Last month we were fortunate enough to be invited to the wedding of a friend of ours from Poland and we gladly accepted the invitation and the excuse to make another trip to that part of the world this year. You have to understand that my husband has been to Polish weddings before and has built them up to such mythical proportions in my mind that I was not sure whether to be very excited or very afraid. I also must confess that I have not been to many weddings in any culture and so I will not claim to make comparisons between Polish and American weddings, I will only try to describe what went down at this particular Polish wedding.
The ceremony took place in a tiny village beside a lake called Słup (pronounced like swoop), which is a little over an hour’s drive away from Görlitz. The drive was beautiful and the sun was shining, a lovely day for a wedding. The tree-lined roads we took got progressively smaller and smaller until we could see a church on a hill ahead. We were one of the first to arrive because we were worried that we might get lost finding the place. I was also a bit worried because I had read online that it was inappropriate to wear a black dress to a wedding, but as the guests began to arrive I was relieved to see that several women were also wearing black, although I was one of the few wearing a floor-length dress. We were really happy when our friends from Wrocław arrived, since it meant we’d have someone to hang out with at the reception.
We followed everyone into the The Assumption of the Blessed Mary church and sat down in a pew to take in its beautiful interior. I can’t remember now the exact details, but later through translation, the groom’s father proudly told us how many people could be seated in the church. Although it looks small, it also had seating in the balcony. The groom, our friend, came down the aisle first with a big grin on his face and the bride, who I had not yet met, came next. She looked beautiful! Now I have to confess that the ceremony was quite mystifying to me as it was, naturally, all in Polish. I assume it was similar to Catholic wedding ceremonies in the US. What I observed was the couple seated at a table in front of the priest. He chanted and sang and the crowd often sang words back to him. He wrapped a ribbon around the couples’ hands, joining them together. My husband, not a Catholic, had fun counting how many times we were asked to stand up during the ceremony (seven).
After the ceremony everyone waited outside the church for the newlyweds. When they came out everyone began throwing coins at them, which seems a bit more hazardous than throwing rice! I read online that the couple must stop and pick up all the coins. Luckily the children helped with that. So if you see coins in the grates outside of church entrances in Poland, now you know the reason. After that everyone loaded into their cars to head over to the reception location which was a big banquet hall with lodging included that seemed designed for such occasions. Again, everyone waited for the bride and groom to enter the banquet hall first and then everyone gathered on the dance floor where a DJ welcomed the crowd and then the couple spoke. We all had a glass of champagne to toast the newlyweds and then everyone lined up to greet them and give them their gift. It seemed that most gifts were in envelopes. When it was our turn to congratulate them, the groom and bride said they felt honored that we had come all the way but honestly, we were the ones who felt honored to be invited to their special day!
So now comes the “fun” part, the part I had been told so much about. There seemed to be over 100 guests and we were all seated at banquet tables and they began to bring out the food. Let me tell you, they didn’t stop bringing out food until well after midnight! For the first hot meal served everyone sat politely and tucked in and I began to wonder if what I’d been told about wild & crazy Polish weddings had all been a lie. Later I realized that the guests had been pacing themselves, which we were told is the key to surviving a Polish wedding. The bride and groom had their first dance and then everyone began dancing. I have to say I was impressed because everyone was dancing. And not just for the first dance but well into the night, young and old. As they continued to bring out new dishes interspersed with more dancing, people started to loosen up a lot more and the vodka came into play. They were very considerate with their seating arrangements. We were seated beside the friends we knew as well as a couple from Argentina and others who spoke English, we even made new friends. When someone at your table raised their shot glass, it was only polite to join them! This continued throughout the night with shorter and shorter intervals between, but the food and dancing seemed to keep everyone from experiencing any ill effects. A man came around often with a basket full of cold bottles of vodka to replenish our supply.
Instead of throwing her bouquet, the bride threw her veil. The groom threw his bow-tie. The two who caught these items then danced together. Several times everyone would break out into song singing Sto lat (which means 100 years and is a traditional Polish song to wish someone well) or chanting Gorzko, Gorzko! (which means bitter, not quite sure I understand that one) which meant the bride and groom had to kiss. There were no speeches at the reception aside from when we were greeted as we first came in. Some fun activities included a photo booth and much later on (around 2am) a karaoke competition where the men and women competed against each other.
Around midnight the party was still going strong. The old and the young were still partying with no end in sight. We started worrying because our hotel was actually a half hour away in Legnica and we weren’t sure if we should try to sleep in our car or to wait it out until one of us could drive. We spoke to the groom about our concerns and he managed to get us a room at the banquet hall. I was really struck by how thoughtful this was, in the midst of 100+ guests he took the time to help us out. I am constantly impressed by our friends in Poland and what generous hosts they are. I hope we can return the favor.
Now I need to confess that we did not make it to the end of the wedding. Around 2:30am we decided we had lasted long enough to call it a night. The party, however, continued until well into the morning.
But wait, the wedding was not over yet! It’s true, in Poland the wedding parties can last for days. The party thrown on the second day is called Poprawiny which means something like “making it right again”. Traditionally this party is intended so that guests can finish all the leftover food. This party was more casual and low-key than the party the night before and the crowd was noticeably smaller. Again we enjoyed delicious food (but obviously not as much drink this time!). We were honored when the parents of the groom came and sat beside us. I wish I could have understood what they were saying but they seemed very sweet. My husband can speak a little Polish and tried to translate for me. It was a beautiful event and I am so grateful that I got to experience a Polish wedding!