Monday, October 01, 2007

Polish Wedding Traditions, The Wedding Day(s)

Traditional Polish wedding day preparations would begin in the morning. The main celebration was held at the home of the bride's parents and it was there that the festivities began. Musicians would gather and play, welcoming the arriving guests. When the groom arrived with his swat, groomsmen, and family, the maid of honor would begin dressing the bride.

The wreath woven the night before would be securely pinned in place on the bride's head. Then, depending on which section of Poland she was from, the bride might wear artificial flowers and ribbons of particular colors. She would also wear a strip of white fabric with ribbons, beads, and myrtle attached and secured at the back of the neck.

Everyone would gather at the home of the bride's parents to accompany the bridal couple to the church and to witness the blessings bestowed upon the bride by her parents. To start things off the swat would give a speech passed down through the years from father to son. After the speech the bride would say farewell to her parents, asking their forgiveness for any troubles she may have caused them while she was growing up and thanking them for raising her. Then the mother would kiss her daughter, bless her with holy water, and grow wheat at her feet. Then the father did the same. This blessing by the parents was seen as more important than the church ceremony itself. If one of the parents was dead someone would act in their stead for the blessing and then the wedding party might stop at the cemetery where the groom or bride would ask for blessings from their deceased parent. It was believed that no marriage would go well if it didn't begin with the blessings of the parents.

The trip to the church took place in various ways throughout Poland. In some areas the bride and groom rode in a wagon together and in other areas they rode in separate wagons. Everyone would be dressed in their Sunday best clothing, the horses and wagons would be decorated, and a fiddler would accompany them. Behind the wagon the swat would ride on horseback overseeing everything.

During the church ceremony the bride was expected to cry. If she didn't it was thought that she would cry throughout her married life. How very different things are these days when brides pay hundreds of dollars to have their makeup professionally done so as to look good for their wedding portraits. Now they make every effort not to cry!

Everyone in the church would keep an eye on the altar candles. People believed that if a candle went out during the wedding ceremony it meant that the bride or groom would die young. I remember hearing this whispered about when I was a child. So this is one belief that was passed on through numerous generations.

The wedding party would stop at a local tavern on the way home from the church where the guests would eat and drink and dance until they were called to the home of the bride's parents where the wedding feast would take place. When the bridal party and guests arrived at the home the swat would sing a song to open the door. Then the bride's mother would sprinkle the married couple with holy water to ward off any evil forces which might be lingering about the house. They would also be greeted with bread and salt. Salt was equally important to bread in all family customs from birth to death.

For the wedding feast, the bridal couple always sat at a table along a wall containing holy pictures. The feast would begin with the swat making a toast, then the groom toasted his bride, and then the glass would be passed on down the line with everyone taking a drink and wishing each other good health and good fortune. After this the food would be brought out.

Foods traditionally served at weddings in Poland included kasza (cereal), chicken, peas, sauerkraut, beet soup with noodles, and of course the wedding bread. Following the feast everyone would drink and dance long into the evening and often into the next day. If the father was affluent the wedding might last as long as a week.

On the last night of the wedding the capping ceremony took place. This is one of the oldest and most important of the polish wedding customs. It was so important that the custom survives to this day in Poland. In days of old in Poland a man was not allowed to exercise his marital privileges with his wife until the capping ceremony was completed. I'm not sure if things are still done this way ;-)

The capping ceremony involved cutting short the bride's long flowing hair and placing a marriage cap on her head. The actual cutting of the hair was done by the groom in some regions of Poland and by the mother of the bride and the married women of the village in other areas of Poland. The marriage cap was usually a gift made to the bride from her godmother. This marriage cap always held special meaning and was reserved for wearing only in church, at special folk festivals, and for her burial. It would be finely made and embroidered. It was the symbol of a married woman. The capping marked the end of the wedding celebration. Once it was done the married women would take turns dancing with the bride as a sign of her acceptance into their ranks. Then the bride was handed over to the groom for a dance. Following that the couple would leave for the groom's home or his parents' home to begin their married life together. When she arrived in front of her husband's home his family would greet her with bread and salt. This was to assure good luck to the bridal couple.

The final ceremony that the wedding party was involved in was the bedding down of the bride and groom. This was done humorously. The young couple was escorted to a room specially prepared for them. They were put in the room and the door was locked. Then they were serenaded with bawdy songs and vodka toasts and instructed not to be "lazy" before they were finally left alone. The next morning the couple was greeted and given kasza in milk and vodka dyed red as a sign of lost virginity. Then the sheets were inspected for the stain that would indicate the marriage had been consummated. This would make everyone happy and would be the cause of more singing and dancing.

The final article in this series will include my thoughts and observations on Polish wedding traditions.

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