Bulgarian Wedding Traditions

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Bulgaria is a land steeped in tradition. Many of its ancient traditions, including its wedding traditions, are still practiced today, little changed from 500 years ago.

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The pre-engagement and full-engagement rites

Even today many couples still observe the ancient engagement rites just as they have been handed down for generations. Even in ancient times a wedding required the agreement of the bride, something not true in many cultures.

Traditionally the prospective groom would send his closest friend to his intendeds home to ask her father for his blessing.

If the father agreed to the marriage he would then ask his daughter three times if she wished to marry. If she answered Yes all three times then she was considered pre-engaged and the prospective groom was invited to the house.

The actual engagement takes place on a holiday or on a Sunday. Relatives and neighbors are invited and a small feast is held.

It is during this meeting that details of the marriage are agreed upon. An agreement made during this engagement feast is considered legal and binding. The engagement lasts from one day to a year or even longer depending on local customs.

Just before the marriage ceremony is to take place the grooms friends throw him a bachelor party and the brides friends throw her a party as well.

In olden times there was a great deal of ritual involved with the parties, but today the parties are similar to the parties in the United States or Western Europe.

Even so, this is a time for the man and the woman to bid their single friends farewell
Pre-wedding rituals

Most weddings in Bulgaria take place on Sunday. On the preceding Thursday the brides mother performs the ritual kneading of the bread (pitka). The rising of the dough symbolizes the creation of a new family unit.

At the same time the husband-to-bes best man must make the wedding banner. There is a great deal of ritual associated with the wedding banner.

The pole for the banner must be from a fruit-bearing tree and the 6-foot-long pole must be chopped from the tree with a single ax stroke.

An apple or an onion wrapped in foil is pierced onto the top of the pole, and a hand-woven kerchief is attached to the pole along with colorful ribbons, ivy, and strings of popcorn.

Early on the morning of the wedding the grooms family and friends gather at his home. His friends pour barley over him and fire rifles into the air to ward off any evil spirits. This is also where the groom bids farewell to his parents and asks for their blessing.

There is then a procession to the best mans home. The procession is joyful with much dancing, music and singing.

The groom presents the best man with wine and a baked chicken and from that point on the best mans word is law as far as the wedding plans go.

The best woman (often the best mans wife) and the best man then lead the procession to the brides house where they present the bride with wine, the bridal veil, candles and baked candies.

Once the wedding party arrives at the brides home there is much merrymaking and the bride is locked in a room and only the best woman can visit her until the groom and the best man bargain to be let in.

The best woman then tries to put the brides veil on three times; twice the bride rejects the veil and only accepts it on the third attempt.

Finally the bride and groom are led outside, each holding the end of a long woven cloth where more rituals are performs to keep evil spirits away from the couple.

Then the soon-to-be bride throws a dish filled with wheat, coins and a raw egg over her head. If the dish smashes into many pieces it is considered good luck.

The procession from the brides house to the church is noisy and cheerful. Fireworks are often set off, there is the beating of drums, and the procession often stops to dance.

However, it is considered bad luck for two unmarried brides-to-be to meet face-to-face, so if two bridal processions are winding through the streets they take great care not to meet each other.

The marriage ceremony rituals

It is considered good luck for the bride and the groom to each step into the church with their right foot first.

The wedding ceremony itself is often rather short, but interspersed with folk songs. At the conclusion of the ceremony the bride and groom exchange rings and the traditional wedding kiss. Once the official wedding papers are signed another wedding custom is the stepping.

Whoever steps on the others foot first will be dominate and provide for the new family.

The reception

In days past there would be a loud and boisterous wedding procession to the grooms house for the wedding reception. In modern times the reception is generally held in a restaurant. It is at the reception that the grooms mother traditionally meets the new family.

She lays a long, white hand-woven cloth at the door for the newly-married couple to enter on and she throws flowers in their path as a symbol of health, happiness and purity in their new life together.

The grooms mother feeds the newlyweds a sweet honeyed cake and wine and wishes them a long and sweet life together.

She then holds a loaf of freshly-baked bread over her head and invites the couple to each pull one end of it; whichever one gets the bigger piece will have the biggest role in the new family.

And then the music and the dancing begins.

Dancing is a large part of the Bulgarian wedding reception ritual. In some parts of the country it is even customary for the bride and groom to dance to receive their wedding cake.

Of all the countries in Europe, few can compare to Romania for fun, exuberance and in maintaining the richness of their traditional wedding customs.