Updated: Dec 31, 2019
August is wedding season here in northern Albania and it is a popular month for Albanian's living outside of country to return to visit family. We received 5 wedding reception invites, one which included two receptions. Now, I have loads of experience attending weddings and even a bridesmaid/maid of honor a few, 7+, times, but this was a whole new world. I consulted my wardrobe choices ahead of time with my niece and sister-in-law because I was told these are more formal than casual so with six dresses chosen I had hope of blending in.
The first date we had two scheduled, one reception at 12 pm and the next at 8 pm. The first one of the day was my husband's first cousin's daughter on his dad's side. We arrived on time but waited for additional family before approaching to venue which was a large three story commercial building from the outside with some fancy fountains, large lit letters that spelled LOVE and a guitar shaped walk/pool. When we entered the building on the second floor it was fully immersed in the cocktail hour with small tables set up and larger table towards the center with an assortment of beverages, juices, soda, water, beer, and wine. We had assigned seating on a chart that was to the left of the beverage table. We were ushered to the third floor and were greeted by additional family members at the door to a very fancy ballroom and unexpected based on the rest of the building I had seen so far. After finding our table and shaking a few more hands we sat a large white clothed table covered in an assortment of food, beverages, glass and dining ware. The food choices included a plate of yogurt like sauce they call Kos, grilled vegetables, olives, and baskets fresh fruit and bread, drinks included an ice bucket with an assortment of soda, beer, waters flat and sparkling and on the table two wine choices red or white and bottle of Raki. The ballroom had a large open dance floor in the middle, the band at one end and the bride and groom at the other, the tables and chairs for guests were tiered so the second layer sat a bit higher so no views were blocked and ran on each side of the dance floor. Once the ballroom was filled and most were seated the bride's family was announced as they entered with the bride. The music was intense and very loud from beginning to end and the brides family danced before sitting down to honor the bride. At this time the first round of seven dishes were served. The first plate consisted two different types of cheese, three different types of fried meat and a pickled salad in the middle. The music and dancing continued in full swing and the second dish was served which was more like a kebab, skewered grilled chicken and veggies. At first the escort with the bride I thought was the groom only to have the groom and his family announced about an hour or so into the reception (I was so confused). This is when I learned that the newer tradition here is to have a reception in honor of the bride and the groom's family and selected few friends attend as honored guests...at this point the couple is not married yet. Are you still with me?? I was attending a wedding reception for a wedding that had not actually happened yet. Back to the food, the third dish was a chicken cordon bleu, fourth steak and potatoes, fifth assortment of roasted lamb, sixth tortellini and a white sauce covered meat and seventh would have been the dessert but it was 6 pm and we had another reception to attend. Overall the dresses were extremely fancy lots of glitter and super glam and the bride's gown was princess dress with a fitted bodice and a large layered skirt. The dancing was non-stop with a simple side step and a fancier hand holding circle with a couple of steps depending on the music. The music was all traditional songs and even had a small round table set up at one point the singers sat down and a few men with raki joined them and most sang along at the table. We made our apologies for leaving early but we had to return home and pick up additional family to head to the second reception. So if you are counting that was a 6 hour reception and still going, we left before the cake and when we had to drive by the venue on the way to the next reception it was still going strong at nearly 8 pm.
Reception two was for my husband's first cousin on his mom's side. It was held in a large white building with an outdoor cocktail hour with small tables and a table for drinks on the side. We arrived right before they began to usher people inside, this venue was a round ballroom, with a dance floor cleared in the middle and the tables set up on all sides with a designated head table for the bride and groom and a small DJ set up in the corner. The table and food/drink setup were very similar to the first wedding just a few small changes to the meat choice and rice instead of pasta. The music was very different more current Albanian music and not a live singer and the sound quality was much less intense which we appreciated because our ears were still ringing from the first wedding. Dancing wise I took my first trip around the hand held fancy step dance and kept up with the crowd. There is a version of this dance that is the same steps to 'Cotton Eye Joe' took me back to my college days for a minute. The dresses were a mix of super glam and semi formal and the bride had a wardrobe change from a sparkly princess gown to a lace mermaid right before the cake cutting. The cake was not American traditional cake it was dulce de leche with caramel topping. The couple was married earlier that day and didn't have a prior reception so this was the one and done. Difference in the age of the bride's tends to dictate on where they fall tradition wise. This couple was mid 20s/early 30s so they did what and how they wanted, the first bride was 19 so followed the parent or new traditions. We stayed at this one until the very end which ended at 330 am, 6+ hour long receptions are a normal thing here.
