While working the bar at a wakeboarding and waterskiing lake in the UK last summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet a group of awesome temporary staff from around the world. They had travelled to work there for the season and learn from the world-class coaches in return. I got to hang out with people from Australia, New Zealand, Poland, Sweden, Austria and America for three months and had a LOT of fun 🙂
Two of my great friends from that time are a Polish couple who are outgoing, funny, very sweet and completely in love. They were engaged when I met them, and twelve months later I had the privilege of being invited to their wedding so last weekend I travelled to Poland to attend their marriage ceremony.
Before I left the miserable drizzle of the UK’s attempt at summer weather firmly behind me and boarded the plane, I was slightly unsure of what to expect. Most of the advice I had received was that the Polish REALLY know how to party and that a lot of vodka would be involved. Internet research had yielded very little in terms of appropriate dress code, wedding gifts or traditions and I was fairly worried about unwittingly offending someone by somehow being inappropriate without realising it!
I shouldn’t have worried though – the whole experience was an honour to be a part of and I was treated as family from the moment I touched down at the airport. I thought it might be an idea to write about my experience in case anyone else out there is in the same position I was and fancies a little heads up as to what to anticipate! Obviously I am no expert on Polish culture and no two weddings are the same so this is in no way a definitive guide or an attempt at one!
- Bartering for the Bride
This takes place on the morning of the wedding. The Groom goes to the bride’s family home and calls her father outside. Then ensues banter and bartering regarding the quantity of vodka appropriate to give the father in exchange for his daughter. It’s all very light hearted and comedic – the Father Of The Bride sent out the Best Man dressed as his daughter at one point but then finally agreed (after accepting more bottles of the proffered vodka) to send his daughter out. This is usually attended by close family only although I was privileged enough to be included and accepted as this throughout the day so got to experience a lot more than as a simple guest.
- Prayers in the house
The Bride and Groom kneel in the house and their parents and grandparents pray over them or offer them blessings (or both – to be honest I’m not quite sure which it was as it was all in Polish but the priest was there! A helpful family member translated a few things spoken which appeared to be advice and good wishes!)
- Best Man and Maid of Honour
There is a Best Man, whose duties include helping collect the Groom’s presents (explained a bit further down), making sure there is enough vodka at the reception and – for this wedding at least – dressing up as a woman for the bartering for the Bride! The Best Man does not do a speech or dress similarly to the Groom. There are no Bridesmaids but the Bride did have a Maid Of Honour, whose duties were pretty similar to those of the Best Man.
- Dress code
I had read varying information about dress code but the advice I found most true to form was for the women to dress as if going to a classy nightclub in the UK. There were no hats or fascinators, no maxi dresses and certainly no women in trousers, playsuits or posh shorts. Pretty much all of the women wore heels (I didn’t – bad things happen when I attempt to walk in anything other than flats and the pavements were pretty uneven so I decided to avoid impending doom and keep my heels as close to the ground as possible!). All of the men all wore suits.
- The Marriage service
The ceremony took place in a Catholic church, which I understand to be the traditional venue. A little like a crematorium in the UK, the church was pretty much a revolving door – as the previous wedding left through a side exit we entered through the main entrance. Although the Bride and Groom arrive together, once everyone is seated the Bride is walked down the aisle to meet the Groom at the front of the church. I am unable to explain most of the service as it was all conducted in Polish, however I can tell you that it lasted around an hour. There was a lot of standing up, sitting down, kneeling (although not everyone kneeled so I refrained), sung responses to what the priest said and singing in general. On two occasions the congregation was invited to file towards the front, which I later found out was to enable them to give offerings to the church the first time and to receive the Holy Communion (or Mass) the second time. Not everyone went up so I stayed in my seat as I had no idea at the time what I would be walking to the front to do! A Polish friend I met in the summer season last year who attended the wedding informed me that the church service varies in different parts of the country and he had not attended a service where the congregation goes to the front to give their offerings. The vows and exchanging of the rings took place in a similar manner to that experienced in weddings in the UK. The interior of the church was beautifully decorated with murals on all available wallspace and the ceiling, which were beautiful to look at. After the service the congregation filed out and waited outside for the Bride and Groom to exit.
