An article contributed by: Richard A. Slowik

Polish weddings usually last for a three-day period. On day one, friends and relatives usually arrive a day ahead of the ceremony to which they have been invited. They often visit the homes of the marriage participant to which they are connected during that time.

I continued this tradition by paying a visit to the parent’s home of my dear nephew Jacob.  He was present, and I also met his fiancée while there.  That occurred on the 17th of October, 2008.

On the 18th of October, the day of the wedding ceremony, I left my hotel room to walk down to the church in which my nephew Jacob Slowik would get married.  The church has the name of “Holy Cross and Saint Philip Neri.” (For the official parish website, click here.)

The parish church of Holy Cross and Saint Philip Neri in Tarnow

Primarily, I was there to take camcorder movie film and still camera photos of the church ceremony, and the reception later.  My equipment consisted of two still cameras and two camcorders.

I got to the church around 3:30 p.m.  To my surprise, another wedding was already concluding inside.

Nevertheless, I got my gear together so I would be prepared to document as much as I could.  I had to load flash memory cards into my cameras, DV film into the camcorders, and fresh batteries in all of them. 

Soon, friends and relatives of the couple started arriving—most of whom, I didn’t even know.  I hoped to change that soon. Nonetheless, I began filming and taking photos of as many of them as I could. Everybody was dressed in their best “finery” as much as I could discern.

Meanwhile, the bride and groom were making ready for the coming events.  Usually, during this period, they meet at the home of the bride, along with parents and grandparents to receive their blessings for a happy and blissful marriage.  I don’t know if that occurred for this wedding.

Eventually, the bride and groom arrived at the church together—that’s traditional.  Soon, they stepped out of their automobile to the delight of the small crowd that had gathered.  Barbara, the bride, was bedecked in a white gown and a white veil.  Because of the chilly temperature, she also donned a white fur stole about her neck and shoulders.  In her hands, was a bouquet of red-colored roses.  She looked superb.

The groom, Jacob, wore a fitted, gray-colored suit, with necktie and vest.   He did not wear a corsage.  He looked equally superb. Being that the prior wedding had not yet concluded, the bride and groom moved about the slowly-gathering crowd and personally greeted many of the invitees.  Smiles flashed everywhere.

Attendees gathering outside the church just prior to the wedding ceremony.

My understanding was that most of the invitees were past classmates of the couple, from secondary-type schools and also universities they attended together.  That would put their average age around 30.

The number estimated to attend was supposed to be around 100 attendees.  To me, that was an average number based on the past weddings to which I had been invited.

As the previous wedding participants exited the center doors, we had to step aside to allow them to reach their automobiles.  That was of benefit to us, as the parking spaces near the front of the church would increase.

Soon, the crowd for my nephew’s wedding began entering the church through the side doors.  That way they would not interfere with the participants in the prior wedding. 

Inside, they took seats on their own, i.e., no ushers.  From what I could see, people sat wherever they wanted to--regardless of their relationship to the wedding couple.  Parents on both sides even sat in the same row together.

By no means did most of the attendees make it to the church ceremony.

At the appointed time (4 p.m.), the bride and groom entered the church through the center doors.  Everybody else stood, admiring the young couple.  Meanwhile, they continued moving up the aisle to the kneelers, strategically placed near the foot of the altar.  The organist played the appropriate music, all the while.

Being that this was a Roman Catholic rite, the priest welcomed the bride and groom as well as the invitees.  It must have been a proud moment for the parents, and close relatives.  I know that my emotions were aroused.

Without significant pause, the priest proceeded with the Wedding Mass.  All of this was in accordance with tradition.

The couple placed wedding rings on the right hand of their mate and voiced vows to each other.  We could hear them as the microphone was placed near them by the priest’s assistant.  Of course, my fluency in their language was insufficient to understand much of it.  Still, I was able to comprehend enough of it to appreciate what was happening.

With the ceremony coming to an end, the priest blessed the marriage.  He then continued with the Mass.  This too is pretty much standard procedure, and in accordance with the Polish way. Holy Communion was first rendered to the newlyweds, at their kneelers.  Afterwards, the attendees sitting in the pews came up to personally participate in receiving this sacrament.

Signed certificates of marriage were presented to the couple by the priest, and then passed to the witnesses for safekeeping.  This completed the legal requirements.

All of this took about an hour, including some comments by the Priest during and after the ceremony.

Exchanging vows at the foot of the altar.

Following the sacramental rite, the newly married couple walked down the aisle, with the organist playing the wedding march.  Then, they exited the church at the center doors.  Sometimes, they are applauded.  Such occurred this time.

Outside, invitees had gathered and showered the couple with small coins, when they emerged—for good luck.  Tradition also has it that the couple must collect all these coins, and keep them for a successful marriage.

Being that so many were tossed, several observers pitched in and stooped over to help in collecting the tiny coins.   It was made even more difficult, because the fallen leaves were intermixed, and hiding some of the treasured pieces.

Newlyweds stooping for coins.

Next, the pair moved to a garden nearby.  Following them were the friends and relatives who had just witnessed the wedding ceremony in the church.  They formed a very long line, holding flowers, gifts, etc., to hand over to the witnesses for the couple.

Meanwhile, each person moved forward to personally and warmly offer their congratulations and well-wishes of the invitees.  In addition to hugging and kissing the newlyweds, attendees handed the bride a bouquet of flowers, a gift, or both.

The groom is usually handed an envelope filled with some monetary amount of cash.  This is stashed by the male witness who often has his hands full by the end of this particular event.

