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Ring of Fire

Author's References and Information On Alta California Wedding Customs

Once again, I want to thank Jennifer Schooley for her help with my research. She was a true lifesaver in locating this information. Gracias, Jennifer!

The following sites offered information that I used in one form or another in this story. I cannot guarantee that each of these sites is still there. The articles on at least one of the sites I used are changed out from time to time.

1. "Historical Perspective on a Traditional Mexican Wedding", HIS-169A Term Project,Prof. Vicki Ruiz, University of California, by Cesar Plata, 3-17-92, articles1.htm

This was the most helpful of all the research sites. Although the customs referred to here are termed "Mexican", the author indicates that these customs were common throughout the southwest, including Alta California before the coming of the Americanos. This nine page article covers both Spanish and Indian customs for the time period of the early 1800's.

Similarities and differences between the two cultures were pointed out and the reader is reminded frequently that the difference in financial resources made differences in both cultures' marriage customs. Since this address no longer leads to the article, I will try to tell just a few of the things I found here and if you want more information, let me know and I will try to scan and send the article to you.

a. The marriage service is, of course, basically Catholic, not terribly different from today's service, except it was conducted in Latin.

b. It generally took the permission of both sets of parents before a couple could marry. However, this could be done with or without the children's consent. Of prime importance was social compatibility and that the marriage would benefit both families. Girls married when they were about seventeen years old, although some accounts tell of girls marrying as soon as they could bare children,usually between the ages of twelve to fifteen. In some cases, the bride and groom met for the very first time at the church for the wedding. In some areas it was common to betroth their children in infancy. In light of this, it is no wonder Don Alejandro started trying to match Diego up with available seņoritas almost as soon as he returned from Spain. At twenty-three years of age, Diego would have been much older than most grooms. Of course, most of the heroines we fanfiction writers dream up would be considered old maids, as would all the woman shown with Diego in the series. Hmmm, good thing we aren't bound to historical fact here!

c. There was a regular blizzard of gifts exchanged between the couple involved and between the two families. The following were included in the "blizzard":

1. First, the future bride presents her future spouse with a rosary or medallion with an image of the Virgin Mary as a sign of virginity.

2. He then presents her with the donas, a handcrafted chest containing the wedding trousseau, silk, brocades, laces, clothing, jewelry, household goods, and occasionally money. To not give this gift was considered shameless.

3. The father of the bride customarily offered a dowry as a response now. I wasn't sure exactly what would have happened in a case such as in Ring of Fire, since Ania is the sole heir of an estate. I'm sure she would have always had a dowry, but in her case, the WHOLE estate would effect come with her into the marriage. Dowry was inalienable female property, which at her death devolved intact to her children, if she had any. However, since the dowry (usually livestock) were managed by the woman's husband, it could be used exclusively to further his economic interests.

4. Men who could afford it (as Diego could) would have given the bride arras, movable goods, the worth of which was limited by law to no more than one tenth of his fortune. These too were often cattle or horses.

d. An older married couple was chosen by the parents of the children to be padrinos de boda (Godparents of Marriage). The man of this couple was technically called the padrino, while his wife was the madrina. This couple worked closely with the children's padrinos de bautizo (Godparents of Baptism) and the parents of the bride and groom. This created strong family and economic ties between the families of both children. The author indicates that this characteristic closeness is still common in Mexico and Latin America. The padrinos de boda played a very important part in the wedding process. It is they who do many of the things we in the U.S. would expect the parents to do. The padrinos went with the couple to make arrangements with the priest for the wedding. The madrina helped make the bride's wedding dress and helped her dress on her wedding day. I varied this in this story. Although it was not brought into this story, the padrino would have helped the groom with his wardrobe. As magnificently dressed as Diego usually was, it is difficult to imagine him ever needing help with his wardrobe.

