The Immigrant Macedonian Wedding in Ft. Wayne, Indiana:
A Case Study

Adapted from a lengthier article in Indiana Folklore, Vol. 3, No. 1; (1970) with the permission of the author.


The Macedonian community

Ft. Wayne has approximately two hundred families of Slavic background. Although the first Macedonians settled there at the time of World War I, an Orthodox church was not consecrated until 1948. At the present time, however, St. Nicholas Macedono-Bulgarian Orthodox Church serves as one of the major focal points for the community at large. In addition to the Church, certain political organizations, and a national newspaper, (The Macedonian Tribune, a bilingual paper published weekly in Indianapolis), the Macedonian community maintains its identity through the continued celebration of certain family rituals. The most important of these, the ritual set apart from any other because of its significance to the whole community, is that of the marriage.

Some customs within the wedding ritual which were practiced assiduously in the Old Country (presently Greece, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Albania) are no longer found in Ft. Wayne. Practicality, the desire to conform to the American way of life, and the direct influence of American wedding customs are the three most logical explanations for these losses. However, it is dangerous to assume that rituals of this type simply decline in importance and frequency of practice, the longer a minority group remains in a foreign environment. Today, children in the second and third generations are expressing a desire to maintain the old customs, even if they have been absent for an entire generation. In addition, within the Ft. Wayne Macedonian community these revivals are constantly bolstered by the fact that new emigrants continue to arrive.

The following materials will give a composite picture of a more or less typical immigrant Macedonian wedding in Ft. Wayne. Additional materials will give comparative views of the Macedonian wedding ritual as it was practiced in the Old Country. Supplementary notes are either from the personal observation of the compiler, or from interview materials which were not tape recorded. Interview materials are from four sources: the groom at a June 1963 wedding (SA), the Nunko (ES) and Nunka (LS), or godparents, for a May 1969 wedding; and an immigrant from Yugoslav Macedonia (RN), who provided information on his uncle's wedding which took place in 1920 in his homeland.

The wedding is a ritual of such importance to the Macedonian community that it is never treated lightly. All of those who have participated in weddings in the past are acutely aware of the ritual's significance:

ES: The customs here are somewhat related although we have something different from what they have. Here in the States we don't quite do the same things we did in the Old Country. The reason for that is we're trying to blend, sort of, with the Americans as well .... That is, we have added the American customs, blended them together with the Macedonian and we have omitted a few of the Macedonian part of it. Such as getting the bride and groom ready on the day of the wedding.

RN: Of course the weddings I in the Old Country I are not as elaborate as they are here. There they invite your relatives and your friends to dinner. These weddings usually start on a Thursday night. For the family, that's the time when everybody comes and donates something for the wedding on the bride's side or the groom's side. But it's a very important event, the wedding. The whole village, or at least your group is affected. In our ... I present day Yugoslav Macedonia I it was the tradition to start on a Thursday. They thought Wednesday was a little, you know, too far in advance. But the whole ritual, not only the service, might go on until the next Wednesday. There's more to it, you know, than just the actual service.

SA: From the Monday before, here at least in Ft. Wayne, our people expect big displays of the gifts. And you have to pin up their telegrams and their cards ... The major relatives still come and bring their gifts personally. We all think that the personal visit is important.

The Nunko and Nunka

The members of the wedding party (svadbari) in an immigrant Macedonian wedding are principally the same as in a traditional American wedding with the exception of godparents. The Nunko and Nunka are, beside the groom and the bride, the most important participants. Roughly equivalent to the Best Man, the Nunko supervises the wedding arrangements, may have the power to decide where and when the wedding is to be, and in the past, decided on the names of the betrothed couple's children. in addition, the Nunko must be responsible for children in the event of the death of the parents. Finally, the Nunko is expected to help the bride's father with the cost of the wedding (usually $ 1000 and up) and give the largest present.

Saturday: The Day Before the Wedding

Normally, the koluk, the traditional wedding cake, is made on Saturday morning. This is a large, sweet, bread-like, yeast-cake, about two feet in diameter and made from a recipe similar to the Easter bread or Kosunak.

