Polish traditions at your next family wedding.

Polish Wedding

Today I am mainly interested in presenting some traditional Polish wedding customs that could fit into real present-day Polonian nuptials. Let me start by saying that at a traditional Polish wedding, there is no Anglo-Saxon superstition preventing the bride and groom from seeing each other on the morning of the wedding. Neither does the notion of something old, new, borrowed and blue exist.

Before moving to the back of the church, where well-wishers await them, the bride and groom kneel and pray silently in front of the main altar for a while. They then may briefly retire to the side altar of the Blessed Virgin where the couple kneel for a brief prayer and the bride leaves a bouquet on the altar. A receiving line of well-wishers gives the bride and groom flowers and expresses their best wishes. 

The most typical wish goes 

„Zycze Wam wszystkiego najlepszego na nowej drodze zycia.” 
(I wish you all of the best on your new road through life.) 

This is sometimes expanded to include: 

zdrowia, szczescia i zgody malzenskiej 
(health, happiness and marital harmony’ 

A more religious-flavored wish might run:

„Zycze Wam obfitych lask Bozych, abyscie sie zawsze wzajemnie kochali, szanowali i zgadzali tak jak Pan Bóg przykazal.” 
(I wish you our Lord’s abundant blessings that you might always live in mutual love, respect and harmony according to God’s plan.) 

After receiving the wishes and flowers (the latter are handled by the bridesmaids and taken to the venue of the wedding banquet where they are placed in vases to add splendor to the feast), the newlyweds depart for the photographer’s studio for their official wedding portraits. That works in nicely with the remaining proceedings, for it allows everyone to get to the banquet hall to await the arrival of the newlyweds. When the newlyweds cross the threshold of the wedding venue the mother of the bride welcomes them with bread and salt. This is preferably a round loaf of (unsliced!) rye bread and a small dish of salt. In some places, a glass of wine is also found on the tray. 

The mother might say:

„Staropolskim zwyczajem witamy Was chlebem i sola, aby w Waszym domu zawsze goscil dostatek.” 
(According to our Old Polish tradition, I greet you with bread and salt, so that your home might always enjoy abundance.) 

In some places in a more light-hearted vein the mother asks the bride: 

„Co wolisz: chleb, sól czy pana mlodego?” 

(Which do you prefer: the bread, the salt or the groom?), to which the bride replies: „Wole chleb, sól i pana mlodego, zeby zarobic na niego.” 

(All three I prefer, so let it be said: may the groom earn the money to pay for the bread.) 

The groom sprinkles the bread with salt and kisses the loaf, then hands the bread to his bride to kiss. He might also break off a small piece and share it with the bride. If wine (champagne) is provided, the newlyweds share it from a single glass in a sign of eternal togetherness. (The wedding guests may raise a champagne toast at that point). 

It is debatable whether many of today’s Polish-American brides would still regard the 'oczepiny’ (becapping ceremony) as something meaningful. In the olden days, the bride’s floral wreath, the sign of virginity, was replaced a matron’s cap to indicate a life of household chores and child-rearing. An old custom which may still prove interesting is dancing with the bride. Male wedding guests take their turning on the dance floor with the 'panna mloda’ and pay for the honor. A bridesmaid collects the money in a dish or basket which is added to the newlyweds’ nest egg. 

Then there is 'poprawiny’, a follow-up party the day after the wedding. This is held at the home of one of the newlyweds’ parents, especially when there is quite a bit of food and drink left over from the previous day’s festivities.

An absolute 'must’ for anyone with a deeper interest in Polish wedding heritage is Sophie Hodorowicz Knab’s excellent 'Polish Wedding Customs & Traditions’, published by Hippocrene Books, New York 1997.