According to the author, the padrinos also went with the couple to obtain a civil marriage certificate from the office of the Registro Civil. A month before the wedding, the padrinos once again went with the couple to the priest. The priest in turn recorded all the needed information about the couple and questioned them about their intentions, other possible commitments, or illegitimate children, and whether they were marrying of their own free will. The marriage bans were read by the priest in church for the following three Sundays. Assuming there were no protests, the couple was married on the fourth Sunday. Most church weddings took place early Sunday mornings.

We are not told here just what counseling the groom received, but the last night before the wedding, the bride stayed at the home of the padrinos de boda to be given marital advice. This advice stressed the girl's need to obey and conform to all of her husband's wishes.

The bride, with the padrinos, returned to her home early on the morning of the wedding to dress. While she was dressing, everyone else involved in the wedding would gather downstairs. When all was in readiness, the whole wedding party would leave the bride's house in gaily decorated carretelas (horse-drawn carriages). The padrinos, not the father (or in Ania's case, her cousin), rode with the bride and it was the padrino who escorted her to her groom for the ceremony. The marriage vows, exchange of rings, and the giving of an arras (thirteen coins) took place at the door of the church before everyone entered for Mass.

There was a great deal of symbolism in the giving of this highly ritualized form of arras at this point. Several meanings for this custom were given in the article: The bride and groom gave las arras to the church to show their concern for the poor. Another version of its meaning mentions that the groom gave the bride gold or silver coins as a symbol that he would take care of her. The use of gold or silver was determined by the wealth of the groom, gold being used by those with the most wealth. The coins were usually contained in a pouch along with the rings. After the priest blessed the arras and the rings, he put one ring on the ring finger of the groom's right hand and gave the other ring to the groom to place on the bride's right ring finger. The coins were kept by the church. Rich people used gold wedding bands, while poor often used leather or wooden rings or even used rings borrowed and returned after three days.

Symbolical joining of the bride and groom was common in ceremonies at all levels of society. A ribbon was used by poorer people while the Spanish padrinos draped a lazo, a large double-loop rosary, over the couple, to symbolize their eternal union. After this, everyone entered the church for mass. After receiving communion and being blessed by the priest, the couple presented a bouquet of flowers to the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe and guardian of their marriage, symbolizing their wish that she watch over them.

Finally, as a traditional symbol of their union, the couple lit the Easter candle with candles they had received at their baptisms. This surprised me. My husband and I lit a unity candle in our own wedding, but I never knew that the custom was so old nor that it had originally been a traditional part of Catholic wedding ceremonies.

Upon leaving the church, the couple took part in a joyous procession including musicians. The gaiety, music, and gun salutes that greeted the couple as they left the church was intended to scare away evil spirits that might prey on the newlyweds. Rice and pinole (sweetened cornmeal) were thrown at them in token of wishes for good fortune and a long life together.

The celebration then moved to the bride's home for breakfast. After breakfast, the wedding reception and dance began. Guests congratulated and gave the couple a token gold piece. The author mentioned that this was the forerunner of the "money dance" still existing today where friends and relatives take turns dancing with and pinning money to the couple.

Later the groom's family provided a wonderful banquet for all the guests. This meal would include traditional foods, as well as barbecued beef or venison along with various forms of cake, candy, and cookies.

Differences in social class were clearly shown during the wedding dance by the dancers' dress, movements, and manners. Only the upper class knew how to dance the courtly, genteel dances such as the Varsoviana and the Cuadrilla. At this time another tradition was also expected of the bride. She would disappear from time to time to change dresses. She was suppose to display all or at least some of the fine dresses provided by her husband in las donas.

It was not uncommon for wedding festivities of the upper class to last three to five days or even more. During this time, games, races, and competitions of all sorts were planned for all levels of society. La entrega de novios (release of the newlyweds) marked the end of the wedding dance and festivities. Local poets sung sets of verses dedicated to the newlyweds and their families. These verses sometimes referred to the couple as roses which left the church blessed in matrimony. They also included advice to the couple and anecdotes about family members of both sides. A common theme was the advice for the couple to bid farewell to their parents and concentrate on their new roles as husband and wife, dedicating their lives to each other. The sanctity of marriage was extremely important at this time and the social pressure on the couple to persevere despite any marital problems was also greater than it is now. Marriages were almost invariably until death.

