I’ve been here for over a month, now, and the trip isn’t exactly what I envisioned. I imagined long, lazy mornings where Aleksa and I sat on the patio drinking coffee; picnics in the park filled with Serbian meats and cheeses; day trips to medieval castles and fortresses throughout the country; a weekend in Zlatibor, a ski-mountain town with its own kind of charm.
Instead, we’ve been busy, busy, busy. Forget coffee on the patio, we have to meet up with the wedding decorator for coffee! There’s no time for day trips here or there because we have to drive to this florist in this part of Belgrade.
On one muggy Saturday, Aleksa and I walked up and down the city looking for Italian pastry. Obviously, Serbian bakeries (Pekara) serve Serbian desserts — not cannoli and pignoli. But it is important to my family and our Italian roots to honor the longstanding wedding tradition, Venetian hour.
“What is Venetian hour?” the wedding planner asked me at our most recent appointment. We were sitting in the room where Aleksa and I will eventually share our first dance. All eyes, wide and eager, turned to me for an answer.
Venetian hour, Viennese hour, Italian hour … this tradition of many names originates from Southern Italy (where my family is from — Amalfi!). Toward the end of the wedding, about an hour after the cake has been cut, a table with desserts is prepared. You’d think that a wedding cake would be enough sweets for one evening, but not for Italians. Mangia, mangia — we’re always about eating and celebrating! This lavish arrangement of pastry, cookies, and more are meant to be over the top and luxurious. It’s a special occasion, and you’ve got to honor the homeland. Of course, espresso and coffee will be there, too!
Aleksa and I were lucky to find one pekara in Belgrade that can accommodate our Venetian hour. “But do you really need all of these sweets? People will be stuffed from the cake,” she told Aleksa in Serbian. The answer remains: yes, we really do.
Her bakery reminded me of the ones in Little Italy, New York: a shiny glass display case with gold accents, people bustling in and out, and about a hundred little cannoli covered in powdered sugar and cherries. Back in January 2020, when I visited Italy, this wasn’t the typical scene. Often the cannolo would be ordered from a menu and arrive on a ceramic plate with a doily underneath it, sometimes even a fork. Or in Milan, the cannolo was given to me wrapped in a napkin with a cappucio (not cappuccino – they shortened it to cappuccio in this region!) to go with it.
I get asked the same two questions very often:
- Are you ready for your wedding?
- How are you planning a wedding there?
There are some people who genuinely mean the first question. “Ready” means are you doing well, are you having fun? Are you all set for the big day?
But sometimes the “ready” is meant to be invasive. What this person wants to know is, are you sure you want to marry this guy? Because I am unsure for you.
I don’t answer those people. I don’t like to associate with anyone who is committed to being miserable, actually.
What I can say is that planning a wedding abroad has been as different as you can probably imagine. The keyword is different. Not bad, not hard. Sometimes, I feel frustrated because things are out of my control. And other times, I feel at ease because of that same reason. At the end of the day, my soon-to-be husband is Serbian, and these are his culture’s traditions. So I am adapting to them because I love him.
When I say “out of my control”, I am mostly referring to a difference in American thinking versus Serbian thinking. I live in Manhattan; I’m used to things being done right then and right there. You wake up at 5 am for work, you stay up until 2 am finishing the school assignment. It’s how we live. Here, the lifestyle is more laid back. When I want something done, say the flowers, for example, the florist casually says to me, “call two days before the wedding and I’ll see what I have.”
There are some USA traditions that I don’t like, that I wouldn’t have done even if the wedding was in New York. For example, bridal parties. Growing up, I was the “new girl.” My family moved often and quickly, sometimes being a few towns over, other times being a few states over. I collected girlfriends here and there, all equally important to me during different parts of my life. In short: I have many maids of honor. It’s impossible to pick just one.
Also, I don’t like that the bridal party often wears matching color dresses. Everyone has a different undertone and skin tone, so how can you put them all in the same color? Not everyone looks good in lilac! It drives me nuts.
Meanwhile, there are some traditions we are, of course, honoring. My father will walk me down the aisle, which actually took some convincing and discussion with the church here. Aleksa and I will spend the night apart, which is an older tradition for certain. And Aleksa won’t see me in my dress until the alter, which is another USA tradition.
For my American audience, here is a list of Serbian wedding customs that are different from ours. I apologize if they are a bit inaccurate, I am still learning!
- The groom can see the bride in her dress before the wedding. Our wedding photographers told us that it’s common for the couple to take their wedding photos a few days before the wedding. When I asked them, “But how can the groom see the dress before the wedding?” they were confused. That’s when I learned, it’s not a thing here! Of course, many couples in the USA forego this tradition, too. But I’m not!
- The bride and groom don’t have a “song” … until recently, that is. Aleksa’s parents say it has become more common with the Balkans adapting more Western culture. But it’s not originally a tradition here.
- The groom sees the bride before the church. Actually, the groom is supposed to go to the father of the bride’s home and “buy” the bride. There’s something in there about shooting an apple off the roof to prove his quality, but I have no idea. That’s not happening. (It’s a VERY old Serbian tradition.)
- The bride and groom wear “crowns” in the church. Visually, they look like gold king and queen crowns. But they have another name, and they’re supposed to represent Jesus’ wreath.
- The guests bring the cake. They bring LOTS of cake. We told our guests we’re doing this part a bit more American, so leave the cake at home.
- Bridal parties, bridal showers, bachelorette parties … not a thing. But just like the “song”, this is starting to become a tradition thanks to its popularity in Western culture.
I will leave this list here for now, as I want to include more Serbian wedding traditions. But I don’t think I’ll fully know all of them until the big day is here, and they’re happening in front of me! Likewise, there’s so much more to say on this subject. We’ve been planning for months. And we’re so excited to share all the photos and footage with you soon.
Until then …
That American Girl