7:36am

Sat October 12, 2013
Arts & Life

A Traditional Wedding Brings The Polish Highlands To Chicago

Originally published on Sat October 12, 2013 8:05 am

Last weekend, a quiet block on the northwest side of Chicago appeared to be taken over by villagers from the mountains of southern Poland. That's because a Polish Highlander wedding was getting underway. But even before the couple arrived, there was a lot of pomp, circumstance — and moving of cars.

Any time now the bridal party will be arriving and Andy Zieba — father of the bride — is ringing doorbells, asking neighbors if they can please move their cars.

"Excuse me, ma'am? You don't know who's the Honda belong to?" he asks.

The anxious father needs to make room because five wooden carriages and 12 horses are headed to this block of modest frame bungalows. And one of the carriages is bringing the band.

Andy Zieba and his wife, Stella, are Górale — Highlanders who grew up in the southern, mountainous region of Poland. Some aspects of this wedding celebration will be traditional Polish, other aspects will be specific to Highlanders.

"I was born in a village," Andy Zieba says. "The name is Koniowka — a small village, not big village. Like 150 people."

When Zieba was a boy, food preparation could start days before a wedding.

"Kill the pig, you know, then make a sausage. Everything, everything. The cooking in the home. They don't have a banquet hall at that time," he says.

Life was tough back then and a wedding was a great occasion to kick back and enjoy life. The celebration could last for as long as three days, with hundreds of people coming from near and far.

About 500 guests will attend this two-day wedding.

The guests aren't all here yet, but two men with black hats and broad, colorful sashes draped across their chests have ridden their horses right up to the bottom step of the Ziebas' front porch.

These are the Pytace. In the old days, they'd ride from house to house, spreading the word that a marriage was about to take place. But today their role is more ceremonial. Meanwhile, the band is crammed into the kitchen, where they're singing in strictly Highlander dialect. And Stella Zieba, the mother of the bride, is a blur of motion, demanding that guests taste the Polish sandwiches.

This hustle and bustle is just a prelude for a tradition almost as significant as the marriage ceremony itself — the blessing from the parents.

"Well, they might tell them how much they love them and how much they're going to miss them, and wish them the best of luck — and just the best of everything," says Jessica Kulawiak, cousin to the bride. She's jockeying for position, as the big moment arrives.

As guests are asked to silence their phones, the couple, now in place, kneels before their parents, who each murmur a private blessing.

Then, a Highlander musician steps forward with his own prayer.

After the blessing, it's time for church. The bride loads into one carriage with her family, and the groom's entourage into another.

There are fewer than a dozen of these full-tilt Highlander weddings in Chicago each year. So, it's no wonder that neighbors like Elvis Delgado and Diane McMahon are gathered on their front lawns, cameras in hand.

"It's like we're all in the wedding," Delgado says.

"It's beautiful, it's magnificent," says McMahon. "And we've known these kids since they were little girls, so it's even better to see them grown up and getting married."

The carriages pull off, horses clopping, down the street.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A Polish Highlander wedding is a celebration of Old World tradition, music and family. It's an event that happens among villagers from the mountains of southern Poland. When one occurred earlier this fall on a quiet block, on the Northwest Side of Chicago, it met plenty of pomp and circumstance. Linda Paul reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS CHIRPING)

LINDA PAUL, BYLINE: Any time now the bridal party will be arriving and Mr. Zieba, father of the bride, is ringing doorbells, asking neighbors if they can please move their cars.

ANDY ZIEBA: Excuse me, ma'am? You know who's the Honda belong to?

PAUL: The anxious father needs to make room because five wooden carriages and 12 horses are headed to this block of modest frame bungalows. And one of the carriages is bringing the band.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PAUL: Andy Zieba and his wife Stella are Gorale. They're Highlanders who grew up in the southern, mountainous region of Poland. Some aspects of this wedding celebration will be traditional Polish; other aspects will be specific to Highlanders.

ZIEBA: I born in a village. The name is Koniowka. Small village, not a big village - like 150 people.

PAUL: When Zieba was a boy, food prep could start days before a wedding..

ZIEBA: They kill the pig or, you know, they make sausage and everything, everything. Then cooking in the home. They don't have a banquet hall at that time.

PAUL: Life was tough back then and a wedding was a great occasion to kick back and enjoy life. The celebration could last for as long as three days with hundreds of people coming from near and far.

ZIEBA: Think we're going to have, like, almost 500 people.

PAUL: Today at your wedding?

ZIEBA: Today, yeah.

PAUL: And how long is the wedding going to be?

ZIEBA: Today and tomorrow. Two days for a wedding, yup.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in foreign language)

PAUL: The guests aren't all here yet, but two men with black hats and broad colorful sashes draped across their chests have ridden their horses right up to the bottom step of the Zieba's front porch.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in foreign language)

PAUL: These are the Pytace. In the old days they'd ride from house to house, spreading the word that a marriage was about to take place. But today their role is more ceremonial. Meanwhile, the band is crammed into the kitchen, where they're singing in strictly Highlander dialect. And Stella Zieba, the mother of the bride, is a blur of motion.

STELLA ZIEBA: Please? You have to just one. You have to take one Polish sandwich.

PAUL: Oh, OK.

ZIEBA: It's so delicious.

PAUL: This hustle and bustle is just prelude for a tradition almost as significant as the marriage ceremony itself - the blessing from the parents.

JESSICA KULAWIAK: Well, they might tell them how much they love them and how much they're going to miss them and wish them the best of luck, and, just the best of everything.

PAUL: That's Jessica Kulawiak, cousin to the bride. She's jockeying for position, as the big moment arrives.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Please be quiet for now.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Everyone turn off the phone. Put it on vibrate.

PAUL: As guests are asked to silence their phones, the couple, now in place, kneels before their parents, who each murmur a private blessing.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Singing in foreign language)

PAUL: Then a Highlander musician steps forward with his own prayer.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Singing in foreign language)

PAUL: After the blessing, it's time for church. The bride loads into one carriage with her family and the groom's entourage into another.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PAUL: There are fewer than a dozen of these full-tilt Highlander weddings in the city of Chicago each year. So, it's no wonder that neighbors like Elvis Delgado and Diane McMahon are gathered on their front lawns, cameras in hand. It's like the whole neighborhood's out.

ELVIS DELGADO: Yes. It's like we're all in the wedding.

DIANE MCMAHON: It's beautiful. It's magnificent. And we've known these kids since they were little girls, so it's even better to see them grown up and getting married.

PAUL: For NPR News, this is Linda Paul.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.