So I thought for the first entry in the series I’d go with what is probably a common way for people to experience Poland, a wedding. Being from the UK, and having a nice and diverse environment, weddings of friends are often a reason for people to travel to somewhere new, and Poland is no exception. It also happens to be a real fun way to experience Poland and some Polish traditions, certainly some I’ve enjoyed.
Closer to home I’ve been to weddings of close family members, distant family members, friends and friends of friends. I also worked at a wedding venue in my holidays while studying for over 5 years. So I’ve been able to see a pretty broad spectrum of weddings in both style and substance. I did feel at one point like I’d seen all there is to see with weddings, but I was pleasantly surprised when I realised at my first Polish wedding that there was still more to see.
Poland is predominantly Catholic, so all the Polish weddings I’ve seen have had traditional ceremonies. These are formal affairs, but fairly short, which can be a life saver in the hot Polish summer when dressed in your full suit. There are some minor differences, like until recently the bride wouldn’t have been walked down the aisle by her father (an increasingly popular trend), and there isn’t the same use of bridesmaids/groomsmen. But largely, the ceremony is similar to what you would find at a church wedding in the UK.
Polish wedding fashion is probably the most similar part with people wearing largely what’s seen at the majority of weddings in the UK. White dress, sharp suits and sharper shoes. I’ve not seen any of the more traditional wedding suits like morning suits or white tie that you sometimes see in the UK, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re never worn in Poland, just not in my limited experience.
This is the longest part of the day, typically starting early afternoon (directly after the ceremony) and going through well into the early hours of the next day, you’ll probably see sunrise for anything other than the winter months! This does make the event a long day, but you can guarantee you won’t be hungry, thirsty or short of entertainment.
You can expect early on to start with a soup, something common to every day, not just weddings, and probably a vodka or two. This may (read will) be followed by some dancing. Be prepared for everyone to dance, not just the bold, everyone will get up and dance. You’ll hear traditional songs everyone there will know, dance and sing to. It really creates an energetic atmosphere that’s impossible not to get carried along with. Then after a few songs, things may go quiet and everyone returns to the tables for a course of food. One major difference to weddings here in the UK is that food is served most/all of the night in between cycles of the band playing, dancing and drinks, so there’s no rush to eat in one go, and there’s more food than anyone could ever think of finishing. Throughout the night you can expect more courses (proper meat and potatoes type Polish food – a topic for another day), which will certainly help with keeping dancing all night.
There are a few other things worth mentioning about the evening, some obvious, some not. To start with the more obvious… vodka, and lots of it (think table vodka, rather than table wine). It’s no secret Poland likes vodka, and weddings are (among most celebrations) somewhere it’s in abundance. Now it’s far from the vodka you can find in most British bars, it’s the real deal, and drunk neat by the shot. One difference not specific to weddings, is that you don’t drink it with beer like in the UK, it’s drunk with some kind of juice, a much better experience both at the time, and the next day. Combined with the many courses of food, you can be more concerned with the state of your feet after all the dancing than your head the next day. Something else which I’ve never seen in the UK came a bit of a surprise, the lights dimmed, everyone went quiet and in the distance I could see some sparklers appearing. What I then assumed to be the cake turned out to be a giant ham with what appeared to be industrial sized sparklers embedded in the top, a pleasant surprise in the small hours. Lastly, the dancing deserves a special mention. There seems to be a huge number of incredibly popular well known songs, and I mean everyone knows them, the lyrics and the appropriate dance. Everyone will dance at the same time and there’s no hiding. I’m not a dancer, far from it, and I often do whatever I can to avoid it, however in the excitement and atmosphere of a Polish wedding it’s impossible to avoid (and something I admit I thoroughly enjoyed).
In summary, if you every find yourself in the position to go to a Polish wedding, do. It’s hard to think of a better way to experience the food, culture and superb Polish hospitality in such a short space of time. They have certainly provided me with some great times and interesting experiences.