As we all know, a wedding is a joyous ceremony in which two lives are officially joined in many different manners, not only in the eyes of friends and family, but also to the state, and usually under the auspices of the religious traditions practiced by the couple getting married, as well as their familiy. When attending one of these special gatherings, between the dancing, drinking, and general revelry, it’s very easy to get caught up in the celebratory nature of everything, and not pay much attention to the actual ceremony. But a deeper look at the goings on of any wedding will drop you into a living, breathing snapshot of the past, revealing the traditions of the families involved. Whether it’s the rice thrown at the newly-married American couple, the Indian groom riding in on an elephant, or a Polish couple eating salted bread, these traditions may be lost on some, but integral to the narrative that’s been playing out for centuries.
Today, our discussion is about Polish wedding traditions, and what to expect if you’re attending a Polish wedding sometime in the future, you happen to be of Polish descent, and would like some ideas about how to include your ancestry into your nuptials, or just curious about Polish weddings in general. Some of these traditions may seem off to you at first, but throwing a bouquet backwards over your head probably looked weird to the guests at the first wedding that that happened at. If you fancy yourself an ace photographer, and would like to try your hand at nuptials, this course on the basics of professional wedding photography, and this article on 6 tips for taking better wedding photos may help you find a new career.
The distinctive traditions that are particular to the Polish people start before the actual ceremony takes place, and it all begins with Oswiadczyny, or the engagement ceremony. This is usually just a small get-together held at the house of the parents of either the bride or groom, and provides an opportunity for the future in-laws to meet, usually for the first time.
Next, invitations are sent out, with the groomsmen and bridesmaids getting the first wave of invites, followed by the godparents of the bride and groom, and finally everyone else. In some of the more traditional areas of Poland, everyone in the village receives an invitation to the wedding, and if someone could not attend, they must inform the bride and groom, and usually a gift is sent anyway. If you get invited to a Polish wedding, make sure to read your invitation carefully, because an invite to the ceremony doesn’t necessarily include an invite to the party afterwards. If you have a knack for creating invitations, this course on how to sell wedding invitations on Zazzle will show you how to make money off your crafty habit.
Finally, bachelor and bachelorette parties happen, sometimes the night before the wedding, other times a week or two prior. Tending to be on the mellower side, a Polish bachelor party may include just the groom and his friends going out for a few drinks, playing pool or darts, and generally socializing. A typical bachelorette party is similar, and includes the bride-to-be and her friends either going out for a meal and drinks, or staying at home to listen to music, play games, and gossip. If you have a bachelor or bachelorette party to attend soon, Polish or not, you’re going to want to be ready, and this article on detox juice recipes might be a good idea for before and after the party.
The Wedding Ceremony and Beyond
Now on to the actual wedding day. Because Polish weddings tend to include both religious and civil aspects, there are very important parts of the wedding that take place both inside and outside the actual church, beginning with the pre-wedding blessing. If you’re planning on giving a speech at a wedding, or any other occasion, and are a bit nervous, then check out this course on public speaking made easy to learn how to not only give, but also write, speeches.
- Pre-Wedding Blessing
Before heading to the church to begin the actual ceremony, the wedding guests gather at the home of the bride to send the couple off to the church with a blessing and a symbolic farewell. It begins with the bride and groom kneeling on cushions or kneelers and holding hands. Then, a candle is lit, a crucifix is handed to the couple to hold, and the bride’s mother gives a blessing, then sprinkles the couple with holy water. The bride’s father does the same, then other family members, including the groom’s parents, the godparents, grandparents, etc. will give blessings, and when everyone has said their part, the couple hugs and kisses their parents, and are finally ready to head to the church.
- The Wedding Ceremony
The bride and groom may arrive at the church together, or separate. If they arrive separately, the bride waits in the church for the groom, rather than the other way around like most people are used to, otherwise they walk up the aisle together, with the groomsmen and bridesmaids following. If the couple opt for a non-religious setting for their nuptials, they may choose to tie the knot at the local magistrate’s office. No matter where the wedding takes place, there must be two witnesses present to sign any documents.
- After the Ceremony
After the actual wedding ceremony, a whole new set of traditions is displayed. First off, instead of rice being thrown at the newly married couple, loose change is thrown at them, and they are expected to pick it all up. This is thought to bestow luck upon the couple. Immediately after their shower of change, the guests line up to bestow upon the couple a kiss to the bride, and a handshake and an envelope full of money to the groom. If you’re newly married, and need to learn to save money better, this course on how to make a budget will help you put what money you do have to good use.
Other, older traditions may also be practiced at this time, directly after the wedding ceremony. Sometimes the bride may throw handfuls of straw on the young boys and girls following her, and whomever it lands on first is said to be the first to marry out of all the children. For the bridesmaids, the first to touch the bride’s flowers, or the bride herself, was thought to become married that year.
- The Reception
As the couple heads to the reception site, be it a restaurant, banquet hall, or the home of family members, there is usually some type of “gate” set up by the guests, either made of people or barricades, that the couple must go through together. At the site of the reception, the party cannot begin until the couple arrives, and when they do, the music, usually a Polish band, or a polka band, begins, and so does the fun. One of the songs they will play is “Sto Lat”, which happens after the first toast, and means “100 years”, hoping for a long and prosperous life for the couple.
One of the more popular Polish wedding traditions is the blessing with salt, bread, and wine. This blessing is given by the parents of the bride and the groom, and everyone eats a piece of bread that’s been lightly salted, then drinks some wine. The symbolism behind the gesture has several meanings. First off, the bread represents prosperity for the couple, but the salt represents the difficult, or bitter, times that they may face. Salt is also symbolic of healing and cleansing, as well having the ability to put out fires, and drive away evil spirits. The wine means that the couple will never be thirsty again, and after drinking it, they break the glass for good luck.
- The Unveiling and Capping Ceremony
This part of the reception, called oczepiny in Polish, represents the bride becoming a married woman. All of the single females at the wedding form a circle around the bride, as the maid of honor stands behind her and removes her veil. Next, a married woman must then pin a cap to the bride’s head as the circle of single women give way to a circle of married women, and now the bride is officially considered to be a married woman.
Now that you know the meanings behind some of the traditions you might find at a Polish wedding, find out the meanings behind other well-worn matrimonial traditions – you might be surprised. Even ones that you’ve witnessed dozens of times may not mean quite you thought they did. If you’re already married, or about to be, and want it to be as pleasant as possible, check out this course on preparing for a happy marriage.