Love. 4 simple letters that can change your life. Love is universal. Feeling described by the word love hits everyone the same. The hormones produced by your body are the same. When you are in love it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. It’s only the manifestation of your love that is based on your culture and background.
Slovak love is the same like American, Turkish, Spanish, Eskimo or Swahili. However, our customs and traditions to express our feeling are bit different and unique. Today we live in the gender equality era. Rules between girls and guys, guys and guys or girls and girls got mixed up. The boundaries and etiquette are long gone and it’s up to you how you say “I love you” – “ľúbim ťa.”
Our grandparents and their grandparents lived in a different world. They lived according to the unspoken social rules based mostly on Catholicism. I would say the general rule for expressing love in Slovak is, or used to be, that it’s up to a guy. Girls usually passively waited to be picked out of the crowd. I can’t say that adultery or pre-marital sex didn’t happen, of course it did. We are just people. But without ever present social media, cameras and smartphones, it was easier to keep it a secret.
Because single young girls didn’t have many choices to present their feelings openly, they did various rituals to influence their love of life or to find a perfect match. Some of the rituals were supposed to predict when and if they get married, other how their future husband will look like, etc. Note that being singe girl after 20 was a huge problem and shame for the family.
A special chapter of love superstitions is dedicated to Christmas. Christmas/Winter equinox was a magical time of the year not just for Christians, but also for pagans who lived in Slovakia before them.
4th December – Day of St. Barbara – On St. Barbara’s Day, single girls were supposed to get a branch from a cherry tree. In order for magic to happen, they needed to water it early in the morning every day with fresh water transported from the source to the brunch in their mouth. This wasn’t always handy because springs with a fresh water or local wells were not close to the house. When the cherry tree bloomed on Christmas day the girls were supposed the get married soon. Girls who couldn’t pick or decide in between marriage offers got more branches and gave them names of boys. The one that bloomed showed the name of the future Mr. Right.
13th December – Day of St. Lucia (Lucy) – On St. Lucy’s Day single girls got an apple they kept until the Christmas night. They bite into the apple every day until 24th December midnight. With their last bite at midnight, they were supposed to see the name of the future groom in front of them. A modern representation of the habit is to write names of 13 boys on 13 separate pieces of paper. Then fold the papers and burn one of them every day (without looking at the names) until Christmas. The name on the last paper was the name of your future husband.
Christmas Night and Christmas Day are also rich for the old superstitions. Single girls were supposed to leave the house for a walk during preparation of the Christmas dinner. The man they meet on the walk is supposed to be their perfect match. Fasting was another way how to get Mr. Perfect. Stricter the fasting better the husband. Another tip for a solo lady was to peel an apple and throw the apple skin behind you in the corner. The letter the apple skin reminds the most, was the first letter in the name of the upcoming fiancée.
Early in Spring girls made little flower wreaths and tossed them into rivers. Whoever picked the wreath was supposed to marry the girl who made it. I really wonder how this one worked out cause the wreaths unusually traveled quite far away. Person who picked them, if any, must have no clue how they got into water.
Last calendar day of Autumn – 30th November – St. Ondrej (Andrew) – had also magical power for young single ladies. At midnight before St. Andrew’s Day a girl went to knock on a chicken shelter (a place where you keep chickens at night) and ask if she is going to get married. If she hears a cock (male chicken) first, she will get married and if she hears a hen first, poor thing is supposed to come next year again. Another habit associated with St. Andrew is that girls baked fresh bread and put a piece of it in front of a dog. The piece eaten as the first by dog showed which girl is gonna get married first.
Expressions of love and engagement
Once a guy picked his bride it was time to show it. And wait if the loved one’s family will accept his offer.
Early in the spring boys go to the forest where they cut down a tree, mostly a young birch. They decorate the tree with long and colourful ribbons and build it up in front of the girl’s house. The tree is called Máj. This was done every night before the first day of May. If the tree stood crooked than it was a shame for a girl’s family as well for a guy who build it. On 1st May groups consisted of local musicians and young single boys visited every house with the Máj built night before. They danced with every girl in the house and as a reward they received some booze.
If the guy likes a girl, he also asked for her bloomed cherry brunch and wore it on his hat. He also could have asked for another little gift, like a flower or flock of hair he then wore on his clothes.
Once the guy decided he wants to marry a girl, his family sent an elder family member to the house of a future bride. If he came back with a positive answer it was time to celebrate. This was not any official engagement, it was more a private try out that was supposed to save you a public humiliation in the case the bride family says no. And yup, parents had a strong word in their daughter’s marriage choice.
Once the families agreed upon marriage, the groom’s family visited the bride’s family where they set up the rules and agreed upon “terms and conditions.” Mostly they just divided money and property among the families. In this part young couple didn’t play a big role. It was the parents talk. This meeting took place a week after the initial contact from the groom’s elderly.
Once the money was divided it was finally time for the proper engagement. Finally, we can talk about the actual wedding associated traditions and some kind of celebrations. For the engagement lunch or dinner, close family members were invited. It always took place in the house of the bride. The young couple exchanged rings. It can happen that only a bride receives a ring, but usually a groom gets some kind of gift as well (ring, watch, necklace, etc.) Young groom officially asked parents of the girl for her hand and thanked them for taking care of her. He also thanks his own parents. Once everybody agrees, a young couple asks for blessings from both parents, bride’s and groom’s. After the engagement, the couple goes to the church where they announce their plans to the priest. Three following Sundays, the priest announces upcoming marriage during Sunday masses and asks the village people if they know about any issues that could stop the marriage. If no one shows up, the couple is free to get married after 3 weeks from the engagement.
Wedding traditions vary from region to region. They are so broad that they would need to be described in a separate post.
From the girl perspective, there is something magical about our grandpas’ chivalry and old fashioned etiquette. Young people knew what to expect, how to react and also had an idea about what’s going to happen. Today we live in a socially undefined era and young girls don’t have a stable ground to stand on. Will he call? If yes, what should I say? On the other hand, we are free to date various partners and learn from our mistakes. We also can pick our partners based on feelings and not on money (at least in my case) ?
As I said at the beginning, love is universal. It’s a state of mind that turns your world upside down. To be in love is a wonderful feeling and I wish you all to experience it at least once in a life. So if you have someone special in your life, don’t forget to cherish him/her and enjoy the time you can spend together!