– By Tana Korhonen, YES Abroad 2016-17, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Banja Luka)
This weekend, I attended a wedding in a small town called Mrkonjić Grad, which is approximately 36 miles of winding roads away from Banja Luka, my home in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I was so excited to see a different part of my host country, and I was not disappointed. The drive alone was incredibly beautiful.
My host family and I arrived at the reception space around 1:45pm, where we ate meat and bread while chatting with family and friends. A few hours later, the bride and groom marched in accompanied by two accordion players. Everyone stood and cheered and began to dance in the middle. Then, we walked to the beautiful Orthodox church down the road, where the ceremony was held.
The ceremony was very different than weddings in the U.S. Everyone stood–women on the left and men on the right–and it lasted about 45 minutes in total. The priest did not speak, but sang. He had such a beautiful voice, and it echoed through the church. I did not understand most of it, as he sang very quickly, so I spent most of the time admiring the mosaics on the walls. Toward the end of the ceremony, the bride and groom both had crowns placed on their heads, then they switched crowns. After they had switched crowns, everyone walked to the front of the church to kiss the bride and groom.
Next, we went outside where a few fun traditions took place. One thing that is the same in weddings in the U.S. and Bosnia is the throwing of the bouquet. The bride stood on the church steps and threw her flowers, and whoever caught it is said to be the next one to marry. Another tradition is called the “Kum’s Moneybag.” The kum, or Godfather of the bride and groom, otherwise known as the Best Man in the U.S., has a bag of coins and candy, which he throws for guests to collect from the ground.
Students from the nearby school came and did a traditional dance. It was so fun to watch them dance and see traditional Bosnian clothes. After the dancing, we ate soup, bread, and a lot of meat–there was pork, followed by meat platters with sausage, chicken, kebabs, and more. During the meal, another interesting tradition took place. A friend of the bride steals the bride’s shoe, and the Godfather (Best Man) has to go and pay to “buy” back the bride’s shoe. The amount he pays depends on the person who stole the shoe because they have to bargain about the price. After we were done eating, everyone got up and danced. I had a lot of fun dancing to narodna muzika, or popular folk music and even learned a traditional dance. It seemed like every time I sat down someone new was pulling me by the arm back to the dance floor. After a while of dancing, the lights turned off and the wedding cake was rolled in, complete with a sparkler on top.
After eating cake, everyone got back to dancing. Eventually, my host sister and I were too exhausted to continue dancing, so we went to my host grandparents’ house to sleep. The next morning, I was woken up and taken back to the reception space. Not everyone who was at the reception the night before was there–only close friends and family–but that was still at least 60 people. We ate the same meal that was served at the wedding, and then my family and I drove back to Banja Luka.
Overall, I had an amazing weekend. I love my host city of Banja Luka, but seeing different parts of the country is incredible. I learned a lot more about the culture, met amazing people, and had fun dancing the night away. Everyday I become more amazed at the beauty of the landscape and people of Bosnia and hope I’ll have the opportunity to attend another wedding soon.