It was a rollicking event. Mountains of food. Ample quantities of wine and slivovica (plum brandy, the potent national beverage). Non-stop music. Spirited song. Lively dance. For hours… and hours …. and hours.
For us, festivities got under way at the bride’s home at about 1 p.m. Close friends and family of the bride gathered to savor platters of smoked meat, a variety of pastries, glasses of wine and/or that wicked brandy, while a five-piece band belted out tunes that everyone knew. As guests arrived, Marija, Zrinka’s sister, pinned most with a swig of rosemary decorated with a tiny ribbon of Croatia’s national colors. A tradition, she told me. Close family members and those in the wedding party got small corsages.
As the crowd mushroomed and the liquid refreshment flowed, the party heated up. Most everyone sang – loud, hearty voices. Song after song, mainly jaunty ethnic tunes, and they knew the words to all. They danced, linking arms, making a circle, always in motion.
Several hours later the groom and his family arrived. They had been celebrating in a similar fashion at his home. Another tradition got underway. Instead of his bride-to-be, Bocko was presented with a fake bride, one of Zrinka’s friends, head covered with a white cloth.
The small apartment was crowded, but the celebrants still found room to dance. The merry-making continued until it was time to move on to the church, about 5 p.m. Before departing, Pavle, Zrinka’s father, gave a moving speech to his daughter which brought tears to some.
Zrinka had a maid of honor and Bocko, a best man. Zrinka also had two bridesmaids, but, unlike in the U.S., they wore street clothes instead of matching formal attire. The momentous event was well documented – two video photographers, and another for still shots.
Candles provided a romantic, if not mystical, atmosphere in the old world Catholic church. The ceremony was short, and at the end the bride and groom stepped to the altar to sign numerous documents to make it all official.
Long, long tables stretched across a vast room of a hotel in a town about 20 minutes away where the reception was held. The same band, now wearing matching white “folk costume” shirts, wasted no time to get on with the show. And, the guests were quick to move to the dance floor.
Some 120 guests, a small wedding by Croatian standards, were treated to a wedding meal – more precisely meals. Bottles of wine, juice, cola and vials of slivovica, as well as another type of brandy, sat on the long tables.
The first course was the “obligatory” wedding soup (chicken noodle) which is always served at Croatian weddings. Then bowls of tender boiled beef and carrots. Next came stuffed cabbage in broth. After that, cole slaw and tomatoes. Then, enormous platters with big chunks of pork, lamb, and breaded schnitzel, surrounded by potatoes and mixed vegetables. Wedding cake would not be served until after midnight, so trays of pastries appeared after this over-the-top meal.
“We need lots of food for energy. We dance a lot,” one guest explained when I expressed astonishment as the food kept coming. As the night wore on, the music and dance were equally as astonishing. The band never took a break. Nor did many of the dancers. Song after song, they kept up the pace. The music was part ballroom, part folk, but always energetic.
At midnight, a several-tiered wedding cake arrived. The cutting ceremony was much like that in the U.S., but it was followed by a procession of all the guests who stepped up one by one to greet the happy couple and present their gifts. Most put an envelope with money in a basket held by sister Marija.
In addition to the wedding cake, some seven or eight lavishly decorated cakes covered a table. It’s a tradition that each bridesmaid, as well as any others who wish to display their baking skills, bring a cake. “It’s more like showing off,” Marija said.
Even after all that food, I had to try a few small bites of these delicacies. The wedding cake, layered with fruit and custard, was the clear winner.
I was growing weary, but not the other guests. Maybe if Bob and I were better dancers, we would have been more in the spirit. But, we failed dancing lessons we took years ago when we lived in Germany. So, we sat and watched the joyous revelers.
We were told we had to stay for the traditional goulash served at 2 a.m. Yes, more food, but it was delicious Croatian fare. And, we noticed a few people leaving after goulash, so we, too, said our farewells.
We were back in the same room the next day at 1 p.m. for a luncheon, mainly tasty leftovers from the night before. No music. No song and dance. The party goers, including the bridal couple now wearing jeans, were clearly weary. No wonder. Marija said the dancing went on until 4:30 a.m.
See recipe for “Palachinka” (Croatian crepes) in far column – my husband’s favorite.