Are you a foreigner who has been invited to a Romanian wedding and don’t know what to expect? Here are a few tips and observations that I have made while planning my own wedding as an expat in Romania.
All Dressed Up With Somewhere To Go:
A Romanian wedding is a fancy event. In fact it’s THE fancy event for most people. A wedding is one of the few times Romanians go all out to get really dressed up and gather together. As a celebration of love and a celebration of loved ones, it’s a big deal not only for the lucky couple, but also for the whole community. The idea is to show your respect for the bride and groom by wearing your best clothes at the wedding. Usually this means fancy suits for men and elegant evening gowns for women. Coiffed hair, makeup, and detailed nails are all par for the course. When planning your wardrobe as a wedding guest, imagine that you’re going to the opera or to a formal Prom. If no one says,”Wow! What’s the occasion?” then you’re probably not quite dressy enough.
Pro Tip: it is highly encouraged to choose comfortable shoes or bring along a comfortable pair to change into, because there will be a lot of dancing at any Romanian wedding!
Nași – Role Models For Life:
When a Romanian couple gets married they don’t simply join their lives and their families, they bring other couples into their relationship as well. In modern marriages, the bride and groom each choose a pair of “Nași,” a married couple that is close to them. The Nași will officially witness the signing of the marriage documents. But their role doesn’t stop there. This is a position that carries significant responsibilities and is taken very seriously. The Nași are expected to make a considerable financial contribute for the wedding, to an extent that only the parents of the couple are likely to offer more. These couples are also expected to be role models for the newlyweds and serve as marital mentors to help them adapt to their new lives together. Essentially they are welcomed and incorporated as a part of the couple’s family and stay with them throughout their lives.
The tradition of selecting bridesmaids and groomsmen in addition to Nași has been imported from the US in recent years. Their roles include organizing the bachelor/bachelorette party, helping to organize the wedding, assisting the bride and groom to dress in the morning, posing for beautiful photos, acting as greeters and ushers at the reception, making speeches in honor of the bride and groom, and generally encouraging the wedding guests to dance and have fun.
The Gift That Keeps On Giving:
Wedding gifts come in all shapes and sizes, and what is considered appropriate varies greatly from one culture to the next. In some countries it is traditional for wedding guests to buy thoughtful gifts for the happy couple on their special day. Today in Romania this is very rare.
Rather than filling a table with brightly colored packages, the most common wedding gift in Romania is a simple envelope with money tucked discreetly inside. For a foreigner who is used to choosing a special gift for important occasions this could seem rather impersonal, but for Romanians it is not only greatly appreciated, it is expected! In the Unites States, the wedding is traditionally paid for by the father of the bride with significant contributions from the groom’s parents. In Romania the bride and groom are responsible for their own wedding costs with the support of their entire network of friends, neighbors, family, and colleagues
The money given at weddings could be thought of as a type of community loan. When a happy couple decides to get married, the entire community joins them to celebrate and to contribute financially to the union. The pooled money is used to pay for the wedding and the honeymoon, and hopefully leave the couple with a small nest egg to begin their new life together. Later, when each of those guests has their own wedding, they will also receive money to start their new life. Essentially, the same money gets passed around to each couple in turn when they get married. This is one of the reasons that weddings are such a big deal in Romania. Every contribution is a means of paying it forward for your own wedding. Each of those occasional small payments come back to you in one big payment when it’s your turn. The more weddings you attend and the more money you give at each one, the more you can expect to come back to you on your own big day. And once you’re married, it is understood that you will put money back into the community pool to contribute to your friends (and their families!) as each one celebrates their own big day.
Unlike in some other countries, the vendors and suppliers only require a small down payment before the wedding for the venue, the food and drinks, the cake, etc. The remaining balance is due after the event has finished when the couple has collected their gifts. This is not only practical and convenient, it is also quite sweet! In a country where the minimum wage is only around 250€ per month, this tradition allows every couple to have a proper wedding regardless of how much they earn. It also brings the community close together, and makes weddings more personal and appreciated for each guest.
Rule of Thumb: It is generally accepted that the minimum gift at a Romanian wedding is 400 lei per person for someone earning less than the minimum wage. The standard gift is 500 lei per person for neighbors and casual friends, and it goes up from there depending on how close each guest is to the couple – larger amounts for close friends, relatives, and those with larger means, with the parents and Nași typically contributing the most.
In modern receptions, wedding guests will usually find envelopes on the tables in which to put the money. Bringing your own envelope is perfectly acceptable, as the gifts are not anonymous. Quite to the contrary, you should be sure to write your name so that the bride and groom will know from whom they have received their gifts and in which amount. The gift is given at the end of the night as each guest leaves the party, usually deposited into a large box near the head table.
