Some Traditional Hungarian Wedding Customs

Before the days of printed invitations, when a couple began preparing for their wedding, it was the responsibility of the best man (the godfather of the bride and groom) to make personal verbal invitations to the guests, often in a rhyme. He was often also responsible for arranging up to three days of festivities and amusements. Today, couples are still expected (as much as possible) to invite their close relatives, friends and neighbors in person together as a couple.

Traditional bride's attire included a marvelously embroidered dresses with floral patterns and a bold variation of three bright colors, often with many underskirts and an elaborate head-dress often with wheat woven into it. The fancy beaded and embroidered dolls popular as tourist items in Hungary are modeled after traditional wedding attire. Modern brides usually wear white gowns.

In Hungary, large groups of people, often the whole village, would form a Wedding Procession marching to the bride's home and escorting her and all her trousseau in a painted and decorated cart to the groom's house or the church.

Celebrations along the way would take place as people would come out of their homes and often toast the couple and offer their best wishes.The bride would seldom make the journey without incident however, as a group of cheerful men or women would stop the procession with a ridiculous excuse and "steal" the bride. The groom would have to bargain and pay a large ransom to retrieve her. (The money would be returned, of course.)

Arriving at the groom's home, the bride would be greeted by his parents - sometimes with a candle or a glass of wine - the glass she would toss behind her - or with an egg on the floor which she would break to assure healthy children. Or sometimes they would offer her honey and braided cake to assure sweetness. Sometimes a handful of small coins ("little money") will be tossed on the floor and a broom would be left in the home's doorway for her to grab and start sweeping to show her industriousness. A couple will be given a couple of dishes to smash loudly for her to sweep up as well - carefully separating the coins from the pottery. The more shards the better - "Many pieces makes for a successful marriage." These are often done at family parties after the wedding and reception is over.

In Hungary, "egan" means "yes"! Today, a required civil wedding will take place one month after all paperwork is completed, with the bride and groom entering the Courthouse hand in hand together followed by their witnesses, the four of them sitting at the front of the room, the couple signing their names in a book. This brief "State" ceremony is secular, so a religious ceremony will often follow at a church. Today, the procession may be from the Courthouse to the Church.

In general, today, Hungarian weddings are less formal and rehearsed than in the US, and follow a similar, but simpler, format. The bride and groom sit in special chairs up front, their witnesses along side. In Hungarian wedding ceremonies, there is usually a time when the bride and groom sit up front on the platform, and various people come up to read them a poem, share a reminisence or song, or officially wish them well.

Wedding rings: In Hungary, when couples are engaged they wear their rings on the left hand, after the wedding the ring is moved to the right hand. Along with the exchanging of wedding rings, it was customary for a Hungarian bride to give her groom a wedding present of handkerchiefs, usually three or seven, which are believed to be lucky numbers. In return, the Hungarian groom gave his bride a bag of coins.

Names: In Hungary, the family name comes first and the personal name follows. The wife's name is often the husband's with a "-ne" added to his name: Hence: Balogh Bruno es Balogn Bruno-ne is Mr. And Mrs. Bruno Balogh.

Gifts are usually given personally to the bride and groom as the guests depart from the gathering, with appropriate comments. Or they may be delivered personally to the home of the bride and groom afterwards. Envelopes containing money are often given, with just the bride and groom's name on it - so care must be taken to mark each one with the giver's name. A record of these gifts is important because a Hungarian custom requires an equal gift to be given back by the couple should a similar event take place in the home or family of the giver on a future occaision. (The basic Hungarian monetary unit is the Forint)

Guestbooks are circulated among the guests during the reception. Usually a page of good wishes accompanies each entry into the books. These are treasured long afterwards.

Hungarian receptions are feasts with plenty of Hungarian dishes seasoned with paprika or sour cream. Hungarian meals start with a thin broth soups, usually cooked noodles, vegetables and meats are offered to be added to it. Then after the soups come the main dishes: Chicken Paprikash, Beef Goulash, Soproni Wedding Soup, Cold Cherry Soup, and Stuffed Cabbage are just a few examples - and of course, lots of pastries and lavishly decorated wedding cakes! All sorts of elaborate "bar cookies" are prepared - not overly sweet, but enough to offer them to visiters long after the wedding. The practice of bride and groom feeding each other cake is not traditional in Hungary, instead, the main wedding cake would be served to the guests by the Bride and Groom. Guests often bring small wedding cakes sometimes even with brides and grooms on top to the reception, the cakes usually have lots of thin layers of cake and frosting. In fact, traditionally, there would be a choice of ten desserts offered. Boxes of cake are given out to the guests as they leave. Hungarians do not like to waste food - so the leftovers of the banquet will be breakfast the next morning, and perhaps lunch, and dinner too!

There would be lots of merryment and folk dancing. When the couple dances their first dance - a ring of dancers will form to dance around them them. Folk dances are popular to gypsy music, or circle dances. These sometimes get a bit risque as the party progresses. The violin is a favored instrument.

Late in the evening at the reception, the custom of the money dance would take place. The bride would wear a special traditional dress. Either her father or the best man would announce that "The bride is for sale!" The male guests line up to "pay" for the privilege of dancing with the bride (usually just a couple of seconds before the next cuts in), their money either dropped into her shoes in the center of the floor or pinned to her dress. This was a way of providing the bride money for the honeymoon. In former times, guests were expected to be most generous in this, providing money and goods for a couple's new life.

In the 18th Century, the extravagant wedding expenses became threats to peasant welfare. Weddings were so expensive, that some farmers were bankrupt, but divorces were rare - no one could afford a second wedding. Elopements became more common as a result. But during the Communist era, church weddings were discouraged and the farmer's traditional wedding became a showcase of "agricultural success" and symbols of "folk identity." Today a number of &living museum communities" stage traditional weddings with costumed folk dancing ensembles for tourists.

A final moving scene as the couple departed is the bride's farewell to her parents and their replies, often tinged with nostalgic childhood reminiscences and good peasant moral philosophy.

Links to sources, etc.:

Hungarian Recipes


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