Only 12 kilometers away from Mavrovo, following what is probably the most scenic drive you will ever take, there lies the village of Galichnik. A true testament to the past, located at 1,500 meters elevation, it is one of oldest monuments of Macedonian tradition. And though famous for its centuries old heritage and unique natural setting, it is most widely recognized for a two day event in the middle of July – the Galichnik Wedding festival – an unforgettable experience, and feast for your sensory apparatus.
The Galichnik wedding, one of a kind in the world, offers a unique blend of Macedonian tradition, music, folk costumes, dance and food, all brought together in the breathtaking setting of the village of Galichnik. An international event judging by the scope of visitors, it gained media traction mostly due to paying lip service for many years in a row.
A two-day ceremony in its core, the Galichnik wedding is actually much more than that. Many years ago, the village was a place out of where scores of famous Macedonians have originated. Later a symbol of economic migration, most young residents would search for a work abroad. Informally agreeing to see each other once every year, they’d all come back around the middle of July. It became a tradition for many young couples to ceremoniously start their marriage union with a grand and massive wedding event. On the 12th of July, Saint Peter’s day, it is a decades old tradition for many young people to enter in a union.
There was a time when 40 couples attended the annual wedding. Fast-forward a couple of decades, and it is now a renowned cultural event praising Macedonian tradition – a part of the festival “Galicko Leto” (Galichnik Summer), a two-day event held on the weekend nearest to 12th of July, serving as a cultural and tourist attraction. The Galichnik Wedding is an incomparable event that every visitor to Macedonia must experience at least once- A true expression of Macedonian authenticity.
Admittedly remote for the modern Macedonian, it is a window to the past- a sensory overload of another kind that does a great job depicting Macedonian cultural heritage. As you approach the village, the ricocheting music welcomes you to the ceremony. It is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg though.
The Galichnik wedding, the ceremony itself, is a story on its own. Following quaintly archaic traditional elements that depend heavily upon decades old social convention, it walks you through Macedonian customs.
The wedding traditions start with inviting the dead relatives to the wedding. The groom backed by a group of close relatives visits the graves of dead family members. The respects are paid by inviting them to the wedding. After returning from the cemetery, the groom, his friends and his closest relatives invite the best man to the wedding.
In front of the “Upija” fountain, one of the friends shaves the groom – a symbol of separation of the boy from his parents and a transition to adulthood. Then, from the groom’s house, an entourage of over 50 in-laws goes to the bride’s house. The entourage is led by the bajraktar (flag bearer) and his friends on horses. Walking slowly before the entourage, the horses are one of the main attractions. After the arrival of the in-laws, the bride looks at the groom through her ring: “Through this ring I look at you, welcome me to your heart”.
In front of the house the groom’s closest relatives sit at a table. The groom’s mother gives presents to the bride and then the bride kisses her hand. The bride gets dressed up and ready to go. She mounts a horse and the procession takes off again.
In between, dozens of small rituals take place. Naïve as they may seem, all are included in the ceremony with a particular purpose – each representing a part of a century old tradition.
After traditional customs and symbolic rituals are honored, the wedding begins in the church of saint Peter and Paul. Yet the groom and the bride have no connection to Galichnik at all. What’s more, the reason they’re getting married here is because they won a national competition. Each year, a committee decides upon which couple is to be given such an honor.
During the wedding, men dance the “Teshkoto”, a shepherd folk dance, one of the national dances of Macedonia, symbolizing the suffering of the Macedonian people through the centuries. Music and dance, having a central role in the event command much attention. In a staccato sequence, an incredibly wide spectrum of folk costumes, embroidery, dance and music take place. Observing even from a distance, the atmosphere dictates a pulsating rhythm that makes hard to keep your feet-on-the-ground attitude.
Attending the Galichnik wedding
Many people visiting the ceremony are inevitably overwhelmed by the scope of the experience. When you combine Macedonian traditional music and dance, along with the costumes and scenery, all taking place under the mid-July summer temperature, it can easily become too much to swallow and process.
My advice, along with that of cultural aficionados who cannot stop visiting this festival, is to arrange a bigger stay – at least a day or two before the Galichnik wedding takes place.
Book a stay in nearby Mavrovo, and enjoy the scenery and the serenity of the place. Decompressing from the urban – be that even for a day – you are going to experience the Galichnik wedding festival in an entirely different way.
On the day of the wedding there are many ways you can get there. Most people decide to take the Mavrovo-Galichnik road by car, but there are those who embrace their adventurous spirit and make it there with a bike ride. For those who are adventurous enough, the steep hills are going to make a very challenging yet unforgettable experience. Some even decide to take a hike.
The wedding ceremony brings together people from the Macedonian political scene, as well as many other foreign delegations – this, in a way, makes closer access to the ceremony much harder. As an aside, don’t get your hopes of seeing much of the ceremony up, if you are planning to arrive in the middle of the day. This is – if ever there was such a thing – the Macedonian cultural heritage on a plate served in the course of a weekend. Make sure to catch a spot early enough, or follow the ceremony through the streets of Galichnik if you can handle the heat and crowd. The Galichnik wedding is something that you will remember for life.