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As Spanish explorers spread their customs around the world, the las Arras Matrimoniales (wedding coins) ceremony became an integral part of the marriage vows in many cultures. The ritual is still widely practiced in Spain and most of Latin America as well as in the Philippines, and other Hispanic cultures.
Las Arras Wedding Ceremony Tradition
It has been suggested that the foundation of this tradition dates back to Roman times. During a wedding, the groom and bride each took one half. Over the centuries, the gifting of the coins during the marriage ceremony evolved into a symbol of the groom's dowry and his unwavering commitment to provide for his new family. According to the University of Southern California (USC) Digital Folklore Archives, las Arras "is symbolic of the spiritual, emotional, and physical commitments that come with marriage." Literally translated, las Arras can mean "bride price," "bride wealth," and "earnest money," according to the book Marriage Customs of the World.
Meaning of the 13 Wedding Coins
The 13 coins carry multiple meanings and vary by culture. Generally, the symbolic gesture communicates the couple's trust in each other to share the responsibility of managing the household finances. The groom makes a pledge to provide for his family while the bride vows to honor the blessings God has put into their lives.
Presented to the groom by an honored Padrino or Madrina (godparent) and blessed by el Padre (priest), the coins are also seen as a good luck token to ensure the couple will never be without money. It is also said that each coin represents continued prosperity for each month of the year, with a little extra to spare. Additionally, the odd number is not dividable, just as a strong marriage should be. The coins also symbolize Jesus and his 12 apostles.
Presentation of the Arras
The presentation of the coins can occur anytime during the wedding ceremony, but traditionally the groom gives them to the bride after the blessing and exchanging of the marriage rings. Modern couples who wish to incorporate multiple unity ceremonies have included it after the introduction and vows, and before the ring exchange.
Padrinos are responsible for buying the arras as a symbol of their support and good wishes for the couple's success. Most often, the padrino/madrina de arras passes the coins to the priest, which are encased in an ornate el cofre (chest). Filipino ceremonies usually have an Arrhae bearer, who presents the coins on a pillow, in a lavishly decorated basket, or in a simple pouch. After the arras blessing, the priest passes the coins to the bride, who places them in the groom's cupped hands. The groom then pours them back into the bride's cupped hands and places the box on top.
The back and forth exchange symbolizes the couple's commitment to sharing their life together, for richer or poorer. In some cultures, the coins are presented one at a time to represent love, trust, commitment, respect, joy, happiness, harmony, wisdom, nurturing, caring, cooperation, and peace. The lazo (meaning lasso, in English) ceremony, which involves wrapping a unity cord around the couple's shoulders, typically follows. "The lazo is a public display of a couple’s commitment to one another, and highlights the permanent merging of two individual’s lives as a result of their marriage," per the USC Digital Folklore Archives.
Types of Arras
Since the marriage coins become a family heirloom, it is most common for the parents or Padrinos to pass on their set to the newlyweds. The coins are usually plain, (and these days) made of imitation gold to mimic the real thing, but can be etched with a special symbol to represent love, faith, or the couple. The container, which ranges from a simple gold box to a crystal-encrusted heart, is usually included with the purchase of the coins.
The Lazo and Arras in Mexican Wedding Tradition. USC Digital Folklore Archives. May 12, 2016.