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Weddings in Romania

Wedding season, like the highly anticipated cherry season in Romania, starts around the middle of May. Within a month, it is a fact of life. Much like the 'very, very, very, sweet cherries' advertised at farmer's markets, brides, along with their wedding parties, also start to pop up all over the country. The parade continues all the way through to the end of summer, thus outlasting the short-lived cherry harvest.

Although I've attended several Romanian weddings, enough to 'get the gist', these observations are partly fueled by the readily available bottles of Jack Daniels, wine, and the occasional tuica, without which no Romanian wedding is complete.

You must first understand that Romanian weddings fall into one of two categories: for the couple's friends and family, or for the couple's parents and friends. There is a distinction here and, keep in mind, it's almost impossible to combine the two.

The former tend to be smaller weddings, in quaint - maybe even unique - venues. It's more than likely that the entertainment is provided exclusively by a DJ. The food may be a little more atypical (we'll get to that), as are the outfits, there is a photographer but maybe it's a friend, and there is rarely an official videographer. There are no choreographed traditional dances or other similar 'surprise moments'. Music is anything from the Bee Gees to Aerosmith, to David Guetta; it's lively and peppy, and maybe even tacky, but it gets the people going. Everyone comes to have a good time, and they usually do. 'Everyone' consists of close family and a wide circle of friends all mingling, drinking, and dancing. It gives the wedding more of a party vibe as opposed to the heavier, formal, soiree atmosphere that the other type of weddings engender. The total number of guests sits around the 100 mark and the revelers are nearer the couple's ages than to their parents's. It's as if each of the newlyweds invited his and her friends to their birthday party and everybody showed up to party.

This sounds like a 'normal' wedding in the US or Canada, but it's borderline rebellious in Romania.

Which brings us to the other kind of wedding.

These are expansive (and expensive) affairs - parents usually play a significant role in organizing them - counting thirty or so odd tables (300+ guests) in palatial looking venues. A live band does the honours most of the night. Sometimes a DJ plays second fiddle (but is never the main act as that would denote 'low effort' from the hosts). There are often a couple of photographers and a videographer with a crane rig, usually positioned just off  to the side of the dance floor, to capture the 'feel' of the party. Sometime between the aperitif and the first course, a professional troupe will provide a 'special moment' in the form of a tango, popular dance, or salsa show. The music is 80% Romanian popular music, because this is the type of wedding that caters to people in another generation, with different musical tastes. They wouldn't know what to do with Lil' John's "YEAH" but they love a good Hora and anything where violins, flutes, and accordions play together. This doesn't help if you're under 50 or not Romanian.
The Hora is special because it is a closed-circle dance simple enough that anyone can participate. You basically hold hands with the partner on either side of you and and go around in a circle until you run out of steam. The rest of the time it's either eighties Romanian music, the kind of synth-harmonica dominated melody you might hear in the background of indie films, where the protagonist drinks himself to oblivion in some dingy dive, or other slow jams that have elsewhere been forgotten. Here they are nostalgia pieces. Older couples hold on to each other, dancing stolidly, like moving (but not so much, living) monuments to Romania's grey days of communism.

The question is, why are these types of weddings still popular, and why do young couples put up with so much interference from the parents? The answer is, obligations.

A Romanian will attend many a wedding in his or her lifetime. At every wedding, before taking their leave of the bride and groom, the guests hand over a plic, a cash-filled envelope. That's the wedding gift; no cutlery sets, no wedding registries here. It's an important part of every wedding. So much so, that a couple's parents are likely to have lists going back to the 1970s indicating how much they gave to others' weddings and how much they received at their own. These are the obligations.

At the end of the day, this is what weddings are about in Romania. You pay and (when you get married) you get paid. There is a going rate to be taken into account, about 800 - 1000 Lei per couple these days, and it typically covers the costs of the wedding dinner. Depending on the quality of the experiences offered, there may be a little or a lot left over, enough to put a down payment on a car, apartment, or house. This is what gets the young couple started in life. It's not very romantic, but who said obligations can't be practical?

Some common elements:

Plenty of food. Always a starter plate followed by two or three course and the wedding cake. At the smaller venues, the food may be more experimental, but the larger weddings have almost the same menu every time, right down to the shape of individual appetizers. These tend to be little cheese pastries, cold cuts, and vegetable spreads. There is usually a fish course afterwards, then another warm entree - chicken, maybe duck - and then the main is usually pork roast - the famed friptura, which sometimes has its own theme music, too.
Sometimes, late into the wedding and after the cake, sarmale are served. Seems strange to eat cabbage rolls an hour after the cake, but it's a good pick me up snack for those who are still around.

The wedding cake always makes its own entrance, accompanied by music and sparklers, and maybe smoke effects. The couple cut and eat the first slice, as per the international tradition.

Some areas of the country (ie. Transylania) do day weddings. It all kicks off around noon and ends by around 10 pm. This is incomprehensible to people from Moldova or Bucovina where weddings start no earlier than 7 pm and only wrap up at dawn on the next day.

The Hora. Can't have a wedding in Romanian without at least one interpretation of this popular dance.

Candy bars are popular, as are fruit bars, where guests self-serve anytime during the reception.

Drinks aplenty. Either on the table for self-service, an open bar, or provided by servers, guests at Romanian weddings have a difficult time going home sober.

A Romanian wedding is often also what you make of it. If you want to dance all night, nobody will mind. Likewise if you prefer to sit at your table just to drink and eat your fill. Most people though, prefer a mix of both.

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