To call a Polish wedding an explosive occasion would be no exaggeration. I have vivid recollections of fireworks raining down from the pinnacle of a sparkling tiara of wedding cakes. But I’m getting ahead of myself, as usual.
It all started one April with two wedding invitations, for back to back weekends, to the offspring of two different Polish cousins. Fortunately both lived in close proximity, in the neighbourhood of Belchatow, Central Poland. It was only a year since we had been reunited with our Polish family, and neither Dad nor I could wait for the experience, which we had been warned would be “lively”.
Jemy, pijemy, tanczymy-“we eat, we drink, we dance”, sums it up, and we certainly did! A Polish wedding is a very traditional and religious occasion, both romantic and innocent in a heart-warming way. Prior to going to church, the bride, groom and parents assemble at the bride’s home for a blessing. Bride and groom then travel together to the church in a car adorned with paper flowers. The guests follow them in a humorous cavalcade. Road work barricades may be set up at intervals, to be bypassed on payment of a bottle of vodka! The guests toot car horns and heckle.
The church service, around 5pm Saturday, is a solemn and beautiful occasion. Then, the fun starts.
At the reception, the tables groan beneath their load. Pyramids of fruit and sweets are surrounded by savoury platters. Cake cuddles up to the vodka. We raise a toast and sing the traditional Sto lat- 100 years. Comes my favourite part- the bride and groom take to the floor, at the centre of a heart made from the guests floral tributes, or perhaps candle tealights. The guests join hands and slow dance around the room.
Food next, accompanied naturally by vodka, and copious quantities of fruit juices, herbata (tea) and kawa (coffee). Laden trolleys approach and the tables are heaped with soup, then chicken, pork, fish, pasta dishes, it just keeps on coming. At every pause in the conversation, someone proposes na zdrowie- good health, and another shot of vodka disappears. Just as your stomach is protesting “no more”, the band strikes up and the whole room are on their feet. A gentle polka becomes faster and faster, the room whirling past.
Several numbers later the band subsides and it’s back to the tables, where yet more food is being delivered. The vodka bottles are replenished as soon as they are empty. A hot beetroot drink, tasty in small quantities. Beer for those not drinking vodka. Not wise to mix them, but Dad has left his sensible Polish head at home. Still he gamely gets up, walking stick in hand, when the music starts up again. Which of the nieces to gallantly partner? A kiss on the hand, the reward for a dance, bestowed by every Polish gentleman.
At midnight the lights are dimmed and a hush falls. The wedding cake makes its entrance, fizzing joyfully with giant sparklers. Oohs and aahs, then it’s distributed and eaten and we’re dancing again. This is how the night passes by, eating, drinking, dancing, laughing and smiling. As dawn breaks the feasting comes to an end. But only for a little while- the party reassembles after a bit of a nap. At 4pm Sunday we’re ready to go again!
Astonishing to English eyes, the soignee, sophisticated bridal party don jeans and grab mop and buckets to clean up in readiness for the next guests, then back into the glad rags!
Let me introduce you to Ania, daughter of my cousin Jadwiga, and her new husband Hubert. We had never met as they had been working in Reading to finance the wedding and a fresh start in their homeland. None-the-less we couldn’t have been made more welcome, to the extent that the bride’s parents sacrificed their own bed for us.
The second wedding was for my Uncle Jakub’s son Krzysztof and his partner Ilona. We stayed with Jakub and his wife Czescia and no-one was displaced from their bed. The wedding was at the impressive parish church at Grocholice. Construction work had begun on the marital home- a joint effort with family contributing skills and labour according to their abilities. Till completion they would live with Ilona’s parents.
It’s obvious that stamina is a requisite for Polish weddings. At the poprawyny (the second wedding celebration) more emphasis was placed on younger members of the family. The odd solo was performed on stage by the least shy of the little ones. Silly games were entered into with gusto, a favourite being a “family” version of musical chairs. The prize was invariably vodka. Most memorable of all was the presentation to my Uncle Jakub of two delightful baby goats. He has a good plot of land with hens and beehives. The kids were a huge hit with the grandchildren.
Eating, drinking and dancing continued throughout the celebrations, till my legs were turning to jelly. Ania contrived to extend her wedding into the Monday. I’m not sure if this was due to an excess of food or a larger than usual family. For Krzysztof the party ended and the cleaning began after 10pm on Sunday evening. A party and a half!
You’re thinking I can’t count, aren’t you? It was after Ania’s wedding that it was confided to me that her younger brother, also a Krzysztof, was to marry his sweetheart Marzena the following year. Both of them live and work in Southern England and we were delighted to be asked back to Poland the next August to take part in a third wonderful Polish wedding.