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Our $25K All-Night Multicultural Celebration in Buenos Aires, Argentina

When a Disney Imagineer plans your wedding...

maria, engineering grad student and asst. professor & santi, software engineer

Sum-up of the wedding vibe: A bilingual wedding Mass, followed by an all-night multicultural celebration in Buenos Aires, planned by an Imagineer.

Planned budget: $20,000
Actual budget: $25,000
Number of guests: 150
LOCATION: Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding

Where we allocated the most funds:

Reception: Half of our budget went to the venue and their recommended caterer, although it was an amazing deal considering all that it included: an eight-hour reception, a three-course seated meal (plus more dessert and breakfast pizza) for 150, the wedding cake, an open bar all night, centerpieces, the DJ, and all the staff. Part of this is that prices in Argentina are significantly lower than in the U.S. (especially where we live in the Bay Area!), and part of this was because we chose a local neighborhood venue, not an international hotel or one of the other big-name venues in Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding

Hospitality for our guests: We spent around $5,000 on various things for our roughly forty international (American and European) guests. This included a dinner the night before the wedding (even though it is not customary in Argentina), buying (and troubleshooting!) Argentine SIM cards for anyone who wanted them, and arranging for a bus to take them from the church to the reception (although the distance was short, it was night and winter in the Southern Hemisphere). It also included full airfare for two priest friends, because it was important to us that they concelebrated our marriage. While this didn’t cost money, we also developed a pretty extensive website with all sorts of information about visiting and traveling in South America, both to get our guests excited and to be realistic about how much it would cost. Only a few of our guests had ever been to South America before, so we really tried to make their visit enjoyable, as easy as possible, and worth the twenty-plus-hour trip.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding

Church choir: While not the largest in absolute value, this was a splurge for us because an organist and a soprano were already included in the fee charged by the church. Their music selection was very limited, though. It was important to us to have music in both English and Spanish, and we wanted a Mass setting that is performed with a guitar, so we hired external musicians. When I heard them sing the Gloria, I knew they were worth every peso.

Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding

Where we allocated the least funds:

Website and honeymoon registry: Santi is a software engineer, so he took great pride in creating our wedding website and honeymoon registry from scratch. We ended up with more functionality (bilingual text at the click of a button! Ability to accept payments from Paypal or via Argentine bank transfer!) for only $26 (for the .wedding domain).

Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church WeddingBuenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding

Stationery: We printed and mailed save the dates to our domestic guests using Vistaprint for about 50 cents each, including addressing and postage; the international guests received theirs by email or Whatsapp. We also printed our thank you notes with Vistaprint, and paid $50 for 250 cards with envelopes. We printed the invitations in Argentina, and either mailed or hand-delivered them to our Argentine guests before carrying the remainder back to the U.S. to mail to those guests.

Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding

Wedding party: Bridesmaids and groomsmen are not customary in Argentina. Santi has five sisters and three brothers, so if we had a wedding party, it would have been large to start with, plus I didn’t feel comfortable asking my friends to commit to a $1,500 plane ticket on top of other bridesmaid costs, so we just didn’t have a bridal party. Our parents were our witnesses, we got ready together with the help of one friend who learned how to bustle my dress, and I didn’t feel like we missed out on anything.

Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding

What was totally worth it:

All-inclusive venue: Getting married in Argentina both made it possible for us to afford this sort of all-inclusive venue and made it almost necessary. Given that we spent less than five weeks on the ground during two visits, and that this was the first Argentine wedding I had attended, it was such a relief to know that the people in charge of the logistics were experienced and knew each other instead of trying to piece things together ourselves.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding

Getting ready and entering together: In the early stages of planning, I insisted that I would not be the only one to be escorted into the church (see point about symmetry below in our vision). After a lot of discussion, we compromised and decided that our parents would enter as couples and we would follow together. The logical extension of this was that we got ready together, took our portraits before the Mass, and rode together to the church. I was glad to have the portraits out of the way before the evening started, and I was much more calm being with Santi all day.

Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding

Buddy system and family dinners: We put a lot of effort into introducing and mixing our family and friends. We set up a Facebook group as RSVPs came in, giving people a chance to introduce themselves, ask questions, and make travel plans. Shortly before the wedding, we set up Whatsapp groups with the visitors and a few Argentine friends and family, so that they could make plans on the fly in Buenos Aires, as well as having a local resource in the days before the wedding that wasn’t Santi or me. Finally, we arranged a series of family dinners: first just our parents (who had never met), then our parents and siblings, then adding in my extended family that traveled from the U.S. I think the concentric guest lists helped people get to know each other slowly, and all of these efforts paid off on the night of the wedding when the dance floor was completely mixed.

Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding

A ten-hour wedding:  I was nervous about the length of our wedding, concerned both about my stamina and that of our guests. But adrenaline was magic, and we had about half of our 150 guests, including most of the Americans, stay until the very end. Now I don’t know how people have shorter weddings! I think a big part of that was the way that Argentine weddings are structured, with various parts of the meal (appetizer, main course, dessert, wedding cake and toast, dessert table, end-of-party breakfast) alternating with thirty- to forty-minute dancing sets; just when you’re tired of dancing it’s time to sit down and eat again!

Thank you cards: In addition to the simple flat photo cards we used for thank yous, we printed a picture or two of each guest that came to the wedding and sent those as well—mostly group pictures of family and friends. This made writing the cards more fun, and we’ve gotten a lot of comments from guests who really liked that touch. I like to think of those hanging on refrigerators all over the world!

Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding

What was totally not worth it:

Angst about the guest list: Knowing that it was a destination wedding for my side, we had a hard time predicting attendance. We both have giant extended families, so we invited more than double the capacity of our venue, and used a probabilistic model (nerd alert) with our best guesses to make sure we weren’t overextended. With that said, before invitations went out, I was extremely anxious that our predictions were pessimistic, and once RSVPs started coming in, it was bittersweet to see that we had plenty of margin.

Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding

Stressing about Mass logistics: We had three priests and a bishop, from three different countries, speaking two different languages, celebrating our wedding Mass. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out the rules surrounding bilingual services and concelebration with a bishop, and in the end the priests figured it out amongst themselves in the half hour before the wedding. We should have stated our preferences and let them figure out the rest!

Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding

A few things that helped us along the way:

I’m so happy that we decided to get married in Argentina, and one small part of that is how the labor was divided as a result of it. Santi’s large family was of huge help: a graphic designer aunt did our wedding invitations, his parents were the main points of contact for the venue and caterer, and we were constantly sending siblings around with money for other contractors. Also very importantly, because we were getting married in Santi’s hometown, in his home country, where they speak his native language, he was very much involved and definitely did over half of the work. While I’d like to think that he would have been involved no matter where we got married, this ensured it. This was important not only because I was in the process of finishing my PhD and applying and interviewing for tenure-track faculty jobs at the time, but also because I hope it helped us develop habits of communicating, working together, compromising, and solving problems, instead of me doing it my way, alone.

Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding

I read about creating a vision for your wedding on 2000 Dollar Wedding, and we did it early on in the planning process. We came up with four goals, and after the wedding I can say that I think we stayed true to them. They were useful in deciding on our priorities and holding firm in our intentions when other people questioned us. Santi works for Disney and considers himself to be an Imagineer, so the number one item on the list was, “Create a magical experience for us and our guests.” The other three items on the list were:

  • Take advantage of this rare opportunity for our families to meet and form relationships.
  • Reflect the sacred nature of matrimony, with an emphasis on selected, meaningful traditions.
  • Maintain a symmetric focus on both of us, our families, our personalities, etc.

Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding

My best practical advice for my planning self:

Trello was amazing, and we’re going to continue to use it after the wedding for long-term tasks. We organized columns by time periods (originally Done, This Week, This Month, Next 3 Months, This Year, but rearranged them as the timescale changed) and used labels to indicate who or what was “blocking” a task (me, Santi, others, or time) so we knew where we should be focusing our efforts.

Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding

Favorite things about the wedding:

It was really special to me to have a close college friend, now a priest, concelebrate our wedding Mass. He had been ordained only three weeks before, and I was so grateful that the timing worked out and that he agreed to come. There were so many parallels—there we were, both in white, starting our vocations at almost the same time. We had even chosen the same readings for our wedding as he had used in his ordination Mass!

Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding

The moment when Santi called up the three grandfathers who were present to sing together. My grandparents are Mexican and lived for several years in Uruguay, so our abuelos have a common language and a shared love for boleros and tangos.

The music at our reception was a mix of English and Spanish, and our guests picked up dance moves from each other. Some of the most fun songs were the line dances: the Argentines teaching the Americans how to dance the Meneaito and the Americans teaching them Copperhead Road.

Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding

Other things we’d like to share:

Santi grew up in Argentina, but came to the U.S. to work in Silicon Valley a few years ago, which is where we met. His family, including his eight siblings, all still live in Argentina, so we knew very early on that we would get married there.

Our wedding rings are matching Möbius strips that we bought on Etsy. A Möbius strip has with a half-twist, which makes it a single-sided two-dimensional figure—even more infinite than a circle! I had always wanted a Möbius wedding ring since I learned about it in high school, and fortunately, I married a nerd who also loved the idea! Men’s rings don’t have to be wide.

Buenos Aires, Argentina Catholic Church Wedding

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