Here in Albania, as in many countries, we are at the height of wedding season. In a country where family is valued above all else and not being married is frowned upon, weddings are big production. Dashmas, as weddings are called here, are four day affairs with all the bells and whistles, or is more often the case as of late, all the Mercedes filled motorcades and fireworks. When we first arrived last summer I was caught off guard and taken aback by their spectacle. Now I see these celebrations as just another part of a summer weekends in Albania.
Traditional wedding processional
As tacky and ostentatious as I find some aspects of these celebrations, even the most modern Albanian wedding is rooted deep in tradition. In pre-modern times, traditional weddings began on Thursdays with the viewing of a woman's dowry by female family members and close friends in her father's home. (Even today, men and women tend to live at home with their parents until they marry). The dowry, which consisted of handmade linens, hand embroidered towels, and other items that were to last the duration of the marriage, were displayed in ornate wooden chests. Brides would also begin their beauty preparations on this day. The parade of visitors continued into Friday with male guests toasting with raki in one room and females drinking sweeter, fruit flavored liqueurs in another. Saturday was much the same with more in-home visiting culminating with the bride's family hosting a dinner for family and friends. The grooms' family, comprised of an odd number of people, was also included.
Sunday was the big day. Travelling by whatever means money and status made available- horse, carriage, or by foot, the groom and his friends and family would caravan to the bride's home to whisk her away to her start her new life, which more often than not, was actually her mother-in-law's home. En route a church, mosque, or civil ceremony may or may not have taken place. The processional would wend its way through the village, town, or city until it arrived at the groom's family's home where the festivities would continue with more food and even more raki. This time the bride's family was charged with providing the odd number of guests. Many times festivities would end with a bang with guns being fired into the air. In some regions, however; mock fights between the bride and groom's families would be staged. This really has to make you wonder.................
Today's weddings are a definite modernized spin on the past. As is the case in most westernize societies, weddings are big business. Instead of spending too much money on a dress that will most likely only be worn once (my own designer dress is now preserved in its own box and sitting in a long term storage facility in Northern Virginia never to be worn again), modern Albanian brides rent theirs. It seems as though every city block has at least one dress shop displaying over the top white confections (think My Big Fat Greek Wedding) ready to be borrowed for that very special day.
Celebrations are still spread out over several days with make up preparations, home visits, and lots of raki drinking making for very long weekends. The traditional Sunday morning processional by horseback or donkey cart from the groom's house to that of the bride's father has been replaced with a flashy parade of plastic flower and streamer covered cars. Most often Mercedes, with the occasional furgon or Opel thrown in, these five-plus vehicle caravans weave their way through traffic with horns blaring. The lead car always has a sunroof with a young (perhaps raki saturated) male hanging out the top with a video camera in hand filming the entire spectacle. The next vehicle is the most lavishly decorated one as it carries the bride and groom. Other cars follow behind. These videos must be the equivalent of an American wedding video but I wonder if Albanians are more apt to watch them than we are.
Wedding processional vehicle circa 2012
Instead of home cooked feasts, restaurants have jumped on the wedding bandwagon with larger ones offering wedding packages complete with copious amounts of traditional style food that would most likely make granny cringe. Of course, no wedding celebration would be complete without a fireworks display on Sunday evening. Without fail, every Sunday night during the summer, the Tirana sky fills with burst of fireworks (despite their questionable safety measures, these explosions have to be safer than the gunfire that marked the finale of the traditional ceremonies of days past).
Yes, weddings traditions are country and even region specific, but they all have one thing in common. Regardless of where they are held, these festivities celebrate the uniting of two families into one. In Albania's case, however, the celebratory bang is just louder and brighter than the rest.