An Albanian wedding is a momentous affair, jam-packed with custom and etiquette that often begins on a Thursday at the bride’s home with preparations and visits to view the dowry, and culminates in the early hours of Monday morning at the Groom’s wedding dinner party. Over the course of the wedding days family and friends take part in various traditions but most importantly they sing and dance sustained with copious and generous amounts of food and toasts because tradition demands it. By the end of which the old Albanian saying holds true “One gets married and one hundred get crazy”.
As has always been the case, young people reflect their changing times and want to have fun at their party. Their dilemma now is whether to have a traditional or modern style wedding. In recent years there will be DJ’s and slide shows of how the couple fell in love. Also throughout the Wedding Days you will experience long held traditions such as burning the white “bachelor’s” handkerchief during the Napoleon dance, guests throwing and the father showering money over the couple and fireworks have replaced people firing shots into the air to announce the wedding couple. And importantly, if you are offered an alcoholic drink do not decline. You will come to understand the significance of the delightful traditions woven into this epic event over the coming chapters.
The Bride’s Dowry (Paja)
Throughout the ages and across many cultures, the importance of a bride’s dowry to both the bride, the groom and their extended families is never to be underestimated. It compensates for the loss to her family but also the added cost to his family. From the bride’s perspective, she brings with her security, status and honour – these attributes by extension reflect upon her family. But it also signifies a vital connection to her extended clan and community by strengthening their social ties and ensuring their future sustainability. From the groom’s perspective, the dowry is the transfer of wealth from the bride’s family to his, even though it remains under her ownership and control.
In Albania there are many nuances across the coastal, northeast and southeast regions. However every item is needed to start her life in the new home such as table and bedroom linen, furniture, clothes, jewellery and presents for all the groom’s relatives. In return the groom’s family also gives presents and money to the bride and her family including jewellery and money. In olden times the bride used to display her dowry of golden coins on necklaces and belts.
Traditionally Thursday is the day when the wedding starts with guests viewing her dowry at which they are offered Turkish delight, sweet sherry for the women and liquor for the men, which is considered a dire offence to refuse.
The Groom’s Best Men (Krushqit)
The poor groom, so formidable is the task of getting married that he needs a large contingency of close male family and friends at his side – enter the Krushqit! This group of men, usually larger than 10, have the groom their centre with his father and the best man, usually an uncle, alongside to support him through the proceedings. On the Friday night at the traditional bride’s weeding dinner, the Krushqit and grooms family must be very careful to observe etiquette arriving around midnight and be an odd number. Their job is to sing, dance and on the Sunday travel with the groom in a convoy of decorated cars to the bride’s family to ask for her hand in marriage and then accompany the newlyweds back to the groom’s home. Strangely the convoy with the newlyweds’ car draped in the Albanian flag must take a circuitous route home as they cannot travel the same journey back.
The flowers to the bride
One of the most beautiful and simplest of gestures throughout is on the wedding day when a little girl from the groom’s family presents the bride with her bouquet. This happens when the Krushqit and grooms family arrive to bring the bride home. As she leaves her father’s house for the last time rice and sugar is thrown over her to mark her passage.
The time has arrived for the bride to leave her home for the last time. During all the preparations, viewings and feasts of the previous 3 days, she has stood or sat poised and contained with a very somber manner. However, at this moment of final departure, it is customary for the bride, alongside her family, to break down and cry.
On the Sunday afternoon the groom finally welcomes his new wife into his family home. To announce their arrival, a very masculine demonstration of staking claim and victory is acknowledged with gunfire. In modern times, some people have chosen to use fireworks instead but the effect is still equally dramatic.
Honey and Bread
The next step in the ceremony moves into the feminine domain. It is now the turn of the groom’s mother to great her daughter-in-law with bread and honey. Honey is considered a symbol of prosperity and fertility, while bread offers peace of mind and prosperity. A similar gesture to the sugar and rice when she left her home, to marks a considerate and symbolic harmony and continuity, this time wishing her son and his new bride have a marriage as sweet as honey.
Money under the Sandals
Children often serve in the proceedings. Their presence offers charm, innocence and a real sense of honest welcoming. After the bride has been greeted by her mother-in-law, a young boy obligingly removes her sandals. Interestingly the bride has crossed her groom’s family threshold with hidden gifts – tucked into the show is money. In gratitude and trust he sits on her lap – a gesture used to symbolize good luck in fertility, especially to bear baby boys.
Traditional folk dance and a lot of money
The wedding ceremony is a lavish affair. In olden times the bride’s wedding dinner party was held on the Saturday and the groom’s on the Sunday but now a days the two are commonly joined. Throughout the Wedding Day you will experience long held traditions such as the newlyweds’ choreographed dance during which guests throw and the father showers money over the couple. Another custom involves burning the white “bachelor’s” handkerchief during the Napoleon dance which symbolizes the couples’ commitment to married life and therefore is not a good omen if it stops burning half way through!
Kulac (loaf of bread)
One of the sweetest customs is represented in the sharing of the traditional loaf of bread. The Kulac is broken in half between the bridal couple on the first breakfast together. The bread itself represents prosperity and contentment. However, hidden in this ordinary loaf are coins which determine who will be loved and accepted more. Once the pair has each counted their gains, the one with the most amount of coins is said to have stolen the heart of the other.