- After the wedding
As the Bride and Groom exit the church it is traditional to throw small change in the same way that other cultures throw confetti. The newly-weds then picked up all of the coins together, which is believed to bring them good luck!
- Breaking glass
Upon arrival at the reception everyone had a glass of champagne and toasted the Bride and Groom. Once this had been drunk (pretty speedily I might add), the Bride and Groom smashed a glass on the floor, then proceeded to sweep it up together with a dustpan and brush. Performing this task well is a sign that they will have great teamwork in their marriage.
- Wedding gifts
All of the guests then formed a queue in front of the Bride and Groom. As each person was greeted by the couple they gave three kisses and a bunch of flowers to the Bride (which were then passed to the Maid Of Honour) and money in sealed brown envelopes to the Groom (collected by the Best Man). The Bride at the wedding I attended had told close friends and family that she would much rather have wine than flowers so she received a fair amount instead of the traditional bouquets and the couple also received wrapped presents from a few guests.
The parents of the married couple then made short speeches totalling about 10 minutes. As this was in Polish I have no idea what was said but everyone seemed to chuckle quite a bit so I assume it was fairly light hearted!
- First meal and First Dance
Everyone then sat down to a full three course meal. I had been pre-warned that there would be a ridiculous amount of food on offer throughout the reception so luckily heeded this advice and didn’t go crazy – more on the food to come! After the first meal the Bride and Groom performed the First Dance which is a ballroom-style number with set choreography that is learnt beforehand.
- Bowties and bouquets
The Groom sat on a chair and the unmarried men surrounded him. The Bride then had to try to get to him and extract his tie. Once this was achieved it was thrown at the group of unmarried men and the person who caught it is then considered to be very desirable.
The Bride was then surrounded by her unmarried female friends. She threw the bouquet and whoever caught it will marry next (pretty much like the British tradition).
- The Reception / Party
At some point the wedding photos were taken and then the rest of the reception consisted of eating, drinking and dancing (explained below). The Bride’s father pays for everything so it’s an open bar. The party continues until whenever the guests and married couple decide to leave – at about 5am at the one I attended! Many of those my age and the younger generation are able to speak some form of English ( a lot speak it very fluently) and they were very friendly and happy to make conversation!
I cannot express how much food appears throughout the evening. Picture each table heaving with food and in addition imagine having enough for everyone to have a full meal brought out about every hour or so. Each set of food is different from the one before so if you want to try it all pace yourself and only have a few mouthfuls of each dish! At midnight the Bride and Groom cut the wedding cake and it was shared out to all of the guests.
Ah. The vodka. I think the fact that everyone introduced it to us as ‘Polish wine’ pretty much sums it up! On the tables each place was laid with a wine glass, a water glass and a shot glass. There were two 1 litre bottles of vodka on each table of ten at the reception I attended. When one person has a shot of vodka everyone on the table is offered (and should accept) one too. If the bottle looks like it’s getting empty is replaced. There was also wine on the tables and soft drinks, although traditionally the only alcohol is vodka.
Dancing is as essential to a wedding reception as the vodka. And by dancing I mean proper partner ballroom style dancing. The live band played Polish songs and the men ask the women to dance. People do not stick with one partner when dancing and change after each song. Everyone was so friendly and inclusive so I was involved in a LOT of dancing – luckily they seemed to have about as much of an idea of actual ballroom dances as I did so it was great fun! After the midnight cake the music became a lot more modern with a few tracks in English thrown in.
- And the party just keeps on going!
It is not unusual for the wedding to last a couple of days. Unfortunately I had to fly home the next morning but all of the guests and the married couple were going to have a late breakfast together and then continue the party!
In case you can’t tell I had an absolutely amazing time in Poland – it is such a beautiful country with warm hearted people and it was a complete honour to be accepted as family and experience the wedding – I will definitely be going back to visit the newly-weds and explore more of the culture!
If you fancy checking out another post on Polish weddings, this blogger’s Polish wedding survival guide contained the most helpful information I found 🙂