Breaking Bread (and Dancing With It) at a Macedonian Wedding

Feedloader (Clickability)

Weddings nowadays have become highly customized expressions of a couple's interests, values and backgrounds. The one I attended this weekend was a good example: the theme was horror movies, with tables named after Dracula, Bela Lugosi and other classic scary guys. The reception soundtrack included Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and "The Time Warp," from Rocky Horror Picture Show. The wedding cake was an elaborately sculpted homage to Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. (Smithsonian staff writer Abigail Tucker wrote an interesting post about the strange history of the wedding cake last year.)

Aside from being a fan of fright flicks, the bride comes from a Macedonian family, so another aspect of the reception was far more traditional (although novel to an American crowd): a bread dance. A special sweetened yeast bread, called a koluk, had been baked and decorated with white flowers. According to a 1970 case study by the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies (I could find no recent recipes), koluk is similar to a traditional Macedonian Easter bread. One of the bride's relatives explained that it was round, like a wedding band, to signify something that has no beginning and no end. All the guests were invited to the dance floor, where the Nunko (godfather) lifted the bread over the couple's heads and did a little dance. Meanwhile, everyone joined hands in a circle and did a simple dance that reminded me of the hora (the traditional Jewish wedding dance). In fact, as I learned later, this dance is called a horo or ora in Macedonian; according to the Forward, an American Jewish periodical, both the Jewish and Macedonian words come from the Greek khoros (Macedonia shares a border with Greece).

As the guests circled the room with arms linked, the Nunko then proceeded to hold the bread over each dancer's head in turn. When the dance was over, there was a competition between the bride and groom. They each grabbed the bread with both hands, and at the signal vied to break off the bigger piece. The outcome would decide who would be the head of the household (or should that be the bread-winner?). In this case the bride won by a wide margin. This game reminded me of my friend's Hindu wedding last year, where the bride and groom competed to see who could pour more rice over the other's head to determine who would rule the roost. At the Macedonian reception, the bread was served alongside the cake after the game was over.

Macedonians aren't the only ones who dance with food at weddings. Instead of, or in addition to, a wedding cake, Italian wedding receptions may include a table loaded with cookies. The bride and groom lead the guests on a "cookie dance" around the hall; as they pass the dessert table, each guest takes a cookie. Sounds like a good way to get everyone out on the dance floor.

Get the latest Travel & Culture stories in your inbox.