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Galichnik Wedding – Festive Miracle of Traditions

Galicnik, a village located at the elevation of 1400 meters on the western slopes of Bistra Mountain, is thought to be the only place the Turks never managed to set foot on during their reign in this part of the Balkan Peninsula. The village has succeeded in preserving its genuine traditions, such as the Galichnik wedding - a two-day event that gathers people from all over the world. The wedding reflects an ongoing tradition. It is a living proof of Christian period preserved rituals. Couples can still have a traditional wedding in Galicnik, if the groom and his family originate from this village.

"Tourists, mostly from Japan, US, Canada and the Netherlands, attend this spectacular event every year", said Mitre Adzioski, representative of the village municipality.

"The crowd is bigger on Sunday, indeed, when most of the wedding rituals take place. On this day, some of the visitors even decide to fully participate in the wedding ceremony, following the couple all the time. It is a long day, the activities begin at 8 in the morning and last until late in the night", he explained. Music, as old people say, is heard all the way to Albania.

According to Mr. Adzievski, it takes 3 to 4 months for the village to be fully prepared, as the couples have to apply to be chosen to participate in this event. The application form is published in a daily newspaper and advertised on the official website (www.galichnik-official.mk). The couples that have applied are informed on the results by the beginning of May.

The preparations end on the day of the wedding, which always takes place during a weekend in early July, around St. Peter’s Day, since in the past, most of the villagers were mainly herders or migrant workers in other European countries and they could not switch the wedding day.

"My fiancée had to be there two months prior the big event, to make sure everything was in order", said Aleksandra Krstveska, this year’s bride. "I learnt all the particulars during the weekends, such as riding a horse, the process and the ritual details. We wanted to make everything look as close as possible to the original event", she said.

"Mother-in-law" dance

According to the custom, the wedding starts with loud music on Saturday morning. Back then, the groom and his friends set up improvised wooden cabins for the musicians, since they, too, needed a quiet place to relax and rest.

The mother-in-law starts the celebration as she dances the specific "Mother-in-law" dance in the yard of their house. Girls and boys, dressed in their best garments, gather and sing songs, grabbing offered snacks or fruit. Their task is to use flowers as a decoration of a flag that will be placed on the rooftop. Elderly men dance the typical traditional folk dance, called "Teshkoto".

Then the in-laws go from house to house inviting all village inhabitants. The day passes with invitees and family members making toasts, wishing the future couple a happy and prosperous life. When the night falls, the villagers gather at the main square and the music and the festivities continue until the late hours. The bride makes her last public appearance as a girl and is sent to bring water from three different fountains.

As soon as all the hustle and bustle ceases, it is time for sleep.

The chaotic first day ends and everyone anticipates the solemnity and the seriousness of the following one. The next day, each dance and song, each tune has a deep symbolic meaning.

The visit of the graveyards on the day of the wedding is a very interesting custom. The purpose for this pre-Christian, morbid and earnest practice is to pay homage to the deceased family members, ask for their forgiveness and "invite" them to join the wedding, by spilling out wine on the graves. The closest family members shed tears as they recall the moments shared with the descendants and the impossibility for them to participate in such a joyful event. This is a testimony of the tradition’s longevity; just as is the custom of "shaving the groom" – a theater of the boy-to-man transition of the future husband. Girls are in the back, singing teasing songs, while the young man is being prepared to become a member of the guild. Once the groom is ready, he goes to invite the Godfather, together with a special friend, carrying the flag from the house. Afterwards, they are on their way to get the girl.

I see you through this ring to get into your heart

Aleksandra Krtevska, also originating from this region, said this was the kind of a wedding she wanted ever since she was a little girl. "It was an unforgettable experience and honor to participate in this historical, cultural and unique event! I will never forget that day, especially because I shared it with people from all around the world".

Many time consuming rituals follow inside the bride’s house, like putting all sorts of herbs and food in a towel by the youngest sibling for future prosperity and abundance. Every single step is done by a specially designated person. While the two families’ older members are "weighing their strengths" by pulling a towel to tear, the younger ones also have things to do. Men are trying to break through the door where the damsel is kept, which is being pushed from the inside of the room by the girls. Men "bribe" the girls with money to let them take the bride. One of the most interesting rituals is when the bride looks through a ring to see her beloved riding down on a horse, so she can always have her eyes on him. Since they are still unmarried, he cannot enter her house before he is given a white towel and an apple – sign of parents' consent.

Aleksandra Krstevska, the bride is performing a ritual. Here she is looking through her wedding ring so her future husband will always be close, within her sight. Photo: private

This was the most exciting part for Aleksandra too - the moment when she saw him on a white horse riding while she was saying: "I see you through this ring to get into your heart". 

In past times, when the young lady was saying her last good bye to her mother and father, the whole act reminded more of a funeral than a wedding, since those were her last days as a girl, as she was entering a new home she had been almost completely unfamiliar with.

Tears are shed, while the constant singing puts a person into a trance. At least in the past. Today, the wedding is performed on a much more upadet fashion.

Aleksandra is trying to keep her balance as one of the groom's friends puts the groom's own hat on her head. Photo: private

Finally, as the horses are being loaded with her heavy dowry (linens, blankets, clothes), she walks out of the house on specially placed rugs. At this point, she is wearing a beautiful laced veil over her head all the way to the ankles. The next steps are important, as, in her new house, she has to start molding dough, showing everyone that she will be a devoted spouse. Being fed with bread and wine, she receives blessing from her mother-in-law. Afterwards, her only role is to stand on a special place by the table with her head down, in silence, while the guests are feasting.

Records say the traditional wedding gown weighs up to 40 kg, since it is made of 100% wool fabrics and heavy silver jewelry.

For Aleksandra, the weight of the clothes was not much of a problem, though the weather was hot. "This year we were lucky", she said because of the constant light wind.

Then, typical religious rituals follow, as placing flower garlands on the bride’s and groom’s heads. On the way back to the new home, their best friends, each separately introduces them to the secrets of marriage.

Finally, the party can start. When the time is right, the bride and the groom go to their room. The woman is undressing the man. Local people say this particular ritual dates from the time when most grooms were adolescents and women were considerably older. They are, however, interrupted in their private moment by the guests crashing a clay jug on the door. The crashed pieces symbolize the number of their children. The "bed sheet scene" was obligatory in the past, but nowadays things are different.

The wedding is a glorious interpretation of life cycles, but of the obstacles and hard times as well. It tells a story of millennia old values and practices. It is sometimes good that some things remain unchanged.

Nikolina Stojanova

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