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Slovaks in Lowlands used to wed in black

BRATISLAVA Castle is now home to an exhibition on the wedding practices of foreign Slovak communities dispersed in what used to be the lowlands of the Hungarian empire and is today Serbia and Montenegro, Hungary and Romania. Visitors can learn of the Slovak compatriots' traditions that they preserved away from their homeland.

The black wedding dress.
photo: Slavomír PjatekSR

BRATISLAVA Castle is now home to an exhibition on the wedding practices of foreign Slovak communities dispersed in what used to be the lowlands of the Hungarian empire and is today Serbia and Montenegro, Hungary and Romania. Visitors can learn of the Slovak compatriots' traditions that they preserved away from their homeland.

The Traditional Slovak Wedding in the Lowlands illustrates entire wedding ceremonies, which were a matter for far more people than just the immediate family. The entire village or town lived with the wedding long before it started. A wedding was always colourful, with the singing of traditional songs, dancing, presents and after-wedding games and theatricals.

Spread over an area of 300 metres, the exhibition presents wedding dresses and customs practised up until the 1950s.

The photographs, documents, song lyrics and scores on display document how young people moved from getting acquainted to courtship, in which girls' scarves played a specific role, through to getting formally engaged with an exchange of rings, marriage banns, intensive preparations for the wedding, bonneting the bride, wedding games and fancy-dress parties. A special phenomenon of Vojvodina (Serbia and Mon-tenegro) was the traditional performance of a "children's wedding", an imitation of the adults' wedding.

Visitors may be surprised at the brides' black wedding dresses on display. Until the 1920s and 30s, young women married in black. The reason was simple: the dress could be worn on several occasions and many times also served as a funeral dress.

The exhibition shows the traditional Slovak lowland bed with painted baldachin, duvet, sheet and pillows (part of the bride's hope chest). There is also the painted láda (hutch) containing the hope chest and a small container that the bride received from her parents for "trifles". One can form a picture of how the table was set, with the tablecloths, bowls, plates and ceremonial wedding cakes.

The items displayed in showcases illustrate the getting-acquainted and courtship stages (scarves), symbols of the wedding host and best man (spirits and wine bottles, stick), feathers for the young groom and bride, hosts, best men and women and wedding guests. The exhibition is complete with wedding photographs on the walls.

The Traditional Slovak Wedding in the Lowlands is open until February 15, 2006. Slovaks abroad will also get to see the exhibition next year.

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