“And what should they know of England, who only England know?” - Rudyard Kipling
As it turns out, Brazil is pretty far away from England. After a 2 hour internal flight from the city of Cuiaba to Sao Paulo, and then another 11 hour flight to Heathrow, it couldn’t be much further from home. However, while having the privilege of performing at an incredible Brazilian wedding in the heart of Cuiaba, I truly discovered a home away from home, and new, vibrant way of conducting a wedding. Along with the Brazil-themed magnets that my wife bought for our fridge, I am delighted to be bringing back with me five top wedding tips that I learned during my trip - because, what can you really know of weddings, if you only know the English variety?
THE USUAL FORMULA
It’s pretty undeniable that English weddings do have a particular character to them. Firstly, we love to have a ceremony in a hotel, church or anywhere you could feasibly set Pride and Prejudice. Afterwards, we like a sit-down three course meal where our guests are distributed carefully at humorously named tables so that Uncle Bob and Auntie Marge don’t have *that* argument again. Next, we have the speeches, and these always wander on decidedly longer than anticipated, and where everyone has the pleasure of witnessing the groom awkwardly trying to compliment the bridesmaids without sounding too keen. Finally, we have some kind of disco that usually ends with the Macarena / Summer Lovin’ / something by Sean Paul.
I’m not knocking this format; it’s tried and tested, guests know what to expect, and it’s relatively easy to organise. But, for many of us, we’re looking for something different, something new. What better way to mix things up a bit than to look overseas? In that spirit, here are five things you might consider at your wedding - from Brazil, with love.
1. MAKE AN ENTRANCE
To say that the entrance of the bride was spectacular would be an understatement. Before entering, she was preceded by 12 couples, the groom and his mother, as well as 3 children under the age of 10. This may sound like an organisational nightmare, but all were perfectly colour coordinated and graceful, and their walk down the aisle brought the kind of magical suspense for the entrance of the bride.
Next were the trumpets. Forget playing a tinny version of Wagner’s ‘Bridal Chorus’ over the speaker system via the best man’s iPod, this bride was heralded by two genuine trumpeters. To the unaccustomed, this idea may sound rather ‘over-the-top’; however, the shiver down the spine that their music provoked at the curtains parted to reveal the bride was undeniable. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
2. HAVE A WEDDING COORDINATOR
Speaking of dry eyes, inevitably, many of the key members of the wedding party may shed a tear (or fifty) during the ceremony - and believe me, when there’s trumpets, there’s tears. However, it is generally agreed that panda-eyes and streaky foundation don't create a great look for photos. This is where the wedding coordinator comes in.
Think a wedding coordinator is just for flower arranging, announcing the cutting of the cake and sheep-dogging wayward bridesmaids? Think again! Jonathan, Cuiaba’s star wedding coordinator, had the whole execution of the wedding perfected, right down to giving the wedding party a tutorial on how to cry neatly the day before the wedding. No aspect of the day was beneath his attention; he subtly directed the couples walking down the aisle, ensured everyone was well presented for the group photos (did you know you should always have the bottom button undone on your jacket??), and did a demonstration of how to hug one another warmly without leaving makeup marks. Not only did his intervention ensure that the photos were beautifully coordinated, he also helped to make sure that everyone avoided any potential embarrassment. Who hasn’t been tagged in a dreadful wedding photo? Well, Jonathan hasn’t. Ever.
3. PUT PEOPLE FIRST
It is obvious to anyone who has been to Brazil that they absolutely prioritise people over anything else. They are people-people - and who doesn't love a people person? I’ve seen many weddings suffer for tight coordination which makes no allowance for time to socialise, and the chemistry between the guests can really make or break a wedding. When everyone is bouncing off of each other well, laughing and taking photos, it makes for a day that not only looked good, but felt good too.
Let me tell you: this wedding felt very good. While the buffet food was laid out promptly after the ceremony, people weren’t stuck to their chairs for 3 hours making lukewarm conversation with the semi-strangers at their table. There was no table plan, so people sat with whomever they wished - but many didn't take their chairs straight away. It was expected that a large number of people would be up dancing before their food, or having Caipirinhas and Mojitos at the cocktail bar, or simply milling about and chatting with others. The party atmosphere was strong, and everyone appeared relaxed and in high spirits, unrestrained by convention or a seating plan.
4. BE PLAYFUL
There are many Brazilian traditions for which there is absolutely no English equivalent. As Brazilian weddings usually go from around 8pm until around 4 or 5am, the atmosphere is often decidedly rowdier and less polished as the night goes on, and therefore a lot of the traditions that take place over the course of the night have an element of fun and playfulness not always found at a wedding in the UK.
First, there is the ‘cutting of the tie’ ceremony, where the best man and groomsmen (‘padrinios’) cut up the groom’s tie and sell off pieces to the guests. The pieces are placed on a tray and, at this particular wedding, the tray is treated as a steel drum by the groomsmen (my ears are still ringing!).
Next, there is the bouquet toss. Colourful ribbons are attached to the flowers, much in the stye of a maypole, and the ladies in attendance and encouraged to each hold onto the end of one. The bride is then blindfolded, and cuts each of the ribbons one by one until only one is left - and the last one standing receives the bouquet. I liked this highly democratic way of conducting the bouquet toss, although the blindfolded bride with scissors combination could raise some Health and Safety questions.
5. HIRE A SHADOW WAITER
One of my only gripes from my wedding was that I barely ate or drank anything all day. I think perhaps I had a cocktail sausage at some point, but basically that was it. I just didn’t have time to pick anything up, there were just too many things to do and too many people to speak to. At this wedding, however, the couple were perfectly fed and hydrated, from dusk till (literally) dawn.
This is where the shadow waiter comes in. No, the shadow waiter is not the evil cousin of the regular waiter, although he does sometimes loom uncomfortably close in a slightly shady manner. The shadow waiter is one man who’s job it is to follow the couple for the entire duration of the wedding with a tray full of drinks and an eye like a hawk. He watches for any sign of fatigue and swoops in with an Apple Martini at a moment’s notice. The bride and groom looked seriously well hydrated.
A combination of a few, or all, of these ideas may be just what you need to set your wedding apart, and to give your guests the best possible experience. And if nothing else, maybe consider hiring a shadow waiter just for your life in general - he’s pretty handy to have around.
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