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SLOVAK MATTERS

Kidnapping and virginity - brace yourself for a Slovak wedding

IT IS said that the blossoming cherry tree looks like a young bride (rozkvitnutá čerešna je ako mladá nevesta). This is not a hard comparison to make, considering you can likely find overflowing churches and young brides under blooming trees any spring weekend. But if you happen to be part of a Slovak wedding (svadba), things can go from this idyllic image to downright strange. Let me explain why as I walk you through one.
I am going to skip the ceremony because, as my young sister cried out during my aunt's wedding, "this is booooooooring".

IT IS said that the blossoming cherry tree looks like a young bride (rozkvitnutá čerešna je ako mladá nevesta). This is not a hard comparison to make, considering you can likely find overflowing churches and young brides under blooming trees any spring weekend. But if you happen to be part of a Slovak wedding (svadba), things can go from this idyllic image to downright strange. Let me explain why as I walk you through one.

I am going to skip the ceremony because, as my young sister cried out during my aunt's wedding, "this is booooooooring".

After the ceremony, the action heats up. Somewhere between the church vestibule and the banquet (hostina), someone, often the manager of the restaurant, greets the newlyweds (novomanželia) and smashes a plate on the floor. Then the groom (ženích) with a broom and the nevesta with a dustpan must clean up the mess. Any shards left over announce children to come.

Indeed, the coming children are always a subtext to young marriages, and guests often wish the couple a child within the year with the phrase "do roka proroka", literally "in a year prophet".

In addition to the plate, the bride's garland (vienok or venček) plays an important role in more traditional weddings. At the reception (svadobná hostina) a best man (svedok) will have the bride kneel down, and he will ask her for her garland, once a string of flowers but now more commonly a veil (závoj). "Will I cut your head off or take your garland?" he asks ("mám ti hlávku sťať alebo vienok sňať?"). In some parts, he backs up his demands with a valaška - the small-bladed axe that doubles as a walking stick. In others he paddles her on the bottom with a vareška, a wooden cooking spoon.

Despite such mistreatment, she normally refuses twice before giving in. The best man then parades the garland on his beribboned tool, sometimes selling it to the groom.

If you think this hoopla sounds very sexual, then you are doing a good job of reading between the lines. Vienok and venček also mean virginity. These days, when women tend to marry older, and unmarried couples live together (please read between the lines again), the vienok tradition is falling out of practice.

Definitely gone is the čepiec (bonnet), which was used by all women to tie up their hair on the back of their heads once they were married (vydatá for a woman, literally "given" in Slovak). In those times, only an unmarried girl (slobodné dievča) could have free hair.

Then there is much drinking and dancing. The man who is newly married (ženatý, or "womaned") is given a welcoming by all the attending husbands, who link arms and circle the latest member of their group. He must drink a shot of hard alcohol with each and, when all have drunk, he must finish the bottle.

After this special treatment, women dance with the groom and the men dance with the bride. In a newer tradition, the male guests might then abduct the bride (uniesť nevestu). If they can whisk her out of her husband's reach, something that can entail a bit of tug-of-war, they take her to a bar or club to dance and drink. When the groom finally finds her, he foots the bill.

For those who think all this sounds a little too rigorous, they can find comfort in the saying "na svadbu máš dosť času aj deň pred smrťou" - "there is enough time for a wedding even on the day before you die".

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