In the past, Saturday was also the traditional day on which the guests were invited to the wedding:

RN: Some of them, if they're close relatives, they get invited with the music, you know. But others are told by the mladi-pobratim [Tr. 'Junior ushers'] a day-sometimes more, but usually a day ahead of time-they go and say Mr. So-and-So, na edi-koe-si data de se zhenili koe-si, vie ste pokanili da doidete na vechera, you know [Tr. 'On such and such a date, So-and-So will be married, and you are invited to come for the evening.'] But if he doesn't say you are invited vechera [Tr. 'evening'], which means they are pokanite [Tr. 'invited'] only to come to the church wedding. And after the church wedding, they might as well go home, you know. or they can go for the dance in the yard, but nothing else. So in this way in the villages, small villages, everybody goes to the wedding because the villages are composed of 50, 60, 70 houses, you know, and it's easy to prepare enough for all. But in a town like I mine, where you have six or seven thousand people, you cannot invite everybody.

Sunday, the Day of the Wedding

Shaving the Groom

In Macedonia, on the morning of the wedding, one of the Nunko's duties was to shave the groom. The purpose of this custom was two-fold. First, the young groom was thought to be too nervous to perform the act himself.

ES: So after this [the inviting of the Nunko], we go to the groom's house. And the tradition there is where the band is playing, the best man [the Nunko] shaves the groom.

LS: The groom is supposed to be so nervous that they don't want him to cut himself.

ES: He should be shaved by the best man. This is the tradition. How it arrived, we don't know. We just follow it. There is also some singing that goes along with it. This is all omitted here [in the United States].

Second, this was the last opportunity the groom had to be with his male friends in his bachelor state. Thus many of the songs traditionally sung at this time were very ribald, all using the groom as the butt of jokes and emphasizing the difficulties of married life. This custom has been lost in the New World. although everyone knows of it.

The Costumes

None of the traditional Macedonian costumes are used in wedding ceremonies in the United States. Many families have their mother's or their grandmother's wedding dresses, but LS told me, for example, "We use it for Hallowe'en costumes around here. I've won a few door prizes with it." In Ft. Wayne, the bride invariably wears the traditional American style white gown and carries a small bouquet. Referring to the men in the 1969 wedding the Nunka said:

LS: No, the men will have the Tux. Rented Tux ... In this case they'll have white jackets with black Tux pants, and they have cummerbunds with bow ties and white shirts.

SA remarked that at his wedding in 1963 in Ft. Wayne, all the men wore .,strollers," or Morning Clothes. In addition to the cutaway coat, the costume included gray top hats. His bride wore the traditional white dress with a long veil.

Bridesmaids generally wear the same model dress in the same color, although the Nunka's dress is slightly different in order to set her apart.

The Bride Leaves Her Mother's House for the Last Time

In almost all Slavic cultures, the event of the new bride leaving her mother's house is a time of great sadness. The mother, and at times other close female relatives, wail and lament in somewhat the same stylized manner as they would at a funeral. In the United States the mother of the bride might cry unashamedly as her daughter left, but she would not chant the traditional words of farewell as she would in the Old Country.

ES: Some of the ladies, the older ones, the immediate family would sing a song and the mother, naturally, would start crying as the daughter departs from her life. This is being done away with more and more. The ones who are brought up here do not.

As the bride leaves the house, there is one other custom which again is followed in about half the Macedonian ceremonies. just before the bride comes down the steps of her house, her mother pours a glass of water on the steps. This symbolic act represents two things as it was explained by the participants. First, in stepping over the water, the bride irrevocably separates her old life as a daughter from her new life as a wife. Second there is an implicit wish in the act of throwing the water that the bride's life flow as smoothly as the water flows over the stones of the steps.

From the Bride's House to the Church

In Macedonia, it was considered good luck for all brides and grooms to go to the church by making a series of turns to the right. In Ft. Wayne, this custom seems to be followed about half the time. From the description of the 1963 wedding:

SA: We have another custom then in going to the church. It's a paganism and I don't know why, but we follow it very strictly because my mother is superstitious. That in going to the church, it could only be done by making a series of right turns. And, of course, this makes a roundabout way of getting there because my wife dressed a half a block from the church. Since she didn't have a family here, she dressed at my sister's home ... My sister lives half a block from the church but it took them seven blocks to get to the church because of a series of right turns.

However, from the Nunka's description of the May 1970 wedding:

Interviewer: How about the question of turning right? Is that still done?

ES: I don't think so, no. No, because what we're going to do at this wedding, as soon as they get finished inviting the Nunko officially to the wedding, I'm going to jump in the car and go over to the bride's house. And in the meantime, they'll get there, the men. Then we come out of the bride's house, get in the car and go straight to the church. [In fact, this trip involved two left turns.]

