When Jake and I started talking about this trip, we would dream that part of it would play out like a movie - we would meet a family who was warm, welcoming, and who would take us in and make us feel like their own. We played out scenarios of family dinners and learning cultural traditions over beers long into the night. We never really thought, though, that it would actually happen! In Budapest, we have come to know and love one such family, and they have truly made us feel like part of theirs. Last night we attended one of the most fun weddings we have ever been to!
Let's just jump right into the details:
The Invitation: And we thought wedding invitations in the US were elaborate! Each invitation was hand delivered by Arnold and Inez, and other family members. Even friends and relatives in other countries were handed invitations on their doorsteps! The invitations were made of small glass tubes tied with gold and white ribbon, and inside a beautiful piece of paper with gold swirls was rolled up like a scroll. They were so delicate that they could not be delivered by post, and it is tradition to personally invite each guest. The invitation itself explained that Arni and Inez were to be married on 23 May at 3pm. There was to be two services - the church service and the civil service, followed by the reception. The whole congregation would start at the church, and then walk to the site of the civil service one block away, and then to the reception hall another block down the road. (Lucky for us, the site of the civil service was two doors down from our apartment! Talk about an easy commute!) Each guest was asked to RSVP and provide the number of people they would be bringing. There is no rule about who gets a "plus 1", no envelopes saying "So and So & Guest" - each group decided how many people they were bringing and would let the bride and groom know what to expect! Jake and I were handed our invitation the day after we arrive in Budapest before even meeting the couple! We told Victor and Magareta that happily accept and we would be bringing 10 people...just kidding! :) The invitation also stated that there was no official end time - the bride and groom would be there until everyone was done partying (which was usually between 6 and 8 in the morning!). Later that week, when we met Arni and Inez, she stated that they were very glad we would be going to the wedding because they want to share their culture with us, they want us to know what a real, traditional, Hungarian wedding is like and show us a good time. They are very proud of their customs, and very warm and welcoming already, we knew we were in for a big treat!
Attire: Anything and everything would have been appropriate! We saw some women in their fanciest velvet, floor length gowns and others in pants and a t-shirt. We saw some men in jeans and polos and others in shiny suits with fancy collars and ties. Margareta had told us not to worry about dressing up - my striped skirt and Jake's jeans would have been just fine. But, since we had time to find something a bit dressier, and we wanted to show the family respect by making an effort to dress for the occasion, we went shopping. After four separate shopping trips and many hours in changing rooms, Jake and I were ready - I had a new dress and earrings, he had blue slacks, a blue dress shirt, a brown belt, and one of Elliot's ties! We were ready!
Arnold spent most of the day in a chocolate brown tux with a cream vest and tie, and beautiful shiny brown shoes. His lapel was decorated with a big, beautiful white rose. Inez's wedding gown was a soft ivory color, strapless, and adorned with ruffles, pickups, and gold bows. For the church service, she wore a small jacket to cover her shoulders. Her hair was pulled half back, a two-layered veil draped down her back, and a delicate strand of sparkles rested on the crown of her head. Her flowers were a big bunch of white peonies and roses. The groomsmen were dressed in black with black ties, and the bridesmaids wore mint green, strapless dresses of all different lengths, showing off their different personalities.
After midnight, Arni and Inez disappeared for about 15 minutes. Just when we began to wonder where they went, they were announced again, running into the dining room and onto the dance floor in new outfits! Arni changed into a beautiful navy suit with black shoes and a red tie, and Inez's new dress had a white bodice with red ribbons and a skirt of red tulle! Now that's a party dress! Inez explained this tradition to us later: Before midnight, it is the wedding day, and you are a bride and a groom. After midnight, it is a new day, and you are new people, you are a wife and a husband. The wedding gown and tux are for you on your wedding day, and the new dress and suit are to signify that you are new people and it is a new day in your new life together. The traditional color of the new dress is red, hence Inez's red skirt and detailing on her dress, and Arni's matching red tie!
