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When the trampling of the footsteps with the shoes of a party resounded in the square of Cattolica Eraclea, the people who lived there immediately looked out from their balconies to see what was happening.

Often it was a procession made up of engaged couples, who walked in front, followed by the couples’ parents and a line of relatives who moved together with the couple to be able to control everything.

Once, in all their outings, the two betrothed were followed and often had to hurry up to be able to speak without being heard. So you could see all the people who followed them running out of breath and belaboured.

Before marriage, the couple did not have to have any space either to talk or to walk away alone.

The union between a boy and a girl, who, among other things were very young and who never exceeded sixteen, was often bound by reasons very different from love.

Parents, in most cases, engaged their children for economic or social interests. Or more frequently to have one less mouth to feed, as women did not work and had to be supported by their husbands.

The girls promised in marriage could absolutely not oppose the family will and were therefore forced to marry an unloved man.

Normally it was the mother of the groom who chose the woman for her child, called the whole family and her relatives to meet, went to the chosen one to make the request for her hand to her father.

If the parent accepted the proposal, the young woman would have to maintain reserved attitudes in public and at home.

In addition, brides-to-be were forbidden to wear skimpy clothes and to go out alone.

The official engagement took place before the wedding and, on this occasion, the families of the two engaged couples made the relationship of the children to the whole town “official” with a reception at the bride’s home.

Prenuptial contracts followed, made in the presence of a notary, with a list of what the girls had to own at the time of marriage.

Often, during these meetings the families quarrelled and the figure of the groom’s mother was shown for her arrogance and for her pretensions, distinguishing herself from the bride’s mother. The bride’s mother  seemed more submissive and more inclined to indulge her daughter’s mother in-law manifesting the submission of her daughter towards her son.

After that, the parents agreed on the wedding day for invitations, guests, celebrations and lunch. Weddings were not supposed to be celebrated in May and November because there was a belief that they would not last, so no one dared to set the date of their wedding in those months.

The mother-in-law gave her daughter-in-law an elegant black dress in velvet or brocade, with shoes, handbag and gloves. This was called the eight-day dress, in fact the bride had to wear it for the first eight days after marriage, when she went out with her husband to visit relatives and friends or for a walk, to show that the wedding party was still going on.

The couple, for all eight days, was invited to lunch and dinner by relatives.

The wealthiest families, on the other hand, used to give their daughters-in-law two dresses complete with everything, one for the eight days and one for the fifteen days. The latter was usually gray or blue, but always very elegant.

In this way, the period of the wedding party lasted an extra week or two.

Then they resumed their normal everyday life, the women prepared food at home, took care of the housework, visited their parents and in-laws, whom they both called ‘mom’ and ‘dad’.

Milena Argento

Milena nasce ad Agrigento e vive nella bellissima Cattolica Eraclea, un paesino vicino Agrigento. Quando gli impegni di lavoro glielo consentono, si reca a Monza, dove vivono i suoi fratelli e dove è cresciuta. Ama scrivere anche poesie dialettali ed è appassionata di storia della Sicilia e delle tradizioni popolari.