The Service

The Ft. Wayne Macedono-Bulgarian Orthodox Church follows the general Orthodox liturgy. The couple to be married choose only in which language they wish the service, Church Slavonic or English. In the case of the 1963 wedding, the service was conducted entirely in Slavonic. For the 1969 wedding, the couple chose English. However, due to a misunderstanding, the priest gave part of the service in Slavonic.

Because the Macedonian community is composed of several nationalities who happen to speak a common langauge, there is always a certain amount of friction between the various groups. In this case, the priest, a Bulgarian, was upset at the fact that a Greek-style altar-table cloth was used without his knowledge or consent. Failure to ask his approval before the service, therefore, resulted in his giving the service largely in Church Slavonic. Since something was done against his wishes, he felt that he should do something against the wishes of the couple to be married.

During the service, a platno (piece of cloth), usually bought by the Nunka, is draped over the shoulders of the young couple. From the description of the 1969 wedding:

LS: That's not required. That's not even part of the ceremony, but it's just something that's always done. It's approximately two and a half yards of material and the priest just adds that to the ceremony. And they put the material around the groom and the bride to bind them together, you know. For a few minutes. And they take the material off, and then she's supposed to take that material and make her first dress out of it. ES: The material is still on while the dance, the traditional dance in the church, is being performed. Three times around the table. The tradition is that this is happiness as the Church provides.

The tradition of having candy on the altar table, quite common in Macedonia, is used more and more rarely in the United States. The candy did not appear in the May 1970 wedding. SA relates, however, that in 1963:

SA: We still bring the candy, and set the candy on the altar table with the wine. And, of course, it's supposed to be symbolic of the bitter and the sweet which our priest doesn't serve-doesn't give to us, but we use it.

Music in the Church

Ordinarily, instrumental music is never allowed in Orthodox churches. St. Nicholas Macedono-Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Ft. Wayne, however, has, as one informant put it, "bowed to custom" (meaning American custom) and has installed an organ. For the 1963 wedding, the couple insisted on organ arrangements of Orthodox choral music. in the 1969 wedding, however, the organist (also the accordionist in the Macedonian band) played selections such as "Bless This House" before the service began and the "Mendelssohn Wedding March" as the bride moved toward the altar table. As far as could be determined, couples rare y use standard pieces and no real musical tradition has been established.

After the service is completed, the wedding party lines up outside the church door and greets the guests. At this time, many guests give the bride and groom money. In various interviews, sums as large as $200 have been mentioned.

SA: They pass [a bill] on to you very shyly, you know, and you have to look at it and remember what it is because you have to thank them. And they still do that. That's one custom that even people who want to do away with all customs don't want to do away with that one.

After all the guests have greeted the bride and groom, rice is usually thrown. in the Old Country, zhito (wheat), was generally thrown. To this mixture were added pennies and sweet candy. The symbolism of the three items is clear: wheat for fertility; pennies to insure spiritual and material abundance; and candy to guarantee that the couple's future life be sweet. in the United States, several informants have said that at their weddings, a mixture of pennies, candy, and rice was thrown over them.

At the 1969 wedding, however, all the principals in the wedding party neglected to buy rice or to have a mixture ready. Thus the bride and groom waited patiently until one of the ushers could find a store and bring back a package of rice. At this point, all the women in the wedding party made sure that some of the rice got down the front of the bride's gown. Again the fertility symbolism needs no explanation.

The Wedding Dinner

A large sit-down dinner for the relatives and friends of the bride and groom is held after the service, usually in a restaurant hall. Seats were provided at the 1969 wedding dinner for approximately 350 people in a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. The principals sat at a head table. Several times during the meal, the other diners began banging rhythmically on their plates with their forks. After a few moments of this the bride and groom stood, kissed each other, and sat down. The meal took about an hour and a half, and this kissing ritual was repeated six times. This is thought to be a purely American-developed custom. Many Macedonian immigrants stated that this same thing happened at their weddings, but only in America. Thus, although originally an American custom, this performance has evidently become part of the Macedonian immigrant wedding.

Although a minor tradition, this practice is a very interesting development. The Macedonians have adopted a custom which never occurred in Macedonia, and have claimed it as their own: that is, they have adopted a non-Macedonian custom to reinforce their ethnic identity. Everyone knows, for example, that the white bridal gown is a modern innovation, and not part of the old peasant tradition. The banging of the forks, however, and the response of the bride and groom, is thought to be a new Macedonian custom ...

