July 8, 2013

Balkan Adventure: Serbian Orthodox Wedding

It’s wedding day! We were so honored to be a part of the Paunović family celebration this past month. Before the wedding, Luka came to the Paunović home to buy his bride from the youngest family member...which was Jovana. Also included in the exchange was Anja, the youngest cousin. Serbs often call their cousins brothers and sisters, which confused me a few times when meeting so much family, but I think I have it all sorted out now. 
Maja and Luka - not my photo, but it'd be cool if it was.
The apartment door is decorated with roses and flowers, maybe to show the groom which is the right home, or maybe to warn the neighbors that a lot of music and celebration are about to take place. The door decorations from all weddings across the country are left on the parents door until the following March. At that point there is a celebration for all the couples married in the previous year and the flowers are removed.

(wedding door photo)

Luka bid up to a pre-arranged amount (~100€) and Jovana and Anja accepted the price. I'm not sure which one got to keep the money. 

Only close family members from both sides and the best man and maids of honor are invited to see the exchange since it's held in the family's small apartment home. It was packed. The accordions played and appetizers were served. Then the pre-wedding party loaded into cars decorated with ribbons and Serbian flags and drove in tandem to the church. The wedding party honks and honks and honks. Other cars on the roadway honk. Other cars try not to get in the middle of the procession...which was tricky when we got onto the freeway, but we were successful.

The groom's family lined up on one side of the church and the bride's on the other. The ceremony started at the head of the room where they lit candles and then moved to the center. It lasted maybe 15 or 20 minutes and the priest did several rituals. I'd like to say that I know what they all mean, but alas, my Serbian language skills are pretty poor...in fact, I don't even know if the priest was speaking Serbian. He tied the couple's hands together (candles were given to the best man and maid of honor), then put crowns on their heads and they walked around in a circle a few times while he swung some incense, perhaps frankincense in front of them. There were people singing from the balcony as a part of the ceremony, but we couldn't see them.It was lovely. How they fill the stone church with such beautiful sounds when sounds seem to echo every which way is beyond me, but it was fantastic.

At the end we took photos of the wedding party and family. Before leaving the church the Orthodox people turn around to face the church, kiss the doors and then come out. Some random guys were playing music outside the church to earn a few tips. They asked me for money, but I didn't know what they wanted. I didn't realize they weren't part of the wedding.

An interesting tidbit about the wedding ring: the best man buys for it. So I guess if you want a pretty ring then you need to be nice to your fiance's best friend. Ha ha. There are also some important responsibilities for the maid of honor. Dearest Maja and Jovana, when you read this, will you comment on what those are? Thanks in advance!

The reception was in a nearby reception venue. A traditional band started the party off by playing traditional music for a couple of hours then another band with singers finished the remaining several hours. They didn't take a break the entire evening. It was incredible.

Jocelyn loved the dancing best and hung out with Luka's nephew most of the evening. It was funny to watch him speak to her in Serbian and her respond in English and then they'd run off laughing. When I asked her later how that worked, she shrugged her shoulders and ran off when he came calling again.

The dinner menu was served in several courses, maybe one an hour. So party-goers could eat, dance, drink, smoke and then be hungry again before the next course came. It's a brilliant move to keep the party hopping all night. It was amazing to me that everyone seemed to enjoy the music and dancing no matter how old they were. Especially when dancing the kolo. It's a traditional dance that had been going a few minutes by the time I joined in. I thought it would end shortly after I joined. But it kept going. And going. And going. My legs were sore after doing the same few steps for 20+ minutes.

The civil wedding ceremony also took place at the reception. In Serbia (as well as Slovenia and probably a few other countries), the religious ceremony isn't enough to get married. So the officiant comes to the reception to do it. Then the bride and groom greet their guests individually and guests give gifts, usually a card with money.

By the end of the evening, the girls were so tired. Kira fell asleep on her chair despite the loud music. And when I say loud, I mean really loud. Jocelyn, I found out later, had been spending her time outside with the other kids so their ears wouldn't ring. She fell asleep on my lap in a back room that blocked the sound somewhat.

Soon after the wedding cake was served, but not before I'd eaten a piece, Jovana and her mother helped me carry both girls to our car. I heard the dancing ended around midnight, though I took my zonked out girls home around 10pm. Experiencing a Serbian wedding from the perspective of the celebrating family was an incredible experience that I'm so grateful to have been a part of.

1 Riveting COMMENTS:

  1. Very neat to see some of the wedding tradition for Serbia. Love the crowns. Looks like you guys had fun time at the wedding.


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