A Croatian wedding (called “vjenčanje“) is a 24-hour party, which includes enjoying good traditional food and drinks, chit-chatting, celebrating, and dancing until past dawn. The wedding party usually takes place in a fancy restaurant in the city or at a resort surrounded by beautiful nature.
Some Croatians organize the wedding ceremony to include all the traditional practices. Others are more fashionable, so they like to leave out traditional parts and just prepare a crazy party. No matter which type of wedding you are invited to, it is always fun to attend a Croatian wedding.
If you are invited to a Croatian wedding, it is important to be prepared for the party, traditions and rituals. And thus begins our guide on how to attend a Croatian wedding!
Who are the wedding guests at a Croatian wedding?
A typical Croatian wedding gathers approximately 70 to 300 people. So, as you can see, weddings are usually quite big here. The bride and the groom usually invite their families, a wide circle of relatives, all of their closest friends and sometimes even their work colleagues.
Inviting your relatives can sometimes be tricky. If you invite one, you have to invite all of them. Otherwise, one might be offended. Croatians take weddings very seriously and nobody wants to be left out of the party!
A maid of honor, a best man, bridesmaids, and barjaktar
The official witnesses at the wedding ceremony are a maid of honor (called “kuma” in Croatian) and a best man (called “kum”). A kuma helps the bride with all the wedding preparations before the ceremony. On the wedding day, she helps the bride get dressed and keeps up positivity and happiness throughout the whole day. A kum is the groom’s right hand. He maintains a good atmosphere and entertains the guests.
Bridesmaids are usually the bride’s best friends dressed in beautiful ceremonial dresses of the same color. They follow the bride through the day, take care of the ceremony’s flow, entertain guests, and inspire everyone to dance and party.
An important part of the Croatian wedding tradition is to have a “barjaktar” (a flag carrier) at the wedding. Barjaktar is a groom’s friend, brother or relative who carries a Croatian flag throughout the whole day. He is always at the front of the crew, waves with the flag and carries a bottle of rakija or some other hard liquor and offers the drink to guests. The barjaktar is the chief entertainer and a very energetic person!
Gathering at the groom’s home
It is a tradition that the groom’s guests gather at the groom’s home before the ceremony. The gathering usually starts around 2pm, sometimes even earlier, and sometimes people start celebrating from the early morning. The kum, barjaktar and the groom’s best friends, and family make a toast and celebrate.
The groom’s family and friends prepare a lot of tasty traditional Croatian food and drinks. There will inevitably be a toast with homemade rakija, a traditional Croatian strong hard liquor which usually contains 50% of alcohol. Just be careful and don’t drink too much rakija, because you have the whole day and night in front of you!
Tamburaši are responsible for the music and entertainment. Tamburaši are Croatian traditional bands usually made of 4-6 members who play tamburica, acoustic traditional guitars, a double bass, a button accordion, and other traditional classical instruments. The band plays emotional Croatian traditional songs, and everyone sings, celebrates and gets a bit tipsy.
After a few hours, it is time to go after the bride. All the guests go to their cars and form a car motorcade with the barjaktar waving his flag at the front. As the cars slowly drive towards the bride’s house, the barjaktar sits out of an opened window of the lead car while waving the flag and shouting. Everyone else in the motorcade honks their horns. The procession is very loud and everyone can hear from afar that there is a wedding ceremony in their town!
Gathering at the bride’s home
When the procession arrives at the bride’s home, the groom usually goes first and knocks at her door. This is a nice old tradition but can be seen rarely at modern weddings. The groom is supposed to talk with the bride’s father and argue whether he will give him the bride or not. His kum may help him out to get the bride. If her father isn’t satisfied with the negotiation, he can send a fake bride to the groom. A fake bride is usually a guy with a blanket over his head, so this can turn into a real show!
The bride finally arrives wearing her fancy dress and that is the moment when the groom sees her for the first time that day. In Croatia, seeing the bride before the wedding is not considered bad luck. Tamburaši continue to play and people hang out and have fun.
The bride’s family also prepares something to eat and drink. The home is decorated with flowers, balloons and other wedding decorations. There is also a tradition that bridesmaids stick a small branch of rosemary to every guest’s clothes but sometimes they are given as bracelets instead.
The Croatian wedding ceremony
Wedding at the church
People mostly get married at the church as most Croatians are Catholics (more than 90%). The church is usually decorated with flowers and other wedding decorations. The wedding ceremony lasts for approximately 40 minutes, during which the guests are quiet and concentrated on the ceremony. After the wedding ceremony, guests form a big row outside the church and everyone waits to congratulate the newly-married couple as they exit. To congratulate them, you may say “čestitam“.
It is a trend to throw flowers or bursting bubbles at the married couple. A professional photographer takes a bunch of photos in front of the church and people hang out for a while.
Sometimes a couple decides to get married at the Registry Office instead of the church. The process is a bit shorter and lasts around 20 to 30 minutes. Here is information on how to have a civil wedding.
The wedding party
People mostly like to throw the wedding party at restaurant with a fancy atmosphere or at a reception hall. Live music is inevitable and newlyweds usually arrange a band, which plays until the early morning.
After the initial toast by the best man and maid of honor, a couple opens the dance floor with their so-called first dance. They usually pick a song that has a special meaning for them. Everyone gets emotional and joins the dance floor at the end of the song.
After midnight, the bride throws the bouquet and all the non-married girls compete to catch it.
Food and Drink
Traditional Croatian weddings are well-known for plenty of traditional food and drinks. Guest enjoy several courses of food during the night. To start with, a casual dinner consisting of a soup, different meat and vegetable plates, and side dishes is served. The type of food served varies depending on where the wedding takes place and what part of the country the couple is from.
In Zagreb, it is tradition to serve goulash around 3 or 4 in the morning while in Split, cuttlefish risotto and peka and may be served. At midnight, the wedding cake is served and then the coffee. Being hungry isn’t an option as the whole night consists of eating and dancing combinations!
Plenty of cakes, wine, beer, hard liquor drinks and, of course, Jamnica are offered at the table.
During one part of the evening, guests bring their presents to the couple and usually put them into a special present box. In most cases, the present is an envelope with a nice congratulation card and money which covers the restaurant cost for you and your companion.
You can give the newlyweds up to 200 euros (1500 kn), depending on how close you are and how much you like them. Any more than that and you’re considered to be a show off. Another option in lieu of cash is to get a few friends together to get them a substantial gift like a television or something big that they need or want.
Enjoy the party
The party is when you can finally eat, drink, dance, and party until the early morning. Prepare to go strong until at least 6am and sometimes as late as 9 or 10.
People like to meet each other, sing, and dance together, and almost everyone gets drunk at least a bit (or a lot). No excuses. It will be a whole night’s (or weekend’s) celebration! 🙂