By Leigh Morrow
The deep aching sound of the pink and white caracol traveled across the beach. Low pitched, and one long note, reminiscent of the sound of my uncle warming up his bagpipes on a cold Ontario winter day, signaled the start of the wedding, and the invitation for all things sacred, to join us. The conch blew three times, the first two short, the third, for weddings like this, long and sustained, symbolizing the union of a long life and a longer marriage. The Mayan Wedding Ceremony called K’aam Nikte’ is highly spiritual, filled with beauty and reverence to Mother Nature. Love for Mayan weddings is the result of their simplicity, originality and deep meaning. Smoke from the steaming copals, gourds carved from these highly resinous trees, remind me of wizards’ cauldrons in Harry Potter. Billows of aromatic amber began purifying the ceremony area for the couple, similar to North American natives, with juniper and sweet grass, smudging a newly acquired home. The perfume asks the Gods for understanding in this relationship. Drums begin beating, maracas pick up the tempo and a cabasa provides a kind of “beans in a shaker” noise.
The couple have prepared for their marriage, early this morning, in temazcal, a traditional bath, literally ”the House of Heat”. This is a sweat lodge of sorts, using 13 volcanic rocks, a powerfully good luck number in Mayan culture. As each of the 13 red hot volcanic stones are added, each rock is welcomed into the lodge, with the marking of an X and the participant’s vocal greeting, “Welcome grandparent stone”. In the dark cement circular dome, the intense heat, increased by pouring water on the hot lava rocks, produces a sauna effect. Sweating away the layers, the couple emerge to shower (ideally under a waterfall) and start their marriage ceremony purified, leaving all the past ills and hurt behind.
Standing before us, in full tribal paint and head feathers, the shaman, our Mayan priest, walks in a circumference around the couple, summoning in his Mayan dialect the four elements: water, earth, wind and fire, so that their presence may strengthen and bless this union for many years. The couple dressed in white, she with her special huipil and he, wearing a white linen Guayabera—both symbols of a new beginning, exchange coconut bowls of cocoa beans. Cocoa was believed to be of divine origin, the cocoa tree being a bridge between earth and heaven. Aztecs believed that consuming chocolate gave mortals some of Quetzalcoatl’s (God of wind and learning) wisdom. Some ceremonies tie colored ribbon around the couple, signifying the seven colors of the rainbow and the seven rays of light. Grains of maize are offered to Mother Earth, blessing the couple with abundance and food.
Turns out our shaman was vegetarian, so we were spared the sacrificial slaughter of an animal – a turkey, chicken, goat or even a cow – yet, in traditional days, this butchering signaled the celebration to begin and the food preparation to start. The original banquet was large and varied, accompanied by stuffed cheese, wedding tamales, pickled turkey, chicken pibil (cooked in a barbecue pit), pok chuk (roasted pork) and pozol (a local corn beverage).
The music, wind and percussions instruments (which date back to pre-Hispanic times) or live classical violin or guitar music, often extended beyond the ceremony into the dinner celebration.
As the ceremony closes, we bless our friends’ union by each guest dropping snow-white flower petals on their heads. Our newly married couple, at the edge of the ocean, strews the petals into the water, as an offering, asking the Gods that their dreams and hopes as a couple be fulfilled.
For love struck couples wanting to tie the knot, the pull of escaping the cold to exchange vows on a warm sandy beach, is an undeniable draw. Be it a traditional Mayan ceremony, (most grand hotels in Merida, Cancun and the Riviera Maya offer Mayan wedding packages) or a more Western version, the price of airfare and lodging can add to the cost of a wedding, but once here, the cost of food, liquor and flowers are all a fraction of the price at home. Plus you are having a destination wedding, which is a celebration everyone in your life can enjoy with you!
The first time I saw a beach wedding on the sand at San Agustinillo, it was just before sunset. The bride and groom were exchanging vows under a white gazebo at the edge of the water, and the soft linen material was lazily billowing in the light breeze. Rose petals carpeted the sand aisle, and paper bag candles had been placed strategically, forming a path behind the couple and their guests seated on an eclectic collection of wooden chairs, each with a white sash tied on the back. The bride had a simple hand bouquet of gorgeous white Calla Lilies, the same flowers I held for my wedding, and I thought how magical, the setting.
I think couples are attracted to a beach wedding as a venue because of its romantic yet playful attributes. There is a real sense of freedom getting married barefoot, in the soft sand, not in pinching high heels and a long train. Grooms can ditch the tux for a simpler casual yet polished look, and often are more relaxed and happy because they are in Bermuda shorts and a nice linen shirt. It’s also a great place for those entering their second marriage (or third, etc.) as the formality of the church or synagogue is gone, and the emphasis is less religious but more spiritual. Often for the ceremony, the only music playing is the natural soundtrack of rusting palms and breaking waves.
The pictures are always so much better too. Blue orrose skies, depending on the time of day, long sweeping bays and outcrops, and the footprints in the sand as they walk hand in hand, for the first time as husband and wife, down the beach. You can also write the date in the sand, and use that as a cover shot for the wedding video! How cool is that! Guests can roll up their pants legs, take off their shoes, loosen their ties, or not wear them at all, and everyone seems more inclined to have a good time.
The reception is usually at the same place as the beach ceremony, so guests can just relax at one spot, versus the typical two venues- the church and the hotel or restaurant- which leaves guests with nothing to do for several hours, as the pictures are taken. This beach style, is much more flexible, and everyone is just enjoying the day, rather than waiting for the next event.
Piñata smashing can start the party, keeping any of the invited children happy, beverages can be served in coconut shells decorated with flowers, and tables can be adorned with local seashells and tropical flowers.
The other nice thing about a beach wedding is that the honeymoon (well, parts of it!) can be shared with the people you love. It’s so nice for everyone to get a vacation while attending this celebration. I’ve always thought it’s such a shame to go through the wedding, only to rush off on a honeymoon, getting such limited time to sit and get caught up with the people you love, the friends you cherish, who have traveled many miles to see you. The beach at San Agustinillo is just now being discovered (as is the whole area) with the new Mexican Government’s tourist designation of neighboring Mazunte as Pueblo Magico, so I expect our secret beach to be widely chosen by couples for their wedding venue and receptions moving forward.
As the night dips and the music plays on, guests can take part in lighting large white paper lanterns, which are often used for making wishes for a New Year, or a new beginning, and a beach wedding is pretty idyllic for that, too.
Leigh Morrow is a Vancouver writer who operates Casa Mihale, a vacation rental in the quaint ocean front community of San Agustinillo, Mexico. Her house can be rented for your wedding.