We noticed that they were not the only ones to change outfits during the night - most of the bridesmaids and groomsmen donned other dresses and slacks as the party crept into the wee hours of the morning. Even some guests had brought a change of clothes! It was a fashion show! I was just happy to be wearing my ballet flats the whole time - I couldn't imagine being in high heels for 14+ hours like Inez!
Weather: The day started out with a forecast of torrential downpour, thunder, and lightning all day long. As Jake, Selma, Elliot and I ate breakfast, we watched the rain fall, exclaiming "Poor Inez and Arni! I hope the rain stops!" According to Victor and Margareta, everyone was in tears all morning over the bad weather. Victor told them, "Not to worry, I will have a chat with St. George." Hours later, blue sky appeared and not a single drop fell after 2pm! The whole procession from service to service to party was dry, sunny, and warm! The walk home at 5am was still dry, and the whole next day was clear. I don't know who St. George is or what kind of power Victor has, but I think I want to be on both of their good sides!
Ceremonies: Like I mentioned, there were two different services. This first was the formal church service that took place in a Reformed church Kalvin Ter, just around the corner from our apartment. The congregation waited outside on the square, greeting each other and listening to the music of three musicians that would lead the procession from place to place. Also in attendance was the MC for the evening - he was kind of like a court jester, there to keep people entertained and happy as people waited for things to start, and to lead toasts and tell stories through out the day. Just before 3pm, we were all invited inside the church. We saw Arni before things got underway - he looked very dapper in his brown tux, and very nervous! He was eager to get the show on the road!
We sat on the right hand side, three pews from the front (much closer than we though we would be! But family friends kept encouraging us forward!), so we had a great view. The sermon, which was in Hungarian so we had no idea what was being said, last about 20 minutes and seemed very nice - the minister had a love tone and seemed very warm. As we watched, we realized the bride and groom were on opposite sides than in most American weddings - the groom and his family on the left and the bride and hers on the right. Both Inez and Arni had 6 bridesmaids/groomsmen who sat behind them at the altar. Also sitting up there with them were their mentors, two couples who guided Arni and Inez through their engagement and wedding, and who will continue to mentor them into the future. The bride and groom each choose a couple who they believe is an excellent example of marriage and love. There is no maid of honor or best man in a traditional Hungarian wedding - the mentors help with planning, sign the official documents, and take care of the bride and groom the same way Abby and Matt took care of us!
After the more serious church service, the congregation gathered back out on Kalvin Ter for pictures. This part was fascinating - every group of guests took a picture with Arni and Inez! We all watched as the formal wedding photos took place on the steps of the church, and then formed a line to have our pictures taken! I feel like this would never happen in the US - people would not have the patience to watch pictures being taken. But here, it's all part of the package! When you accept the honor of attending the wedding, you accept the whole shebang, however long it take!
After pictures, the wedding party lined up, couple by couple, behind Inez and Arni, and we all walked in a long line to the next location for the civil service. At the very front of the procession, three musicians playing the sax, accordion, and flute, their music announcing our arrival! The civil service was much more relaxed than the church service - we all gathered in a small courtyard, guests lining the stairs that overlooked the short aisle of white carpet and floral archway. Inez took off her little jacket and let her bustle down. Taking Arnold's arm, they walked to "The Wedding March" down the aisle to the judge who married them in the eyes of the law. Jake, Selma, Elliot, and I watched from the stairs above, waving to the beaming Victor and Margareta as their son got married. The next thing we knew, we heard English! The judge asked the couple "Do you take this man/woman to be your husband/wife?", and both Arni and Inez said "Yes, I do!" Victor and Margareta looked up at us and pointed to us, silently saying, "That was for you!". We were blown away - not only were we invited to this incredible wedding, but the bride and groom went out of their way to make us feel like we were truly a part of it, to make us comfortable and include us in their service. How awesome is that?? At the end of the service, they signed the official documentation declaring them married while the theme song of "The Godfather" played in the background (seriously, it was awesome).
