Cultural Musings

Navigating your way through a Polish wedding

So you’ve been invited to a wedding in Poland, you say? Well, lucky you! Polish weddings are incredible. They are also exhausting. You need to be prepared. You need to know how much money to put in the envelope and you need to know your limits. Watch yourself! A Polish wedding can make you or break you. 

My overall impression of Polish weddings: Poles really know how to let loose 💃 You get dressed up, get wasted, dance and eat tons of delicious food. What doesn’t sound good about that?! I can tell you, they’re a lot more fun than America weddings, which are usually kinda stiff, boring and SHORT!

Before the wedding

Firstly, some essential Polish words to get you through:

  • Młoda para – young couple 💑 
  • Panna młoda – bride 👰
  • Pan młody – groom 🤵
  • Ślub – ceremony
  • Wesele – reception – general word for wedding
  • Gorzko! 💏 – literally means “bitter”, chanted by guests to get the młoda para to kiss
  • Koperta – ✉️ envelope (generally filled with moolah 💰
  • Poprawiny – second day of festivities

Invitations

Typically, the młoda para will bring the invitation personally to each household along with some cake. This is usually a couple months before the wedding, so pretty late notice, especially considering most weddings are in the summer when people travel. There’s nothing like a “save the date”, which you often get even a year in advance in the States.

How long does a Polish wedding last?

Well, that’s hard to say. The ceremony usually begins around 2-4 pm, and the reception starts directly after and lasts until around 3-6 am, depending on how intense the partying is. Essentially, prepare yourself for a long night.

What should you wear?

I’d say dress how you would dress at a fancy dinner. Ladies: cocktail dresses, heels, and a lot of girls even get their hair and makeup done. Guys: suits and ties – classics are best.

Pro-tip for ladies: bring an extra pair of shoes. At my first Polish wedding or two I didn’t get the memo on this, but it’s a good tip. Polish weddings are long and you’re on your feet a lot, so later on in the evening your feet hurt, and most girls change their heels into flats.

What to bring with you

Koperta ✉️

That’s the Polish word for “envelope”. Very important part of a Polish wedding. You will be giving this envelope, not an actual gift, to the lovely couple directly after they exit the church.

Wine/flowers/book/donation

In addition to the koperta, there’s going to be a small gift that you’re expected to bring as well. It’s usually wine or flowers but sometimes people get fancy and ask for a book or a donation to a charity of their choice. Make sure you know before you leave the house! Once we forgot about this and felt really silly, so don’t make that mistake.

What the ślub/ceremony looks like

The ceremony typically takes place in a Catholic church, and there’s what I’m guessing is a somewhat normal mass (although I’m no expert on Catholic masses), lasting around 45 min-1 hour. Walking down the aisle, which is typical in American weddings, isn’t exactly traditional in Polish weddings. Generally, the couple sits during the ceremony, except for when they say their vows.

After the ceremony, everyone goes outside the church and waits for the młoda para to make their dramatic exit as newlyweds. Of course there’s throwing of rice or whatever they choose. Then everyone lines up to give the couple their wishes and place their “koperta” in a special box for the kopertas. The wishes are things like health, happiness, money, children, the list goes on. A simple “gratulacje” and “wszystkiego najlepszego” will suffice.

How you’ll get to the wedding

If the wedding takes place on location in the mountains, etc., there will usually be transport provided from the hotel/reception location to the church and vice versa to make it easier for the guests (especially if they’ve already started imbibing). If not, then unfortunately you’ll have to find your own way.

Where you’ll sleep

Very often the młoda para will provide a place to sleep on location for their guests, but not always. Some reception venues are not equipped with that many rooms, so only close family may have a room to sleep in. In my experience, half the weddings I’ve been to provided accommodation and half didn’t. You’re lucky if they do because then everyone can partake and enjoy the wedding to the full extent.

What the wesele/reception looks like

Now the real fun begins (although there may have already been some drinking on the bus on the way to the church!).

The food

This is the foundation of any Polish wedding. The reception often opens with a traditional presentation of bread and salt, although I don’t think I’ve ever seen this or at least never noticed. Pro-tip: eating is the key lasting through the night. You’ll find yourself wondering how people are still standing at the end of the night (or even one hour in). What you’ll notice is that everyone else eats whenever more food comes out, so you should too. It helps tremendously. And there will be lots of it. There’s usually 4-5 courses.

