In Poland, in days of old, a bride-to-be would spend the evening before her wedding preparing her parents' house for the big event the next day. Her bridesmaids would join her for one last evening spent as carefree young maidens. They would decorate the house, make boutonnieres for the groomsmen, prepare food for the next day, and weave a wreath that the bride would wear on her wedding day. This wreath was commonly made from rue, rosemary, or myrtle. The bridesmaids would also create a wedding branch usually from a spruce or pine tree.
That same evening, the bride's godmother and would be in charge of baking the wedding bread. This was not your average loaf of bread but rather a ceremonial bread (several loaves actually) elaborately decorated and carefully baked. It was made of the finest wheat flour. The belief was that if the top of the bread cracked while baking it meant the marriage would not be successful. So every care was taken to ensure a perfect wedding bread. The bread would be placed on a table at the wedding feast for all to see. The swat would cut it into pieces and offer it in exchange for a gift or money for the bride.
Once the preparations were well in hand and the wedding bread was in the oven, the bride-to-be and her bridesmaids would go to the home of the groom's parents. There the bridesmaids and groomsmen would decorate the wedding branch. Once that task was completed everyone (bride-to-be, bridesmaids, groom, groomsmen, the groom's family and the swat) would return to the home of the bride where guests would have began to gather to officially began the wedding festivities.
Often, the groom and his groomsmen would be forbidden to enter the home of the bride… At least initially. A small reenactment from days of old would be played out where the swat would negotiate entrance for the groom. It would be one more obstacle for the groom to overcome, a test of his true devotion.
Once inside the house, the swat would make a speech and then with the wedding branch in hand he would dance with the bride. Then would come the unbraiding ceremony. Young maidens traditionally wore their hair in one or two braids symbolizing their youth and virginity. At this unbraiding ceremony the bride would symbolically leave her childhood behind and wear her hair long and flowing as she stood beside her groom on her wedding day. The actual unbraiding of the bride's hair might be done by her brothers or bridesmaids but would be done in the presence of all. That would typically mark the end of the evening.
The next article in this series will cover the traditional polish wedding day(s) (and night ; -)
The complete series of articles:
An Introduction To Polish Wedding Traditions
Polish Wedding Traditions, The Marriage Proposal And Engagement
Polish Wedding Traditions, The Wedding Eve
Polish Wedding Traditions, The Wedding Day(s)
Polish Wedding Traditions, My Recollections