The civil ceremony concluded with a glass of champagne for everyone, a receiving line for the bride and groom, and relaxed smiles all around. Now Arni was feeling good - no more nerves! The MC announced that it was time to process to the reception site, so we all lined up on the street again and walked down the block to the sound of the musicians. When we arrived, we were introduced to two more customs. The MC gave a speech (we'll ask for translation later), and the newlyweds released nine white doves into the air! I've never seen that in real life before! Next, the MC presented Inez and Arnold with a tray with two pieces of bread, both covered in a spread of sorts, and a glass of wine. He told them each to take a bite of the bread in front of them and declare what they taste to the crowd. Inez yelled "Sweet!", and Arni made a face and yelled "Salty! Salty!" He washed it down with the wine and exclaimed once more, "Salty!". The MC explained that life is both sweet and salty and together they will face both. Arni gave Inez a little taste of the salt he was served and gave her a big french kiss right there. After, Inez agreed, "yes, very salty!". Next stop, the ballroom!
The Reception: The reception was held in 2 ballrooms of the Andrassy University. The ornately detailed moldings and carvings on the walls were illuminated by sparkling chandeliers. The tables were covered in white cloth, and gold center runners that matched the invitations. The chairs were swathed in white with gold bows on the backs. The center pieces were tall clear vases with a single vine of ivy circled inside, topped with beautiful white peonies and roses. I loved, while the center pieces were large, they did not block your view of people opposite you. Our table was particularly special - it had a small American flag perched in the flowers, indicating this was the table for the English speakers so we could all chat! Not only that, it was in the best possible place - right next to the dance floor with a perfect view of the head table, near the band and the bar! I couldn't believe how special they made us feel - first with being invited before they even knew us, then with the English vows, and now with VIP seating at the reception! With each passing moment, these amazing people were feeling more and more like family to us. It was clear that they were happy to have us and excited to give us front row seats to their traditions.
From the moment we stepped into the ballroom, the band was playing - two men playing keyboards (one for percussion, I think), one on the violin (and he might be the most amazing violinist I have ever seen, not that I've seen many, but still...), and one who switched between the flute and the sax! All four sang at one point or another, but the lead singer was the flute/sax guy. They were lively, upbeat, and incredibly talented. They played through every course of dinner and I felt like were at a concert! When the clock struck 3am, I couldn't believe the were still there, going strong! Between 3:30 and 5, the DJ played a mix of popular Hungarian songs, and some old school American songs like "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It", and even some good old Abba! We participated in a few group dances - everyone loves a conga line (Inez's grandma grabbed us by the hands and pulled is in line behind her!). Then the conga line changed it up a bit - the MC instructed us all to put one hand between our legs, and grab the hand in front of us and continue forward - I hope the photographers got some shots of all of us looking ridiculous bent over, butt to nose, and smiling from ear to ear! Jake also participated in the traditional Bride Dance, where the father of the bride announces that she is for sale, and the gentlemen at the wedding line up to pay for a dance with her. The money is collected in a big pot, and each person who pays gets to dance with the bride for a few bars before the next one cuts in. Traditionally, this is how the couple would fund their honeymoon. (A note about gifts - traditionally, couples do not register. Instead, attendees give envelopes of money that they place in a box on the head table, in front of the bride and groom's seats.) I captured Jake dancing with the beaming bride on camera!
