Letter from Prague
This summer has been one of weddings. Perhaps because the name of the year is memorable or perhaps because I have reached the age where everyone around me wants to tie the knot.
I have encountered all sorts: big weddings, town weddings, impersonal registry office weddings, long drawn-out church weddings, weddings in the country, even weddings which have moved me to tears.
The three major places for a wedding to take place here are: a town hall--the equivalent of a British registry office, a church for the religiously-minded, and a chateau or castle for the more flash.
There is no Best Man at a Czech wedding. His place is taken by the witnesses. There are two of these--one for the bride and one for the groom. They stand behind the bride and groom solemnly while they are being married, usually with slightly bowed heads, and then sign the book which proves that the marriage is valid.
Unlike other Catholic countries the wedding ring is usually worn on the ring finger of the left hand. Apparently, if the ring is worn on the right hand it symbolises fidelity, and on the left it means love. These days most people value love over fidelity and so the left hand prevails.
There are also various traditions attached to the act of getting married here. One of my summer weddings took place in a small village in South Bohemia. The wedding party gathered in the morning in the village and were initially fed on dainty little wedding cakes, a small pastry filled with jam or quark, and were given a piece of myrtle and a white ribbon to attach to their clothes. This was still before the ceremony which was to take place in a chateau twenty miles away. As the entourage of cars lined up ready to go, the entire village assembled round them. The village mayor, dressed as a nineteenth-century priest and accompanied by a manservant with a parasol to protect his Reverend's complexion from the sun, approached the cars and announced that in order to pass to the next village a toll needed to be paid. The villagers formed a barricade so that no one could leave without giving the villagers their due. The copious amounts of crowns which the villagers extract is meant to be instead of being invited to the wedding, so that they can drink to the newly-weds' new happiness. Eventually, the bride, the groom and their parents, a lot poorer, are allowed to proceed to matrimony.
Another fairly mercenary tradition to Czech weddings is the kidnapping of the bride. During the celebrations following the ceremony a group of male guests take it upon themselves to carry away the bride. Somehow they distract the groom and then stuff the bride into a car--presumably in the past a cart--and disappear to the nearest inn. There they guzzle as much alcohol as they can with the knowledge that the tab will be picked up by the groom. When he is finally discovers where his beloved has been kidnapped to, he arrives to buy her back.
At one of the weddings I went to the bride was actually carried away twice. This was the result of bad organisation and the fact that the friends of the bride and the friends of the groom didn't exactly get on. Firstly the groom's friends carried her away--I was one of the carriers--and while we were our enjoying ourselves with the captive bride in the pub at the groom's expense, the bride's friends came and took her away again, so the poor groom had two debts to deal with.
The rest of the evening was rather a segregated affair with the two sets of friends sitting at separate tables and revelling on their own.