Wedding three was a four part series, we were part of the groom's honored guests at the bride's reception on a Saturday night, this was at small venue with a similar set up with a small dance floor and tables on either side but it had lots of pillars which gave line of sight some challenges. We danced a lot this evening, they had a good DJ. The food and beverage choices were very similar to the previous weddings nothing new maybe one or two less courses. One tradition at the end of the reception is the dollar dance, depending on the reception it is a song or two for the family first and then a song for the friends but there is typically a large circle dance with the bride and groom in the center, couples will dance with the bride and groom and place a dollar bills on there head and wish them luck and congratulations. The cake cutting is usually done before these last dances. Cake this time was half cake half pudding middle. We left near 4 am. And the next day we had a dinner party with groom's family at the groom's house late Sunday evening followed by an early wake up call at 7 am. As part of the honored guests we carpooled to the bride's home to pick her up, this is quite the production. The videographer records the entire parade of cars and the cars are decorated with bows and ribbons. Once we arrived at the bride's home we are greeted by the bride's family and then ushered to a table covered in small plates of nuts, fruit, beverages, petla (like mini donuts), honey and raki. The brides family comes down the line to toast the guests and then after a half hour or so the singing begins. There is a song that calls for the bride and tradition wise the bride is to come out for a hidden nook, with veil and crying (LIKE REALLY CRYING). The family then exits the home and we the groom's family and honored guest throw candy at the couple as a wish of sweet blessings. The parade of cars makes the way back with horns blaring, music and yelling from the car and throwing candy to passerby pedestrians. The tradition is to deliver the bride to the groom's home by noon. We ran into some traffic on the way back and had to speed the last leg but once we arrived back in Bajze, the groom's hometown, we slowed down and tossed more candy and A LOT of noise. We arrived at the groom's home and another tradition is singing the bride in to the home and throwing more candy, followed by a photo with a young male baby again sweet blessings and fertility. We all departed back to our perspective homes until wedding at 1 pm. The wedding was held in the town's Catholic church. Pause, the bride is now with the groom's family so NO ONE from the bride's family was present when they actually got married. But they said their I Do followed by a few photos and then we all went home to nap. The groom's reception started later that evening and like the other venues there was a cocktail hour outside before going inside, this venue was large with tables on the right and then on the left a dance floor with tables on either side with a DJ and bar in the middle. No pillars which was great for line of sight and the table's were set up with similar food and beverages. We had some of the best food at this venue and danced basically the whole night they had a mix of DJ and live singers. A few new traditions with the bride dancing for her groom and the groom dancing with a burning white cloth. It was another late late night 330 am, after our day started at 7 am.
Our fourth invite led us to another venue, this was for my husband's second cousin's son on his dad's side. There was an outdoor cocktail hour and once ushered inside they announced the groom's family and friends it was around 12 couples deep. The set up of this ball room was different pretty narrow with columns and for some tables it was hard to see or get to the dance floor. The food and beverage selection was much like the others but this one was followed by ice cream instead of cake. This was the groom's reception so the couple were married early that day. The music was mostly done by a DJ which had a good bit of up tempo current Albanian music blended with some traditional songs. The glam was off the charts for this event and the bride's princess gown was also very nice. Another long one we left just before 4 am.
And our last wedding was at the first venue we attended and it was for his first cousin's wife's brother on his dad's side. There was a cocktail hour outside and the bride and groom arrived via horse and carriage followed by fireworks and then we were ushered inside to the ballroom. The first time we came to this venue I didn't know that the middle of the ceiling came down but that is exactly how the couple entered the ballroom after the groom's family and the bridal party were announced and entered the dance floor. The party started off at full swing and the music was loud and intense with a live band. The food was similar to the first time we came and the beverage selection the same. After the groom's grandfather gave his thanks and blessing to the couple another family member did a traditional call song, it was done back in the Ottoman Empire, shepherds would sing this call until he heard another shepherd and so on to pass word that there were enemy soldiers approaching. The couple did have a pair of traditional Albanian dancers perform but the bride and groom didn't dance until the end of the reception after the cake cutting and the dollar dance. They also served ice cream instead of cake, no complaints from me.
Cheers and congrats to all the happy couples!