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Weddings

A hundred or fifty years ago the wedding season - autumn and winter - used to bring a lot of joy to Lithuanian villages. Girls used to begin their preparations for marriage in their early teens. They span and wove linen and wool for presents, for herself and for her future husband and children. After the ostensibly playful but really rather tough negotiations over the bride's dowry, the family drank the bottle of wine brought by the prospective son-in-law, which the bride adorned with a wreath of rue, and the preparations for the wedding started. If the bride changed her mind, the bottle had to be reimbursed. After the bans in the church, the bride never appeared publicly alone, even in church she prayed surrounded by her friends. A few days before the wedding both the bride's and the bridegroom's families sent out messengers who invited relatives and neighbours to the wedding party. Up until World War 11 in some regions, for example among Zemaitians, Suvalkians, Dzukians and Prussian Lithuanians, this messenger used to be the main figure all through the wedding. In Zemaitija and Aukstaitija guests were invited to the wedding party by the bride and bridegroom or their parents. The wedding messenger was usually a witty and eloquent man from among the relatives or good friends. He was given a two- or three- branched stick with a ribbon and a bell (more rarely, silver rings) tied to it. He wore his best clothes and a hat with a white band. His horse was decorated with a flower fixed in the harness near its ear.

To maintain his dignity the wedding messenger never went deep into the house. He stopped at the threshold, rang his bell and started his speech. He addressed both the grown-ups and the children. If there were any young people in the family, his speech was longer. It was always full of witticisms and humour. After saying on whose behalf he was speaking, where the wedding was going to take place and how long it would last, the messenger went on to describe the future wed- ding in some such way: "Mr. Ambrasa is no beggar, he has always be- en rather well off. Before I left, he had killed five oxen and now he has a mountain of meat. We invite you to partake of a hen's leg and a tit's liver. If you feel it is not enough, we have two sparrows which are being fattened. When they are fried, everyone will be satisfied..." Or: "Please come, but don't rely entirely on us, bring some food for yourself, for you may or may not find enough food in our house. If you bring no- thing, you'll have to go home hungry," The messenger used to deliver his speech with his hat on, and said hello at the end of his speech be- cause he was afraid he might laugh in the middle of his speech. When the invitation was accepted, young girls gave presents - ribbons, sashes, handkerchiefs, mufflers, which they used to hang on his stick.

The speeches of all wedding messengers were similar, differences concerned mainly the way they were delivered.

In the 19th century wedding parties lasted four days. They used to start on Tuesday when the bride said goodbye to her flower garden, to her parents, neighbours and friends and asked them to forgive her if she had ever hurt them by word or by deed.

The other important figures of the wedding were the match maker, matron of honour and dowry carriers.

The parents used to procure dowry chests for their daughters well in advance, Dowry chests were often made of the wood of a tree inhabited by storks, for storks were believed to bring luck and babies. The bride kept a lot of things in her dowry chests - her jewelry, documents, letters, money, her rue wreath, dresses for her future first-born, candles, medicinal herbs and, of course, her linen. The number, size, and beauty of her dowry chests was the indication of the bride's wealth, taste and industry. Thus in the Lithuanian tradition dowry chests have become veritable objects of art.

Dowry carriers wore hats and towels tied across their shoulders. The relatives of the bride sat on the dowry chests and pretended they were unwilling to give them away. To make the chests heavier they sometimes put stones inside them. The dowry carriers tried to fetch as many things from the bride's home as possible. They "stole" household utensils, hens and some other small things. Usually they returned those things later, but sometimes they did not.

Only a small part of the wedding traditions has survived to the pre- sent day. Some traditions have been simplified quite considerably. Nowadays the bride says good-bye to her parents and family on the morning of the wedding day. The cars in which the wedding party leaves are adorned with flowers and ribbons.

After the wedding in church or in the Registrar's Office the wedding party's way home is often barred and roped with garlands of flowers. The match maker and the bridegroom's friends have to buy out their passage with sweets and a bottle of whiskey. the last garland is usually stretched across the gate of her home. The parents meet the newly- weds at the threshold with bread and salt and wine glasses of pure water. While coming back from church, the wedding party usually gives out sweets to children all along their way.

Inside the house the wedding party usually find the seats at the table occupied by neighbours, "gypsies", another bride who is actually a man in disguise, and another bridegroom who is a woman. Both groups start haggling over the price of the seats and in the end, after much banter and laughter, the seats are sold for a bottle of whiskey. The backs of the bride's and bridegroom's chairs are adorned with wreaths of flowers. On trying the first bite of food the guests find it bitter and start singing the traditional song: "Bitter, bitter is the food. It will be sweet when the bridegroom kisses the bride". Then there are lot of funny instructions to the bridegroom how to do it better.

A very important part is played in the wedding by the matron of honour who is usually a married woman, closely related to the bride. In church she and her partner stand next to the bride and bridegroom. She is usually responsible for the meal on the last day of the wedding.

The duties of the master of ceremonies used to be performed by the wedding messenger, but now he has been replaced in this function by the match maker or the matron of honour's partner.

At present one of the funniest moments during a wedding party is the execution of the match maker. Toward the end of the wedding party the bride's relatives come to realize that their sister has been taken in by the promises of the match maker. Having proved that his description of the bridegroom's possessions was highly exaggerated they decide to hang the match maker. Sometimes he is sentenced to death by burning him in water, by freezing on the stove or by sending him to sleep in a hay loft with all the girls of the neighbourhood. The match maker asks to be allowed to say goodbye to his friends. Then he smears his face with soot and tries to kiss every woman in the house. The wit- tier is the match maker, the funnier is his "execution". At last the bride or her mother takes pity on the poor man and as a sign of her forgiveness she throws a towel across his shoulder. The match maker is saved and the merry guests hang a dummy match maker instead.

Another merry wedding tradition is the handing over of the bride's rue wreath to the chief bride girl. A lot of merriment is also created by musicians.

Now people, especially those who are members of all sorts of ethnographic groups, are trying to revive as many ancient wedding traditions as possible. It is customary nowadays for a wedding party to last two days.



next previous contents
Next: Funerals Previous: FAMILY CUSTOMS

J. Kudirka "THE LITHUANIANS"

Copyright ©, 1996 Lithuanian Folk Culture Centre.