I stumbled across a DVD I made a few years ago of a Spanish wedding that I was invited to. I've been to several in fact, and I've noticed there are quite a few differences to Spanish weddings, some of which may seem a little odd to outsiders.
Firstly, one doesn't necessarily need to know the bride and groom to be invited to a wedding in Spain. In one instance I was very friendly with the groom's father but I'd never met his son or the wife to be. On the big day, although I attended the church, I didn't actually meet the happy couple for the first time until the reception where they shook hands with everyone on the way in to the venue. I used my pigeon Spanish to explain I was sorry for not having met before, but sensing my awkwardness, they brushed aside any embarrassment and welcomed me to join the celebration and enjoy myself. I did just that! The food was excellent. It was explained to me there were two function rooms used for weddings in town, one which was a bit 'posher' and this one which had better food. They must have had a large kitchen as there were hundreds of guests there, with waiters buzzing around like bees, bringing plate after plate and wine bottle after wine bottle. The father was milling around talking to people but kept checking up on me to make sure I was OK.
"Did you like the prawns" he said, obviously knowing the the answer would be yes, given the huge pile of shell casings in front of me.
"Have another plate.." He snapped his finger at the nearest waiter and another plate of prawns arrived. Now I'm no prawn connoisseur, but these things were damned good. Larger than most prawns and a deep red colour. I didn't know as I was shovelling them in my cake-hole but I made enquires about them the following week and learned they cost a euro each. I'd probably eaten my way through twenty or thirty euros worth!
Which brings me to funding. By convention, if one is lucky enough to be invited to a Spanish wedding, one is expected to contribute to the cost of the celebration. They way this is done is by making a discreet enquiry before the event as to the probable cost per head. Then one brings this money in an envelope as a gift to give at the reception. Some people, close family members and friends may give more, but the general idea is to cover the costs with hopefully a little left over to start married life together. I think it's a great idea and from what I've heard, the generosity of the guests never leaves the bride and groom out of pocket.
One thing I've seen at a lot of Spanish weddings, not just ones I've been invited to, but ones where I've happened to be a passer-by at the church, is when the couple exit the ceremony, fireworks are set off. I don't know how or why firing rockets into the air in the middle of the day became a thing, as the explosions are almost impossible to see in bright sunshine. The noise is most likely the reason. They also enjoy riding around town in a cavalcade of cars all beeping their horns in celebration. In a small village like Olvera it's impossible to not know a wedding is taking place!
Another difference at Spanish wedding receptions, at least the ones I've been to, is that there are no speeches. Nobody clinks their glasses or makes a toast. No 'best man' gets up and makes rude jokes about the groom. Having been used to the format of British wedding receptions, I recall feeling robbed of entertainment. I've also had Spanish friends tell me they have seen movies like 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' and were quite envious of this but in Spain, people just don't seem to want to take the leap to address the room. Instead of being punctuated by speeches, the progress of the reception seems to be marked by which course is being served. There are generally lots of courses, multiple starters, a couple of fish courses, a couple of meat, desserts, even cigars. At one wedding I went to each man was furnished with a big cigar and each woman with a miniature commemorative five-pack of cigarettes!
As with wedding receptions the world over, when the feasting is over the dancing starts. All the weddings I've been to featured discos rather than live music. What is different is the duration. Even at weddings that take place at midday, you will still find yourself dancing at six o'clock in the morning and sometimes beyond. I've never had the stamina myself, but I've been assured that the celebrations often continue back at the groom's house up until lunchtime the next day. That's one thing you can't deny about the Spanish. They sure do know how to party!