Polish Wedding


Czepek dance – Money dance

The money dance is also an original Polish custom. It takes place after the oczepiny ceremony. Guests pay money for the privilege of dancing with the bride. The maid of honor collects money for the couple to use as they set-up their household together. Today guests pay to dance with both the bride and the groom. At the end of this ceremony, the bride and the groom dance together while the money is counted to determine who has collected more.

Wedding cake

The ceremonial wedding cake is believed to be derived from the Romans. This custom was continued throughout Europe for centuries. The first documented record of a special cake served at Polish weddings dates back to the thirteen century. This was a sweet bread in an oval shape called kolacz. Today the wedding cake has become a show piece, prepared by a professional baker complete with sculpted flowers and monograms.


In old days, the wedding ceremonies continued for several days. Now weddings last only for one or two days, mainly because the modern tempo forbids feasts that go on for several days. The party on the second day is called poprawiny (do over again). Our poprawiny is after the Sunday mass between 12:00 and 2:00pm

Ed Zawadzki is passionate about his Polish heritage and he’s not afraid to tell everyone he meets.  Ed spoke of the many historical accomplishments of the Polish people in his recent visit to Toledo from the Hussars, the best cavalry unit in Europe, even the entire world to middleweight boxing champion, Tony Zale.  He spoke at the Toledo Polish Genealogy Society, and the Kielbasa Dinner and Heritage Presentation sponsored by the Polish American Community of Toledo. He also made a visit to Zavotski’s Meats and Deli for a book signing. His love of his Polish ancestry was evident as he talked about his parents struggles in nazi work camps during World War II.  Everyone loved his presentation but were really enamored with Wanda Zawadzki, his 92 year old mother who accompanied him and was his inspiration for writing his book, “Poles in the New World”. Ed’s book highlights 50 famous, and some infamous, Polish immigrants who made their homes in North America.  If you didn’t get to see Ed’s presentation, do not despair; Ed is planning another visit to Toledo next summer.  To order his book, go to http://www.polesworld.com.

Description of Polish Wedding Customs

Wedding day

The wedding day is full of activities and emotions, alternating between sorrow and joy, solemnity and humor.

Early in the morning, the closest relatives begin to appear at the bride’s home for breakfast and to help in preparations for the ceremony. Next, there is a wedding ceremony at the local church, followed by the reception at the local community house (the bride’s family cottage could hardly accommodate all the wedding guests including relatives, friends, and the entire village.)

Greeting with bread & salt

As the newly married couple returns from the church, they are greeted at the door of the reception hall by their parents with bread (chleb) and salt (sol). In some regions of Poland a glass of vodka is added. The groom sprinkles the bread with salt, the newlyweds both kiss the bread while the parents say “may you never lack it” (oby Wam go nigdy nie brakowalo). This ceremony is full of strong emotions. Often themorning, the closest relatives begin to appear at the bride’s home for breakfast and to help in preparations for the ceremony. Next, there is a wedding ceremony at the local church, followed by the reception at the local community house (the bride’s family cottage could hardly accommodate all the wedding guests including relatives, friends, and the entire village.) newly-married couple, their parents, and guests cry during this ritual. In Poland, bread is considered a gift of God and must always be treated with deep respect. Salt which comes from the earth, is a basic necessity of life. Poles combine the “Gift of God”, and the “basic necessity of life”, and offer them on a tray on various occasions as a gesture of hospitality.

Oczepiny – the unveiling and capping ceremony

Oczepiny is one of the oldest and the most important of Polish wedding customs. In old days, it was so significant that only after oczepiny, and not the church ceremony, was the bride considered to be a married woman. Before oczepiny, the bride socializes and dances with her unmarried female friends. After oczepiny, she belongs to the married women’s circle. The bride tries to delay the oczepiny ceremony, but it is up to the best man to decide when oczepiny will begin. On his command, the band performs the drum roll, and the bride is placed on dance floor, in a chair facing the guests. The maid of honor and the bride’s mother-in-law stand at her side. All of the unmarried girls stand behind the bride. Married woman light candles, and surround the bride while singing. Next, the maiden of honor, removes the bride’s veil. This is not an easy, as the bridesmaids have secured it with so many hairpins. Finally, the bride casts the veil behind her, and the girl who catches the veil is the next to marry. Now the married women take over. In old days they would cut the braid off the bride’s hair. Nowadays, the bride?s hair is covered with a marriage cap, a gift from the bride’s godmother. The bride tries to delay this event as long as possible by throwing the cap off. Finally, she accepts the cap and at this moment, is officially a married woman. Still holding candles and singing, the married woman present the bride in her wedding cap to the wedding guests. From now on, the bride socializes only with the married women.


Music is an important part of the wedding reception. The music must be lively and must continue with very few breaks. Guests typically pay the band for a specific dance. The success of the marriage is thought to depend on the amount of spontaneity and joy at the reception. A Polish proverb states “Jakie wesele takie pozycie” (like wedding, like life).


