(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)
With oodles of tradition and celebration, weddings in Albania are on a whole new level of madness.
We were not able to tick all the boxes in our Albanian wedding – it just doesn’t work when the bride is from overseas, rather than from the neighbouring village – but we tried to stick as close as possible to the real thing.
Weddings traditionally lasted a whole week with days of dancing, exchanging gifts and celebrating in the days leading up to the main event. Modern life makes this more difficult so these days weddings commonly last two days. The Bride’s family host her party (for Catholic families, this is usually a Saturday) the day before the Groom’s party (for Catholic families, this is usually a Sunday).
Usually the Groom and his family do not attend all of the Bride’s wedding party. A small group will turn up part way through the evening and stay for an hour or so.
Seeing as my family are all overseas, and 90% of my friends in Albania are cousins of my husband, my fear was the Bride’s party would have been a little low on attendance! However, we did have a wonderful bunch of friends and family travelling from NZ, UK and Germany. Amazing! So Saturday night we hosted a dinner party and blended our close family and friends – more in the style of a rehearsal dinner.
Normally the Bride is also glammed up in one of several wedding dresses hired for the weekend. I only had the one wedding dress, bought over from London so decided to opt for something a little simpler instead!
So about 40 of us gathered for a relaxed meal under grapevines. We feasted, drank and danced. It was so cool to see my non-Albanian friends mix and mingle with my new family. It was the perfect way to ease into the madness that lay ahead on Sunday.
Albanian wedding are all about the sparkles, frills and glitter. It’s the wedding nine-year-old girls dream of – all Cinderella and fairy tale princess.
So while it is quite possibly going to be the polar-opposite of our London wedding last October, it is, nevertheless going to be quite the occasion.
So, here’s the how-to for an essential part of Albanian wedding sparkle – the wedding favour.
(Think of me while you read – I’ll be all dolled up and dancing round in circles!)
- 200 x ivory bags with ribbon drawstrings and glitter dots stuck all over them
- 200 x little red roses made out of some sort of wetsuit material with green paper leaves
- 200 x individually-wrapped pieces of faux Turkish delight
- 200 x white sugared almonds
- 200 x pink sugared almonds
Place one piece of faux Turkish delight, one pink sugared almond and one white sugared almond into the middle of one ivory drawstring bag.
Grab the strings, pull, realise you’ve grabbed the same string and the bag ain’t going nowhere. Find the other string and pull drawstrings in opposing directions, bringing the edges together.
Tie strings in a bow. It’s fiddly.
Take one wetsuit fabric rose and twist the wire around the neck of the bag. Arrange to hide any messiness.
Now make the other 199.
Knowing our Albanian wedding would be big, manic with a lot of frills, we were very keen to have a small pause before the madness. The idea that we could have a small wedding blessing in the church built by hubby’s father in the village he grew up in was completely blissfully perfect for us.
So last weekend we took my parents (who had made the looong journey from NZ) and a close friend on the spectacular drive to the family farm. The highlight of our visit was the wedding blessing. On Saturday afternoon, in baking 30-something heat, we got dressed in our finery, put on our walking shoes and hiked over the hills and through the fields to the village church, 45 minutes away. We picked roses from bushes rambling along the side of the road and made up some sort of a posy. We sat under the trees outside the church while preparations were made. And we took the obligatory family pics. At the allotted time we traipsed into the church and took our seats.
The church is beautiful inside: cool and calm, peaceful with its exposed brick walls and wooden ceiling.
The priest led a short blessing in Albanian and then we filed outside into the sun and stood on the steps for photos before heading back to the farm for food and drinks.
It was everything we wanted.