So, You’ve Been Invited
to – or are Planning –
a Polish Wedding
Anyone who has ever attended a wedding in Poland will know that they are hard to top. Weddings are a big deal in Polish culture, inflating the already generous treatment of guests in a Polish house to ridiculous levels.
Polish people taking hosting VERY seriously. There is a saying in Polish – “Gość w dom, Bóg w dom” – that translates to “A guest in the house is God in the house”, and it is a host’s responsibility to make his guest feel not just taken care of, but lavished upon. Polish hospitality, to an outsider, is almost exceedingly gracious, with many foreigners insisting they don’t need any preferential treatment and Polish hosts assuring them they do.
With such a strong emphasis on hospitality, it’s really no surprised that Polish weddings celebrations are a big deal – they are just as much a celebration for the whole family and all the guests as they are a celebration of the bride and groom.
Below are only a few Polish wedding traditions and customs (my favorites!) that make the celebration so unique. Perhaps they’ll inspire your day in some way…
Trzaskanie 0r Polterabend
Poland, with its rich history, has a lot of wedding traditions. Some are region-specific or ethnic group-specific, such as this first one. Polterabend, or “trzaskanie” is a common German wedding tradition, but is widely celebrated in the Silesia (Śląsk) region of Poland, as well as some other western parts of Poland. Traditionally, Polterabend occurs the night before the wedding day and involves the family and guests gathering in front of the bride’s house and… breaking glass and ceramic plates and cups! This is done for good luck and prosperity for the young couple, as long as the couple themselves clean the glass up.
Why is this done in Poland?
Silesians are an ethnic group within Poland. You can notice them immediately by their gwara śląska, their Silesian dialect, which is very distinct and specific. Due to Silesia’s history and location, has adopted a fair number of words and customs from Germany.
My aunt, who is not Silesian, once told me that when she first moved into the region, she thought the neighbors were getting into a terrible domestic brawl because she heard so much china breaking. It turns out, they were just getting married.
Walking Down the Aisle Together
In a traditional Polish wedding, the bride and groom meet before the ceremony, usually at her parent’s house where they receive a traditional blessing. They arrive at the church together and enter the church together. I personally really like this custom, as it symbolizes their unity and their voluntary decisions to enter into marriage. Their is no one “giving away” their son or daughter, no exchange of ownership. It’s just two individuals acting together and making a decision, the first of many in their marriage.
The (most often) Roman Catholic ceremony is a full mass. The bride and groom are accompanied up by the altar by their witnesses, one for the bride and one for the groom. The witnesses are just that: there to witness the occasion. At one point, the couple and witnesses make their way behind the altar to sign their certificate of marriage in private before returning to the altar. Court weddings function much the same – the couple and their two witnesses sign the certificate of marriage.
Right Hand - Not Left
The exchanging of rings in a Polish ceremony is done on the right ring finger, not the left as in other areas of Europe. This tradition in Poland actually dates back to the Partition years. Widows who had lost their husbands in the January Uprising (1863-1864) would switch their wedding rings from their left ring finger to their right, as a sign of mourning. This style was adopted in the rest of Poland for solidarity and the custom stuck. Today, most Polish couples will wear their engagement and wedding rings on their right ring fingers, although some choose the left hand. Ultimately, it is up to the couple whether they stick with, or break, this custom with a unique history.
Bread and Salt
After the ceremony, the couple arrive at their reception where they are greeted at the doorstep by their parents with bread and salt. This is probably the oldest Polish custom and the one universally known. The bread and the salt are to symbolize prosperity, safety, wealth, and luck in their marriage. The bride and groom each take a bite of bread with a pinch of salt.
Breaking of Glass
Right after the bread and salt come the two shot glasses: one is filled with water, the other vodka. The bride and groom make their choice (without knowing which is which) and drink – whoever picks the vodka is said to run the household. Then the bride and groom throw the glasses over their left shoulders, hoping they break into as many pieces as possible for good luck. Any pieces too big get stepped on to help the luck along. The bride and groom then cleans up the glass themselves, to symbolize their first unified front as a married couple.
Family Style Meals at One Long Table
Guests at a Polish wedding are frequently seated in one long table and served family-style. The waiters bring out trays of food that they place down all throughout the length of the table (they can get really long!) and the guests help themselves. No Polish wedding dinner begins without rosol, or chicken soup. The food becomes more elaborate as the evening wears on. The table is also provided with water, juice, and vodka with other drinks being served at the bar. Polish hospitality dictates that you should feed your guests constantly, so there is an endless supply of food throughout the evening. Since Polish weddings usually being at 3 in the afternoon and easily last until 3 or 4 in the morning, the hearty meals come out every two hours or so, ensuring that the partying continues and no one complains of a hangover in the morning.
At midnight is a ceremony called oczepiny. This, along with bread and salt, is one of the most well known Slavic traditions. This ceremony marks the change of the bride from an unmarried to married woman. Traditionally, a bride wore long braids and a flower crown; during the oczepiny ceremony, her hair was cut and she was given a cloth bonnet to wear to mark her official status as a married woman. Today, the bride gets to keep her hair and instead, she throws her veil into a crowd of single women, much like the standard bouquet toss in other parts of the world. Modern-day oczepiny involve party games for all the guests – games like the newlywed game, the wedding shoe game, the groom guessing his bride, and paying for a dance with the bride are all common. The celebration continues into the morning hours, with lots of games, dancing, singing, and some late-night eating.
The reason guests are fed so well during the reception is that they need to be energized and sober for the poprawiny – the second day of the wedding! Polish weddings traditionally last two days, with the poprawiny being the slightly less formal affair. The word “poprawiny” loosely translates to “do-over”. It’s essentially a round-two of the wedding and a great way to use up all the leftovers of the night before – as much food as there is at a Polish wedding, there is still more to eat on day two. A wedding is a huge and expensive event so why stop at one day of celebration?
So now you’re fully ready to host your own Polish wedding… or you’re prepared to attend one! I’m curious to hear how weddings are celebrated in your country – these traditions are always so fun and I’d love to learn if you leave a comment below!