In Sickness and in Health; In Polish Sausage and in Sauerkraut

Something exciting has been keeping me busy and away from my keyboard lately. In less than two weeks, my stepdaughter will be getting married!

Weddings have changed a lot over the years. Just since my own wedding to her father 15 years ago, there are numerous traditions that have sprung up and others that have been abandoned. With all of the preparations underway, I can’t help but be a little nostalgic about the weddings I remember as a kid in the 60s.

Growing up on Chicago’s south side, weddings were very much about our ethnicity. My mother’s side of the family was of Bohemian descent. The dictionary defines bohemian as “a person who lives an unconventional, often artistic lifestyle,” but did you know that Bohemia was actually a country? I can’t blame you if you didn’t – way back in 1918 it became part of Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) – but if you knew what was good for you, you wouldn’t talk to my Grandma about that. We were Bohemian and always would be.

Weddings of family, friends or neighbors were a very big deal and steeped in traditions. Some traditions were widespread, some regional, some ethnic, and some no doubt unique to our family. In my memory, weddings includes some, if not all, of these things:

  • The wedding ceremony would be in church, with a full, hour-long Catholic mass included.
  • It was bad luck for the bride and groom to see each other on the wedding day until the moment she walked down the aisle.
  • Random neighbors who weren’t invited would stop by the church and sit in the back pews to see the ceremony. This was not rude or creepy – we all did it.
  • People dressed in their absolute best attire.
  • A reception would follow featuring the following:
    • A family style dinner with platters piled high with chicken, roast beef and the polish sausage in sauerkraut (also known as a C-B-S wedding.) If you’re Italian, substitute mostaccioli in red sauce for the sausage and kraut.
      kraut
    • An open bar. In my family it was a sacrilege to have a cash bar. Not having alcohol at all? I thought you said this was a wedding?
    • A wedding cake that was served with coffee after dinner, but also put in little wax bags to take home.
    • Matchbooks with the couple’s names and wedding date embossed on the cover, along with a cheesy line like “a perfect match” or “a match made in heaven.”
    • Dancing to music by an actual band, since back then DJs were just people on the radio.
    • An army of little kids tearing across the dance floor at various intervals and sliding in their stocking feet.
      kids
    • Little girls standing on their Daddys’ feet while they danced.
    • Aunts dancing polkas with each other, usually because their husbands are busy enjoying the open bar.
    • Uncles getting drunk and dancing the twist, suit coats and ties abandoned and shirt sleeves rolled up.
    • Mom and her brother, my Uncle Jesse doing the jitterbug, since Dad and Aunt Mitzie didn’t like to dance.
    • The bouquet toss to an enthusiastic crowd of hopeful, young girls.
    • The band playing David Rose & His Orchestra’s iconic song “The Stripper” while the groom removed the bride’s garter.
    • The very old-fashioned tradition of removing the bride’s veil and putting on the silk apron with the plastic babies sewn on it (OMG am I really old enough to have seen this before it was considered an insult?!)
    • The guests, hand in hand, forming a ring and sweetly singing “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” as the happy couple danced inside the circle.

“Let me call you “Sweetheart,” I’m in love with you.

Let me hear you whisper that you love me too.

Keep the love-light glowing in your eyes so true.

Let me call you “Sweetheart,” I’m in love with you.”

  • And finally, at the end of the night, going home with sore feet, stomachs full of delicious food and drink, and hearts full of love.
    10154038_10202993267425820_1410207148464734200_n

Today’s weddings sometimes seem to be more about Pinterest pages and one-upping your friends. I’m often left wondering if the couple will put as much thought and effort into the marriage as they have into the wedding itself.

On the other hand, today’s weddings can feel more heartfelt and personal. When you take away some of the staid and ritualistic traditions, you get down to what the day really means to bride and groom. My nephew’s recent wedding was in Chicago’s Newberry Library instead of a church, and was officiated by a dear friend of the couple. They read their own vows, which amazingly, and without their knowing it, were nearly identical. There was not a dry eye in the house.

I have no doubt that our daughter’s wedding will be lovely. The day will be a mixture of traditional and more modern themes, and will have their unique stamp on it. The ceremony will be on the front porch of my husband’s childhood home, built more than 100 years ago by the bride’s great-great-great grandparents. It will be officiated by the groom’s sister. There will be donuts in addition to a small cake.

We will not sing “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” and they are foregoing the bouquet and garter toss. But there will be an abundance of love, laughter, and good food. And I can guarantee at least one drunk uncle, because yes, it will be an open bar. It’s a wedding isn’t it?

Do you share some of the same wedding memories that I do? What are some of your family’s wedding traditions?

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9 thoughts on “In Sickness and in Health; In Polish Sausage and in Sauerkraut

  1. No Bohemian here, but I come from a mix of Polish/Slovakian/Slovenian/Croatian-Catholic family. The weddings I attended when I was a kid were pretty much how you described. The hour-long masses. The matchbooks. My great aunts dancing the polka because my great uncles were getting sloshed at the open bar. “The Stripper” played by an actual band during the garter coming off. The little wax bags full of cake. And I grew up north of Philadelphia. Moving out here to Chicagoland has been a bit like a homecoming for me.

    Liked by 3 people

    • The lines separating Bohemian, Polish, and Slovak roots are very blurry! The food in particular is very similar. Glad to know there are others out there who experienced those wonderful events the way I did. What fun we had!
      BTW, I recently went to a baby shower at Sawa’s Old Warsaw Restaurant in Broadview. OMG the potato pancakes and pierogi were to die for! You should check it out if you ever get a chance. It’s a real slice of old Polish Chicago.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The lines separating Bohemian, Polish, and Slovak roots are very blurry! The food in particular is very similar. Glad to know there are others out there who experienced those wonderful events the way I did. What fun we had!
    BTW, I recently went to a baby shower at Sawa’s Old Warsaw Restaurant in Broadview. OMG the potato pancakes and pierogi were to die for! You should check it out if you ever get a chance. It’s a real slice of old Polish Chicago.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a walk down memory lane! How about the chicken dance? And that other one where everyone surrounds the bride and the groom has to push his way through to get to her, just before they leave for the night? My husband is Slovak and I have a Slovak great grandma so many of the family weddings we’ve attended over the years have been the same way. Although I’ve never seen the apron with the plastic babies! Yikes!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Surprisingly, I had never seen the chicken dance until I was in college. It just wasn’t part of our repertoire I guess! I’ve never seen the one where the groom has to push through.
      The apron with the babies was a weird one, although we didn’t think anything of it at the time. There was one apron that had been around for decades that got passed around the family from bride to bride.

      Liked by 1 person

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