This is Part 1 of a 4-part story on Bulgarian wedding traditions; check out the rest of the story with these links:
There are, undoubtedly, hundreds, if not thousands traditions that are connected with weddings around the world. The wedding traditions of the Bulgarians, however, are particularly interesting – they are colorful, memorable, and invaluable as they are hundreds of years old. Here I’ve gathered for you the most fascinating Bulgarian wedding traditions – some of them will make you smile (and even laugh), while others will deeply touch your soul and leave you speechless.
If you think that the wedding traditions refer to the wedding per se, you are wrong. In Bulgaria the wedding traditions take place way before the “I do” part of the wedding. First, there is a different ritual that marks you as “wedding material”. These events involve singing, dancing, and other rituals performed by the young people who, by participating in them, declare their transition from childhood to adulthood.
In the past in Bulgaria the wedding was a decision made by the man. It was the man who decides he wants to settle and he is the one who chooses his future wife and asks her to marry him (not in person!). It was unthinkable for a woman to bring this topic to the conversation as it would position her as unworthy of married life.
It was, actually, a bit complicated to ask a woman to marry you in the past in Bulgaria. It was prohibited to talk directly to the woman (you were, in fact, not even allowed to kiss her before the wedding, let alone something else…). In the wedding season* (oh, yes, there is such a notion), the man sends a matchmaker (a close family friend is a good choice) to his sweetheart’s parents and this person asks if the woman’s family would agree to give their daughter to the young man in love. This visit is usually kept a secret as nobody knew what the outcome would be.
If the woman’s family agrees to such a wedding, there’s the next step – a celebration called “malak godezh” (pre-engagement party, or small engagement). What’s rather interesting about the pre-engagement party is that the groom doesn’t even attend it. It is a party for the parents, so to say.
On the day of the “small engagement”, the groom’s father gets the bride’s family a wooden wine vessel with his homemade wine or rakia (Bulgarians still produce their own wine and rakia, by the way – it is considered a national pride). The groom’s mother, on the other hand, prepares a token that she gives to the bride’s mother – it is a symbol of the engagement that makes it official (according to the traditions). This is also the time when the bride officially accepts to marry the groom. That’s without him even being present in the room!
The next party is the real engagement (godezh). This event includes a gift to the future bride by the groom’s family, as well as lots of music, singing, dancing, food, and alcohol. It is then that the groom’s father pays the bride’s father the so called “father right” – a symbolic sum of money that would compensate the bride’s father as his daughter would enter the groom’s family after the wedding and she would become part of the groom’s family as well, leaving her father with one child less in his own family.
The main aim of the engagement is for the two families to discuss and decide on the main wedding details like the date, the number of guests, the gifts that both families should exchange, etc. The period that’s accepted as normal between the engagement and the wedding has a rather wide range – anything between a week and 3 years is considered acceptable.
*The wedding season in Bulgaria used to take place during fall and winter as spring and summer were reserved for agricultural activities (the main means of support for Bulgarians in the past).