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Polski Wesele – Polish Wedding

by Dr. Jim Mazurkiewicz on May 27, 2009

in Culture

Polski Wesele - Traditional Polish Wedding

The wedding is one of the most important family celebrations in Polish culture. For centuries most marriages in Poland took place starting at the beginning of September and continued through fall and winter except for the holy weeks of advent and lent. This was at a time when the all-important harvest and field work was completed and food was at abundance to hold and host a major celebration as a wedding. The Polish word for wedding “wesele” comes from the word “wiselic’ sie” meaning to rejoice, and that is indeed an appropriate for an occasion traditionally associated with joy and celebration.

“Zareczyny or Zrekowiny” The engagement period: The main event on the night of engagement was the tying together of the hands of the couple to be married. Because engagement was as binding as the marriage itself, it was always done in a public act in front of family and friends who acted as witnesses. Starosta joined the right hands of the couple above the bread, tied them together with white cloth, and made the sign of the cross over their joined hands representing “the joined endeavors of the man and woman to prepare the bread” that they always have bread beneath their hands.

“Oprosiny or Zaprosiny” The invitations: Wedding traditions demanded that guests be invited in certain obligatory manner. First, invitations were issued to relatives or friends to act as groomsmen or bridesmaids. The bride and groom then went to invite their godparents. In olden days, the announcement of the wedding each Sunday, three Sundays before the wedding was the official invitation to attend the wedding. As one might expect, this was before mail service and the only way to communicate an invitation was through word of mouth and the church announcement. In some sections of Poland old custom forbade the exclusion of anyone in the village from being invited to the wedding. It was truly a community affair.

Blessing by the parents: Before the church ceremony everyone would gather at the home of the bride to accompany the bridal couple to the church, but also to witness the blessing and symbolic farewells of the bride with her parents, relatives and friends. The blessing by the parents before church was seen as more important than the church ceremony itself. It was customary to have musicians playing as the wedding guests began arriving at the “Dom Weselny” wedding home for the blessing. Sometimes the musicians were rewarded with a small tip for their services. When the guests enter the home of the bride, they are greeted with bread or cake by the “Staroscina” bridesmaids and a toast of vodka to drink by the Starosta” groomsmen. The music is playing throughout this process as this sets the tone and excitement of the celebration. When most of the guests have arrived the blessing ceremony will begin. Traditionally the mother of the bride gives the blessing. A crucifix, a lighted candle, a bowl of holy water and a sprinkler (a rose from the brides garden) should be prepared. Either kneelers or some cushions are provided for the bride and groom to kneel on. They hold hands as they kneel in front of their parents. The mother then sprinkles the bride and groom-to-be with Holy Water, whereupon they make the Sign of the Cross. She then gives them the crucifix to kiss. The father of the bride may utter a blessing of his own or simply sprinkle the couple with Holy Water.

The bridegroom’s parents may also impart their blessing. Parents have blessed their offspring since the time of the Old Testament. Others, for instance grandparents, or godparents may also bless the couple. Musicians may play “Serdeczna Matko” when the future son-in-law arrives and he and his bride-to-be kneel before her parents. The music falls silent when the mother of the bride gives the blessing.
The mother’s blessing, “May God Almighty grant both of you health, happiness and mutual love on your new road through life together and may He bless you with numerous, healthy children – the fruit of your love. And I also bless you: In the name of the father, and of the son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Following the Blessing, music resumes with drink and plenty of food. Usually, polish dishes are provided by members of the village. There is always plenty of food and drink to help celebrate this joyous occasion.

The veiling of the bride: The last responsibility of the mother of the bride before the marriage ceremony would be to place the veil on the bride. This touching act symbolized the last thing that a mother could do for her daughter before she became a married woman.

“Orszak Weselny” Going to the Church: Following the Blessing, the bridal party moves to church. In the olden days this was done by horse-draw carriage but today this classic event is done by motor vehicles. Traditionally a string of horse drawn carriages formed the wedding cavalcade. Behind the wagon, on horseback, rode the master of ceremonies, the Starosta and the best man with a bottle of vodka who alternately offered it to the wagon driver.

“Liturgia zaslubin” Marriage Liturgy/Nuptial Mass: The bride and groom have already been together on their wedding day since the parental blessing that morning, so the giving-away of the bride by her father at the altar would seem to serve little purpose, other than to uphold a no longer very relevant Anglo-Saxon custom. According to Polish tradition, the bride and groom walk down the aisle to the altar together and retrace the same route after the ceremony as man and wife. During the church ceremony it was expected for the bride to cry. If she didn’t it was believed that she would cry throughout her married life.

The Wedding Reception: In the olden days the reception took place at the “Dom Weselny” home of the bride. In customs that can be documented back to the sixteenth century, the young couple was most often greeted at the entrance of the house with bread and salt. Salt had equal footing with bread in all family customs from birth to death. Today, this ceremony is performed at the wedding hall at the beginning of the reception by the parents.

Arrival of the bride and groom: Traditionally the wedding couple rode in a wagon to and from the church with stately horses pulled by a wagon. The bridal party, family and guests await the bridal couple in a receiving line in front of the bride’s home or today the reception hall.

The superstition ritual of establishing the dominance of the new couple: When the newly married couple arrive at the reception, the best man and the maid of honor or some designee will race to the couple. The female will race with a cake and the male will race with a glass of wine. Whom ever gets to the newly married couple first establishes whom will be the boss of the family. If the female runner gets to the bride first, the bride will be the boss and the same if the male wins the race.

