As I write this, I’m looking forward to the September 27 wedding of my older brother and his girlfriend of seven years. Weddings are always a big thing in my extended family, since out of eighteen cousins only two have gotten married so far. So, weddings are still a bit of a novelty for us. I still remember some of my aunt’s weddings. At my Aunt Elaine’s I stood on the stage where the band was playing and lifted my dress over my head. Suffice it to say my behavior at weddings hasn’t changed much over the years.
I am looking forward to this wedding, because almost all of my extended family will be there. We are a very noisy group that likes to sing, drink and eat a lot. You can always count on my Uncle Bert to sit in with the band and sing “Suzy Q”, and I’m crossing my fingers that my cousin Brett will get drunk enough again to sing “House of the Rising Sun.” The usual dances — the Butterfly, lots of polkas, and of course the Bird Dance — will get people off their feet. And we can’t forget the reason why most people will be there, the food.
Sure, the celebrity weddings and the Martha Stewart decorated ones look nice, but are they fun? A friend recently went to a wedding where a four-piece string orchestra greeted the guests and a fountain that ran chocolate was available for dipping your strawberries in. But he didn’t say if he had a good time. I mean a real good time. The trend in weddings is to have everything look like it walked off the pages of a magazine. But isn’t the real meaning of a wedding to celebrate with family and friends?
My grandparents’ families were Germans who immigrated to Russia then to Canada. They knew how to celebrate. The wedding was about the people, not flower shops, caterers and photographers. Here, in her own words, is my Grandma’s account of the traditional wedding celebration.
3-DAY WEDDINGS (HOCHZEIT)
First Day Wedding Celebration
Spring weddings started after lent, usually on Easter Monday. A typical wedding began with a “Boller Ouvent” (noisy evening). It was a dance on Monday evening for the young people. The next morning, the wedding took place at 10:30 at the church. After church, the guests gathered for dinner at the bride’s home. The bride and groom were escorted into the house with a march played on the accordion. The dinner consisted of chicken noodle soup, hamburgers, an assortment of pickles, bread and for dessert, apple pie and usually jello. Also, the chicken that was used to make the soup was fried with onions.
After dinner, the couple and their guests were again escorted with music into a granary, where the wedding dance began. The bride received money that was pinned to her dress each time someone danced with her. Also, the guests would put coins into a bowl to pay for the band. Dancing usually happened in three shifts, because of the lack of room. The young single people made up the first shift, while the other guests strolled outside and visited or were busy inside the house preparing for the supper meal. When there wasn’t any more money to put into the bowl the band would stop playing, signaling a shift change. Then, it was the young married couples’ turn to dance. After that, supper would be served. A typical supper would be hamburger, hot potatoes, lots of smoked sausage, liverwurst, cold sliced ham and vegetables. For dessert, there would be the cake and canned fruit. When the meal was over, it was back to the granary for more dancing. This time it was the older couples’ turn. Finally, the women danced together and the men served them wine and kept an eye on them from the sidelines while they visited.
At the end of the evening, the wedding guests “sang off” the bridal wreath. The bride and groom sat on chairs side by side with the guests surrounding them. The songs they sang were, “Holy God We Praise Thy Name” and “Der Goldenen Rosen Krantz” (the Golden Crown).
They dismantled the veil from the bride and took off the groom’s boutonniere. This signified that the celebration was over and that the couple would now begin their married life.
Second Day Wedding Celebration
The bride and groom usually would slip away the night of their wedding and the guests would come out looking for them on the second wedding day. They would pick them up with a hay rack complete with a mock wedding group followed by a mock band. The guests then performed a mock wedding in honor of the bride and groom. Another full-fledged dance would begin. For dinner there would be sauerkraut soup, spare ribs, mashed potatoes, lots of sausage, hamburgers and left over desserts.
Third Day Wedding Celebration
The third day of the wedding was the celebration for close family and a chance to clean up and let loose. There was always lots of singing. Decorations were kept simple with a few crepe paper streamers and paper wedding bells.
Now doesn’t that sound like fun? As I’m writing this my husband theorized that these weddings were the reason the divorce rate was so low, “After all that work, they couldn’t get a divorce.” Anyway, as you can see weddings used to be about celebrating, not about storybook brides, twelve tiered cakes and imported orchids. That’s why I’m looking forward to my brother’s wedding. Not because I can see what dresses the bridesmaids have, or critique the decorations, but to have a good time with people I don’t see often enough. And of course, the food.
Stacey Steele is currently finishing her B.A with a major in Psychology/Women’s Studies. She won the most improved math award in Grade 8 and $50 on a scratch and win once. She lives in Southern Alberta with her husband, two children, two mali uromastyx lizards, and a family of mule deer that live across the road.