Before heading out – read your invitation carefully in order to check if you have been invited just to the wedding ceremony or to the reception as well. You are in for a treat if the second option is your option! If not – you will probably just attend the church service (in Poland still a vast majority of marriages is a religious ceremony), congratulate the newlyweds afterwards and are free to go home (unfortunately!).
The invitation may also indicate what gifts you should bring for the newlyweds. Polish people are as a rule not big on giving the bride and groom toasters, vacuum cleaners or linen. Many couples write on the invite that they would appreciate... money and that they prefer wine or chocolate over flowers. Many couples ask their guests to make charity donations instead of bringing physical gifts to the registry office, church or reception hall.
In the case of civil marriages there is no trick to the way the guests should behave during the ceremony, but how about church weddings? In the majority of cases you will attend a Catholic mass and your best option is to follow the congregation and stand, kneel and sit down whenever the rest decide to. Considering the kneeling part – if you do not feel like it, standing is also a respectful and acceptable option in many churches.
The fun of the Polish wedding starts at the reception taking place in a dedicated venue. The number of party guests is usually between 100-200 and there is a bit of a flexible agenda to that. Once you arrive at the venue with the rest of the guests, the newlyweds should arrive too to be greeted by their parents with bread, salt and a shot of vodka. After that the party is officially started and you should be prepared to eat and drink a lot – there will be a number of hot courses served throughout the night, usually with cakes, desserts, ice cream, fancy wild meat and other dishes. Alcohol should be served throughout the night, with bottles of wine and vodka within each guest’s hand reach. People sitting next to you will every now and then propose a toast to the couple, so there is no need to sip wine or other alcohols between those drinking sessions.
Dancing is a vital part of any Polish wedding. Starting with the first dance of the married couple, there will be more and more of that throughout the night. If you are a woman, you will probably be asked to dance by many elderly uncles and cousins of the newlyweds, whereas men are expected not to rest idle by the table but entertain the ladies on the dancefloor. Poles believe that dancing reduces the side effects of excessive drinking, so they will dance till dawn. Please bear in mind that Poles love to do it in pairs, just like proper ballroom dancing!
Customs and games
During the course of the night, there will also be various games, sometimes originating from folk traditions, such as unveiling the bride, throwing the bouquet/bow tie, numerous fancy toasts, guessing games, dance contests, slideshows etc. etc. The band is likely to play live and engage the guests in some activities, while some couples decide to hire a dedicated emcee. No matter what, the party should last till morning – it is normal for the guests to leave around 4 or 5 a.m.
There is a big chance you will be invited to the second (yes, second) day of the wedding celebrations, in Polish called poprawiny. It may take place in the same wedding hall or, if there are less guests, in the family house or smaller restaurant. It is definitely more relaxed, but there still may be dancing and definitely a lot of eating/drinking. Brace yourself!