Weddings: How Do You Celebrate?
My first catering job was at The Loft in NYC, where a group of predominately Irish Catholic waiters began every gig with the question: Chuppa up or chuppa down? We would set up the chairs, raise the Chuppa, wrap a wine glass in a napkin and place it on the floor where it could be broken by the groom at the end of the ceremony. When we heard Mazel Tov, we knew it was time to pass the appetizers.
New York is a real melting pot, the point of entry for immigrants from Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean. First generation parents send their children to public schools where they meet kids from many countries. Judging from my experience, there’re a lot of intermarriages, and the relatives’ reactions to these unions of disparate families were not always favorable. One of my most vivid memories from the Loft wedding album is a line of older Italian women brandishing the crucifixes they wore around their neck, while the bride’s father in a white yarmulke prayed over the challah bread. The Hebrew blessing was answered by a loud chorus of AMEN from the frowning exorcists. Then we opened the buffet line.
Flash forward many years to Costa Rica, and here we are catering to the needs of a very different clientele. Most of our customers are part of a growing trend of US citizens who choose to marry outside of the United States. According to a recent poll, 1/4 of the 350,000 weddings annually between US citizens is a destination wedding, and 30% of those weddings take place outside of the continental states. Most destination weddings last 3 or more days and international destination wedding are often longer. Aside from the traditional rehearsal dinner, after-party and next-day breakfast, the bride and groom host welcome cocktail parties, bridal lunches, nature tours and spa dates, fishing trips and boys night out. Often we cater for one or more of the events surrounding a destination wedding.
Our multi-cultural staff is often puzzled by what they see at these parties, but it is the Rehearsal Dinner that has caused the most confusion and merriment. I used to wonder if they thought that people from the US were overly fastidious or control freaks. Was it odd to run through the wedding ceremony the day before so that everyone in the bridal party understands their role? It turns out that my friends had misunderstood what exactly was being rehearsed. “I don’t get these ‘rehearsal dinners’. We prepare and serve one meal in rehearsal, but they eat a different and more elaborate meal on the wedding day. Shouldn’t they practice eating the same meal?”
According to our friend Eloisa, an Italian wedding is all about the food. There is no need for Italians to rehearse for the wedding meal – but it might be a good idea to abstain from eating for a few days before the party. The Italian wedding is traditionally a sit-down meal. Course after course after course served on separate plates with sorbet between the meat and fish course to cleanse the pallet. No surf and turf at the Italian wedding, or buffet plates piled with three entrees and an assortment of side dishes.
The Costa Rican wedding requires a different kind of stamina. One must be well-rested and perhaps it would be important to practice your dance moves. Costa Ricans like to party all night. The party usually starts slowly with a few bocas, and drinks. After a few hours of visiting with family and friends, dinner is served. Dinner is usually followed by toasts. Then the cake is cut and served. And then everyone dances. Music is an important part of the wedding. I have been to parties with live entertainment for the cocktail hour, a marimba or guitarists, then another band for dancing. A DJ takes over after midnight, with strobe lights and smoke machines. Soup or a hearty snack is served in the early morning to help maintain the dancers’ strength and get them through until breakfast is served at dawn.
I did some research into Costa Rican wedding rituals and found to my surprise that a traditional Costa Rican bride wears a black silk gown and a lace veil. Here, it is the groom who wore white. Traditionally, his white shirt is supposed to be hand-embroidered by his fiance, as a symbol of the devotion and care, she will give him as his wife. In turn, it is customary for the groom to give his bride 13 gold coins which are blessed by the priest and represent Jesus Christ and his 12 apostles. The gold symbolizes the groom’s love and devotion to his wife, and his acceptance of his marital responsibilities as the provider for his family.
Christina Spilsbury and Rick Macsherry have lived in Tamarindo since 1989. They own and operate Sunset Catering.