Getting Ready for a Certain Wedding. Wedding Customs in Words and Pictures
BEŇUŠKOVÁ, Zuzana: Getting Ready for a Certain Wedding. Wedding Customs in Words and Pictures. Bratislava: Institute of Ethnology and Social Anthropology SAS – VEDA SAS, 127 p., ISBN: 978-80-224-1831-7.
This book aims to present to the general public a part of the content of the Digital Archive of Photographs, Transparencies and Drawings, curated by the Institute of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, and offer findings on the wedding customs in Slovakia and their changes over time by means texts and pictures.
The archive has been created systematically as an integral part of the Institute since its establishment in 1953. Its scientific collections contain textual, picture and multi-media documents created in the course of scientific and research activities. It is used mostly as visual documentation materials for the study of traditional folk culture phenomena or as a source of picture supplements of expert ethnological publications. The book, for the first time, presents picture information as its core, the text playing only an accompanying role. The selection of wedding pictures shows the forms of weddings in different Slovak regions throughout the 20th century when the local traditions were gradually disrupted by modernisation influences. The pictures date from the 1950s–1980s period, and the reproductions of photographs obtained during field research show weddings also from the first half of the 20th century. They contain captions and additional information as part of the photo documentation archive.
Wedding customs form a huge complex that has changed over time and in space and is currently subject to global influences that are confronted with the revival of local traditions. The relatively small Slovakia in the centre of Europe has faced cultural currents of different ethnic origins and the influences of different churches; the geographical division of the territory has contributed to the differences between the culture of mountainous and lowland regions of the country; and the structure of wedding ceremonies has been affected by geopolitical changes.
The actual course of the wedding depended on the number of wedding days, which varied from region to region, changing over time and in different social settings. In Slovakia, until the first half of the 20th century, it was usually a patrilocal type of wedding, which means that the groom went to pick up the bride and took her to his parents’ house.
The book pays considerable attention to the various forms of social communication between wedding guests, as well as between the local community and the wedding team. The symbolism of the ceremonies, which was well understood by the local community, was hidden in the rituals, verbal expressions, in the form of wedding processions, gifts, joint feasting, dancing, or the expressions of joy and sorrow that accompanied the end and the beginning when entering a new phase of life. One of the highlights of a traditional wedding was the removal of the wreath from the bride’s head, setting for the first night together, followed by hair styling and the replacement of the wedding wreath with a bonnet as the symbol of transformation of a single girl into a woman.
The book also identifies the changes and their causes as recorded with regard to wedding customs in the framework of ethnological research and observations from the second half of the 20th century until the present. These concern mainly the reduction of weddings to one day (and night), the transfer of wedding parties to premises which separate the wedding guests from the local community, the use of technological elements in the organisation of weddings. After 1990, the organisation of weddings was affected by legislative changes and the professionalisation of services along with various fashion influences from abroad. In response to the effects of globalisation, there has been increased interest in the recent years in the revival of such ritual elements which make weddings more attractive thanks to their emotional or entertaining nature. Extremely popular is the removal of the wreath and the symbolic covering of the bride’s head with a scarf or a bonnet at midnight, using parts of the folk costume and folk music. Innovations can also be observed in the change of the place of marriage, the to-be-married couple requesting their marriage to be contracted outside official premises or the church. We have also recorded changes in the form of catering, decoration of the wedding premises, or the enlivening of wedding parties with elements that draw the wedding guests’ attention to the newlyweds.
The wedding ceremony theme can also be observed in the celebration of round anniversaries of marital cohabitation or during funerals of young people. These situations are mentioned in the separate short chapters of the book. Experts may be interested in the evaluation of the current state of research on wedding customs in Slovakia and in the overview of the most important Slovak ethnological publications on the given theme. The book is intended for professionals as well as the general public – especially young people who may wish to get acquainted, before they get married, with the structure and forms of traditional weddings in Slovakia and their transformations.
wedding; wedding customs; historical photography; folk culture