Is a wedding day a fairy-tale or the start of a nightmare? How does culture and religion affect “one of the most important events in our life”? As marriage is a turning point in a person’s life we here are building contrasts between the perception and the actual reality/meaning. Based on different religious and cultural experiences we can define marriage as an arrangement foreseen by the groom’s family or an equal share of responsibilities in a community created by two partners. Is marriage being used as a cover for the deeply rooted flaws of today’s societies? Marriage at its essence was created to secure the possession of a women and the continuity of the offspring.
The shocking news – western influence is taking over tradition of centuries in South Eastern Europe weddings are presented as a day full happiness and it comes at times that the most important day in the life of a couple, shading over the actual motives of the arrangement. Here is why:
In Macedonia// common practice is on the wedding day the groom goes to the brides house and takes her from there. In order for the groom to see the bride he has to pay for his entrance in her room. The tradition has stuck around for a while now but the essence of it is that the man is coming to save the bride and take her to a safe shelter most popular as their mutual home, owned by the groom.
In Hungary// there is a similar tradition // groom goes to the bride’s house to take her out of there. This is one of the traditions that is fading because women in general don’t get married at a young age anymore. One of the reasons besides the evolution of the society are the expenses for a wedding. Nowadays youngsters think that instead of spending their money pleasing over 200 guests they could invest in houses cars business or even starting a family. Planning a family comes first and then a wedding follows instead of actually being pregnant or an arranged marriage in advance.
Still traditional and religious, Romania overall is at the split between keeping the traditions up to date and westernizing the event itself; while the Northern Romania is still very traditional, where all participants must wear traditional costumes only, keep all the old customs and party for 3 nights, on the South part of it things are shifting.
What started centuries ago as an event of the local community (in small towns in rural areas) where families and friends would congratulate the new couple, it turned out now as a money machine or loan institute. The parents of the couple would arrange the event. They invite all their old connections and people they went to a wedding in the past, even if they have not kept in touch in years – just because they owe them the favour and the envelope with money; moreover, since the parents have more to say on how the event should be organized, it happens that they must obey old customs they don’t understand or want to follow.
Lastly, the tradition goes that the mother of the bride educates her to look for a man who is rich enough so that she can be a “stay at home wife”. Though things are shifting nowadays, still there is hard to fight traditions coming out of religious and cultural roots.
Even though most of the traditional wedding customs are lost in time or westernized with the influence of internet, films and social media in general, it is important to address that certain practices and customs that are still part of traditional weddings in the north part of Cyprus have roots from Anatolian nomadic minorities and their process of Islamising their paganistic rituals. One good example to this would be the traditional ‘testi oyunu’. ‘Testi’ meaning vessel or amphora in Cypriot is originally used to store wine, however during weddings it is filled with coins and candies and mostly decorated with embroidery, red ribbons and sometimes-blue beads with the eye symbol to protect it from the evil eye. During the wedding it is traditionally being passed around by young eligible women who want to present themselves and their skills to the bachelors in the wedding by performing intricate set of dance steps in a circle. Once everyone passes around the amphora it is brides turn to dance with it until she throws it to the ground the break it open. The candy and the coins are for children attending to the wedding, and the more there is the more good luck it brings to the newlyweds. Amphora has an importance in the culture as it symbolizes prosperity and fertility; the breaking of it is a symbolic gesture of the bride transitioning from being a girl (as in virgin) into womanhood. Although the meaning behind this ritual is lost, it is still one of the most popular customs practiced in traditional weddings in north part of Cyprus.
These customs however are not limited to the Western mentality and extend to practices, which are in a significant violation of women’s rights where the symbolisms of oppression are not subliminal in nature. Pakistan for instance, faces a predominant issue with the interrelatedness of religion and culture where marriages are inherently influenced. Every year, several girls are placed under the pressures of family, religion and culture to engage in marital commitments without any direct say or consent. This nevertheless, is only the surface of the problem which spreads into issues like child brides, transferring of money, settlement of debts or exchange of daughters (“Vani / Swara” or “Watta Satta”) sanctioned by a “Jirga” or “Panchayat” (council of elders from the community). It is estimated that 21% of girls in Pakistan are married before the age of 18 (UNFPA, Study Report: Child Marriage in Pakistan, 2007). The result of these traumatic experiences has led to many tragic cases such as that of 21-year-old Aasia Bibi who told the Associated Press, “I repeatedly asked my parents not to marry me against my will as my religion, Islam, also allows me to choose the man of my choice for marriage but my parents rejected all of my pleas and they married me to a relative,” after her attempt to escape her forced marriage led to her accidentally killing 17 members of the family who drank the poisoned milk which was initially only prepared for her husband to take. Stories like these make one wonder how many of these marriages are actually benefitting the society and furthermore, the women who are trapped in such arrangements.
Authors: Magdalena, Luca, Larisa, Hayal