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A walk through the rituals and symbols that will make your wedding unique, A chat with Jo Bertolino

The risk with civil weddings is that they easily get impersonal and tend to neglect the ritual aspect that should accompany our lives in the most important moments of passage. This is probably why, in the last few years, symbolic ceremonies have become popular also in Italy. TuscanPledges creator Jo Bertolino sheds a light on this world. 

Jo, we are delighted to expand our knowledge of symbolic weddings with you. Why did you choose to become a celebrant?
As is often the case in life, it was by pure chance. I am a translator and interpreter by trade, and a few years back I started working with a translation agency who also worked in the destination wedding industry. I worked as an interpreter for many couples who opted for legally binding weddings, until one American couple asked the agency to organize a symbolic ceremony. That was my first approach to symbolic weddings, and it was then that I truly discovered the beauty of rituals; about a year later, in 2003, I created TuscanPledges. 
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You must have celebrated a few weddings from 2003 to 2021!  
That’s right, more than a few. Also, I was the first one to offer this service in Tuscany, which allowed me to become quite popular. Actually, I was the first celebrant to advertise myself; the other celebrants did not have websites and did not advertise. Through the years, the inquiries have become too many, so I have created a team to help couples from all over the world to celebrate their love.
Am I right in thinking that symbolic ceremonies are more popular with foreign couples? 
Maybe at first; symbolic ceremonies and celebrants are quite popular in the United States, and I have borrowed a lot from that country. Lately, things have changed, and Italian couples are increasingly attracted by the idea of getting married in a symbolic ceremony. 
Is this just a fad, or is there something more?
Definitely a lot more. For various reasons, religious weddings are not for everyone, and civil weddings are a bit impersonal and dry. Symbolic ceremonies enhance the true value of the rite of passage the couples are about to make. The format of our ceremonies is quite similar to that of a civil wedding, with the declaration of intent, the exchange of vows and rings, the signing of the parchment. Therefore, our couples realize how a symbolic ceremony can be more involving and charming than a civil wedding. I believe in the importance of rituals: our society is really missing out on something important. Italians are aware of this and often want to include rituals in their ceremony. 
Which is the favorite ritual for Italian couples? 
Italian couples especially like the sand ritual, especially when they already have children. The basic ritual involves two colors of sands that are poured in a bottle, symbolizing two individuals making up a unit. When children participate in the ritual, the colors become 3, 4 or more, creating a lovely, colorful effect, and kids particularly like the process of pouring their own color in the bottle.  
And foreing couples? Which is their favorite?
Definitely the box ritual, especially if they are getting married in a winemaking estate. 
Can you explain the box ritual?
The couple writes a love letter each, and during the ceremony, they place them in the box with a bottle of wine, and close it with hammer and nails. In a year’s time, for their paper anniversary, they open the box, read the love letters they wrote on their wedding day, and toast with the wine. Many couples decide to buy a bottle from the same estate to celebrate their fifth anniversary. It’s a lovely ritual that can mark several special dates in the life of a couple. Originally, it was slightly different: the couple would open the box only if they were experiencing a crisis; I decided to change it slightly because I didn’t want to speak about hardship during the wedding ceremony. 
Therefore, you have created some of the rituals you use … 
Yes, I like to study and to create special rituals, also when my couples ask for something more personal. Sometimes our couples want to include the entire family in a ritual, or a group of friends, and I try to create something that meets their needs. 
Is there a ritual you particularly enjoy?
I would say the Tasting of the Four Elements, but it only works with brave couples! This ritual represents the promise to love your partner “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health”. Lemon, bitter chocolate, hot chili, and grapes (or other fruit in season) represent the sour, bitter, hot, and, of course, sweet parts of married life. As I said, the couple must be brave, because biting into a lemon wedge or a hot chili can require a lot of bravery, but it results in fun moments and lovely pictures. 
How does it work after a couple first contacts you? 
The first step is to understand the kind of couple that contacts us: we usually send a questionnaire to understand how much they want to put themselves in the game, and from what they volunteer, we can create a personal ceremony. Which obviously includes also the declaration of intent, the exchange of vows and rings, and possibly a ritual or two. 
Are your ceremony legally binding? 
Unfortunately not. Usually our couples decide to get married at home in their town hall. In Italy it is now more common to find town halls that allow the civil ceremony in designated venues. If the couple is Italian, we can submit a request to obtain a mandate to officiate also the civil wedding, this way the symbolic ceremony is also legally binding. 
Is there a wedding you hold dear in your heart?
This is a difficult question; so many wonderful weddings! Each time I see the bride walking down the aisle, or I hear the couple exchanging their wedding vows, I have a hard time checking my emotions. Maybe the couple I will always cherish is one who got married in 2008 in the wonderful frame of the Abbey of San Galgano. I believe it was my first same-sex wedding; they have come to Tuscany almost every year since then, and we always manage to meet and catch up. 
Is there a place you find is special for a symbolic ceremony? 
I fell in love with Val d’Orcia, I believe it has magical features, and the place I love best in that area is Terre di Nano with its view over the valley and Monticchiello. I am not sure why, but every time I go, it’s like I am coming home. Another place I hold among my favorite venues is Castello del Trebbio near Pontassieve; it’s an ancient castle exuding history and charm.  
I know you have worked with Gabriele on a wedding…
Correct, it was a wedding at Villa Podernuovo, another wonderful venue. I was not born in Tuscany, so it find great pleasure in working with a Tuscan photographer whose love for his land is expressed in all his work. A love that he shows in how he cares for details, how he looks for the best light, and in how he involves the couples who were lucky to have him at their wedding.

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