How many of us carry on wedding traditions without wondering where they came from or how they got started because they are so ingrained in our culture? Did you know the English believed that a spider found in a wedding gown is good luck? Seriously, if I found a spider in my wedding gown, said gown would need to be cleaned before any vows were exchanged.
Although most think of diamonds as the traditional wedding jewel, that custom didn’t get started until sometime in the 1500’s and began as a Venetian custom. In the symbolic language of jewels, a sapphire wedding ring means marital happiness but a pearl engagement ring is said to be bad luck because its shape echoes a tear. On the other hand, snake rings dotted with ruby eyes were popular wedding bands in Victorian England, their winding tails symbolizing eternity. Spiders and snakes; there seems to be a pattern here.
Closer to my family tree, although I’ve personally never witnessed this, besides rice to ensure fertility the bride and groom could be showered with peas and lentils at a Czech wedding.
In Holland, a pine tree is planted outside the newlywed’s home as a symbol of fertility and luck. Personally, this one sounds better than being pelted with pellets.
South Africa has a very sweet old custom of the parents of both the bride and groom carrying fire from their own hearths to light a new fire in the newlywed’s hearth. To me this speaks volumes about the acceptance of both families and wonderful new beginnings.
Ever wonder about why we have wedding cake? The tradition supposedly comes from ancient Rome where cakes were made of wheat and barley and after the ceremony the groom broke it over the brides head as a symbol of her fertility. Again, was someone spiking the punch because I’m not getting the connection?
Modern Italian brides may carry a white silk or satin purse called a “busta” to carry wedding gifts of money given during the dancing which might features the traditional folk “Tarantella” or tarantula dance; again more spiders. I much prefer the custom of giving five sugared almonds that represent health, wealth, long life, fertility and happiness to each guest.
There is a lovely old French custom practiced at receptions, of the bride and groom each pouring a glass of wine from different vineyards into their glasses and then mixing them into another glass and each drinking from it.
One of the reasons June weddings are thought to be auspicious was because the Roman goddess Juno ruled over marriage, the hearth and childbirth. I don’t honestly think I know anyone that has been married in June. Winter and fall seem to be the seasons/months of choice in my family circle.
Hand-fasting was popular before Christianity took hold. Couples would cross and join hands, forming the symbol for eternity and pledge to stay together for a year and a day. If all was well after that time they could decide to stay joined. In many cultures the hands of the bride and groom are literally tied together to demonstrate their commitment to each other, giving us the phrase “tying the knot”. Going back further; ancient Roman brides wore a girdle of knots that the groom untied before consummating the marriage.
Although I’m Italian on my father’s side, my husband and I share a Croatian/Polish heritage and these are the weddings that I remember most. The wedding ceremony itself usually occurs in the morning with the reception that evening. First let me tell you that there are copious amounts of food and dancing at our wedding receptions.
Ever hear of the “Chicken Dance”? It’s a polka that is truly as ridiculous as it sounds and everyone gets into the act from the children to the great-grandparents. You open and close your fingers as if they were a beak, then flap your arms like wings, “shake your tail feathers” and clap four times before you turn and swing a partner around. If you’ve ever had a strenuous workout that was so much fun you forgot you were working out, that’s the best way I can describe this silly polka.
If we aren't dancing we’re eating. Some of our more traditional dishes, Kielbasa or as it’s known at our house, Polish Sausage, sauerkraut, pierogi’s, povitica and traditional kolatchky (filled nut cookies) are just a few of the dishes served and most of the time made by family members.
I’m leaving you today with a recipe for Pierogi, little potato and cheese filled dumplings that are a staple at most of our gatherings, including weddings.
1 c. flour 3-5 potatoes, boiled and drained
1 egg ½-1 onion, chopped & sautéed in butter
¼ t. salt 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
About 4 T. cold water
Mix the flour, egg, and salt with enough water to make medium-soft dough. Knead well; then roll thin. Cut into squares to make about 40 appetizer size portions.
Mash your potatoes and add the sautéed onion and cheddar cheese, salt and pepper to taste and use as filling for pierogi. Place 1 t. (or whatever amount you need to fill the size you’re making) filling in center of each square or circle, fold over and pinch the edges to seal.
Drop into boiling, salted water and cook until the pierogi float to the top. Drain and place on platter.
Melt about a half stick of margarine or butter (if using butter, heat and skim off all white milk solids—this is what burns when you fry them) and fry until golden or pour the melted butter over the boiled pierogi and keep warm until served.
Tradition is what calls us back and reminds us of whom we are and what better time for that than a celebration of a bride and groom’s new life together.
Until next month,