Wedding is the biggest social event in Poland, gathering – depending on the wealth – from a dozen to over a hundred, or even two hundred people.
It usually takes two days – the second day is called “poprawiny” = continuation of wedding celebrations the day after the main event. “Poprawiny” can be held at the same place, with dances (if money allows) or, in a modest version, at the bride’s home. It lets to talk to the seldom-seen guests and eat and drink what is left of the party (restaurants usually give back the food remains).
Polish wedding traditions refer to ancient rituals, but Anglo-Saxon influences have already taken root in them, as well as new customs, such as wedding night photography. Most of the weddings are held in the church (according to concordat of 1993 Catholic vow is legally equal to the vow at the Office of the Civil Status = pol. Urząd Stanu Cywilnego, USC). But there are also many secular weddings held nowadays. Since January 1st 2015 the secular vow may be held outside the Office of the Civil Status.
In the old tradition, when a woman accepted a marriage proposal, a man had to ask her parents for permission to marry her. This took place during a solemn dinner on which the candidate for husband appeared with a mandatory bouquet of flowers for the mother of his sweetheart and for her of course. This ceremony was called “oświadczyny” (a declaration). At the next engagement ceremony, “zaręczyny” (betrothal), held with the parents of both young people, the man gave the bride a ring and since then they had been formally fiancée.
Such a form is still being encountered, but nowadays often happens that a boy gives a girl a ring at the moment of asking her for her hand, and at a formal meeting with her parents (flowers for both ladies are obligatory!), they both declare their will to marry and ask whether parents do not mind. Then parents of the both sides meet to discuss wedding details.
In the days preceding the wedding hen and bachelors parties are organized, whose form depends on the individual ingenuity of the organizers (intimate evening at home, visiting a club, striptease, etc.). In Upper Silesia the bride gives a special wedding cake to the family, the people she works with and friends. These are three ornately wrapped cakes: poppy cake, cake with a crumble topping and cheesecake.
In Upper Silesia, Kashubia and Poznań surroundings there is a practice of crushing glass and porcelain (plates, cups or even… toilet seats) on the eve of the wedding at the door of the bride’s home. The goal is to prepare (by cleaning it) the young woman to be a good housewife. As the people crushing the glass are anointed with treats, sometimes it turns to a quite large party.
The bride prepares herself for the wedding at her home, after which the groom arrives to take her to the place of the vow. Before leaving the house parents bless the young couple, marking on their forehead the sign of the cross.
On the way to the church or USC – in the company of the witnesses – the car with a young couple should encounter various obstacles, so-called “bramka” (gate). It may be, for example, a decorated stick held by two persons (old fashioned version), or … some masked “bandits” (modern version), who stop the car to get a ransom. Usually it is a bottle of alcohol, given them by the male witness. “Bramka” is also used when leaving the wedding venue.
In the Polish tradition a young couple enters the church (or the USC hall) at the moment when all guests have already taken their seats (with the music in the background). It is also practiced an Anglo-Saxon version in which the bride is led to the altar by her father.
After the vow which takes place at the office or the other secular place participants of the wedding may have a glass of champagne for toast.
Then guests throw on the young couple rise or small coins. Coins should be carefully picked up by the bride and groom. This is a sort of fortune-telling, as the one of the newlyweds, which collects more money, will keep the money control in the marriage. Rice is a symbol of prosperity. Then guests, who are not invited to the wedding party, can give a gift. The other participants give their gifts in the reception room.
A wedding party lasts usually 12 hours, but in some cases can even stop early in the morning. There is quite a variety of food and alcohol served there. As the author has read a critical opinion about it by some Brit guy, it is necessary to point out that people are free with what they eat and drink. At the Ania and Maciej reception there was quite a choice of the alcohol (special wedding vodka, wine, whiskey, some liqueur) to the personal taste – and nobody was forced to drink by toasts.
Bread and salt
Before entering the reception room the newlyweds are greeted with bread and salt and 2 glasses of vodka. (It can also be a glass of vodka and a glass of water – another fortune-telling. The bride chooses which one she wants and if it is filled with vodka, she will be dominant in the marriage). Welcoming with bread and salt should be done by both mothers, but also they can be replaced by the staff of the wedding house.
Bread and salt is a very old Slavic tradition of welcoming nice guests. In the case of weddings bread and salt symbolize prosperity, durability and happiness. Then the young couple drinks a glass of champagne and empty glasses throw to the floor to crush them – it is necessary to bring happiness! Glass should be cleaned by them.
Now it’s time for gifts…
This is a kind of divination – if the dancers do not make wrong steps and don’t tangle their legs, it predicts compatible walk on their common path of life. Many couples learn then a special choreography at a professional level. The effect can be thrilling!
After dinner a wedding cake is served. Nowadays it is mostly a three-level cake (another Anglo-Saxon custom), cut to the pieces by a young couple. In the old wedding tradition the cake was served only after the “oczepiny” ceremony.
This ceremony takes place at midnight and means farewell to the maiden’s state. “Oczepiny” originates in the ancient Slavic tradition of replacing the wedding maiden wreath by the married woman’s cap, co called “czepiec” (CZEPIec – oCZEPIny).
During this ceremony the bride’s hair was cut off as in the culture of the Slavs a married woman was absolutely not allowed to show her hair because it could bring misfortune! The big wedding cap was made by the bride’s godmother. The bride had to refuse the cap three times, as it represented the loss of her independence and youth. During this ritual the oldest Polish wedding song Oj chmielu, chmielu (Pol. chmiel = Eng. hop) was sung. At present the wedding wreath is replaced by veil, which is taken off by the groom. Before it happens the main bridesmaid (usually the female witness) and the groomsman try to pull him away to protect the bride from losing her veil.
According to the contemporary tradition the wedding bouquet is thrown now towards the bridesmaids or all single women – that one who catches it is the one who will be the first to get married. The groom throws a bow – the groomsman or single man who catches it must dance with the lady of the bouquet. After “oczepiny” the bride can swap her wedding dress into a normal dress.
The last important point of the wedding is the acknowledgements for the parents of both young spouses.
During the wedding reception people not only eat, drink and dance…
… but they also sing the traditional convivial repertoire (if the guests are adequately represented by the older generation) and participate in various games.
Some couples play a little trivia game about one another…
…the bride must sing karaoke, other options involve guests in silly competitions. The mandatory point of the program is the creation by all guests a “train” circulating over the restaurant to the popular song Jedzie pociąg z daleka (“A train is coming from the distance”). This allows every participant of the wedding to have fun.
Photo by Patryk Ludyga. All rights reserved.
Published: September 17, 2017