The Reception

A large hall is rented for the reception, often the Macedonian Hall in Ft. Wayne which is situated near the church. The reception generally starts in the early evening, several hours following the afternoon wedding dinner. Two main features characterize the reception. First, the Nunko performs the dance with the koluk, the special wedding bread. Holding the bread over his head, the Nunko leads one traditional horo, or circle dance. Then the Nunko stands in one position, still holding the bread high in the air, and the bride and groom dance under it. Shortly after this, principal male relatives and the ushers also dance with the bread.

The 1963 wedding followed the traditional pattern: the dance with the bread came first and the relatives leading the succeeding horo came second:

SA: And then at night, of course, we still go through the traditional rituals. The band starts playing. Nobody from the general public starts leading the dance or even participating in the dance until the families have their complete swing of it ... Nothing starts at the reception until the dance is done with the bread. That starts the whole chain of command, sort of starts working. The parents of the bride and groom; brothers and sisters of the bride and groom; aunts and uncles of the bride and groom lead the dance. Bridesmaids and ushers and all, they all have to get a chance at it. Some of it's only half-circle. Then the public gets in on it and it goes from there.

Following the Reception

In the 1969 wedding, the reception ended at about I a.m. The bride and groom had planned to go to Detroit that night, so they left immediately. In the 1963 wedding, however, another custom was practiced at this time:

SA: And we have had a tradition in our family. the old tradition probably carried over from the Old Country, and each one of us has followed, that even though the bride and groom go out of the house for the wedding night, the honeymoon night, invariably every one of us-my brother, my sister, me and my wife-have returned to the house and had coffee and pastry with the women who are still extending the wedding custom and tradition. Although instead of dancing to live music, they're singing and helping the mother clean her house and scrape the pots and pans they did all the cooking with.

The Sanduk

The sanduk is the Macedonian equivalent of the American Hope Chest. Traditionally in Macedonia, every young girl below marriageable age prepared certain household items to take with her to her new home. RN describes the process in the Old Country:

RN: They had two, three sandutsi [plural form, tr. 'chests'] sometimes. First she had to bring ... two, three sheets for the bed, you know. Then she had to bring a bedspread, handmade by her or her mother. Then she had to bring pillows, you know, pillow cases, things like that. She also brings a rug for the bedroom, handmade, big. Some of those rugs last a lifetime. Because they got material, you know, last a lifetime ...

The tradition of the sanduk remains only to a small extent in Ft. Wayne. Only occasional immigrant brides prepare one.

The Dowry

In Macedonia, in addition to the sanduk, it was also customary for the father of the bride to give a sum of money to the groom's family. However, this custom apparently died out in Macedonia some years ago because greedy fathers-in-law were asking for impossible sums of money. This custom is not and has not been practiced among immigrants, except perhaps, in a very token way. Neither the 1963 nor the 1969 wedding contained this custom. Other informants told of having paid a silver dollar to the father of the groom as a token dowry.

Proof of the Bride's Virginity

In the Old Country, great emphasis was put on the fact that every bride was expected to be pure. The morning after the wedding night, usually on a Tuesday, even though the service was completed on Sunday, the groom was required to show tangible evidence of his wife's purity.

Proof of the bride's virginity is not practiced in the Macedonian community in Ft. Wayne.


The preceding transcriptions of taped interviews and personal observations give a clear, if somewhat brief, idea of the present-day immigrant Macedonian wedding in Ft. Wayne. It is not necessary to point out that the Macedonia n-America n ritual differs sharply in some ways from its traditional peasant counterpart in the Old Country. Certain customs are obviously lost due to impracticality and a desire for, or the pressure of conformity. However, it is necessary to say that although the ritual has changed, the significance has not. The wedding is still the focal point of the Macedonian folk ritual complex. No other ritual underlines the community's Slavic heritage in the same manner. Church practices and folkways are blended into a single unit, and this unit, albeit practiced irregularly, affirms the value and power of the Macedonian heritage.

Every informant was remarkably proud of his background. The Macedonian community in Ft. Wayne contains exceptionally few people who attempt to deny that they are immigrants. Indeed, they always make it a point to state that they are Macedonians, whether first, second, or even third generation. Their own views of the weddings are that it is a practice which supplies cohesion to the very fabric of the Macedonian community, something which neither Church, nor folk customs could accomplish alone.

Philip V. R. Tilney is a free-lance writer and broadcaster, specializing in folklore.

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