Friday 16 November 2018

Polish Pretend Son and Daughter-in-Law's Midnight Wedding Ritual

Polish Minimalism. 
After Polish Pretend Son's wedding service (ślub, pronounced shloop) and nuptial Mass, he drove off with his bride in the rented white Corvette they had arrived in and the rest of us followed to a charming 19th century palace-turned-hotel for the reception (wesele,  pronounced ves-SEL-eh).

The little hotel was for the "exclusive use" of the wedding, as adverts say, and it is very elegant indeed, having been lovingly restored by its Polish owners from the decrepit state the palace had fallen into after its former German occupants had fled westwards. There are lots of ruined little German palaces dotted all over western Poland, and as soon as B.A. and I win the lottery, we will buy and restore one ourselves. 

In keeping with the aristocratic nature of this dwelling/hotel, the wedding feast was a Polish-French hybrid, with a late afternoon, rather French, dinner served in the elegant dining rooms and a side room groaning with every Polish dish you can imagine in case anyone felt the slightest hint of a pang of hunger afterwards. 

What happened after dinner, however, was entirely Polish and very ancient, and even gave me goosebumps. First, the dining-rooms were invaded by Polish minstrels who bade us all perform the ancient Polish walking dance called the chodzony (pronounced hodZONE-ih). We walked out  into a field behind the palace where we were led in the various progressions of the dance as a violin scraped and a hurdy-gurdy groaned. It sounded and felt so ancient, we could have been in any era, were our clothes not so very, er, twentieth century.

Then we all processed back inside, and the bride and groom danced their first dance as wife and husband. As Polish Pretend Son is a tango fanatic and Polish Pretend Daughter-in-Law is very good at dances of all kinds, it was truly an impressive performance. 

At midnight, however, we were plunged back into the Middle Ages, or perhaps even further back, even before Christianity came to Poland, during the oczepiny (pronounced oh-chep-EE-nih). 

Nowadays, oczepiny are usually just a set of games that ritually humiliate the bride and groom in a mild and good-humoured fashion. They remind me of the dumb games American and Canadian women traditionally play at bridal and baby showers. At their worst they are as bad as garter-tossing and other stupid things we Anglos too often do at weddings. 

However the traditional oczepiny involve an elaborate ritual in which the bride is reminded that she is leaving the happiness of her youth and maiden fancy-free living behind and now has to knuckle down and be wifely. Everyone around sings cheerfully. 

Meanwhile, the bridal wreath is taken away from the poor girl and the traditional headscarf of the Polish married woman is forced on her head.  Polish Pretend Daughter-in-Law seems to have second thoughts about this, for she threw her pretty scarf on the floor twice.  I believe rejecting the kerchief is traditional, but PPD-i-L said later that, swept up in the moment, she really meant it. 

The whole thing--including the climax---sent chills up my spine. It wasn't just the fact that the ritual was so otherworldly and ancient. It was also an unusually frank reminder that marriage, like life, is very hard and, in fact, a bit of a gamble, and that if she accepts the wrong man, a bride's life will be unhappy. 

Update: PPS doesn't want his wesele videos public, so I've put up a photo instead:

Update 2: There are no nice photos of me from the okay-for-public-consumption file. It's too bad, but  months of unrelenting stress does that to a woman my age. Now when I see a woman who's "let herself go", I realise that there may have been some inescapable reasons for that. One of the nice things about PPS's wedding, which happened shortly after we were told we couldn't go back to the Historic House, and they wanted their Historic Centre Flat back, thanks, was that we had three days' respite from worry.  


  1. Oh my. I was not expecting the hair cutting. Do you know what it signifies?

  2. Well, it turns out Poles cut their hair before all life-changing events.