A Celebration To Last For Ages:
Romanian weddings are all-day affairs. If you’ll be joining for the full day, make sure to get some sleep the night before. Traditionally, wedding celebrations in villages would stretch out for three days and three nights. That’s a lot of celebrating! Most weddings are not quite so long these days, but you can still expect them to start early in the day and run into the wee hours of the night.
The morning usually starts with considerable noise and excitement. Traditionally, gypsy musicians will appear at the groom’s house to wake up the entire neighborhood. The idea is to announce to everyone within earshot that an important wedding is taking place that day.
This exciting beginning kicks off the journey of the groom that could lead him all over the city. This journey springs from traditional roots in the village, where the groom to be would travel from house to house accompanied by musicians. He would take a bottle of brandy or wine, and have a drink with each of his neighbors and invite them to the wedding. The entourage would grow as each neighbor then accompanied the young man through the village until he arrived at the young woman’s house, where he would ask her family for her hand in marriage.
Today’s modern version of this journey usually involves traveling with musicians from the groom’s house to the homes of each of the Nași and sharing a drink before moving with everyone to the next location. The final destination is the bride’s home, where her family and bridesmaids have helped her to dress for the wedding. In some cases, the family may present a substitute in place of the bride, usually an older family member. It is up to the groom to be able to identify his real bride, which could be a challenge depending on how many stops and how many glasses of brandy were consumed along the way!
The next stop on the journey is the civil ceremony, conducted by the city Mayor or another official from City Hall. This service is usually performed for the family and closest friends of the couple. This is the ceremony that makes the marriage legal and binding, including signing the wedding certificate with the Nași as witnesses. As there are frequently many couples getting married on the same day in any large city, the ceremony only lasts between five and ten minutes, followed by celebratory snacks and drinks.
After the civil ceremony, the procession will move on to the religious ceremony at the church. While Romania is largely an Orthodox country, other religions are also prevalent, including Catholic, Greek Catholic, and Unitarian options. Some progressive couples today choose to forego the religious ceremony in exchange for a personal ceremony that they have designed for themselves outside of the church.
When the religious ceremony has finished, the couple will probably duck out for a photo session while the rest of their wedding guests gather at the reception hall to await their arrival.
Etiquette Note: The family of the bride and groom will be expected to participate in all of the events throughout the day. Friends are welcome to come to the civil or religious ceremony if they would like, but it is also acceptable to arrive at the beginning of the reception to celebrate the wedding.
Upon their arrival, the bride and groom will normally be announced and a toast will be offered. Traditionally the couple will throw their Campaign flutes to the ground. If the glass breaks, it is said to bring good luck to the couple. Other theories say they the breaking of the glass symbolizes the irreversible change for the lives of the newlyweds, with a commitment as unchangeable as the breaking of the glass. Or it could be interpreted as a tribute to love, symbolizing that the love between the newlyweds should last as long as it would take to make the glasses whole again.
Once the initial presentation of the newlyweds has ended and they share their first dance, the party kicks off. And so does the procession of food! Since the party stretches all afternoon and into the night, it is normal to have multiple rounds of food to keep everyone going strong with plenty of dancing and fun in between. It is not unusual to have a round of cold appetizers, warm appetizers, a main dish, and dessert. Then later in the evening it is customary to have another warm dish brought out, usually including cabbage rolls that would constitute a main meal in and of themselves. If you have a big appetite, then Romanian weddings are like heaven!
Pro tip: Do not eat before a Romanian wedding! There is sure to be more food than a normal person can handle.
At some point in the evening, the bride may be kidnapped from the reception and a ransom demanded from her new husband. This is one of the most unusual Romanian traditions from a foreigner’s perspective, but it is all done in the spirit of fun. The kidnapping is typically carried out by the friends of the groom, generally by leading the bride off discretely by the hand rather than throwing her over their shoulders like a sack of potatoes! She is then typically taken to a bar or club to drink shots while the kidnappers negotiate their demands with her husband. Demands frequently include things like wine and whiskey for the friends, silly dances from the part of the groom, or public declarations of love for the bride.
At the end of the party, each guest will pay their respects to the newlyweds before leaving for the night. It is customary to congratulate the couple, and to receive a small goodie bag as a token of their thanks for joining in the celebration.
These are the traditions that I have discovered while planning my own international wedding with a Romanian. Surely there are more that I have missed. If you know of other Romanian wedding traditions, let me know in the comments!