Introduction of the Bride and Groom and the Bridal Party: The entire bridal party including parents, grandparents, etc. are introduced to the wedding guests.

The bread and salt blessing: The parents of the bride and groom greet the newly married couple with bread, salt, wine and a silver coin at the front of the wedding table.
* According to Polish tradition, we greet you with bread and salt, so that your home might always enjoy abundance”. In Polish culture, bread is considered a gift from God and must always be treated with deep respect and Salt, which comes from the earth, is a basic necessity of life. The parents perform this symbolic custom to signify a “Gift from God” and the “Basic necessity of Life” to show the unity that has been created of two people into one couple.

* The bride and groom each taste a piece of bread to signify: “May you never go hungry”

* They each sip a little wine to signify: “Enjoy the sweetness in life”

* They each place a spec of salt on their tongue to signify: “May you overcome the bitterness in life”

* Silver Coin: “ may you be wealthy with good health and never be in a financial stress”

* The parents then kiss the couple as a sign of welcome, unity and love.

Following this ritual, the bride and groom break a the plate and/or glass for good luck!!! Then the band plays “Sta Lot”.

“Sta Lot” One Hundred Years: This is sang as a toast to the newly married couple. Which means 100 years, which is a Polish toast sung by the guests that signifies 100 years of good health for the bride and groom ( This may be sang by the band )

“The Grand March”: This is performed by the wedding party, parents and all the guests. Originally, the bridal party, family and guests made a processional to the church led by a band from the “Dom Weselny” bride’s home and back to the home of the bride after mass. This was a way to announce to the village that their was a wedding and that everyone was invited. In olden days, there were no invitations or mail service, only word of mouth and the announcements made in church three sundays before the wedding. Today, the grand march is performed at the reception to honor that tradition. The wedding party and the guests are engaged to enhance the excitement of the celebration and to encircle the bride and groom in a double wedding ring for their first dance.

“Bride and Groom’s first dance”: The song of their choice

“Tatusu Waltz” Daddy’s waltz”: The father/daughter dance

“The mother/son Dance”: The song of their choice

“The Blessing of the Meal”

“Polski Kolacja” Polish Supper: Traditionally, Polish dishes are served from old family recipes.

“Cutting of the Wedding Cake”: The wedding cake is cut by the house party and served by the bridesmaids to the guests.

“Oczepiny” The unveiling of the bride: The unveiling of the bride is one of the oldest and the most important of Polish wedding customs. This tradition is still the mainstay of many polish brides representing a rite of passage from a young women to married a woman. On command by the Druzba, the band performs a drum roll, and the bride is placed on the dance floor in a chair facing the guests. The bridesmaids, the mother of the bride, godmother, grandmothers, groom’s mother stand at the bride’s side and hold lit candles encircling the bride as the mother of the bride removes the bridle veil from the bride’s head as music is played. Usually, “Serdeczna Matko” Beloved Mother is performed and then a Polish Wedding Oberek. During the music, a czepek or cap/bonnet is placed on the brides head and at this moment, the bride is officially considered a married woman. In addition, the bride is given a broom and an apron to wear for the Dollar Dance to follow this tradition.

Throwing the Bouquet: After the unveiling, the bride tosses her bouquet to all the single women in the crowd.

Removing the Garter: The groom removes the garter following the tossing of the bouquet and tosses the garter to all the single men in the crowd.

“Czepek Dance” Dollar Dance: This tradition follows the unveiling ceremony and everyone will get a chance to dance with the bride and groom for a donation. For that donation, you get a jigger of wine, whiskey or candy and a chance to dance with the bride or groom. It is bad luck if you do not dance with the bride or groom at a Polish wedding. It is customary for the groomsmen to encourage all the women and the brides maids to encourage all the men in the crowd to pay for a dance with the bride and groom. They work the hall and engage the guests to take part in this lovely and old tradition. There are other names for this dance such as dollar dance, money dance, brides dance, wine dance and/or the bride and groom dance. In the olden days, the dollar bills were pinned to the brides dress after each person danced with her. Today, a few bills are pinned to her apron to symbolize the jester and the money is put in a bowl and collected at the table. The money collected was passed on to the newlyweds to take on their honeymoon. Again, rarely enough money is collected for a honeymoon, but the symbolism is still relevant. When the dance comes to the end, the groom pulls out his wallet and buys the last dance!

Dajcie Dajcie” Give Give: This is an old tradition of collecting money from the guests by banging on pots and pans. This money was used to help defray the cost of the wedding. (This one may be optional depending on the crowd and the atmosphere that evening)

The departure of the bride and groom: Later that evening, the bride and groom leave for their first night together after they have thanked all the volunteers for helping and all the guests for coming to celebrate their wedding day. Usually, the couple stay until later that night after they have had a chance to visit with all their guests.

“Poprawiny” The Day after the Wedding or Tail End: A standard feature of Polish weddings has been the poprawiny, held on the day after the wedding. This is a follow-up celebration and a way to use up the food and drink left over from the wedding. Traditionally, it is held at the home of the bride’s parents. If it is a two day affair, the next celebration may be at the home of the groom. It is a sign of respect to the family and wedding guests for the bride and groom to attend the poprawiny. They are in effect saying: Our dear family and friends are the most important–the honeymoon can wait. The poprawiny is generally less structured and more relaxed. At this time, family and friends have a chance to discuss and reminisce about the wedding, open the gifts and say good bye to family and friends.

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