Welcome to another Croatian history lesson: we’re looking to Šestine in Zagreb for some facts about traditional courting and marriage… ‘as it once was’
We like to go on and on about the richness of Croatian folklore: traditional customs, gorgeous clothing, songs, dances, dialects… and yet, it can be somewhat difficult to picture what said customs used to look like when they were actually employed in everyday life.
Yes, you can attend a folklore festival or check out an ethnographic collection to admire the variety of intricate designs displayed on traditional costumes. You can see impressive shows staged by cultural associations dedicated to preservation of traditional music and dance. But it still all comes down to remnants of the former way of life in various parts of Croatia; we tend to look at all these facets of folklore as museum exhibits, so to speak.
That said, any chance to see some of those customs play out in an authentic ambiance is a rare and valuable one – and the most effective way for us to get acquainted with Croatian folklore in its original form are videos, taken back in the good ol’ days.
One such video comes our way today owing to Zagreb Memento, a YouTube channel featuring interesting snippets from the Croatian capital’s history. They published some footage taken in 1930 at a traditional wedding in Šestine, a neighbourhood located on the outskirts of Zagreb, at the bottom of Medvednica hill.
To be fair, you’re not likely to end up exploring Šestine during a typical trip to Zagreb, but you’ll definitely come across some of its iconic traits even if you only stick to the city centre. Ever been to Dolac market above the Jelačić square? Those red parasols scattered all over the place originate from Šestine umbrellas; they used to be a staple feature of their folklore costume until the 60s, and are nowadays known as the leading symbol of Zagreb. A legend says that its memorable colour has to do with an outstanding love story, two young people who were so infatuated with one another that their passion turned an average black umbrella vibrant red.
So, sticking to the subject of love, let’s turn to our wedding video to get a taste of a proper folk feast:
Zagreb Memento also featured some interesting facts about the traditional view of marriage in Šestine in the early 20th century. Here’s a short rundown:
Traditional customs implied a girl should get married at 16 years of age. If a local girl got to her 17th birthday without a husband on her arm, this was seen as a reason to worry – parents were willing to add to her dowry just to make sure their daughter wouldn’t end up as an old maid.
If by some horrible chance you managed to turn 20 while remaining single, you were seen as a lost cause and referred to as a girl who has ‘basically completed her military service’. No self-respecting young man would propose to a single 20-year-old – the only shot at marriage they had at this point was to catch an eye of widowers or poor local lads whose dating pool was quite shallow to begin with.
There was an unwritten rule that called for children in a given family to wed according to their birth rank. As the oldest daughter was approaching her sweet 16th, her parents would start sending her to social gatherings, while the younger daughters were intentionally kept at home.
Parents wouldn’t even consider to marry off a younger lass before their eldest; in turn, older daughters were expected to ‘not let a younger one take her turn’.
If a certain suitor had an intention to marry a young woman who had unmarried older sisters, he was supposed to wait until the older ones found their husbands first. In some cases, the suitor would insist, persuading the parents to allow their daughter to marry anyway; if they agreed, it was usually seen as a sensation, provoking disapproval in the community. (If the suitor in question just happened to be a ‘good catch’ – well-off and respected – the parents wouldn’t care about said disapproval too much.)
A girl was considered serious and mature if she was composed in her behaviour. A well-raised girl isn’t overly talkative, she only speaks when spoken to, and she doesn’t stand up to her elders. All in all, humble manners and an introverted nature were seen as signs of good upbringing, along with commendable work ethics.
The harder you worked – and the more you kept your mouth shut – the better you ranked on the market. Good ol’ days, good ol’ days indeed.