Many of the marriage customs of the Cajuns are shared with other peasant peoples of European origin. According to author Dr. Barry Ancelet, it was common in French weddings to have the wedding party walk together to the church and/or city hall and then to the reception. The earliest Cajun weddings sometimes took place without benefit of clergy. A ceremony in which the newlyweds jumped over a broomstick is said to have cemented the alliance. Before public dancehalls became popular gathering places for Cajuns, the bal de noce (the wedding reception) was held at home. The bride and groom traditionally begin la bal de noce with a song called "La marche des mariés" (wedding march) followed by a waltz. In the old days when people were poor, the owner paid the wedding couple ten or fifteen dollars to have the dance at his hall and charged fifteen cents entrance fee.
C’est au jour d’aujourd’hui, rappelle-toi, cher ‘tit cœur,
Et tout ça tu m’as fait, que y avait si longtemps, jolie fille.
Tu m’as promis de bien me soigner comme l’enfant de la maison,
Et regarde quoi t’après me faire avec moi, c’est au jour aujourd’hui
Mais, tu m’as pris de la maison comme un pauvre orphelin,
Qu’aurait perdu son papa, et sa maman, joli cœur, jolie fille.
Mais quel espoir moi je peux avoir, c’est de te voir me virer l’ dos
Pour t’en aller avec un autre, oui une autre que moi aujourd’hui.
C’est ça t’as fait aujourd’hui, rappelle-toi, chère ‘tite fille,Mais c’est une chose dont je pourra, oui jamais oublier toute ma vie.Tu m’as promis de bien me soigner jusqu’à au jour de la mort,Et c’est au jour d’aujourd’hui t’es sur le point de me quitter pour t’en aller.Pour t’en aller, jolie fille avec un autre que moi,Comment tu crois moi je peux vivre, moi tout seul, oui chère jolie fille.
|Joseph Falcon and Cleoma Breaux|
Before the Cajun band begins to play for everyone to dance, the dance floor is cleared. The bride and groom hold hands and walk slowly around the room at least twice while the band plays La marche des mariés. Then, the guests get a partner and join in the march until everyone is following the bride and groom. After the march, the bride and groom dance a waltz in the middle while everyone watches. Then they dance with their parents. After that, everybody can dance. To get a dance with the bride or groom, it is traditional to pin money on the bride's veil or on the groom's suit. This is an excellent way to make sure they have some money to start their life together.
It was customary for males to pin money on the bride's veil before they could dance with her, thereby assuring that the couple would have funds to start their life together. Other older traditions associated with weddings include requiring older unmarried siblings to dance barefoot, often in a tub, at the reception. This may be to remind them of the poverty awaiting them in old age if they do not begin families of their own. It is a custom that if a younger brother or sister marries before the older one, then the older one must dance with a mop or broom while everyone watches. In the little town of Mamou, they even have to dance in a tub of water with the mop. This is a way of poking fun at the older one for still being single. Another bit of fun is called charivari (sha-ree-va-rée). When the bride or groom has been widowed or divorced before, family and friends interrupt the wedding night by banging loud pots and pans outside their window. The company does not stop the noise until they are invited in for something to drink and eat. This is a playful way of honoring the new couple.
It’s the day today, you remember, little heart
And all you have done to me, that was so long ago, pretty girl
You promised me, you would take good care of me, like an infant of the house
Take a look again you are going to me again, on this day today.
Well you took me from the house like a poor orphan
That would have lost her father and mother, pretty heart, pretty girl
Well what hope can I have, to see me turn my back
To leave with another, yes another than me today
What you have done today, you remember, dear little girl
But this is something that I will, yes never forget for all my lifeYou promised me to take good care of me, till the day of dying.And it is this day today that you made the point you to leave me.To leave me, pretty girl with another oneHow do you think I can live, all alone, yes dear pretty girl.
According to Roy Hoffpauir's description of "Acadian Marriage Customs", writer Elisabeth Brandon describes the "Bal de noce", or wedding dance, followed the marriage feast, and although the newlyweds had departed by midnight the dancing continued until the morning. In some instances, a wedding ball lasted as long as a day and two nights, beginning with the wedding party taking part in a series of seven dances: a waltz, a two-step waltz, a polka, a mazurka, a "jig-a-line", a glide, and "lanciers", with a promenade after each dance.4
The wedding dance was held in a public dance hall. The owners of the dance halls would bid for the wedding dance because it brought a big crowd and they spent a lot of money. At the dance, they played French music on the accordion. My father played the accordion and sang for many of these dances. The dance started with "La Marche de la Noce", or the wedding march.4,5
Happy Fats would follow up with his song "La Nouvelle Marche de Marris" in 1938.
- Discussions with Dr. Barry Ancelet Cajun Dancing By Speyrer, Rand
- Cajun Country By Barry Jean Ancelet
- Attakapas Gazette. Vol, III, No. 1
- Lauren C Post. Cajun Sketches from the Prairie of Southwest Louisiana. Baton Rouge. LSU, 1962.
Cajun: Rare & Authentic (JSP, 2008)