(aka: the main event)
It will be a long time before I’ll forget arriving at our wedding party. We walked up the stairs on the red carpet, the large wooden doors swung open. Rose petals were scattered on the carpet ahead of us and the wedding march blared at high volume over the speakers. We paraded around the room and then stood in front of our wedding table – lit from underneath by LED lights. It was an incredibly insane moment!
The dancing started almost immediately while we sat on our ‘thrones’ and picked at one of multiple plates of food that were served during the course of the evening and greeted the steady stream of guests whom came to our table.
Different groups of guests were invited to take to the dance floor at different times. I was particularly proud of our overseas guests, who, after a quick impromptu lesson, managed to hold their own on the dance floor!
There was no let up in the dancing all night – nor the incredibly loud music that accompanied it! Mid-way through the evening we went around the room and greeted every single one of the nearly 200 guests! Then members of my new family donned traditional costume to take to the dance floor.
The other part of the evening that had me in hysterics was the cake cutting. ‘Sugar Sugar’ by The Archies was played (loudly) while we were paraded to the cake. After the cutting it was Whitney Houston’s ‘I will always love you’ screaming out while everyone cheered!
The cake cutting signals that the evening is drawing to a close. But there were still some important dances still to come. The first was mine. I had no idea what was going on – but it seemed to be some sort of dance where I had to mime doing the laundry (perhaps an initiation into Albanian housewife-hood?).
The final dance of the evening was Valle Shamia e Beqarit, where the groom’s handkerchief is set on fire – symbolising the end of his single life! And possibly the end of his shirt cuffs!
We staggered out of the venue at 3am. It was one crazy party.
I’ve written before about how in Albanian culture, in marrying, a woman leaves her family and joins her husband’s family. The ceremony around this is called the krushqit.
This involves the groom selecting a group of family members – from both his father’s and mother’s side of the family – to accompany him to the bride’s family home to collect her. There are some particular rules around participation in the krushqit… included should be the youngest niece and oldest nephew, a sister-in-law of the groom (whose job it is to look after the bride on her journey to the wedding party), an uncle from both sides of the family etc. One person, usually senior and well-respected, is appointed the head of the krushqit and will lead the group into the bride’s home. There are always an even number of participants – including the groom. In my hubby’s krushqit there were nine members, plus him, made a nice even ten!
The krushqit travel to the bride’s house in convoy. The cars are usually decorated and there is usually music, merriment and honking horns to accompany them.
They are welcomed into the bride’s home by the bride’s father and enjoy some hospitality (namely, raki) before the bride is given flowers by the youngest niece and accompanied out of her room by the niece and nephew and presented to the krushqit.
Then, after a short time, the two families leave the house. The groom’s family leave first and gather outside. The bride’s family follow – led by the father of the bride and a sister of the bride (in my case, my lovely friend filled those shoes!) arm-in-arm with now sobbing bride. It’s a solemn occasion. The bride is leaving her family. There is much wailing. (I completely failed this!).
Outside the house the bride is handed over to the groom and a senior member of krushqit and led away to the wedding car.
It was a very unique experience and I was well-supported by a bunch of fabulous friends and family who had travelled over for the wedding. They ably played the role of my family and I don’t think we did too bad a job of pulling off a proper handover of the bride!
When we started planning our London wedding about 18 months ago we decided that even though photos didn’t rate near the top of our importance list and that we were both not that comfortable posing in front of the camera, we still wanted nice, natural, relaxed pictures that gave us a reminder of the day. (Which is what we got. We love our London wedding pics – they perfectly captured what the day felt like to us.)
This did not happen for our Albanian wedding. In fact, I don’t recall us ever having a choice about it. We initially suggested to our photographer that she turn up at our apartment a few hours before the wedding and that we would stop off at a particular beauty spot on the way to the venue for a few shots.
She said that’s not how things were done and that she would need more time. A lot more time. Turns out wedding photos seem to be the most important part of an Albanian wedding. Specifically, photos of the bride and groom. (Primarily, the bride. The groom is pretty much a prop over which the bride is instructed to attractively drape herself.)
Since we had committed to having a proper Albanian wedding, we threw ourselves in the deep end and booked our photographer for an entire day of photography on the Saturday before our Sunday wedding party.
That’s how I found myself in the salon at 6.30am on the Saturday of our wedding weekend getting all blinged up. Then, having collected the photographer and my groom, we spent the following SEVEN hours traipsing around in 30 degree temperatures posing in the most unnatural ways.
I coped. Because that’s what girls do. But there were times when I doubted my patient Albanian groom would last the distance! All the posing with flowers, hugging trees and gazing adoringly at each other rapidly got very tedious.
But later that night, at the end of the Bride’s Party, the first lot of photos were sent to me. And I have to admit to a small squeal. In amongst the weirdly awful cheesy photos are some real gems. Although I’m not sure what we’ll ever do with dozens and dozens of photos of ourselves. Albanian wedding calendar?
(All photos by Foto Fiona)