Weird and wonderful Dutch wedding traditions
It’s supposed to be one of the best days of your life, but anyone who’s gotten married knows how much work goes into planning and executing the perfect wedding. Not only are you and your significant other required to manage the needs and expectations of relatives and friends, but you’ve also got to figure out what it is you’d like to do for the big day.
Balancing your own preferences and various family and cultural traditions can be tricky, but in the end it'll (hopefully!) all be worth it as you walk down the aisle surrounded by loved ones and you commit to spending the rest of your life with the person you love.
Regardless of whether you’re looking to go all-out with a big Disney-style wedding ceremony, or want to keep it low key with just a handful of guests, why not sprinkle a little bit of Dutch culture into your big day by incorporating some of these weird and wonderful Dutch wedding traditions!
Dutch weddings: The basics
If you’ve never been to a Dutch wedding before, it might be a little different to what you expect. Dutch ceremonies can be thought of as rather simple compared to some of the more extravagant celebrations in other cultures around the world, with a more casual, laid-back approach to the day.
Most Dutch weddings consist of a ceremony, a reception, a dinner and a party. At the ceremony, there is usually a civil registry official, witnesses, and a master of ceremonies. From here, the happy couple can customise things however they wish, but there are several Dutch traditions that lots of people keep to.
Traditional Dutch wedding dress
Traditionally, women in the Netherlands wear white dresses on the day of their wedding, much the same as is customary in many other western European countries. You might nowadays see more people putting their own spin on things, for instance wearing a white jumpsuit, a two-piece, or a different coloured dress, but most women in the Netherlands still keep to tradition and wear a white wedding dress for their big day.
Unlike in some other cultures, there is no obligation for other family members to contribute to wedding costs, as most couples save up and pay for the wedding themselves. What is common at Dutch weddings is the addition of a small envelope in wedding invites, indicating to the guests that the couple would like money as a wedding present, rather than a gift registry as is custom elsewhere.
Since most couples in the Netherlands do not have a gift registry, it can make getting gifts more difficult. If a couple has included an envelope in the invite, then it’s easy to send a gift of money, but if not, that can be more tricky. Depending on your financial situation and relationship with the bride or groom, wedding gifts can range from small tokens to large gifts such as honeymoon trips or furniture for a new home. Most often, people give things that belong in the couple’s home, so think: cutlery, pots and pans or bed sheets, for example.
Dutch wedding traditions
Dutch weddings are not known for intricate ceremonies or rituals, but there are some traditions that couples choose to continue. Here are some of the most practised Dutch wedding traditions.
Church wedding? You'll have to get married twice!
One key aspect of getting married in the Netherlands is that, if you and your partner would like to have a religious ceremony, you’ll be required to actually have two weddings, as you’ll have to get married in a civil ceremony in order for your marriage to be officially recognised by the state.
While this may not strictly be a Dutch tradition - if you want a religious ceremony, you won’t be given much choice in the matter! - it’s certainly an aspect of getting married that’s pretty unique to the Netherlands.
Have a bruidsstoet, or bridal procession
This isn’t a very common tradition anymore, but it might still be a fun one to include on your wedding day. Traditionally, after a groom picks up his bride from her family’s house, the couple and close relatives then travel to the wedding venue in a bridal procession.
Leading the way are the bride and groom in the first car, followed by the parents of the happy couple in the second car, and the witnesses and their partners in the third car. Finally, any siblings and grandparents are in the fourth car, followed by the remaining wedding guests in their own vehicles.
Ceremoniemeesters: The Dutch Best Man or Maid of Honour
Of course, many Dutch weddings have been greatly influenced by American and British customs, and so these days you might see a Maid of Honour or Best Man at a Dutch wedding, but traditionally these roles are slightly different. Under the title of ceremoniemeester, friends of the soon-to-be newlyweds help plan the wedding (and the bachelor or bachelorette parties), and will be in charge of ensuring things run smoothly on the big day.
Celebrate the happy couple with fruit cake
Nowadays, the options couples face when selecting their wedding cake are pretty endless - that’s if they even decide to go with cake, as cupcakes, doughnuts, and even savoury baked goods now proving to be increasingly popular alternatives.
If you do want to stick with cake, though, one Dutch element you could incorporate into your wedding day is to go with a fruit cake instead of a more contemporary option like red velvet, chocolate or lemon. Before the 18th century - and before international traditions started to influence the Dutch wedding industry - couples in the Netherlands would opt for a fruit cake on their wedding day. They might not be as popular an option nowadays, but they’re still a classic beloved by many.
Post wishes in a wooden box or hang them on a wish tree
If you’re looking for an easy way to add a sprinkle of Dutch to your own wedding, you can try having your very own wishing tree or guest box! Instead of having a guestbook, lots of Dutch couples have a wish tree - a collection of branches bundled in the shape of a tree, or even a little plant with plenty of branches for guests to hang kind wishes on. People write a nice message before attaching it to a tree or popping it inside a “wishing box”.
Surprise: Speeches at weddings in the Netherlands
Speeches are a key element of wedding ceremonies and receptions around the world, but in the Netherlands, this tradition can go one step further. Of course, there are all the obvious options, such as the speeches given by the fathers of the bride(s) or groom(s), but other guests or members of the wedding party could also choose to recite a poem, share a memory, or even perform an act or piece of music in honour of the happy couple.
Include small tributes to missing loved ones
When celebrating any major milestone in life - whether it be getting a job, getting married or having a baby - most would hope to share these special moments with their nearest and dearest. Sadly, some of the most important people in someone’s life might not always be able to be there to share these moments - luckily the Dutch have a tradition that allows for those who are missing to also feature on the big day.
Many people in the Netherlands will include small touches, such as a photo at the altar, a lit candle, or a deliberately empty chair, as a way of keeping the deceased in their minds and hearts on their wedding day.
Incorporate these Dutch customs into your wedding
These are just some of the great traditions that you can find at a Dutch wedding that you might want to bring into your own wedding. Whether you’re marrying a Dutchie, or another international living here in the Netherlands, we say “Gefeliciteerd” to you, and hope that these Dutch wedding traditions can leave you with many happy memories of your big day!