Culture & Community

Our First Bulgarian Wedding

Earlier this year we had the joy of attending OUR FIRST BULGARIAN WEDDING!

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We meant to post about this long ago…and well life happened.

We have heard quite a bit about Bulgarian wedding traditions this past year (and even caught glimpses of a few from a distance around town), but a few months ago we had our first chance to participate in the full Bulgarian Wedding Experience (or at least most of it 😉)!!

What a fun (and LONG) day it was 😆!

As is the case in most countries, Bulgaria has many traditions when it comes to weddings. Some of them are similar to various traditions in states, while others are quite unique! The wedding we attended was a multi-cultural union between one of our friends (a Frenchman who lives in Bulgaria) and a Bulgarian woman. While most of the wedding was very Bulgarian in style, there were also a few “French twists” thrown in.

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To understand Bulgarians weddings a bit better we feel like it is best described as an ALL-DAY affair that generally consist of 4 main events:

  1. The Stealing of the Bride
  2. The Church Ceremony
  3. The Legal (Court) Ceremony
  4. The Reception & Dance Party

The Stealing of the Bride

Here in Bulgaria one of the most unique wedding traditions, in our opinion, is the practice of the “Stealing the Bride” from her home before the wedding. This event is usually only attended by family, close friends and the wedding party. Typically once the bride is all dressed and ready for the wedding, her family and close friends will “hide” her somewhere in her family’s house. The groom will then come with his best-man, some other close friends and perhaps some musicians in an attempt to “break-in” and steal his bride. It is also customary for the groom to bring money to pay for his bride and often families make a fun game out of raising the price making it a challenge for the groom to pay for the bride. One of our friends told us a story of how he accidently broke the door of his in-laws house when he and his friends tried to steal his wife on their wedding day (Oops!).

Since we were not particurly close with either the bride or groom for this particular wedding we did not actually attend this part of the festivities but were able to witness the rest of the days events.

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The Church Ceremony

Since most Bulgarians are Eastern Orthodox, most will get married in an Orthodox church ceremony. Like America, it is common for the bride and groom to be attended by a maid-of-honor and a best man throughout the ceremony. Having additional wedding party members, however, is not very common. Sometimes a couple may ask young children, siblings, cousins or close friends to be flower girls, ushers, etc. but having a larger group of friends stand at the front of the church during the ceremony is not a typical practice here.

The entire church wedding ceremony is chanted by the presiding priest and the only words the bride and groom speak throughout the entire ceremony are to say their names and “I do”. There is no exchaning of vows, no message given by the priest and no corporate hymns or prayers (Yes, this is a bit different than in America). What you likely will experience is…

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The entrance of the bride and groom together at the start of the ceremony with their maid-of-honor and best man. Then they will both hold two candles held together by a chord that the priest will light.

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The “crowning” of the bride and groom and the circling of the alter three times. Then the couple will take communion before the conclusion of the ceremony.

At the end you will likely go through a receiving line at the end of the ceremony where you can give the bride flowers, give greetings to the couple and will receive a piece of traditional Bulgarian bread.

Other fun facts we learned…

-It is tradition to bring flowers to give to the bride at the end of the ceremony (Thankfully there are many flower stalls around town where you can buy something if you forget 😉)

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-Guests will be offered a piece of “Pitka” bread at the end of the ceremony after greeting the bride and groom

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-You will likely receive a small sack with rice and a coin from the flower girls at the end of the ceremony as well

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Once the church the ceremony is complete (or prior to the church ceremony), Bulgarians will also participate in a court ceremony to receive their “legal” marriage license.

The Legal Ceremony

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The Legal Wedding Ceremony that we witnessed seemed much more familiar to us as Americans. It includes the typical questions of asking the bride and groom if they will take the other to be their spouse, asking them if they vow to love each other, etc. This ceremony is quite short and we found it interesting that Bulgarians must do their legal and church weddings seperately whereas in the states we can simply pick up our marriage liscense at court, have our ceremony in a church and then sign our liscense at the end. The legal ceremony for our friends was held at a beautiful outdoor location on a the hill overlooking Ruse. It is also very common for Bulgarians to just do their legal ceremony inside the courthouse too.

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At this wedding we also received a small favor at the end of the legal ceremony which was a very cute mini cactus.

The Reception and Party

Bulgarians love to PARTY!!!

Wedding receptions are certainly no exception! Attending the reception of our friends was perhaps our favorite part of the entire wedding day as we experienced many unique Bulgarian traditions as well as some that we also share as Americans. While in America wedding receptions can widely vary in the time of day and length, receptions in Bulgaria are known to start around dinner time continue into the early if not late hours of the morning. The wedding we attended was a bit on the short side, ending around 2am 😮, but most of the activities finished around midnight which is when we went home.

So what will you experience at a Bulgarian wedding reception?

Dinner (likely a traditional Bulgarian meal), which will likely be in served in several courses. (Somehow I only managed to take photos of 2 of the 4 courses of our dinner.)

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The breaking of the Pitka bread. Whoever gains the bigger half is said to be “the one in charge” of the marriage. (My apologies for the small image as I did not have a great view of this part of the reception. If you look closely though you can see someone holding some bread over the head of the couple that they will then each take hold of on either side and attempt to break off the large half.)

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The first dance of the bride and groom. (I only managed to catch a photo before they started dancing).

Speeches from the groom and best man. It is not common here for the bride or maid-of-honor to give a speech.

Lots of Horo dancing!! This is perhaps our favorite Bulgarian party tradition as it is such a joy to see so many people of all ages come together to dance as a large group. What is fasinating too is how well everyone knows the different types of Horo! I do not know exactly how many different styles there are in Bulgaria but we easily witnessed at least 10 at this wedding and were able to learn about 3 of them ourselves.

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A performance by traditional Bulgarian Folk Dancers. Including a fun game where the dancers make the best man and maid of honor dance with them and steal some bread and wine that the folk dancers are holding

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A drinking game amongst the best man and maid-of-honor (and perhaps other close friends) as the bride and groom are asked a series of questions about how well they know each other.

The cutting of the cake! Yes, the bride and groom feed each other here as well. What was unique at this wedding was that they then picked a couple that was dating who they predicted would get married next and made them serve cake to each other too. To me this was a funny twist but could also be potentially embarrassing for the other dating couple.

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The tossing of the bouquet and garter.

There are certainly many more details that we could share about the wedding but we hope this give you a glimpse into some different Bulgarian traditions.

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By the end of the evening we were exhausted from the day but certainly had a wonderful time celebrating the marriage of our new friends in true Bulgarian fashion! We hope to have the opportunity to celebrate another Bulgarian wedding someday and have a bit more experience our second time around 😉.

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