A wedding is a time of celebration. A time where the love between two people if formally declared and family and friends gather to celebrate. On Saturday 25thJune, I had the opportunity to attend a gypsy* wedding in the Roma quarter Nadeshda, Sliven. Before the wedding our host, Bojidar, showed us around the area. This Roma community is divided into two sections. One being a poorer area in material terms and the other being exceptionally poor in material terms. The Roma in this area are often referred to as the “naked gypsies” as many of the children walk the streets absolutely stark naked.
It is time to get back to the celebration of love. One feature of a wedding in poorer communities is that they are not merely for family and friends. They are community events. The whole community is invited. This was in evidence when I asked our host how many people were invited. He replied “maybe 200, maybe 300”. This would surely drive any wedding planner nuts. The reception and blessing was held in a local restaurant which a friends of the family had made available for the great celebration. On the Saturday morning the men busied themselves in the kitchen preparing the food for the unknown number of guests. Salads, cheese, salami, olives and bread made up the majority of the menu. This was complimented with fruit and nuts. Gayton Liter, a friend from Calvary Tabernacle, who had blessed Bojidar’s marriage a few months earlier asked the uncle of the groom whether we could help prepare the food. Together we joined the men as they prepared the meal.
While the men are in the kitchen, the women prepare themselves. This is a significant event and I was surprised at the dresses and other accessories that were worn by the guests. This is a very colorful event, with lots of great traditions. Unfortunately, Gayton and I missed many of the traditional aspects of the wedding tradition.
As the restaurant filled, Gayton played chauffeur to the bride and groom. They arrived to great fanfare. Many guests, way more than the 200 arrived over the course of the afternoon. The music, a traditional gypsy band, arrived and began to sing many traditional gypsy songs. The couple drank some champagne, danced the first dance and then it was time for the blessing to be prayed over the couple. The local pastor prayed a prayer of blessing. Gayton and I were also asked to pray for the couple. A short while later the cake was cut and then the celebrations began in earnest with dancing.
As I reflect on this experience I was truly amazed at two aspects of this wedding. The first is how this is a community event and not a closed event. It would appear that communities who struggle together draw a closeness together and they recognise that they are all in this together and so a celebration of life is for everyone. The second aspect that astounded me is the lengths to which the “Gypsy ladies” went in preparation for the event. This was a celebration of a woman’s beauty and they took the opportunity with great delight. I have seen these two aspects also evidenced in many of the poorer communities in South Africa, and it leads me to ponder how much we sometimes miss out in the more affluent and more western communities.
This event will remain long in my memory. After a long and somewhat tiring day, we drove home knowing that life had been celebrated.
*Whilst we have used the term gypsy in this article, it is important to recognize the fact that officially the term is Roma. In many quarters the term “gypsy” is a derogatory. However having spoken to the brother of the groom, he says that they refer to themselves as “gypsy” and that in many regards this term carries some pride. In this journey we have learnt that certain terms can be both derogatory or one of pride. It largely depends on the person using the terms and in which context.