2. "The Special Traditions of the Lazo, Arras & Padrinos", Reverend Celia Cuadraz, Latina Bride Featuares,

This article is still available on the web. It provided more information about these three traditions found in Spanish and Mexican influenced weddings now. These have been carried over from the early days on this continent and would be applicable to our hero's time.

Shown in the first picture is one variety of arras. At the time of Diego and Ania a fine cloth bag was more commonly used for the thirteen coins, in this case of silver. The arras in the final chapter of Ring of Fire" would have contained gold coins, as befitted Diego's status.

The lazo is also shown. This large rosary, with two loops, was often adorned with pearls and flowers. It was placed around the couple's shoulders to indicate that as separate individuals they are becoming one in marriage. It represents a greater union of their souls, and a deeper relationship as husband and wife. Other sources indicated that this also symbolized the church's blessing on this special union.

This article gave only a little information about the padrinos, but did say that the couple chosen should have a marriage that clearly represents the holiness of the vows.

3. "Marriage Customs in Early California", Norine Dresser, The Californians , Nov./Dec. 1991, pages 46-49

This very interesting article was very hard to come by, at least on this side of the United States. My library finally was able to get a copy sent from a university in California ($10.00 for the copy!). Much of the information in this article gave more detail to things already mentioned in other research I had. It also goes further in that it is specifically about Early California. Some of the additional facts mentioned here were:

a. Girls were betrothed between 10 and 12 years of age and were married between 13 to 15 years of age. These arranged matches were examples of the strong parental discipline. This discipline required such absolute respect, so much so that even married children had to submit with humility to the orders of the parents who maintained rights to chastise and punish.

b. The usual length of betrothal was one year--about as long as it took to gather from all over the world those items the Californiano elite considered necessary for a bride to have on her marriage. This was one place that Ania's orphaned state helped move my story along without this long a betrothal period....As her father's only heir, she had everything she could possibly need, including a casa grande, to bring with her into the marriage.

c. One very surprising thing that this article stated was that the traditional color for the bride to wear to be married in was black. The gown was often brocade silk, worn with hose of silk and satin slippers. Perhaps this explains why no one seemed to have any problem creating a costume like Zorro's. Black satin and silk must have been a very common import item.

The bride's hair was piled high on her head, and an intricately-carved tortoise shell comb was set in the tresses. These combs often were sold for 600 pesos or more. Wide side combs set with precious stones, such as those I told of Ania wearing, were also used. Fastened to the tall comb was usually a black Spanish lace mantilla, long enough to almost touch the skirt in the back.

d. Wedding festivals lasted anywhere from three days to a week, sometimes even longer. These celebrations took the place of what we would consider a honeymoon. Distance and travel time, plus the danger of travel at that time, made trips such as this unreasonable for a couple.

e. The use of the arras and the blessing of the coins and rings were again described. After the rings were exchanged in one wedding described here, the common vows of the groom were quoted. I had Diego speak these very words in Chapter 28. It says that the bride also took her vows there, but it did not tell what the woman's vows were. The spilling of the money onto a tray by the bride as a gift for the church is also described here.

4. Much information can be found in various spots on web pages devoted to weddings and the backgrounds of different wedding custom from other cultures. I jotted these down as I surfed, but not planning at that time to writing this comment section, I did not keep the site addresses.

a. In a custom which the author said was "very old", it was described that the bride and groom would lead out in the first dance within a heart shaped circle of well- wishers. As the dance progressed more couples would place a gold piece on a nearby tray as a token of good luck and join the couple within the circle until there was no circle left and all were dancing.

b. During the wedding breakfast and banquets, food was provided for everyone, but usually close friends and relatives ate inside with the couple while others dined outside.

Ring of Fire Introduction

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