visit my family. While I was there, my Tía gave me one of the family (heirloom) combs. Because I feel so disconnected from my Spanish roots and miss my family so terribly, I was delighted to wear both the comb and a mantilla during my wedding, though we did not do the acutal mantilla ceremony.
    But silly as it sounds, being able to wear both gave me a lot of peace because it was a tiny little symbol that even though I was marrying into an anglo family, I was not losing my cultural identity. Plus, I think they were both beautiful.

  • Mica says:

    We as Cubans in exile have lost so much of the ‘physical’ connections to our culture. Although I consider myself a young (ahem…), hip, modern Cuban woman I was thrilled to wear the Mantilla. It gave me a connection to all the beautiful Cuban women who married before me. Something tangible that we could share.

  • Carrie says:

    I am not Catholic, so the mantilla wasn’t really much of an option for me when I got married. I can’t remember seeing it in Protestant weddings. Do non-Catholics use them?

    I think I would have worn one just for the sheer beauty and connection. But, I’m someone who likes ritual.

    This past Fall, my husband’s sister gave me a mantilla their grandfather bought in Havana in the early 1900s. I love it and am grateful to have it.

    Gracias to Lou for the great contribution to the Tiki Tiki.

  • Lou says:

    No, Carrie – thank YOU! =)

    I’ve been thinking back and about 99.9% of the weddings I’ve been to, have been Catholic, so I saw the mantilla used in every one of those. I can only recall one wedding that didn’t use it. It was a second marriage for both the bride and groom, was held in a banquet hall, and had a Hawaiian theme. So even though they are both Catholic, they skipped the mass/rituals because of the casual nature and location of the event. It was still a very lovely wedding and the vows were beautiful (they wrote their own).

    Thank you all for your comments.

  • Ady Abreu says:

    Lou, what a great interpretation of the mantilla. I didn’t use it the first time and I defintely didn’t use it the second time.

  • Edith says:

    I was born in Mexico, of Cuban Mother and Mexican Father, and Miami is our home. We used the mantilla at our wedding. My husband was born in Miami, both his parents are Cuban. The mantilla was ordered by my mother-in-law directly from Spain, it was first used in our wedding, then my brother in laws, and so on, it has already been used in over 10 weddings within our family.

    Another tradition we had was “The Arras”, a Mexican tradition. The groom gives the bride thirteen gold coins blessed by the priest. The 13 coins represent the Christ and his 12 apostles. The Arras is given to the bride as a symbol of the unquestionable trust and confidence the groom has in her. Most often, he presents them in an ornate box, a silver or gold jewelry box, or on a siver or gold gift tray. By doing so, he also pledges to be a good provider and to support and care for his bride as she becomes his wife. By accepting these arras, the bride pronounces her unconditional trust and confidence in her groom. The arras we used, which were a present from my Mexican godparents, have become another family heirloom, and I hope my daughters used them some day.

    By the way, just to clarify, the “lazo” used in Mexico, is usually an oversized rosary, although it can also be a ribbon or a decorated cord. It is the Mexican version of the mantilla, placed on the bride and the groom in a horizontal figure eight (infinity) while they are kneeling at the altar, to affirm their union and their committment to always be together side-by-side.
    I think traditions are part of who we are!

  • Adriana says:

    When we got married, I think the first item my Mom got was a Mantilla from a friend. I had no problem wearing the mantilla, as Carrie, I love rituals and even though I’m young, love to follow every Cuban tradition in the book.

    Abuela was very traditional and kept the culture alive in our household, so she would’ve approved. Sadly she left us six years before the wedding.

    Edith, as far as I know, Las Arras are not exclusively a Mexican tradition, but like the Mantilla a Spanish tradition. There are no Mexicans in our family and we used them. And in Puerto Rico every Catholic wedding has them too.

    Carrie, Protestantism is rooted in Anglo culture so it is really no surprise they don’t use mantillas for weddings!

  • Vince says:

    Where did you get the mantilla. I am from Miami and my daughter is getting married, but have no clue where to go and buy one.
    If anyone has an idea, please share.
    Thank you.

  • Tatiana says:

    Hello:

    I am getting married in Miami and am also wondering where I could buy a mantilla like this one. I am also willing to get one directly from Spain if someone can tell me where I can buy them there.

    Thank you for your help!

  • Monica says:

    Or you can check out these for price comparison (but I have not done business with them)…

    http://www.mantones.com/ (Love this site!!)

    http://www.lands-faraway.com/shawls_mantilla.htm
    Monica´s last [fabulousness] ..Taking It Outside- Having Class Time Outdoors

  • Rory- Mama Contemporanea says:

    Mantilla, you can find it here http://www.flamencoexport.com/
    all products are imported from Spain and they send it worldwide.
    Excelent customer service

  • Andy says:

    At what time during the Catholic Wedding Mass is this “mantilla” put on and taken off.

    As well, there are 13 coins passed down from groom to bride and back to grrom during the ceremony. When does this tradition occur dirung the ceremony/mass?

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