I have had the honor of being a guest at a wedding in Poland and wanted to share the experience, as I know many women planning their wedding right now and who are looking for ideas how to add a Polish flair to their special event. The best way to quickly describe it was a "Polish Bajka" (or Fairytale)...
The first thing I noticed about the special day was that the day prior was filled with last minute preparation, much like weddings all over the world. My “Wujek” (Uncle) took me with him to the local market to look for pineapples with beautiful tops to them to use for decoration on certain platters, checking with vendors that plans were being carried out, and a visit to the venue to meet the bride’s future father-in-law, who greeted me with hugs and kisses and told me that we were now family. The genuine joy in the entire family on both sides was obvious, as it was quite clear that the bride and groom loved each other so the wedding had not come as any surprise.
The venue was breathtaking. Yes, it could have used a small amount of grounds keeping in the back lot, but compared to many venues I’ve been to for weddings in the States, it was historical, with gorgeous dark wood paneling all over the interior and floors that were old and yet beautiful, as well. In short, it was nothing like any wedding venue I had ever been to, and I loved it!
The next task was to go quickly to a local dress store so that I could purchase a dress that would suit Polish tastes for the event, as I had found nothing back in the US at that time that I would have felt beautiful in, the style that particular year, as far I could see, was day-glo colors and strange silhouettes.
The dress I purchased was the equivalent of $45, two pieces, one black with a bit of shimmer on the top and the skirt being A-line with a courser texture to the satin, giving it more depth and interest to the eye. I’m quite sure an equivalent dress back in the US would have cost me about $200.
Gone are the days of the presumed image of poorly dressed Polish women. I never thought them to be poorly dressed before but I can definitely say that even though I make a conscious attempt to appear chic while traveling in Europe, natives can still tell I am American. I’m not sure what gives me away, I would love to know, if anyone would please share!
I was staying with family while visiting for the wedding, as staying at a hotel for a family event is considered an insult. We went to bed early that night and I understand why. For the day of the wedding, myself and several family members got ready at one family members house while throughout the different houses of both families, frantic preparations were taking place along with generous amounts of hugging, kissing, and general excitement. This was also a time when friends and distant family would start reconnecting.
We walked down to the church where the ceremony was to be performed. The walk itself was like every other walk in Poland, cobblestone streets, beautiful houses, history all around, except this time we were going to a wedding! A traditional Catholic ceremony, complete with a friend of the bride performing the song “Ave Mary” a cappella from the choir loft.
The bride wore a beautiful white gown with trail that she rented for the occasion, which saves money for more important things, and is rather common in European weddings. The veil was borrowed from a friend of the bride. The bride and groom had each a maid of honor and a best man only. One big difference between a typical American wedding of several bride and groom attendants on each side and a European wedding of one attendant on each side.
The wedding ceremony was complete with friends and family gently but generously tossing the traditional coins at the couple as they left the church instead of rice. Then, the youngest guests, a preschool boy and girl, helped the couple pick up the coins, which went to help pay for the honeymoon. Almost every single wedding guests had a bouquet of flowers to hand to the couple, which were handled by the father of the bride.
From the courtyard of the church, the bride and groom departed for a small break from the festivities while the guests got onto a decorated trolley to take down through the city to the reception venue, while cars honked and called out well wishes for the new couple.
At the venue, the guests were let to a large ballroom wing. The guests all crowded around the ballroom waiting for the newly weds to arrive. The couple was greeted by the two mother in-laws with a decorated fresh baked loaf of bread, salt, and well wishes for a happy marriage, after which the couple ate a bite of the bread which was sprinkled lightly with the salt. The symbolism for this is wishes that they will never go hungry, and a reminder that life may be difficult at times, but they must learn to cope with life's struggles. Interestingly, Poland was once a major source of Europe’s salt, which I will discuss in another post, and is, or at least, was called the “breadbasket of Europe“.
The couple were then presented with glasses of wine which were tied together. The symbolism for this is the hopes that the couple will never thirst and wish that they have a life of good health, and good cheer and share the company of many good friends. All this is stated in the well wishes of the two mother in-laws. After the couple drank their wine together, the glasses were tossed over their heads and the broken pieces symbolize the many children the couple will have. The glass was quickly swept away and the festivities were officially underway.
Dancing was an important part of the celebration. Several dances were specifically for the women and several specifically for the men. I wish I knew the names of the dances to share them with you. I can say that there was dancing where the couple was seated in the center and the bridal veil was removed and thrown much the same way that the bouquet of flowers is thrown in the US. Instead of a garter being thrown at the single men, the groom's tie was thrown.
The dining room was filled with long tables all connected together in a U shape. The tables were decorated with large soup tureens filled with clear delicate chicken broth soups (It is customary in Poland to start meals with soup), trays of salmon tartar, fruits, vegetable salads, lunchmeats rolled and filled with piped mayonnaise, cheeses, and other delicious dishes. A dish that I will always remember as one of my all time favorites was a whole roasted pig which was stuffed with Kasza that had sautéed onions, bits of pork and spices mixed in.
The cake was revealed from behind the curtains on a stage with lit sparklers and everyone watched the couple cut the cake together.
After the guests all ate together, the vodka began to pour. Now, I need to explain something here. I personally do not think that Poles drink a lot. I mean, I have had the pleasure of drinking a couple of beers, ginger beers, a glass of good wine, and vodka shots over the years with my family in Poland. But at the wedding, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I think that they had to drink over 200 bottles of vodka, perhaps 1 ½ bottles per guest! And they all held it together quite well. Drinking in abundance is expected at weddings in Poland, perhaps as a sign of respect and joy for the new couple.
Dancing was in another room attached to the dining room with a live band and everyone danced. Everyone, even my babcia who was in her late 70’s at the time, danced all night long. The wedding celebration literally lasted until dawn. I was exhausted! I couldn’t believe that people were leaving the party still smiling, laughing, and full of energy, while I was prepared to sleep under the table. In all, I think the reception was at least 12 hours long.
Of course, to be fair, I was pregnant at the time and didn’t disclose it to my family because I did not want to take away from the wedding. I did not drink, of course. I also had flown in just the day prior to the wedding. Considering how cranky I am sure I got by being so exhausted, everyone there was extremely kind and welcoming! If you are ever lucky enough to be invited to a real Polish wedding, you are in for one of the best times of your life. Family and friends kept checking with me that I was alright and not bored or lonely in the least bit.
The next day, the celebration was filled with some sleep, breakfast, and then the closest family members all celebrating at the bride’s parent’s house with the couple over cakes, fruits, coffee, juice, and “Kanapki” (sandwiches). One of the best times of my life and I am so thankful for my beloved cousins for letting me share this with them…
If you liked this post about my experience at a wedding in Poland, you might also like this post about My First Time Back to Poland