What does a traditional wedding look like in the Czech Republic? Is it similar to yours or different?
In the Czech Republic there are two places where you can get married: in a church or at a city hall. I won’t say which is better, but for me a wedding at a city hall is very cold and impoverished. I will describe it for you. When you go to the city hall to get married the ceremony takes only a few minutes and other couples are there to have ceremonies before and after you. My cousin got married at our city hall. After his ceremony another couple went through their ritual. Then there was another and then another. It looked like an assembly line for making cars in a factory. Even when we were finished, we couldn’t drive away because the parking lot was jammed with cars and there were still three weddings to go!
So I’ve decided that I will describe a traditional church wedding with all the beauty, pretentiousness, dignity and loftiness of a Christian religious ceremony. It was my own experience.
The festive day starts at the home of the bride. All the relatives of the bride and groom assemble there to prepare and decorate their cars. We usually fix white ribbons to the hood, windshield and rear window. The car conveying the bride has a special decoration… Usually a small doll with a white, wedding dress and a veil, two golden rings, or a big bouquet of flowers.
Sprigs of myrtle are attached to the wedding guests. Most importantly, the bride and groom formally thank their parents: „Dear parents, we would like to thank you for your education, love, care, and patience, and we humbly ask you for your blessing on our marriage and our future life together.“ Mothers often cry at this time because the scene is very moving.
Then it is high time to get to the church, and everyone involved in the wedding: the bride, the groom, the witnesses and both sets of parents, drive to the church honking their car horns.
A long line of couples forms in front of the church. First comes the groom with his mother, then the witnesses are followed by all the other relatives, and last of all are the bride and her father. The organ plays the wedding march while the people slowly proceed to the altar for the ceremony.
As a prelude, the priest usually speaks about marriage, how the partners should live together and how they should educate their children. Then the actual marriage ceremony can begin … the bride and groom exchange marital vows. Facing her betrothed and following the priest, the bride repeats, „I, (She gives her Christian name.), submit to you and accept you as my husband. My dear, I promise that I will reserve for you my love, fidelity, and reverence and that I will never leave you. I will endure everything during good times and bad, so help me, God.” The groom makes a similar promise, and they give each other gold rings with their names engraved on them. Then the priest says: „You may kiss each other; you are now husband and wife.”
I think a church wedding is esteemed because God is present above the partners and blesses them, giving the ceremony great power and importance. The marriage partners not only promise love, fidelity, and reverence to each other, but they do so before God, The Supreme Witness to their oath.
At the end of the Mass, the new partners leave the church arm in arm and find a surprise waiting for them: their friends have prepared a special show and they must play the leading roles. Friends give the bridegroom a yoke and the bride a whip to symbolize the dominance of the woman in getting her husband under her slipper.
Perhaps the most curious action is when his friends hitch a ball and chain to the bridegroom’s ankle, as if he were a criminal. His marriage is like a prison because it should last forever. The man can say, “Aaaah! It’s just like being in prison!” But his friends are adamant and throw the key to the clasp into a pool, a fountain or the grass. This puts the bridegroom in a predicament: he can go into the water for the key with his very heavy ball or take a saw and try to cut it off.
Of course his friends are only teasing him and they have spare keys, but they still demand that he pay ransom to be rid of that heavy ball. This should symbolize the fact that he would pay a heavy price (not only money, but in other ways too) if he should ever leave his wife in the future. After this symbolic play, everyone goes to the restaurant that has been reserved for them to celebrate, eat and dance.
Upon entering the restaurant, the new partners follow another tradition: the bride breaks a plate on the floor and the groom must sweep up the pieces. This shows symbolically that the husband should help his wife in the home and that she is not his maidservant. Then the bridegroom takes his bride in his arms and carries her over the threshold.
Before the meal, the father of the bride proposes a festive toast. The meal can then begin, but yet another obstacle has been prepared for the newlyweds: they must share the same napkin tied around their necks like a bib and feed each other! Of course this means the soup too and the main dish and dessert. It’s really strange and difficult for them, but this tradition symbolizes their unity. It shows them that they will live life together in bad times as well as good.
Then everyone eats a lot of food and sweets and drinks enough wine…it’s a really big blow-out … and it is during this time that the relatives and other guests present their wedding congratulations.
The afternoon is lively in a different way. The newlyweds can relax. They have mastered the most difficult things and they can enjoy themselves. Happy music is played by a live-music group or a stereo system and the newlyweds dance the first dance together. The usual dances are the polka (Czechs invented the polka. „Roll Out the Barrel“ is a Czech song.), the Viennese waltz, and later, when everyone is in high spirits, they dance rock and roll, the samba, the czardas, the drake (this is a very funny dance)…and so on.
During this free and easy time some relatives take advantage of the situation to kidnap the bride and take her to a nearby disco or some other public place where they hold her hostage, drink and amuse themselves while they wait for the bridegroom to come looking for her. They see how long it takes him to start to miss his new wife and come looking for her. Sometimes this makes for a tricky situation. Once a bridegroom couldn’t find his wife for three hours! He didn’t understand the joke and took offense, but usually it’s amusing and livens up the evening. When the bridegroom finds his wife, he must buy her back to symbolize how much he values her, and if he passes this test good-naturedly his bride is usually very amused.
In the evening more friends are invited and the really wild amusement starts. What they do is up to them. They might prepare a comic theater or a parody for the newlyweds, or a competition or fun and games. There really is no limit to what they might do, but it is all done for fun and to express their joy that the deed is done and the marriage sealed.
I have described a traditional wedding for you, but of course every family has its own traditions and entertainment too. The things I have described are the traditions that you can see at nearly every wedding in the Czech Republic. What do you think? Do you get married this way too? Would you like to? Do you know something better?
Poznámka: korektura prof. Thomas Campbell / photos from our wedding 2008 and my brother´s wedding 2014