Costa Rican social events are not for the fainthearted. They are looong. Just a few days ago on Monday I attended a local celebration for El Día del Trabajador (Labor Day) and it was from 8am-3pm.
In case you thought you had the whole day off, think again.
Local celebrations usually start with a few hours of mixing and mingling, 2-3 hours of people talking into microphones giving what feels like drawn-out unsolicited Oscar acceptance speeches and then afterwards, the sleepy audience is revived with a lunch (you guessed it, arroz con pollo) and a cafecito (coffee) and snack even before the afternoon meal is fully digested.
So when I got invited to my first wedding, I knew I had to prepare myself mentally.
Which I did not do by going to church that very same Sunday morning.
In Costa Rica, wedding ceremonies are held in the local church and the reception usually takes place at the family’s residence.
But this wedding was a little different.
Elvin, the groom and my host dad’s older brother, has Parkinson’s disease. He and his partner have been together for over 30 years and FINALLY decided to tie the knot this year. Because of his illness, both the ceremony and the reception took place in their house.
Upon arriving at their home, I helped family members prepare food for the reception and finished putting out chairs and decorating the area where the ceremony would take place.
While we were setting up, the bride sat in the kitchen getting her hair done by her cousin, Francinia. She twisted her hair into long braids and then bound them together on the back of her head. Then, after a solid 30-second count of hairspray, Fran snuggled in a small silver tiara on the top of the bride’s head.
In the living room, the groom’s sister was helping him get ready next to a table of stacked gifts which included kitchen utensils, towels, and other household items which are typical wedding and birthday gifts. Elvin has limited speech and movement so when his sister asked which pair of shoes he would like to wear, he nodded towards his shiny black loafers.
Slowly people began to arrive by the truckloads, finding a seat somewhere outside around the porch for the ceremony. The space for the ceremony was tiny and people crowded outside the decorated area, flowing out into the street.
The first part of the ceremony was almost exactly the same as the hour-long morning mass that we attended earlier that day. After the service, the bride and groom exchanged their vows, kissed, and proudly stood in front of their guests as a married couple.
Small glasses of sparkling wine were then passed out and a toast was made to the new husband and wife.
Along with 6 other women, I then helped prepare over 100 plates of a traditional wedding lunch which included arroz con pollo (obvi), a tortilla, and a cooked side dish of raíz de papaya (the root of a papaya tree), a staple of Costa Rica celebrations, especially weddings.
Papaya root before it’s cooked (left) and the traditional wedding lunch (right)
After lunch was served, there was music, dancing, and more mingling until the wedding ended in the afternoon around 3pm.
While a little smaller, a little less boozier, and little more campo (countryside), the Costa Rican wedding that I attended wasn’t all that different from the weddings we attend in the United States.
Cause when it comes down to it, it’s really the important things–family, friends, and good food–that make a wedding special. And while weddings, ceremonies, and events in this country may be an all day affair and full of awkward moments (at least for me) they are always full of love, laughter, and that special arroz con pollo.