During the reception, most of the singing is done in chorus – often in two choruses. The bridesmaids usually sing one verse, then the married women respond with their verse. There is singing also by the guests at the table, praising the food and thanking their hosts.


The dancing is done primarily for amusement, self-expression and happiness. It is a tradition that each man must dance with the bride, and with every woman and girl at the wedding. All guests at a Polish wedding must be prepared to dance, and dance, and dance.

Table setting

The tables are arranged in a U-shape, with the bride and groom in the middle surrounded by their parents, the maid of honor(druchna), best man (druzba), and important guests. The bride?s extended family is seated on the right side, while the groom?s family is on the left.

Wedding Dinner

Traditionally, the first course for a wedding dinner is soup, usually chicken noodle soup. The second course is meat, chicken or pork.


Taking pictures at the wedding is a very important tradition in Poland as is here in the US. Usually, the newlyweds, parents and druchna and druzba drive to the closest city for a sitting with a professional photographer. Alternatively, the photographer may come to the wedding to take pictures of the married couple with their wedding guests. Thus, we too will take pictures of the guests with the newlyweds.

Crossing the threshold

The bride and groom compete to cross the threshold first when coming into the reception hall. This determines who will rule their household. The bride is earnest in her attempts, but the best man is watching and will quickly shout “Step back, please!” if he sees her winning. Nowadays, the groom usually takes the bride in his arms and they pass over the threshold together, demonstrating that she allows him to rule the house, and that he will take great care of her and her needs.

The celebration of All Saints, known and unknown, on November 1st was introduced into the Church Liturgy by Pope John XI in 835, while All Souls’ Day on November 2nd began more than 100 years later in 998, when the Abbot of the Benedictine Monastery at Cluny ordered the Benedictine congregations to say the mass and prayers in the intention of all the deceased.

In Polish tradition (w polskiej tradycji), especially the folk one, both these holidays, All Saints’ Day in particular, are devoted to praying for the souls of the dead (mają charakter zaduszny). In this sense they are a continuation of the ceremonies for the dead performed by our ancestors.


On All Saints’ Day all Polish cemeteries (wszystkie polskie cmentarze) are visited by great numbers of people who come to pray over the graves for their close relatives. Candles are lit (znicze są zapalane) on every grave (na każdymgrobie) and flowers are put on them. The custom requires (obyczaj nakazuje) to burn candles, lay flowers on evergreen branches also on old, unattended and forgotten graves, visited by no one.

A lot of people in the States ask me: “Why would you have such a sad holiday after the Halloween?” Well, polish people do not celebrate Halloween (although it became more popular within last few years and there are some places where Halloween parties are held). And I also tell them that it actually is not a “sad holiday”. I always remember all my family getting together, my cousins coming to visit, almost like a family reunion. Of course it was sad to think about all our relatives that are not with us any more. But at the end it was always a nice day with the family.

It was believed in Poland that on the night from November 1st to 2nd shadows of the dead (cienie zmarłych), walk from cemetery to church to the night service celebrated for them by the ghost of the dead provost.

On those days church beggars who prayed under the church and churchyard wall were given lavish hands-outs, for it was thought a deceased ancestor might take the shape of a beggar. Till the early 20th century on All Saints’ Eve bread was baked, broad beans were cooked and in the eastern territories a funeral dish called kutia was prepared. All that along with vodka was left on the table for the night for the guests from other world (dla gości z zaświatów).

On cemeteries and at the crossroads great fires were lit, especially on the graves of those who committed suicide (tych którzy popełnili samobójstwo), once buried outside cemeteries.

Today all these practices and offerings have been replaced by church services and prayers, “callings” (zapowiedzi) by name of the dead in whose intentions the prayers are made, candles and flowers. However, the old and the present ceremonies to the dead souls (dawne i obecne kościelne obchody zaduszne) have one motivation in common: they express lasting memory (wyrażają nieprzemijającą pamięć) of all the deceased as well as gratitude and respect (wdzięczność i szacunek) for them.


All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day are also days of national remembrance (dniami pamięci narodowej). Candles burn on the Tomb of Unknown Soldier (na Grobie Nieznanego Żołnierza) , graves and insurgents, at military quarters of cemeteries (w cmentarnych kwaterach wojskowych), on countless anonymous (niezliczonych bezimiennych) soldiers’ graves all over fields and forests in Poland, on execution sites and commemorative tablets to soldiers killed at the fronts of all wars as well as on graves of civilians executed during those wars.

Candles burn also on graves of people of special merits for Poland and its culture (na grobach ludzi szczególnie zasłużonych dla Polski i jej kultury). In all these sites of martyrdom and national memories guards of honor are set up (zaciągane są warty honorowe).

They signify not only the imperishable memory (nieprzemijającą pamięć) but also the conviction that not everything dies in us.