The first thing to do when invited to an Albanian Wedding is to stock up on cash: singles, fives, tens or whatever the currency is at the country the wedding is taking place. This is for the traditional bride-groom dance where all the family and guests go to the dancing couple and give them money, or attach them to the groom’s forehead and his pockets, bride’s hands, or if they are daring or drunk, down her dress. Then the father or a rich cousin usually, “showers” them with money, throwing them over their heads.
It is not the young couple that will benefit from this show, but the band. Years ago, the “throwing money” part was a custom of weddings on mid Albania only, but the bands made it popular with other regions as well. They liked the money so the custom was incorporated into most weddings throughout the country. Years ago, there was only one traditional bride-groom dance as well, but that is also changing, with the band striking up the wedding tune “Napoleon” anytime they feel they need more money.
The wedding normally starts on Thursday, with the viewing of the girl’s dowry. If you are on the bride’s side (especially a woman) you go and view all the displayed finery. It used to be that the bride to be sowed and embroidered all her dowry, but nowadays is mostly bought into the finest stores the family can afford. The dowry usually consists of gifts for the groom’s family, nightgowns and lingerie, linens and bedcovers, jewelry and whatever else the bride will need to start her life in the new home. This custom comes from earlier times when the dowry was all that the bride was allowed in her husband’s house and her wealth was displayed in golden coins necklaces and belts.
Thursday is also the time when the bride starts her make-up preparations. Some families schedule visits for the less important or the less known guests and neighbors at this time.
Traditionally you are given a Turkish delight, and sweet sherry for a woman, or raki/hard liquor for a man. Please do not refuse it even if you hate alcohol or are a diabetic.
It is customary to leave some money at the tray or on the coffee table (usually around $10-$20 or the Albanian equivalent) in lieu of wedding presents. Only the very close members of the family give presents to the couple in form of a dowry. All these money gifts are almost always registered carefully and given to the bride and the groom to start them in their new life.
Friday is the day when the guests continue to visit for bride viewing and to wish good luck and congratulations at her home.
The bride is all in white and expected to greet each and every guest on the living room or the women’s room. Sometimes the men stay in a different room, sometimes not. Sometimes the bride stands the whole time, while the women around her sing. She is not supposed to smile or laugh very much, and sometimes is a very serious woman indeed.
Friday is also the night of the cocktail party or dinner for the closest social circle of the couple. It is more informal and the bride can wear white or other colors as she wishes.
Saturday, it is still visit day, but most importantly it is the bride’s wedding dinner party. All her friends and relatives gather and the groom’s party comes around midnight. The groom’s party must be an odd number. The bride’s father and the groom’s father are usually the one who toast the party and it is advisable to raise the glass and take a sip of whatever you are drinking anytime they do so. Do not toast with water!! Usually you can leave the wedding after 12 at midnight but it is considered offensive to leave before. Same goes for the groom’s wedding dinner party.
Sunday late morning or noon, the groom and his party come by cab/limo/bmw/carriage to pick up the bride. There is a little girl with the bride’s bouquet. Rice and sugar is thrown when the bride leaves her father’s home. The cars have to circle half the city and cannot go back by the same route. This is also the time when the bride and groom take romantic pictures by the lake or a park or whatever view the wedding cameraman has chosen. Some couples have also incorporated the church/mosque or civil ceremony into Sunday morning tradition.
After, they are brought to the groom’s home where people are waiting to visit with and congratulate with the new couple. This is also called “qoke’ or “adet” (tradition, custom, duty). This is most likely to the groom’s father home, even if the young couple have a place of their own already.
Sunday night is the groom’s wedding dinner party. Bride’s close family and relatives come around 12. The first toast belongs to the groom’s father this time with the bride’s father or oldest male relative following closely behind. The bride’s party number is also odd, but they must have two more than the groom’s party of the previous night. Customarily a white “bachelor’s” handkerchief is doused with alcohol and burned during the traditional “Napoleon” Dance. Preferably the kerchief should be cotton since it burns so easily. Please stay away from polyester or rayon as they smell horribly and do not burn steadily. The kerchief should be aflame while the groom dances with it and it is not a good sign when it stops burning midway. Sometimes people fire shots in the air to announce the wedding.
Typically, the young couple goes to honeymoon immediately after.
Nowadays, it is not very often that people do separate wedding dinner parties. Usually they consolidate on a Saturday. More and more couples also prefer to hire a DJ and sometimes a Classical Singer or orchestra. They have also incorporated a “Master of the ceremonies” and a slide show telling the story of their love, as well as bride’s maids and groom’s men. The bride changes dresses at least twice, possibly into more informal and comfortable outfits as the party goes on.
If you have missed visiting the couple during the wedding days, or have not received an invitation, you can still go the month after and leave some money on the table or tray as a congratulatory gift. If the couple has moved into a new place, you ought to bring a housewarming gift as well.
These are the general proceedings. Each region has its own folk customs and traditions that sometimes are observed, like the bride entering on her right foot at the groom’s house for the first time, or dipping two fingers in honey and smearing some on the outer door. Some regions stage a mock fight between the bride and groom’s parties.
People living abroad try to observe as many of the customs as they can, but there are a lot of western weddings elements in Albanian weddings especially if one of the spouses is not Albanian. Either way, you must be prepared to drink eat and be merry for a really long time, because the tradition demands it.