All You Need to Know about a Polish wedding reception, in ten easy steps.

Reception at Bialy Palace, Lodz, Poland.

Reception at Bialy Palace, Lodz, Poland.

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1. The salt and the bread

Off to the party, which in this case is at the Bialy (White) Palace. On arrival everybody gets a drink and the bride and groom get salt and bread. Again, if you ever find yourself in this situation, don’t panic – it’s just symbolic, it doesn’t mean you’re only getting salt and bread  for the rest of the evening. One or other of the parents who’s job it is to provide the bread and salt may make a short speech and start blubbing at this point.

2. Song

Sto lat, sto lat,
Niech żyją, żyją nam.
Sto lat, sto lat,
Niech żyją, żyją nam,
Jeszcze raz, jeszcze raz, niech żyją, żyją nam,
Niech żyją nam!
which translates roughly into English as:
A hundred years, a hundred years,
We want them to live.
A hundred years, a hundred years,
We want them to live,
Once again, once again, we want them to live,
We want them to live.

Immediately following the salt and the bread business all Poles in the vicinity will break into song. The song is known as “Sto lat” (“100 years”) and is the same song you will hear sung at birthday parties, presidential inaugurations and, in extreme cases, the opening of a tin of sardines. Here are the words — Please learn them. You’re going to hear them a lot in the next few hours:

3. First dinner, first dance

Once the singing has died down everybody sits down to the first meal. Note my use of the word ‘first’ here. There may be additional singing in the form of traditional demands for the bride and groom to kiss like alien face-huggers, but there’s nothing important going on there that you need to worry about. Immediately following the first meal the newlyweds are invited to embarrass themselves horribly by  performing the first dance.

4. A lot more dinners

Dorota and I often advise people going to Polish weddings to beware of the amount of food they will be required to consume. “There will be a lot of food” I say “I mean, really a lot.” “Oh good” they say. I shake my head and hold my tongue. A few days later I see them again and they say “Why didn’t you tell us there would be so much!” “I did!” I say “I tried to warn you.” “My god” they say with the horror of recollection   in their eyes “I didn’t know there was that much food…”

This is how it works. Immediately after the first toast you will sit down to an excellent meal of something roasted, with vegetables and potatoes and a side salad preceded by soup. You will eat this and then help yourself to the various cakes, cold meats, breads etc. scattered liberally about the table. At this point you will be completely stuffed. About an hour later the waiters will be bearing down on you with another dinner. An hour after that they will be back again. By now you’ll be feeling the fear. Fortunately there are only three or four  more courses to go, each one the size of a hearty Sunday dinner.     And then cake.

Do not attempt to eat everything served to you. You will die. You    have to regard the food as symbolic. It’s a symbol of wealth and plenty, an overwhelming feast for the happy event, it’s not an actual meal.

5. The vodka situation

Vodka is a big deal at Polish weddings. Vodka is only drunk collectively. Glasses are filled, somebody proposes a toast, vodka is drunk, and glasses are refilled in readiness for the next toast. There’s no casual solitary sipping. It’s all or nothing every time. Do not be tempted to fill in the time between toasts with a beer or a glass of wine, that way lies very messy but dimly recalled madness. Try to eat between the toasts as much as you can, that might save you 😉

6. Throwing bouquets and ties

The throwing of the bouquet will be familiar to British readers and it has the same function at a Polish wedding. The difference at a Polish wedding is that it is taken much more seriously. In the half an hour before the tossing of the bride's bouquet/vail is due you’ll notice two things. Firstly the eligible ones begin their warm up routines. The second is the gradual but complete evacuation of the building by all unmarried females over the age of about 28. To be 28 or older and   still in that circle around the bride is a powerful shame. Unlike men   at British weddings Polish men also get the chance to make utter   fools of themselves scrambling after discarded clothing. The groom’s tie is the sought after item in this case. By this time of the night any male who is still able to stand, regardless of age, is considered a good catch.

7. Proper dancing

Dancing is also a big deal at Polish weddings. It’s the women’s vodka. Proper dancing is expected. In pairs, with feet and everything. Dancing schools make a killing in Poland. However do expect the 'birdie song' to appear every now and then.

8. Midnight cake

The cake is cut and distributed to the groaning overstuffed guests at around midnight. Then they wheel in an entire roasted cow just in case anybody is feeling peckish. Knocking off time will probably be sometime around 3 or 4 in the morning.

9. After midnight fun games/ Oczepiny

There are plenty of fun games to choose from - the band is usually deciding what bride & groom will have to do... Drinking champagne from her shoe? Garter chase? Rolling an egg through the groom’s   pant legs? Kissing recognition test? Expect crying from laughter...or just crying if the kissing recognition game gets out of hand.

10. The Ever-Present-Bride-and-Groom 

At most British weddings, the bride and groom will leave before the guests. Not so at a Polish wedding, unless of course they slip out for    a bit of necking and come back in. The happy couple is expected to    be at the party until the last guest leaves, the idea being you have     the rest of your lives to be together so tonight be a good host and stay and entertain your guests.

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