The biggest surprise were the choreographed dances! Yes, that's right! Not only did Arni and Inez wow everyone with a beautiful first dance to Lana Del Rey's "Young and Beautiful" (and Inez sang every world in English to Arni and it was adorable!), they also shocked the crowd with a 5 minute mashup! Around midnight, they pretended to do their first dance all over again, but a few measures in, the music cut and they were going all out to "The Way You Make Me Feel", "You Can Leave Your Hat On", "I'm a Believer", and more! The crowd went wild and was yelling "Encore!" (in Hungarian, of course), so they indulged and did the whole routine again! Amazing! That wasn't Inez's only surprise, either - she and her bridesmaids had prepared a special mashup dance for Arni, too! It sure helps that she grew up dancing, and use to teach it, too! Soon after, the bride and groom got a little surprise - Inez's little sister and friend had prepared a song for them, and they serenaded the party while the couple slow danced (apparently the friend is a famous singer in Hungary, he was really good!).
Jake had some competition on the dance floor - a little boy, about 8, kept sweeping me off my feet! Little Man would come up to me at our table and ask for my hand. He then led me out onto the dance floor and twirled me all over the place! I was thoroughly impressed by his moves - he was actually leading! During our 4th spin on the floor, though, he grew tired of my inability to take direction (or to dance in general), and retrieved my husband for me so that I could continue dancing, After all, you never leave a lady on the dance floor!
While Jake and I watched the crowded dance floor for much of the night (we particularly loved watching Inez's cousin, a professional dancer, and his girlfriend take the floor) we certainly got our workout's worth on the floor! We danced the night away until we noticed the purple light of dawn coming through the windows. At 5:15am, we called it quits, kissed everyone goodbye, and walked around the corner to our beds.
Speeches: Unlike American weddings, only the MC gave speeches. He made three toasts: one for the bride and groom, encouraging them to always support and love one another; one for the parents of the bride and groom, encouraging Arni and Inez to be grateful for their wonderful parents who worked so hard to give them great lives and teach them how to be wonderful, loving people, and to always remember everything their parents have given them; and one for the siblings, reminding Arni and Inez of the special relationships that we have with our brothers and sisters, and to be thankful for their love and support as the family grows. It was very sweet to watch all of the emotion in the room as the MC gave his toasts - everyone hugged and kissed and cried tears of joy and thanks.
Food: In my experience with wedding food, it's always just kind of ok. It's nothing to write home to mom about, and I rarely give it a second thought. At American weddings we have been to, the dinner is a formality, something you blow through as quickly as possible so you can get to the dancing. You eat because if you don't the booze will get the best of you. The food at Arni and Inez's wedding, however, was an event! It was just as important and purposeful as the other traditions. And it was GOOD!
When we sat down, we admired the appetizers waiting for us. Each person had a beautiful plate of pate with cognac sauce, spoonful of a velvety mushroom spread, bite-sized caprese salad. Wine arrived almost immediately. We were off to a good start with this rich, decadent display! (For the record, I have learned that I really like pate! Yum!) Next, a small palate cleanser - a mushroom cappuccino, basically the best mushroom soup I have ever had in my life served in a tea-cup that looked like a cappuccino because of the foamy top! Next, the MC appeared to explain the following course, the traditional wedding soup. He told us all that it is tradition for the bride to serve her new husband from the ladle. Inez stood, ready to take on this task, and lifted the ladle, blew on the hot soup to cool if off for her love, and fed it to him. After one more spoonful, she dished him up a big bowl. Meanwhile, the servers placed two large bowls of soup on each of the tables for everyone to share, family style. The soup was so good, Jake and I had 2 bowls! I noticed a small dish of hot sauce on the table and proceeded to dump a nice teaspoon of it in my soup. Our new English-speaking Croatian friend (whose name I no longer remember), worriedly told me, "That is very hot! You must only use a small amount! It is not chili, it is Hungarian paprika!" "Not to worry," I told him. We have yet to find actual hot chili sauce on our travels and this was no different. It did add a kick, but it was certainly not going to burn the taste buds off my tongue. He was impressed when I ate my spiced soup with ease and a smile.
After the soup course, the band kicked up again, impressing the whole party with the amazing skills of the flute and violin players. The dance floor was open, and we hadn't even had our main course, nor had the newlyweds had their first dance! It didn't matter, when people want to dance, they dance! There are no rules at this party, only merriment!
