martedì 9 giugno 2009
THE TRADITIONAL BULGARIAN ORTHODOX MARRIAGE IN THE PAST
A traditional Bulgarian marriage involved two "cycles": engagement and marriage proper. The engagement was something of a legal event, it represented a form of bargaining, a deal and fulfilment of the material terms and conditions by the two parties. The wedding itself was an official and public confirmation of the contract. Both rituals were characterized by a good deal of theatricalness, especially the wedding ceremony which was characterized by a mixture of elements of a symbolic, magic, and artistic (dramatic, musical, poetical and choreographic ) nature.
Irrespective of their "buy-and-sell" aspect, marriages in the countryside were concluded mainly for love, while in the towns the prevalent principle was the class-related and mercantile one.
The engagement was initiated with "reconnaissance" visits to the girl's place. Confidants of the candidate tried to find out what either parents and girl thought. The talks were kept in secret, since their outcome was not always predetermined. The moves of both sides were full of mystery and allegory. The guests would give a sign as to the aim of their visit by sitting next to the fireplace and starting to rake the coals with the iron-tongs. Consent was expressed by the phrase "Let us see", acceptance being at least once delayed. The proposal was declined by saying that the girl was too young to be married.
Provided an agreement was reached, the messengers of the suitor presented the family with money and gifts, and the girl's family, in turn, gave dowry in cash or kind - goods, livestock, or real property. With this - according to common law - the marriage contract became effective.
The festive engagement ritual was already a public event and was accompanied by feasts, music and frolic joined in by many near and dear. Only under most extreme, scandalous circumstances could an engagement be broken off. The period of time between the engagement and the wedding was short - several weeks, as a rule. Intermarriages of people of different religions were not practised. The "breakthrough" in this respect dates back to as late as the 19th century, when Bulgarian students abroad started marrying women of German, Czech, and other nationalities.
All wedding rituals had a specific meaning and were performed by strictly appointed persons, although the personage varied from region to region. Along with the bride and the bridegroom, "central parts" were played by the sponsors, the bridegroom's brother and sisters, etc.
The marriage proper would begin with a ceremonial invitation of the guests. The people who performed this task were decorated with towels across their shoulders and carried a wooden vessel of wine (baklitsa) and containers of brandy. In smaller communities practically everybody around was invited.
Meanwhile, a ritual baking of the festive bread was underway. The baking was done by young women at both places, all the rites being accompanied by "tradition-blessed" songs. The next point was the making of the wedding banner, again by young girls. The banner was white, red, or white and red, its top being adorned with flowers, a gilded apple and an onion. In most places a wedding tree was also set up and decorated with blossoms, ribbons and gold-foiled fruit. It was carried by every wedding procession and was usually placed in front of the most respected wedding-guests. At the sponsor's place wreaths were made to keep from the evil eye and other troubles. During the church service, they were placed on the heads of the young couple, who did not remove them while following the way home.
Before taking the bride out of her father's home, a group of girls, her friends, would unbraid her hair, comb it and plait it again filling the room with resounding ritual wails and songs. On his part, the bridegroom would be ritually shaved by his friends, even if he was still beardless. This ceremony also involved singing songs, the ritual being regarded as the end of single state. The boy's or girl's farewell parties popular in Europe were rare in Bulgaria.
The dressing of the bride (naturally with her finest garments) and her trimming with adornments, wreaths and other embellishments was also accompanied by heavy ritual trappings. Finally, there came the veiling (with a thick red cloth showing nothing through) - a symbolic "isolation" of the bride from the outer world, and of the world from her. Since the beginning of the 20th century the red fabric has been replaced by fine manufactured tulle