I know because I’ve been to many Croatian weddings, I’ve had my own Croatian wedding, and the 3 day celebration, the traditions, the fake brides, the flagman, the horns, the dancing (and eating) until the sun comes up, really make the whole weekend-long festivities, incredible!
Read on to find out more!
Croatian weddings last for around 3 days (not just an afternoon/evening occasion). Here are the days outlined below:
Day 1: The day before the wedding is when the celebration officially begins. It’s when all of the family and close friends will start to gather to celebrate the couple.
It’s not a rehearsal dinner, because there is no ceremony rehearsal. They only rehearse how to party for the next couple of days, and they do a great job of it.
I guess they need this introduction because they’ll be spending an awful lot of time together over the next few days.
Day 2: This is when the actual wedding ceremony happens, including the pre-party, the vows, the next party, and the late-night party, and the late-late-night party. (See reasons #6, #7 & #8 for more on all of that).
Day 3: The last day is more of an “after-party” for the wedding, but it’s also almost like another small wedding. It’s usually catered again with plenty of food and drinks, and it’s where family and close friends gather once more to toast and celebrate the couple (just in case they weren’t feeling the love or feeling celebrated enough by this point).
Reason #2: The Pre-Ceremony Party
At some point in the morning of day 2, people will start to gather. The bride’s side gets together at the bride’s home, and the groom’s side gets together at the groom’s home (again, relatives and close friends - but this usually means about 50+ people on each side).
They each have a big, separate celebration with food, drinks, and music (at the groom’s party, there is also a flagman and live band - more on that in #4).
Next, the party at the groom’s home completely picks up and moves itself right over to the bride’s home to join their party. Everyone literally gets in their cars and drives over, including the band.
This is where the groom will see his bride for the first time in her wedding dress (yes, this happens before the ceremony).
There, they’ll continue the party before heading to the church to get married a few hours later.
Reason #3: The Fake Bride
Once the groom reaches the bride’s house, he will get to see his bride for the first time. Everyone sings traditional Croatian songs as they approach the house and gather around outside the front door, waiting for the bride to come out.
The bride waits inside, but the tradition goes that the bride’s family and friends will send out a few fake brides before the real one comes out (typically a man dressed up in a wig, a veil and a funny dress & shoes).
Everyone loves this tradition and it provides a good laugh.
After the fake brides, the real bride will eventually come outside. The bride and groom will hug, kiss and enjoy the moment of seeing each other all dressed up and ready for the ceremony.
Reason #4: The Flagman
Don’t stand too close to him, or you’ll be in trouble by noon.
Reason #5: Honking!
On the day of the wedding, when the groom’s side drives over to the bride’s house, is when all the honking begins. All of the cars form a line and drive together, honking their horns throughout the ride in celebration of the day.
The honking continues when everyone eventually heads to the wedding ceremony together from the bride’s house. There can be 30+ cars in a row, driving down the road, honking their horns the entire way.
Other cars that drive past also join in and honk their horns as a way of celebrating and sending their “congratulations” to the couple.
Reason #6: The Party Lasts Until the Sun Rises
Croatians like to party (as you might have noticed if you've read up until now). The wedding day celebration typically goes on until the sun comes up.
Usually around 2-3am, just after the gift-giving line has happened (I’ll touch on this in reason #10), the grandparents head home, along with the couples with young babies/children in tow.
But the party doesn’t stop, oh no. It’s just getting started.
It’s kind of unacceptable for anyone else to leave at this point. It’s just too early. The goulash hasn’t even been served yet (more on that in #7).
Reason #7: The Last Course is Served at 4:00am
At Croatian weddings, the food just keeps on coming for hours and hours on end, with the last course (goulash) served around 4 a.m. Can you imagine? I couldn’t believe it until I experienced it first hand. At weddings in Canada, everyone's home and asleep by 2 a.m.
Reason #8: Everyone Dances (from babies to those nearly 100)
Everyone is on the dance floor, all the time, with only periodic breaks when new courses of food are served. And I’m talking, everyone: babies, toddlers, great-grandparents, and everyone in between.
They also do traditional dances in a circle where all the ladies join in, hold hands, and do quick moves with their feet (I’ve tried to participate in this traditional circle dance, but I need a lesson or two, it’s trickier than it looks, and it just gets faster and faster).
It’s called the kolo and it is popular in Slavonia, Lika and Bosnia.
Reason #9: Speeches (or the lack of speeches)
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good speech and they can be so heartwarming and lovely, but sometimes speeches take over the entire night when each and every family member stands up to say a few words.
Typically at Croatian weddings, the best man says a quick speech + maybe the parents, and that’s it! Then it’s time for the dance floor.
Reason #10: Gift Giving and Thank You Cards
I really like how Croatians do this tradition. At around 2am, everyone at the wedding lines up and personally gives the bride and groom a gift. It’s a nice way for the couple to have a little moment with each and every guest at the wedding, in the chaos of the day.
Thank you cards are also given right there on the spot, and they include a photo of the bride and groom that day (the photographer quickly edits a photo from the afternoon, has all of them printed with ribbon, bow and a card, and brings them back to the wedding in time for the gift giving line - it’s like magic).
All in all, Croatians really do like to have fun, celebrate each other, eat, drink and be merry, and their weddings really are something special.
If you ever have the chance to attend a Croatian wedding, prepare yourself, sleep well the week before, drink lots of water and wear comfortable shoes (and maybe pants or a dress that stretch).
Don’t leave before the goulash has been served, don’t stand too close to the flagman, and maybe take a lesson or two in dancing the kolo.
If you’re interested in reading a few of our other posts about Croatia:
- My Kids Don't Speak English: Raising Bilinguals is Tough!
- 50 Insanely Spectacular Photos of Croatia: Start Packing!
- Croatia’s Best 20 Beaches: Sandy, Pebbly & Hidden Gems
- Croatian Culture, Etiquette & Social Norms: A Complete Guide!
- Is Croatia Safe? Read Our 20 Useful Safety Tips for Tourists
- 5 Reasons Croatian Grannies are Cuter than Kittens
- 8 Reasons You Should Never Swim in the Adriatic
- Top 10 Day Trips From Zagreb, Within 1hr Drive
- Croatian Money: KN or EURO, Exchanging $, and Daily Costs
- How I Learned to Speak Croatian as an Adult (in 7 Steps)
- Driving in Croatia (A Helpful Guide With Practical Tips)
- 38 Local Tips & Mistakes to Avoid When Traveling to Croatia
- Travel to Croatia With a Toddler or Baby (From Experience!)
- Tipping in Croatia: A Complete Guide With Suggested Amounts!