Culture

Serbian Wedding Traditions and Customs

Serb wedding

In every society, the most significant thing (in the past) was reproduction. Lack of knowledge and technology made it difficult to save and prevent diseases which contributed to a high mortality rate. 

In Balkan specifically, these circumstances produced specific beliefs and practices by which the common man explained the world around him and protected himself from its dangers. 

Those beliefs became a part of Serbian folk religion and its tradition. Serbian wedding traditions are among the most interesting and well known Serbian customs. 

Wedding, as a way of social reproduction (making babies), was the most important ritual of Serbian society and a big event for individuals (it’s a big day for a bride and a groom even today). 

For that reason, a Serbian wedding is the most complex ritual, imprinted with beliefs and traditions. A Serbian wedding comes with the promise of protection from danger and prosperity for the future.

If you want to make some comparisons between Serbian traditions and other Slav traditions check out our Polish wedding traditions article. 

Serbian Wedding Traditions

In order to better understand Serbian wedding customs, I will briefly present the logic behind Serbian folk religion.

What shaped the Serbian folk religion can be described as imitative and contact magic (yea, it’s spooky). Specifically, this means that certain objects can affect each other through physical or symbolic contact. 

A voodoo doll can serve as an example. What’s that got to do with the wedding, you may ask?

By using their logic, people tried to imitate good things in order to produce good outcomes and vice versa. A wedding is only one of those events where people tried to make the best out of their circumstances.

1. Evil Looks

There is the belief that evil demons and spirits can cast evil magic or curse individuals.  Even the ordinary people with enchanting eyes can be spirits in disguise. In Serbian traditional religion, this person is called “urokljivac”.

For that reason, a Serbian wedding has a lot of elements whose purpose is to protect the newlyweds from those evil eyes. During weddings, nobody should suffer. Instead guests and newlyweds should enjoy the wedding. 

2. Inviting the Wedding Guests

Wedding invitations are usually made a few days before the wedding. The person responsible for this task is the “buklijaš”. Buklijaš is a term from buklija which means a guy decorated with flowers and filled with Serbian brandy called rakija (I like this guy!). 

By tradition, bukljijaš invites the guests by visiting them in their homes, bringing joy and positive vibes (what a dude). In some parts of Serbia, this custom is performed by the groom, with his friends or his best man (usually a few days before the wedding).

3. Arriving at the Wedding

When guests arrive, they are in front of the groom’s house and are greeted by the young girls, who decorate them with rosemary (it sounds very festive).

Serbian wedding guests are first decorated with towels (I mean, we are talking about the custom, don’t ask why). Then, the girls put flowers and rosemary on the guests and their cars (again, it’s only a custom and guests are enjoying it so it’s cool)

A flag bearer with a Serbian flag, on top of which is an apple (because, stop asking questions!) is leading the guests outside. It’s a very old and traditional custom. Also, an apple is a nice touch. 

4. Bride’s Dress

There is a famous saying that a bride at a wedding should wear something new, something blue, something borrowed and something old. In the past, a used dress was passed from mother to daughter, but today Serbian young girls usually wear rented dresses.

A significant element in the Serbian bride’s costume was the covering of the head. Her wreath was a key attribute that had its symbolism through colors, flowers, and the use of various materials.

On the visual plane, it sets her apart from other wedding guests, and on the other hand, has a ritual function to protect her and the guests from bad forces and evil eyes (what about the groom, where is gender equality when you need it?). 

Peacock feathers, ponytail fringes, amulets in the shape of a cross stand out, as well as rows of pearls (that with their sound disperse the evil forces to which she is exposed) are all elements of Serbian traditional weddings.

The wreath on her head expresses a desire for fertility and the veil that covers bride’s head is known even among ancient peoples to have numerous meanings (Serbia is a country of ancient people, compared to other nations) [1].

Protection from the influence of evil forces with the concealment of beauty from the eyes of other men comes from Christian principles, according to which a woman is intended exclusively for her future spouse. 

That’s why only her husband could take the veil off (or she can do it, I mean, custom is one thing but she can do what she wants on her wedding day, right?).

5. Taking the Bride 

Arriving at the bride’s house and taking her away was accompanied by many similar customs. The most famous and certainly the most interesting event is that fact that in a wedding ceremony the bride has to be bought (wait, what?).

Another wedding event that makes a lot of guests happy is the traditional practice of “shooting an apple”. 

6. Shooting an Apple

When the groom comes for his future wife, the father-in-law places an apple on the tallest tree in the yard. Groom has to shoot and hit an apple with a rifle, and prove he is а man worthy of his future bride’s hand (and that he is not a young man anymore).

After her father (and the apple shooting), another obstacle stands in the groom’s way – her brother. 

7. Buying a Bride

In a Serbian wedding tradition, buying the girl is a transaction usually between her brother and groom, his brother or his best man (serbian kum). The price depends on the brother’s creativity [2].

