Wedding Traditions: Southern Charm and Northern Flair, Pt. I

By Wedding Blog Contributor Kim Francis, experienced Mother of the Bride (and Groom) and author of Kim’s Korner on The MOB Blog.

What makes a southern wedding unique or different from our northern friends? Of course there are stereotypes for both of these weddings but behind all of the labeling there are some truths that lie behind many of them. Is it geographic differences that make both of our weddings different & unique or is it the differences in family traditions that separate us?
From much of the material I was able to gather on this subject, it seems that most people feel that a southern wedding focuses more on traditions & family whereas a northern wedding seems to focus more on making sure that the wedding day is filled with fun. That is not to say that northern weddings do not incorporate family & traditions or that southerners do not have fun at their weddings.

One difference you might experience in a southern wedding is the location where the ceremony takes place. Many southern weddings are held in a church or an old historic home or mansion, often in the hometown of the bride or groom. Everyone seems to know everyone & the pastor is usually someone who is close to the family. The flowers are often fresh cut & many times arranged in elaborate vases. It is not unusual for the bride to spend over half of her wedding budget on her floral & church decorations. Churches with old fashioned pews, stained glass windows, and wood ceilings soaring high with ornate chandeliers are often venues of choice. Not only are they picturesque but they also offer a certain charm & appeal for the southern bride.

A subtle difference in southern weddings is that couples appear to be marrying younger in the south than couples who are marrying in the north. Bride’s Magazine reports that the average age for a female to marry is 27 & that of the groom is 29 years of age. Most couples marrying in the south appear to be younger than the norm. The common age for a southern bride falls between 21 & 23 years of age & the average age for the groom is around 24. This seems to show that where you live plays a big role in what’s “average” among your circle of friends.

Another difference you might experience when attending a southern wedding versus a northern wedding is the type of food served at the reception. Many southern weddings will offer “comfort” food to their guests such as BBQ pork, fried chicken, baked beans, macaroni & cheese & even mashed potatoes served with all the fixins’. Many times the food is served buffet or family style. It is not uncommon to have friends & family whip up good ole southern dishes to serve along with a glass of sweet ice tea. Southern weddings held in the summer may opt for serving homemade pecan or peach pies over a more formal wedding cake. Most estimates for a southern wedding reception will cost $15-$50 per person depending on the type of food you serve. This price includes any food items, non-alcoholic beverages & of course the desserts. The cost to cater a wedding in a southern town differs dramatically than what it would cost in a northern city.

It is also common to see a grooms cake served alongside the actual wedding cake at southern weddings. This is a wedding tradition that is typically associated with people in the south and is intended to be a gift from the bride to her groom. The groom’s cake can take on a variety of forms & usually incorporates chocolate or fruit in the cake. The groom’s cake may be served on a separate table at the reception or used as a dessert at the rehearsal dinner. A current trend with the groom’s cake is to have it reflect the grooms interests & hobbies, therefore giving the groom special recognition on a day that is mostly centered on the bride. Legend has it that if an unmarried woman sleeps with a slice of groom’s cake under her pillow, she will dream of her future husband. I can’t say that I have seen anyone in the south doing that yet!

Be sure to check back next week for pt. II of this Southern vs. Northern wedding traditions post!

  • guest

    As a Northerner and a wedding vendor that has come South I have found that some of the major differences lie in wedding & reception location.  Most Northern/ Midwest wedding occur in a church as well, but I have found in the South there are a lot more outdoor weddings & receptions.  Also in the south it seems more common to hold a reception at an alternative location to a catering hall (ie church hall, home, mansion, historic location etc) whereas back in the Chicago Area full scale catering halls were the “norm”.

    • Kim Francis

      Thanks for the reply! What is exactly a full scale catering hall? I have never heard that term used before.

  • Maureen Chapdelaine

    The south has beautiful wedding traditions and continued closeness of family and church.  Thanks, Kim, for enlightening a Mother of the Bride from the North on the differences in wedding traditions based on regions of the country.  My daughter’s fiance is from the Mid West.  I better start doing some research on their traditions and incorporate them into our wedding planning.

  • Barbara Hall

    Love this Kim!!!

  • Sri

     Hi , Its very Beautiful ,                      Thousands of men and
    women get married each year. Usually the couple may have two planning
    options in their wedding, one is they can either plan their wedding
    by their own or use a good wedding planner application which has the
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  • I never realized how different wedding customs are in different parts of the country until I started reading up on wedding etiquette for my daughter’s wedding.  You just assume everyone does it the same way — depending on the area and customs you grew up with.  Great title for your article, too — that pretty well says it all! 

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  • Chella

    I’m from Birmingham, Alabama and I’m also the first one born off of their respective family farms. I’m not sure how much more of a “Southern” a person could get. I have no idea where you heard that we would bring a pie to wedding instead of having a wedding cake! That’s unheard of and something that would not do at any wedding I’ve ever been to or known of. That would honestly be terrible manners. I cannot eat flour (gluten) for health reasons but per my mother there will be a wedding cake. My fathers family farm is in Cuba, Al a mile away from the  Mississippi border. The towns so small it only has a 4-way stop, not even a gas station! My parents still had a wedding cake! The part about the food might be correct but once again I’ve never seen that done and I would never have bar-b-que at my wedding. We usually have a sit down four course meal with the meal options coming from a menu placed at each seat. In my part of the state it’s normal to get married in the brides church and then have the reception at the local country club, Vestavia Hills Country Club to be exact. There are also several local antebellum homes that weddings are held at instead of in the church. My better half is from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and there are several traditions that we have down here that he’s never heard of or seen, mostly the grooms cake. I’m not sure where you heard that the bride chooses the grooms cake because that’s not right at all, the groom chooses his own cake. I have highly suggested that he chooses a cake that’s shaped like Lambeau Field home of the Green Bay Packers but once again it’s his cake. We’re both huge Packer fans. The cake is usually just as expensive if not more expensive than the wedding cake it’s self.

  • Kelly Jo

    As a southerner born and bred I did serve BBQ at my wedding over 20 years ago. Grooms’ cakes were a gift from the bride to the husband back then and very much a surprise. My sister and I got married just a few months apart so we had formal bridal portraits taken a month before our weddings. I wore my mother’s blue garter, as did my sister.