The first course is always rosół, Polish chicken soup, which I recommend eating if you’re planning on keeping up in the drinking department. Then there’s dinner, which is typically the choice of multiple meats – beef rolls, roasted/fried chicken, pork loin, etc., with potatoes and a selection of cabbage salads. Then there’s usually a smorgasbord of deli meats and such to taste between meals, then two, yes two, suppers with warm food again. If you don’t dance and drink A LOT, there’s no way to survive eating that much. Sweet stations are popular for nibbling goodies throughout the night, wedding cake of course, and it all ends with barszcz + krokiety around 1 am. If you’re lucky enough to have a place to sleep on location, you’ll wake up to an equally opulent breakfast to quell your raging hangover.

The alcohol

You’ve probably heard rumors about the flowing vodka at Polish weddings, and that’s a fact 🍸 However, if you’re not into vodka, don’t worry, there’s always wine available, and nowadays bartenders making cocktails are also pretty popular. If you feel pressured to drink (this is probably more of an issue with men), a firm “no thanks” and straight refusal to drink usually works. If you’re a foreigner, they probably figure you can’t handle it anyway. Or you can be like me and pretend to take a shot. No one will ever notice!

The dancing

Poles really love dancing and no one seems embarrassed at all to dance at weddings. I’m sure the alcohol has something to do with it, but also the atmosphere itself, which is super low-key and fun. So there’s absolutely no reason not to enjoy yourself. Dancing takes place both in pairs, which can be hard if you’re not from here, as e.g. in America young people don’t really dance that way, or “individually but together” I’ll call it – in a kind of circle. Nerdy and fun altogether!

The games

There’s always an MC at Polish weddings who kind of encourages people to dance, makes announcements, and leads the games. I’ve been to wedding with games and without them, and usually they’re just kind of silly and fun, but it all depends on the młoda para and their style. Some games include musical chairs, dance contests, and trivia-style games.

Oczepiny

I actually asked my husband the details of this and his answer was literally “I’m usually too drunk by this part to even notice”, so that basically sums up a Polish boy at a Polish wedding 🤣 Anyway, this takes place at the stroke of midnight. It’s a moment that traditionally marks the transition that the wedding brings, so the groom removes his bowtie and the bride her veil to throw to their single friends. As with the bouquet in American weddings, whoever catches these will be the next to get married. This is also a time when the bride and groom may play some trivia games about one another.

Poprawiny

Some weddings have a second day of festivities 🤢 Yeah… imagine that. It’s like survival of the fittest. But I’ve never been to a wedding like that, so it seems less common nowadays. I think that’s more common in more traditional areas like in the mountains, but you should check to make sure you know whether the wedding you’re attending will have it or not.

Important takeaways

If you make it through in one piece, you’ll be stronger for it, and you’ll be ready for the next one. Just remember these takeaways: EAT 🍗 as much as possible, dance 🕺 however you want because no one will judge you, give lots of moolah 🤑 to the młoda para, and DON’T try to drink 🥂 as much as everyone else if it’s not your style. You will not be a happy person.

For a more in-depth understanding of the cultural aspects of Polish weddings, take a look at this great article from culture.pl.

If you have any specific questions about what to expect at your next Polish wedding, leave me a comment below and I’ll do my best to help you out ☺️Also, I’m sure there’s plenty I left out or even got wrong, so feel free to let me know.


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1 Comment

  • Reply Natalia 30 August 2020 at 16:29

    Hi Leah! 🙂 Thank you so much for all your posts and your interesting insights on living in such a special country as Poland. I just love reading your posts! – each and every one of them makes me learn new things about myself and the culture of my country. Your blog makes me look differently at some Polish customs that seemed to be ‘quite normal’ before. It’s fascinating how strange some Polish traditions look when they are described from the perspective of a foreigner. Some seem funny, others downright bizarre (after reading the post above, giving a newlyweds KOPERTA with money seems a little inappropriate to me, if not weird :P) Haha. Anyway, I’m really waiting for more posts. <3 Hugs from Kraków! xo

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