The MC reappeared after a while with the next course and the next story. A platter of goodies was put down on each table - fried cheese sticks, fried mushrooms, rice, fries, sautéed vegetables, cucumber salad, and chicken three ways - wrapped in bacon and stuffed with plum jam, fried like a chicken finger, and covered in a cream sauce - all family style. The story accompanying these ham and chicken dish was simple: Once upon a time there was a chicken and a pig who lived on a farm. The chicken wanted to show the pig that he was top dog around there, that he was in charge, so he cut the pig's head off. But then the chicken learned that he was not in charge, because the farmer cut his head off, and then ate them both for dinner. Now, there may have been something lost in translation with this one because I don't quite get the lesson (I could make one up, but I'll wait for Inez to explain it to me), but I loved the theatrics of it all just the same! We devoured our platters and were shocked when another full plate of chicken appeared! Time for seconds!
These courses, and entertainment between each one, lasted for about 3 hours. The next courses came at our leisure - the chocolate fountain, complete with skewers of marshmallows, strawberries, kiwi, bananas, vanilla wafers, and other fruit appeared around 10pm. The cake cutting happened at 1am (side note - Jake and I helped them pick out their cake topper earlier that week! It was a groom trying to make a break for it and his bride tugging on his collar). We expected them to feed each other a piece of cake...nope! In their custom, the bride and groom do not feed each other the first piece that is sliced, they actually cut about 10 pieces and hand them out to the guests before the caterers take the cake back to the kitchen to slice for everyone. We had 2 pieces, chocolate and strawberry. And, if there's one thing Hungary does right with cake (other than making a PERFECT chocolate, holy moly), it's replacing terrible, disgusting fondant with perfect delicious MARZIPAN! I, the hater of most frosting, could not stay away from the marzipan layer. YUM! At 3am the party was still in full swing and the late night food came out - sushi! There were eel rolls, Philadelphia rolls, cucumber rolls, salmon rolls, and dessert rolls (chocolate with cut up fruit that looked like sushi!). By the time we left the party at 5 am, we were happy and stuffed!
The bar was also going all night long! Jake and I only had a few glasses of wine (we didn't want to be exhausted AND hungover on Sunday if we could help it), but we were offered mojitos, bloody marys, gin and tonics, daiquiris, palinka, Stella, Heineken...the list of specialty drinks goes on! While the grown ups were indulging in their delicious cocktails, the little ones were getting sugar highs with special juice drinks made just for them!
Overall: As we said our goodbyes to Margareta, Victor, Arni, and Inez, we truly felt like part of their family. They hugged us and kissed us and told us how happy they were that we were there. We even got a kiss from Grandma! As we thanked Arni and Inez for the incredible party, the overwhelmingly hospitality, and the memories that will last a lifetime, we got a little choked up. They taught us so much this week. They took time out of their incredibly busy week before the wedding to go wine tasting with us, to take us out to burgers and beer and even sleep over at their house. They included English in the service and seated us with other English speakers under a little American flag.
They included us in the wedding preparation by asking our help to pick out the wedding topper. They wanted to show us their culture, but they also showed us how we want to treat people in our lives. They taught us that it's easy to make people feel so special, so welcome; that it's important to let small things go and make time to get to know people; that it doesn't take a lot to make someone feel appreciated and they went out of their way to go above and beyond for two perfect strangers. We also learned that saying "yes" to spontaneous things, like accepting the invitation to the wedding, can lead to incredible memories, to incredible stories, to new lifelong friendships. We started this 10 month adventure thinking we would have some fun, meet some people, and learn a bit about the world; little did we know what we would make lifelong friends. We know that Arnold, Inez, Victor and Margareta will be a part of our lives forever and we are so grateful for their generosity, their hospitality, and their amazing take on life. Congratulations to the beautiful couple!