”Buying a bride” on a wedding day is among the most interesting and comical events in Serbian weddings. How does it work? 

Family and friends (serbian svatovi) all stand close together when the groom comes with his best man to offer some money in exchange for the girl. In order to buy her, he needs to make a good offer but he always fails to do so (he is always short of money).

Eventually, they get married but the best man needs time to figure out if it was all a joke or he lost his money irreversibly.

Usually, it is symbolic money which he has to pay, but sometimes the price could be something else, for example, he has to sing a song, etc. 

According to anthropologists such as Cloud Levi Strous, this humorous custom is a relic from the time when women were exchanged between different tribes (I knew it).

After being sold symbolically to the new husband, the future wife receives a blessing from her parents. 

She drinks from a glass, toasts with everyone and throws the glass away. If the glass is broken, it is said that a male child will be born (if not, well, have you heard about the principle of the excluded middle?).

In addition to breaking the courts, a couple can break a chair and tear down the stoves in the room where the wedding party takes place (no, they are not drunk they are honouring the tradition together).

The breaking of courts can also be interpreted in several ways: as forcing out enemy demons, it sometimes has a purely preventive character, in the sense of disabling the evil spirits in advance, etc.

Breaking dishes, especially the ones made out of glass is performed in almost all segments of the traditional wedding in Serbia. After this event, everybody goes to church for the wedding ceremony (and nobody pays the bill for the broken dishes).

8. Church Wedding

When they come to the church, the bride and groom are accompanied by the best man. He gives the newlyweds wedding rings, and they put them on their fingers (I mean, where else?!).

In Serbia, traditional rings are a symbol of marriage – an oath of allegiance between men and women.

A wedding ceremony is conducted by a priest. During the wedding, the bride and groom have their hands tied with a towel which has a symbolic meaning of strengthening the marital union.

After the wedding, the newlyweds are congratulated first by the priest, then by the godparents, best man, and then by all. On the way back, he throws coins around himself (for prosperity and wealthy marriage). 

9. Biedermeier

This is a wedding tradition that is used for centuries in countries all over the world. The future wife throws the biedermeier after leaving the church. 

The girl who catches this traditional flower is next in line to get married (it can produce some comical scenes in Serbian weddings).

In Roman times, bouquets were not made of flowers but of fragrant herbs that drove away evil spirits from the future home of the newlyweds. Today, they have been replaced by lavish arrangements of different types of flowers.

10. The Arrival of the Bride in a New Home

After the wedding ceremony, the couple are together in the groom’s house. People believe that evil spirits could attack them on the way back, so they use a different path (evil spirits don’t know how to use GPS).

11. Jumping Over the Threshold

Entering the groom’s house has a special custom tradition. The groom has to carry his new wife over the doorstep. 

The reason for that can be found in the old belief that an old ancestor and guardian of the house lives there (the guardian is a bit crazy but it’s all part of the wedding ceremony). 

The second reason is to avoid potential traps because according to the old custom, the doorstep, as a narrow passage, is an ideal place for traps (my God, nobody is safe from traps even on their wedding day).

12. Throwing a Sito

Throwing a sieve or sito on the roof, as people say, is another old custom that has roots from the time when Serbian society was mostly agricultural. The bride takes a sieve and throws it on the roof of the house. 

Many people believe that if the sieve is kept on the roof, she will stay in the house. It also symbolizes fertility and numerous offspring in the future. 

13. Mother in Law and Bride

At the door, the mother-in-law greets the bride. She kisses her hand and introduces her to the new home and family. There is nothing like this beautiful part of the wedding ceremony.

In some areas, the bride’s mother-in-law gives her honey in order to make her marriage sweet (and it always works out for the newly married couple). 

In some parts of the county, she even hits her daughter-in-law with a stick or puts a bridle on her head to let her know that she should be obedient (its a traditional wedding, relax, now most of the hitting is done in the bedroom).

Upon entering the house, she raises the male child three times in order to give birth to male children (usually the guests are responsible for bringing children to the wedding). This old custom is called “dizanje nakonjčeta”.

The Bottom Line

Serbian weddings traditionally last three days. Usually, a traditional wedding and all ceremonies around it are never performed during Lent, on wednesdays, fridays, or big Christian holidays, out of respect for the orthodox faith. 

The common thread that connects all the previously described Serbian customs is that it provides the happiness and prosperity to the married couple, at least in a symbolic way, 

The whole wedding ceremony is organized to protect the groom and bride from evil spirits. A wedding is always a big day for both parties and many people like to be part of such events (there is even a big cake).

References:

  1. http://www.iserbiatravel.com/serbian-wedding-mixture-of-tradition-and-modern/ 
  2. https://www.amazon.com/Heart-Serbia-Cultural-Danielle-Sremac/dp/0578107309  

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Posts by the Meet the Slavs Team.

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