September 1, 2020 – Wedding numbers in Dubrovnik-Neretva County have been limited to 50 maximum after a Coronavirus outbreak was traced back to someone’s big day. But, who can possibly stop the juggernaut of joy that are Croatian summer weddings?
Epidemiological guidelines can only be followed so far. You can put some extra space between the tables, insist people wear a mask, and aim for the highest standards of hygiene. For all the measures insisted upon by the Croatian state and the sincere efforts of some business owners and their staff, a necessary part of the burden falls on personal responsibility.
People tut and shake their heads in disbelief at the photos and videos of irresponsible Italian youths in the nightclubs of Pag. Others assign blame for Croatia’s international safety downgrading on specific regions of Dalmatia and the kind of tourists who visit there. But, there is one homegrown phenomenon which Coronavirus cannot hold back – nor epidemiological measures – and to which no outside blame can be assigned – Croatian summer weddings.
From spring until autumn, the sound of car horns fills Croatian streets each and every weekend. Youths dangle precariously from car windows, the national flag flutters in the air and the strong scent of rakija arrives especially early, even before midday. An occasion of unrestricted joy, of tradition and, usually, extravagant expense, Croatian summer weddings are long in the planning and the fuel for a thousand remembrances. They are automatically dissected after their occurrence, each minute detail compared against the other weddings you have attended.
“They had sarma. In the summertime! And with nothing, only bread. No potato. No rice. Also, there was no fish,” one Dalmatian wedding guest recalled in 2019, after accompanying her husband to a Croatian summer wedding in an agricultural part of the continental region.
“But, surely there was rice in the sarma?”
“Well, yes. But also, the flowers we wore were not as nice as those at my sister’s wedding. Her’s cost 200 kuna per person!”
Sarma, served in summertime. With no potato! Some details of Croatian summer weddings will never be forgotten © Gurman chef
Everything has to be done correctly. Everyone has to be invited. The seating of guests is given more consideration than the planning of a national counter-attack.
A young couple from Osijek, now residents of Sweden, didn’t so much want a traditional affair for their wedding of this year. Both are of an alternative nature. They would have sat miserably through hours of tamburica music. Instead, they wanted similar friends to DJ some music they enjoyed at a more informal gathering, without the compulsion of inviting all the cousins who they only ever see at extended family weddings. A fair request, right? After all, it was their big day, right? Wrong.
Everyone agreed. Except for the bridegroom’s sister. She hit the roof “You cannot possibly have a wedding without the tamburica band and all the cousins! We went to ALL their weddings, and gave them gifts! They owe us!”
After ceaseless petitioning to their parents, her demands were eventually met. The parents gave in and refused to pay for the wedding unless it was done correctly. The couple married alone in Sweden, before one witness, who they didn’t even know. In Croatia, your big day does not belong just to you. It belongs to everyone in your family.
Nothing can stop this juggernaut of joy. Not poverty nor personal wishes. And certainly not Coronavirus or epidemiological guidelines.
Civil Protection Headquarters in Dubrovnik-Neretva County recently banned ‘large’ weddings. The maximum number of guests for each wedding is now set at 50. This is in response to an outbreak of Coronavirus in Metković, which stemmed from a wedding held there on 15 August. 38 active cases of Coronavirus were subsequently recorded. And few who’ve attended a Croatian wedding would be surprised.
Who will try to tell the boys not to drink too much at a wedding, then not to hug or dance with their cousins? Who will tell the godfather of the bride that he must remain distant from his guests, and alone wipe the tears of happiness from his face? This is a day he waited for all of his life.
No wonder, as Slobodna Dalmacija reports in their coverage of the situation in Neretva, that in response to the new limits, Croatian summer weddings are simply now moving across the border into nearby Herzegovina. There, wedding numbers remain unrestricted. No masks will be required to ruin the close group family photos. There probably won’t even be anyone stopped on the way back through the border for carrying leftovers. Nor potentially carrying coronavirus.
There is no easy fix to this situation, no simple solution to appease both authorities and celebrating families. We can only hope that the case in Metković is an isolated one and the porous nature of the border with Herzegovina remains the advantage it always has been for Croatians living in the region. For whosoever tries to impede the festivities of Croatian summer weddings is surely fighting a losing cause.