Wedding customs in Austria
Wedding customs and traditions exist since the institution of marriage has been around. And that’s pretty long. These customs have changed over time. Some have disappeared, others have survived to this day.
The meaning and origin of the different wedding customs vary widely. Some are supposed to keep evil away, others should evoke love, happiness, health or fertility. Not every wedding custom can be traced back anymore, where it comes from and what purpose it had. Often the purpose is now no longer up to date. Nevertheless, these customs are simply part of Austria.
Personally I am a big fan of customs. A big part of them reflects a component of Austrian identity. And customs are not always dusty and only fit for a country wedding. Many of them can be integrated beautifully into a modern wedding with a new interpretation. Especially when you have guests from abroad, a wedding custom can be a wonderful insight into Austrian culture.
Particularly in Austria many old customs still exist. Usually these are very regional and therefore often known only in the respective field. Some have again prevailed throughout the country and I would like to present the most famous of them to you.
Waking the bride and wedding shooting
Traditionally in Salzkammergut, Tyrol and Styria a bride has to get out of bed very early on her wedding day. At dawn neighbors and friends come to rudely awaken the bride from sleep. With gunshots (by gunner of course) or firecrackers the bride is “greeted”. In addition, evil spirits should be driven away by the noise. While it was the unmarried men who woke the bride in former times, these are mixed groups today. Nowadays, however, one should inform the local residents and the community before carrying out the tradition.
Fetching the bride
This practice is popular in almost all Austrian provinces. The bride is picked up on her wedding day from her parents’ home. Today, the custom has changed to the effect that most grooms fetch their future wives from home with their groomsmen. The groom is already running ahead with the decorated wedding car and traditionally also has the bride’s bouquet with him. Together with the bride this group proceeds to the registry office or church. In many areas of Austria this path does not lead directly to the destination. Friends and neighbors are waiting along the route to block the newlyweds off. The couple has to stop, get out and complete a given task. This includes, for example, sawing through a log together. Only after the newlyweds have successfully completed this operation can the journey be continued.
The walk down the aisle
Those who choose a Christian ceremony and a church as part of their marriage usually cling to faith. However, from region to region the walk down the aisle in the church differs. In some areas you stride directly from the registry office into the church with all guests together; this is called Ehrenzug in German. The couple already comes in as a married couple. In other areas often the guests enter the church first, the newlyweds follow. More and more the American version is gaining force, in which the bride’s father takes his daughter to the altar.
Guard of honor
Making a guard of honor for the couple when they leave the church symbolizes the first common path with an obstacle. On the other hand it also shows that friends and family are there for the newlyweds.
After the official ceremony the Agape heralds one of the more informal parts of the wedding celebration. Traditionally a snack is served now, called the Agape. This gives the couple time to breathe and they have the chance to chat with those wedding guests who are not invited to the evening entertainment. Guests can now congratulate the couple and present their gifts. If you hold it the traditional way, only bread, salt and wine may be served at the Agape. This is due to the significance of the term “agape” in Catholic and Protestant faith, where it represents a meal together during a church service. Especially in Carinthia and Upper Austria great value is still placed on this tradition.
In many regions of Austria it is common that the location’s host is waiting for them on their arrival with bread and salt in his hand. On the one hand this is a gesture of respect, on the other it is a symbol for the future life of the newlyweds, which should never lack food and spice. In Carinthia a visit of the bride to the kitchen is essential. Only the bride is allowed to salt the soup for the guests.
The waltz has been danced for centuries and has evolved from folk dance. Today it is the most popular ballroom dance in Austria. Its importance has probably been inherited from its action. As a rule the dance floor will be opened by the bride and the groom. The etiquette stipulates that the groom has to ask the bride’s mother for the next dance. The groom’s father is allowed to dance with the bride. Only after that is the dance floor open for all guests.
Stealing the bride
The custom of stealing the bride is hotly debated. Not everybody likes it, but it is nearly always carried out anyway. This tradition is widespread in Austria. The origin is probably from the Middle Ages. At that time it was common that the sovereign had the right to the first night with the bride. A lore says that a bride stolen before midnight and not brought back until midnight is excluded from this regulation. In addition, not only the bride is stolen, but also the groom. In rural areas this can sometimes be very wild. The bride is snapped and kidnapped to a nearby location. In the new bar the group is dancing, singing and drinking. All drinks consumed are then are paid for by the best man when he comes to fetch the bride. The groom should take some time to get his bride back. Only after a period of time does he set off to fetch his bride. It is mandatory in many areas that the band accompany the groom. Stealing after midnight is strictly prohibited.
Auction of the bridal shoe
The auction of the bridal shoe is very popular in Austria. It helps to fill the newlyweds’ purse. Like at a real auction all wedding guests bid on the shoe. The custom stipulates, however, that the final bid is made by the father, best man or groom. Only with a purchased shoe can he uphold the honor of his daughter or wife.
It is common in some areas of Austria that on the morning after the wedding night a small gift is handed over to the bride by the groom. However, a dower is strictly speaking not an additional wedding gift but rather a custom. It actually serves to financially secure the bride, if anything should happen to the husband. The dower is exclusively at the bride’s disposal. The dower was even anchored in Austrian law till 2009.
Magdalena Maas-Vavra is head, heart and soul of die Hochzeitsplanerei. She’s running a wedding planner business in Vienna. Die Hochzeitsplanerei is specialized on planning & designing high emotional and unique weddings in and around Vienna, Lower Austria and Burgenland.
Image: © golden elephant