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Thousands flock to Macedonian Galicnik wedding July 18, 2011

Posted by Yilan in Macedonia.
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During the year only one couple lives up in this remote mountain village: but for one weekend, thousands of visitors descended on Galicnik to celebrate a traditional wedding.

Music from drums and special zurli trumpets filled the narrow streets of Galicnik as the wedding party made its way to the church of St Peter and Paul for the ceremony Sunday.

Spread out along the slopes of the Bistra mountain the streets are lined with traditional houses maintained by natives who return for the holidays, although some of them are in ruins.

The bride arrived at the church on horseback, accompanied by a lively procession of family and friends. She was dressed in 47 different pieces of clothing, each heavily embroidered and decorated with handmade ornaments and carvings, and weighing some 25 kilos in all.

Only the closest family attended the wedding ceremony inside the 14th-century church. The other 5,000 or so visitors were seated outside in an amphitheatre, as musicians and dancers entertained them.

The two-day celebration started on Saturday, running through a set of centuries-old customs and dances, including a ceremony inviting dead ancestors to the wedding.

The event is traditionally held on the weekend closest to St Peter’s day, July 12th, and draws the former inhabitants of Galicnik and tourists to the village in Macedonia’s Mijak region.

On the eve of her wedding, this year’s bride, 24-year-old dental technician Verica Mitricka, estimated she would need an hour to dress.

“I do not think it will be heavy. I am so excited about all this,” she told AFP smiling, on Saturday.

Her husband, geologist Ljupco Ravanovski, who is originally from Galicnik said he had been dreaming about being married in this ceremony since the age of 15.

“I really adore all these unique customs and it was my great wish to be part of this tradition,” he said.

Every year several couples apply to be wed in the Galicnik wedding, with the feast paid for by sponsors and the state. Only one couple is chosen and at least one of the partners must have roots in the village to be eligible.

There was a time in the past, when more than 30 couples at a time would marry during the St Peter’s days feasts, Meletije Brkovski, a Mijak writer and historian from Galicnik, fondly recalled.

“What an event that was, when the mountains were filled with people, music and drums coming from all sides,” he said.

“It is sad that now this village is empty like many others in the region.”

There were 1,000 inhabitants in 1940 but nowadays only one couple still lives in the village year round, he said.

The Mijak tribe, known for their extraordinary wood carving and icon painting, have long had a tradition of men going abroad to work and study.

But villagers always tried to come back on St Peter’s Day.

After World War II and the ensuing communist regime in Macedonia — then part of Tito’s Yugoslavia — the village emptied.

Residents tried to save the marriage tradition, passing on the message to young people: “Whereever you are: be home for St Peter’s day”.

“In 1947 it started as a cultural manifestation with all the customs but without any church weddings — and since 1995 we have a real church wedding,” Aleksandar Krzalovski, one of the organisers of this weekend’s event, told AFP.

Krzalovski is proud to have married this way himself in 1996.

People from all over the Mijak region flock to the Galicnik celebration each year.

“I cannot explain the feeling this gives me. At this moment I am seeing a picture of my whole family and the whole history in front of me,” 27-year-old Ivana Liceska, from Skopje but with roots in neighbouring Tresonce, told AFP.

“I am proud and I’d like to cry at the same time,” she said as she watched the ritual Teskoto, or Hard Dance.

A slow, dignified dance performed to the sound of traditional instruments, it symbolises the difficult times Macedonia has endured.

For Greek tourists George and Katarina, a couple in their 20s, the Teskoto was the highlight of the celebrations.

“Everything is great fun but we are really astonished by the Hard Dance,” they told AFP, sitting under the shade of a tree to escape the heat.

Their friend James, a Scottish traveller, marvelled at the breathtaking mountain setting of the village.

“The nature is so untouched, driving here was very interesting. I liked that as much as I liked the Hard Dance,” he told AFP.



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