Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. We all know where this came from, don’t we? Wedding customs exist in every culture, and they aren’t showing any signs of weakening in popularity. As a matter of fact, some more scrupulous people observe them in such detail that they ruin the fun for everyone. There’s nothing like a superstitious aunt taking good care that the bride and groom don’t meet on that day until standing in front of the altar, for fear of bad luck.
Whether or not you like the aunt’s beliefs, they add a certain kind of charm to the romantic wedding itself. And Croatia, being a very romantic country, is also a perfect place to get hitched. So in case if you want to spice up your vacation with a marriage ceremony and turn the whole voyage into a honeymoon experience, here is a guide on Croatian wedding customs. You probably already know some of them, but others are sure to be a complete revelation.
Before a small box with an expensive ring came into fashion, young Croatian men proposed marriage with a piece of fruit referred to as obiljezje (the mark). Basically, it’s an ordinary apple with coins stuck into it. If the girl accepted it, the obiljezje would mark her with the man who proposed, thus making them engaged.
In some cases, coins would be replaced by other items, such as candy or even cookies such as paprenjak.
Buying the bride
A custom that is quite bizarre yet frequently practiced by Croats is the custom of buying the bride in front of her house. The groom arrives with musicians, his best man and other participants of the celebration in the groom’s party, yelling into a window that he wants to marry a girl. The door is then opened, usually by male family members of the bride’s. They acknowledge the existence of a bride inside, but they are not just giving her away.
From this point on in, several options are available. Sometimes, the groom bids and barters for the bride but the family refuses to sell, deeming his offers too low. In the end the family gives her away for free if the groom promises to love her with all his heart.
Sometimes, however, money is not an issue. The groom has to prove his own worth to the bride’s family. This includes providing a glass of his own hand-made rakija, and if it is good, he may have the bride. In other cases, he needs to do a certain amount of push-ups in order to show physical strength, or even sing a song about bride’s beauty.
The bride’s family, however, may try to “cheat” the groom by selling him a false bride. This includes a rugged doll dressed in a wedding gown, or the bride’s grandmother in one as well. After realizing their fraud, the groom asks for the real girl to come out.
After the sale is agreed upon and the groom proves himself worthy of the bride, her family joins the group outside and both parties leave for the church.
Barjaktar can be translated as a “banner holder.” It is a person who carries and waves the Croatian flag in front of the wedding procession on their way to Church, town hall, or a banquet hall. It is seen as a very important duty, given to people with a long history of being loud, funny and slightly crazy. You’ll see them hanging out the window of the cars as the procession makes its way around town from one location to the next.
Protecting the bride
As most Croats are Roman Catholic, marital ceremonies are usually preformed in churches. While in the past wedding gowns were always white, symbolizing the bride’s virginity, modern life slightly altered this practice so other colors are acceptable as well.
In ancient times, it was believed that evil spirits wished to jinx the bride on the day of her wedding. To defend her from this accursed danger, people developed several efficient countermeasures including putting the much-known veil over her face. She could remove it safely only after the ceremony was completed, seconds before the groom’s kiss.
Another way of protecting the bride was to chase off the evil spirits away. In order to do so, several participants of the celebration would wear masks and create as much noise as possible (as every ghost hunter knows, nothing chases away devils from hell better than senseless noise). The use of firearms, such as hunting rifles fired in air, is quite welcome. It should be noted, however, that these customs are not practiced too much these days, and are almost utterly extinct in urban areas.
Other old customs were used to determine who will be the real leader of the house once the couple began living together. After the actual wedding, the two would try to step on each other’s feet. If the groom succeeded to do so before the bride, he would be the head of the house. On the other hand, if the bride managed to step on the groom’s foot, she would call the shots in marriage. In another version, the newly wedded pair would race to the church doors. The winner would run the house.
The celebration (and after it)
After church, everybody leaves for a restaurant or a catering site where they celebrate the newly wedded couple. However, the customs don’t stop there. In addition to the universally known event during which the bride tosses the bouquet amongst unwed girls and the one who catches it is believed to be the next bride, the male oriented variation of the custom also exists in Croatia, where the groom throws the bride’s garter, and the male who catches it will get married next.
At some point during the celebration, a long line is formed in front of the couple as people gift them with money or household items. In case you are one of the invited people, you should consider the couple’s needs, as getting five microwave ovens will not help them that much. Giving them money is not considered rude.
The best man’s speech and a big wedding cake are pretty common.
And just before everything is over, the bride has several more tasks to perform. Before the groom carries her over the threshold of her new home, she is supposed to throw something over the roof. In some parts of Croatia, it is a glass of rakija, while in others, it’s an ordinary apple. If the thrown item fails to reach the roof and returns to the bride, it is believed she will also return to home (in other words, the couple will divorce).
Finally, once the bride enters the room, the groom’s mother gives her a glass of wine. If she drinks it and throws it over her right shoulder, the two women will get along fine. Another variation is that of the groom’s mother giving the bride a spoonful of soup to taste, and compliment.
There are many more regional customs related with wedding in Croatia. But to note them all, not to mention observe them with caution, would take nerves of steel on what is an already stressful day. And stressful days really shouldn’t be associated with Croatia.