As I arrived at Galichnik, the anticipation and excitement in the air were palpable. The energy of the village during this special celebration was unlike anything I had experienced before. Despite the scorching heat and the burden of my heavy photography gear, my determination to document this unique wedding festival kept me going.This year it was the 60th-anniversary celebration of the traditional Galichnik wedding.
Galichnik is a picturesque mountain village nestled in solitude throughout the year on the slopes of the Bistra Mountain. Its well-preserved traditional architecture, including the captivating amphitheater in the village square, added to the charm and authenticity of the place. The village comes alive during the summer period when around 50 people temporarily reside there. However, the most significant event that transforms this quiet village into a bustling hub is the annual wedding ceremony- The Galichnik wedding. Over the last 60 years, this traditional celebration has evolved significantly, from grandiose week-long festivities that attracted thousands of people, to a more intimate cultural manifestation lasting two days.The last documented proof of such a grand wedding dated back to 1936 when the village was brimming with families and laughter. Generations had passed since then, and as Galicnik experienced emigration, the village’s core began to wither, leaving only 1 permanent resident as the last thread connecting the present with the glorious past.
The wedding ceremony itself was a captivating display of cultural splendour. The elaborate schedule of the wedding spanned over two days and involved around 30 rituals. Each ritual had its own significance and purpose, all focused on bestowing blessings and ensuring a bright future for the newlyweds.
The festivities commence as the sun dipped below the horizon on a warm Saturday night. The first ritual was the decoration of the flag. The villagers gathered around to adorn it with local flowers. The flag represented the pride and unity of the Macedonian people, and it was treated with great reverence. Once it was beautifully decorated, it was hoisted on the right side of the groom’s house, following the groom’s best man firing three shots from a rifle.
As the day progressed, the sound of music filled the air. Musicians had arrived in the village to grace the occasion with their melodious tunes. The dances symbolised nation’s pride and our ancestors’ struggle for survival. It was a beautiful tribute to our roots and heritage.
As the sun began to set, the wedding celebration took on a new level of enchantment. It was time to go after the bride. With torches in hand, the groom’s friends led the way to the bride’s house.Upon reaching the bride’s house, the atmosphere was electric. The entire village was there, and as the bride was led away, the procession made its way to the three drinking fountains. This was a symbolic act, as the bride-to-be filled a water pitcher – a representation of abundance and prosperity for the new family that was about to form. It was a night filled with love, joy, and a sense of belonging that could only be experienced in the embrace of our rich cultural heritage.
As I woke up the next morning, I knew it was going to be an unforgettable day – another day of the traditional wedding celebration. The day began with the groom and his closest relatives embarking on a solemn journey to the graves of deceased family members. Upon returning from the cemetery, the atmosphere shifted to a more joyful one as the groom, his friends, and relatives set out to invite the “kum” or the “godfather” of the wedding, who is similar to the best man in English tradition. A symbolic act awaited the groom at the “Upija” fountain, where one of his friends performed the traditional shaving ritual. This act signified the moment when the boy separates from his parents and starts a new journey with his soon-to-be wife.With the preliminary rituals complete, it was time for the entourage of over 50 in-laws to make their way to the bride’s house formally to ask for her hand in marriage. Led by the flag bearer and his friends on horses, the procession moved gracefully, with one of the groom’s friends proceeding ahead to seek permission for the in-laws’ arrival.
Once permission was granted, the groom’s flag was hung by the window, symbolising the union of the two families.A moment of anticipation filled the air as the bride looked through her ring at the bridegroom from inside the house. It was a poignant moment as they caught each other’s gaze, realising the gravity of their commitment to one another. After the exchange of greetings and pleasantries, the bride prepared to set off with the in-laws, symbolising her departure from her family to start a new chapter with her husband-to-be.Reflecting on the event I realised the profound significance of these ancient rituals. They are testament of rich cultural heritage .