Being that this was the middle of October, it was a bit chilly.  The climate here is much like that in Detroit, where I was born and reared.  So, I really enjoyed it.  Most men wore jackets, but I found it suitable to wear a short-sleeved shirt.

The newlyweds are congratulated and wished well by the attendees.

I continued with my self-imposed duty of recording as much as I could.  My aim was to get close-ups of the relatives as they embraced the couple.  At times, that was a bit difficult.  Also, I tried not to interfere with the hired cameraman.  After all, I presumed that he didn’t come cheaply for the pair of newlyweds.  With so many invitees snapping a favorite shot, however, there is little doubt we got in each others’ shots.

Cousin of the groom shaking hands with the bride.

Quite common is a convoy of participants’ cars to accompany the newlyweds to the reception hall.  Such took place this time too.  Honking horns called attention to what the parade was all about.

They first must pass through pairs of young children, who hold ropes across the street, and require a monetary toll fee before letting the cars pass along.  Coins are acceptable, usually in any amount.  This too is a Polish tradition, slowly losing favor with the younger invitees.

Traditionally, the wedding party is greeted by a male and female pair at the front door of the reception facility—dressed in ancient regalia.  That also occurred at this wedding.

The pair held a silver plate; atop it were small amounts of salt, small pieces of chocolate, and two glasses full of wine.   Salt is tasted by the married couple to remind them of the bitter side of life; while the chocolate covers the opposite aspects.  They wash it all down with the beverage.

As soon as they get inside the reception hall, everyone grabs a glass of champagne.  A toast to the newly married couple occurs, after which everyone “downs” their drink.   Again, wishes for a full and lasting marriage are proposed. Following this, the couple throws the glasses over their shoulder, after which they must collect all the broken pieces and keep them for good luck during their marriage.  They are handed a broom and dustpan to accomplish this.

Newly-wedded couple ready to drink their champagne as part of the traditional toast.

Once seated at the tables, guests partake of a bowl of chicken soup.  For starters, that’s standard fare at every wedding I’ve attended in Poland.

Serving plates are then passed around heaped with sliced ham, roast beef, baked chicken, breaded pork cutlet, etc.  Bowls of boiled potatoes, salads, green beans, etc., follow as well.

So much food is prepared, that one cannot avoid getting over-stuffed.  All night long, fresh servings are brought out too.  No one goes hungry if they attend any of these celebrations, that’s for sure.  Maybe one needs to come to these affairs on an empty stomach.  That’s what I did.

Although I am sizeable enough already to pass on this, I felt obliged to “dig-in,” as it were.   So, I set my cameras aside and did what everyone else did.   I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed each and every bite.   There is absolutely no doubt as far as I am concerned, Polish food is always the very best anywhere.  I never let a plate pass me by without taking some portion off of it for myself.  

Those seated at the head table are first to enjoy the vittles and drinks, as it should be.

Most often, a band provides music for dancing and entertainment.  At this reception, a disc jockey brought his collection of CDs and tapes to play.  All of this he used, pretty effectively.

During the nighttime, many toasts are rendered, and can be proposed by anyone in attendance.  Vodka is the drink of choice, and the bottles are emptied all night long.   

A little ditty called “Sto Lat” is also sung along with the toasts.  Nobody knows who wrote it, or even when it became such a “hit” at these affairs.  It translates to 100 years, and the words suggest that the newly weds be allowed to live to that age.

At this reception, a wedding cake was used.  This is not as common as it is in weddings in the USA.   After turning out the lights, small flares shooting sparks outward were lit, and provided a somewhat scintillating exhibit.  Afterwards, the couple sliced a piece of cake, fed bite-sized pieces of it to each other, but in a friendly sort of way—unlike what usually occurs in the USA.

During the “wee” hours of the early morning, guests begin departing for home.  They first spend a bit of time with the newly-wedded couple, congratulating them one more time.  The couple often hands them a nicely wrapped box to take home—filled with “goodies” like pieces of wedding cake, cookies, and the like.

Goody box in hand, departing guests once again offer congratulations and well-wishes.

For me, my participation in the celebrations came to an end around 4 a.m. on Sunday morning, the 19th.  So, I gave it my “best shot” for 12 straight hours.  Others may have lasted longer, but I was exhausted.

A taxicab took me back to my hotel, and—after loosening my necktie--I flopped atop the bed, as soon as I got into my room.  I remained in the prone position for several hours.

Most often—in accordance with tradition--guests get together for one last time, during the afternoon of the third day.  Usually, this is at the home of either the bride or the groom.  The affair is called poprawiny in Polish.  I understand it means “attitude adjustment” when translated.

During this final gathering, guests eat some more food, participate in toasts by drinking some more chilled vodka, and engage in light conversation.  Relaxation is the order of the day.  After all, they may not see each other for a long time.

As for myself, I ate a bowl of goulash, and even had a “shot” of “wedding” vodka.   It occurred on an otherwise empty stomach.  I had actually slept right through breakfast, and it was already past lunch time.  So, I had a ready made excuse for my indulgences. Everything finally ends, when people start leaving in droves for the long drive home, knowing that tomorrow is a full day of work.  So, hugs, kisses, and well-wishes are once again exchanged, as guests stumble out the door.

The author with niece at the reception.

My thoughts began turning to the lengthy train trips ahead of me.  So, I too bade farewell, especially when darkness began to ensue.  I got to meet many more of my relatives and had acquired some pleasant memories as well—that’s for certain.

Reception Photos

Mount St. Martin


Text and photos by Richard Slowik
Karen Wisniewski & Dennis Benarz, USA 2008