Mass marriages in Kaunas
Today is my first entire day in Lithuania and it has already become clear that I need other techniques here to collect information. Simply asking questions about topics is not so easy here and even more so than in Ireland, people wonder who you are and where you are from. That may have something to do with the history of eavesdropping, investigation and social infiltration by the KGB, although I have not been able to carefully verify this. What I do know is that I need to have a good excuse to talk to people. While looking for such an excuse in the centre of Kaunas, I walk past the city hall where a mass production of weddings is going on. I am delighted to see so many young and happy people and take my chance to look around and ask questions.
Sigita and Marius (both 23) are the first couple who get married while I am there. The two of them and a group of 10 close friends first enter the town hall and descend to the cellar. Shortly after, a lady calls them and they make a formation of the bride and bridegroom in front, with 5 couples walking behind them. While they mount the stairs to the first floor, a small orchestra quartet is playing a wedding tune and we are off to the wedding room. The same formation is kept during the ceremony, with everybody standing up as long as the procedure is taking. An old lady welcomes the couple, asks each of them three questions to which they answer `yes`. They then sign a piece of paper, followed by the second couple in line, which logically are the witnesses to the wedding. In no less than five minutes, the wedding is settled.
Lina (25) and Kestas (30):
`Most weddings take place on Friday, because that leaves the whole weekend for partying`
As soon as the procedure has come to an end, the wedding photographer asks the the couple to pose a few times when descending the stairs and the orchestra play the exact same tune one more time. They ring the bell at the entrance/exit of the town hall. Family and friends are awaiting them outside and they rush to the couple to express their congratulations. Shortly after, they have to move away from the entrance because the tune is played again and another married couple is arriving at the gate.
With so many weddings going on, it is quite easy to evaluate the patterns. Each wedding has 8 to 12 people who belong to the elite audience. The women in those groups all wear one colour of dress, and this colour is matching the colour of the men`s ties. Or replacement for ties, because not all of the accessories actually have the exact shape of a tie. Favourite colours of the day: light blue and bordeaux red. There is one exception to the elite dress code: the organiser of the wedding and his partner wear different colours from the rest. The man usually wears a banner around the shoulder. As my host Vilda later explains me, the tradition used to be for a man to send a friend to the bride`s family to announce his ambition to marry her. That friend would wear a particular banner and nowadays, it is still the organiser of the wedding who wears it.
A lot of congratulations are exchanged in front of the town hall. I try to understand when which one is practiced. For men among each other, there`s a firm handshake. For all other combinations, I do not see any handshakes. only kisses. One kiss per person, sometimes on the mouth, sometimes on the cheek which is offered by the lady. In case of two ladies, it`s the congratulated one who offers her cheek to the congratulatoress. Also this, I need to check with Vilda, but she says there is not really much of a kissing culture in Lithuania. And people who do have their own rules for it, which are specific for each friend and relation.
Many couples come and go, some happier than others and some with apparently more friends and family then others. The car park in front of the town hall is full of neatly dressed people. Lina (25) and Kestas (30, both in photo) also get married on this day. I do not want to bother them with my questions and ask their friend Evaldas (27) for some details. He tells me why so many weddings are taking place today. First of all, it`s summer and secondly, it`s a Friday which leaves the whole weekend for partying. And that is what they will do, starting with a boat trip on a nearby lake - dancing, eating and drinking included.
The legal side
Marriage in church is optional, but a passage at the town hall is required for the wedding to be legally binding. Many women take the surname of the man. An interesting little fact is that the ending of the woman`s name changes when she gets married. This tradition is disappearing however, and it is now getting more common to use a neutral ending to the family name. Double names for women are possible but usually them bride`s original family disappears when she takes on her new name. Children usually get the father`s family name. Same-sex marriages are not legally allowed, divorces have been allowed for a long time. Emigration has been higher than immigration over the last decades, and in spite of the approximate 1.2 children per woman, the population has been on the decrease since the 1960s.
Some more Lithuanian family statistics: marriage is still very popular in Lithuania. Many people get married at a relatively young age: between 25 and 30. But the good news sometimes does not last long: divorce rates are among the highest of Europe and reached almost 60% in recent years.
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