First of all. I havent been to many American weddings but I think I can say I understand what most of them are like or at least have a general idea of their most important features. The actual ceremony at the church and the reception afterward which may or may not have food with certain traditions namely the cutting of the cake, throwing the bouquet and the garter belt. But other than that American weddings are extremely lacking in tradition and are fairly tame in comparison to a Moldovan wedding.
I had heard many tales of what Moldovan weddings are usually like and most of what I heard was completely true. Such as the fact that they start later, they dont take place at the church and they last all night long. I was a little worried about tackling this adventure on my own so I let everyone in Peace Corps know I was going to a wedding and asked if anyone wanted to accompany me. I was lucky enough to grab one of my friends from training site in Truseni to come with me. But little did I know what laid in wait for me...
We left the house at around 6:00 in the evening to head out to the wedding. Because I have yet to mention it I should probably say that the wedding was for my school directors daughter and one of the teachers at my school. So first our first stop was to my school directors house. Once we got there we encountered two well filled tables of food set up on the outdoor patio with already 20 or so guests socializing with each other. This is probably where I should mention the next big difference between American and Moldovan weddings: the amount of alcohol involved. Now I know in many American weddings alcohol flows freely but in general in America if you decided to have a wedding without alcohol or even with just limited amounts of champagne that would be seen as perfectly acceptable. In Moldova, however, the alcohol is part of the traditions attached to the wedding and therefore is almost always present at every wedding and available in very large quantities. But enough of that I'll continue with my story. I was served a glass of champagne and as per tradition said my toast to the health and future prosperous life of the bride and groom and to the director and her husband. Once the toast was complete the feast began and I loaded up on some fruit and cake and made my way to find a nice place to sit out of the way of the action. But that was easy to do because even though there were quite a few people in not so big of a patio it wasn't very loud and everyone tended to just sit in their seat and speak with those around them. I should take point to note that there was a second party such as this taking place somewhere else in town with the guest of the groom. At this point the bride and groom are separated and the bride was taking residence inside the house and I didn't even know she had been there until about an hour later when the groom arrived at the house to claim her.
At this point the groom made his way up the walkway being slowed down by the brides brother and asked to perform tasks in order to be permitted closer to the house, such as declaring his love for the bride three times in as loud as a voice as he could. Once the groom finally arrives he headed inside and most of us on the outside could not tell what was going on...however a few minutes after he made it in someone came out looking for someone who knew how to tie a tie...and I was the only person who raised their hand, even though my friend also knew she just didn't volunteer, which is what I think the rest most have been doing because I saw quite a few men with ties on and unless they were clip ons I'm not sure how they would have gotten dressed themselves for the wedding. But anyway, to continue with my story I headed inside and was lead to the bride and groom and was asked to tie the grooms tie since whoever had tied it before did not do such a great job. Personally I think this contribution on my part made me an integral part of the wedding...but thats just me. Either way it gave me an opportunity to finally see the bride and groom together for the first time.
After a lot of pictures were taken of the bride and groom together inside we finally headed out to the waiting minibuses and made our way to the real wedding which would take place in a reception hall in the larger, neighboring town. I was caught off guard immediately once we stepped inside because it was a very nice place and there was a live band playing Moldovan folk music in traditional Moldovan dress. There was also 4 dancers dressed in traditional Moldovan dress that basically ran the ceremony by being the ones that people were watching and by setting up things as we moved from one Moldovan tradition to the next. For instance as we arrived we all greeted the bride and groom and their family and were ushered over to the table where the dancers were preparing champagne as we walked by.
The actual marriage ceremony took place pretty quickly after we arrived and was lead by a simple justice of the peace sort of person who read them the marriage vows and called upon them to sign the marriage certificate. At about this time the wedding had barely begun and it was already 9:30. After a quick hora with just the family in the middle of the room with the rest of the room watching we all left and went to our seats at tables that were very full of food. It might have been late already but everyone took this opportunity to have what was probably their fourth meal and talk with everyone at their table. For the next few hours the time was spent interspersed with heading to the dance floor to dance the hora and then back to the table to eat more food or drink a little coffee. In between there was also drinking a lot of toast to family members as they made their rounds to all of the tables.
By around 3:00 or so the dancers began to bring in the gifts and laid them down near the family or in some cases on or around the family members. After which the real gift giving commenced. At a Moldovan wedding it is not enough to simply bring a gift. A monetary gift is also necessary, generally this ranges from around 50 US dollars on the lower end to about 1,500 Euros if you are the bride's parents. Normally at this point every one would give a speech and finish by saying something a long the lines of, "on the part of the Smith family we give 200 dollars." Basically announcing to the whole wedding congregation how much your family was giving. But this particular wedding was a little more secretive in that we were provided with an envelope for each family and instead of everyone giving a speech only one person from each table gave a speech and then everyone from the table handed in their envelopes without announcing how much they had given...though the envelopes had our names written on them so the family would find out later. Also one thing I noticed about Moldovan toast or speeches is that they are always very generic and follow basically the same formula. "I wish you much happiness, good health and many years to live and prosper." At this wedding they usually added in something about also having a strong stone house and having many children. Which are great things to wish for but seem so impersonal in comparison to American toast at weddings in which people discuss the bride and groom. Maybe even retell an anecdote or two about their character before tailoring their speech based on the actual bride and groom. But I digress.
After the money speeches came the throwing of the bouquet and the bride and groom getting wrapped up and covered with any and all of the clothing or textile portions of their gifts. The veil was also taken off of the bride and put onto the next person who will be having a wedding which in this case just so happened to be the bride's brother and his fiancee.
I left for a little while to see my friend to the bus station so when I returned the wedding was officially over so I didn't get to see what was the definitive end though I can tell you it couldn't have come soon enough because by that point it was already 5:30 and the sun was well on its way past rising. I finally made it home on the minibus at around 6:00 and went straight to sleep and didn't wake up to about 1:30. Now the real fun for me will be when I have to get up at about 5 tomorrow to head to a meeting and then getting up again at 7 the next day to head to Chisinau to start my vacation. I dont think I'll make it back to a normal sleeping rhythm until well into the middle of June. But at least I'm keeping myself busy.
|Preparing the wedding papers to be signed.|
|Dancing the hora.|
|The live band which played all night with very few breaks. Also on the left you can see the male dancers...not sure where the female dancers ran off to at this point.|
|This is one food item I did recognize, Racituri, or chicken jello as I like to call it. A very traditional Moldovan dish.|
|Being entertained around midnight to keep us awake|
|The bride and groom literally being showered with gifts.|