Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Macedonia's Galicnik Wedding offers a window into another era

The Macedonian village of Galicnik is the site of an annual event that provides an opportunity to witness ancient customs and traditions. On St. Peter's Day, thousands of Galicnik-born people and descendants of local families come to remind themselves of a way of life once cherished here.

At its peak, the village held some 30 weddings each year on St. Peter's Day. Since then, Galicnik has become famous for emigration, its people leaving in search of a better life abroad. And yet in July -- as happens every summer -- it resounded once more with sounds of the zurla and drums.

This year, bride and groom Tomislav and Irena Lazarev were married at the magnificent church of Sts. Paul and Peter, among a crowd of relatives and friends. Also present was EU representative to Macedonia Erwan Fouere.

By tradition, the wedding ritual begins at sunset on Saturday. The groom decorates a banner with flowers outside his family's house, and a rifle is thrown. His mother greets the family and relatives with homemade bread and a jar in her hands and then leads the so-called mother-in-law's dance (Svekrvino oro).

The groom, his best man and other friends then carry lit torches to the bride's house. The torches symbolise the chasing away of demons that could follow the young couple. They illuminate the path to three fountains, where the bride fills jugs with water for the last time as an unmarried woman.

The Galicnik Wedding is a blend of Christian and pagan customs. One is the Sunday bathing of the dead, when the groom's kin visit the tombs of their ancestors. Then they leave for the best man's home, where the groom seeks blessing. One of the most interesting wedding customs follows. The groom is shaved, illustrating his transformation from a boy to a man. He then has his hair cut. A coin is put in his trimmed hair, representing richness and offspring.

Afterwards, the groom and his guests leave for the bride's home. Clad in the traditional Galicnik folk costume made in sterling silver and gold, one of the most beautiful and richest among the Macedonian folk costumes, the bride welcomes the groom on the balcony of her home. "Through this ring I behold you, let me enter your heart," she says, looking through the ring.

On horseback, the bride then heads to her new husband's home, to be greeted by her mother-in-law with homemade bread. She must then circle her mother-in-law three times, touching the bread in a sign that she will be obedient.

The wedding ceremony is then held at the church. Amid folk dances, including the "bride's dance" (Nevestinsko oro), the couple celebrate the start of married life. And then it's back to the groom's house, where a feast awaits them. They are embarking on a future together while at the same time remembering the past -- an era when the village was once bustling, and a different way of life prevailed.

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