In olden times, marriages were arranged between families. This system allowed property to be inherited by the chosen persons. Young people were expected to marry the girl or young man of their family’s choice, usually to cement allegiances or businesses. This system also broadened the family’s assets and sphere of social influence.
In the countryside when a family had daughters of marriageable age, they would place a pot of basil or carnation on the window ledge. On the other hand, when a young man decided to get married, he would wear a big beautiful red carnation behind his ear or in his button hole, during feast days and public gatherings.
When a young man noticed the pot on the window ledge, he or his family, would generally go to the local matchmaker (‘ħuttaba’), who was usually an old woman or widow who arranged marriages between couples and families for a living. The matchmaker had the job of getting information about the bride and groom, their families, their temperament, their accomplishments and dowries, and try to arrange a marriage contract between the two families.
When the matchmaker informed the man that the girl’s family was happy with his marriage intentions, the latter would send his sweetheart a large fish, the symbol of good luck and fortune, tied with ribbons. In the mouth of the fish, a ring was placed as a small gift. A meeting would then be arranged between the young couple. This would take place in the presence of the parents and the matchmaker. Later, a small party would be organised during which neighbours and family friends were entertained with light refreshments where the bride and groom would give each other gifts.
Marriage preparations would then start in earnest. The girl would start planning her dowry while the man would start to look for an accommodation for his future family. A date for the wedding would be set, and the religious ceremony, the wedding lunch and the entertainment would start to be prepared.
On her wedding day, a bride usually wore a richly made dress, embroidered with lace, silver buttons and golden ornaments, as well as a lace veil. The groom wore a black outfit with a waist-length jacket and knee-length trousers, a white shirt, and a hat in the form of a triangle. Up till the 19th century, country brides wore dresses that were blue, black, purple or some other dark colour. White dresses came into fashion at the end of the century.
On the wedding day, the bridegroom first visited the bride’s home. They left together for the church under a canopy (‘baldakkin’) held by their relatives or family friends. A bridal procession followed, which included hired musicians, singers and neighbours. Some family members used to give sweets and confections to passers-by. A person carried a bowl with burning herbs or incense. When the procession arrived in church, the priest would be waiting for them to start the wedding ceremony. Afterwards, the bridal procession would make its way underneath the canopy, towards the bride’s house or locality where the wedding lunch was to be held. Flowers, nuts, wheat or coins would be thrown upon them for luck and prosperity.
The wedding lunch was usually held in the bride’s family’s house courtyard. After lunch, the bridegroom returned home with his parents and relatives. The bride remained at her parent’s house for a week, in order for the mother to have time to instruct her daughter on the role of a wife and mother. When this week came to an end, the groom’s family would organise a party called ‘il-ħarġa’. This marked the bride’s new life as a wife as she entered her new house, together with the dowry which would be given on that same day.
Quite different from the way marriages take place today!