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New York Folklore Vol. 4. Nos. 1-4, 1978
Utica Project Issue
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NEW YORK FOLKLORE
Vol. 4, Nos. 1-4, 1978

OLD-FASHIONED POLISH WEDDINGS IN UTICA, NEW YORK
Susan G. Davis

In the Polish-American communities of Utica, the wedding is remembered as a central musical and expressive event. People are wont to say “Anything Polish is a big deal, but a Polish wedding—anything after that is a letdown!” The old-fashioned wedding, or wesele, was a festive occasion, a time for playing music and singing “old country” songs; the feasting and dancing lasted for days. For residents of Utica aged fifty and older, this family and community event serves as a symbol of intense kin ties and ethnic group closeness.

While marriage was a rite of passage in which cultural values were affirmed by the participation of kin and community, the wesele continued to be a major social event. Changes such as intermarriage with other ethnic groups, movement by the young people out of the old neighborhoods and into the suburbs, and the cost of bands and rented halls have made the old wesele a thing of memory. Yet it remains vivid in the reminiscences of Polish-Americans.

The wesele is an example of an urban folk tradition which has been more than a cultural survival. The series of Polish-American wedding rituals, and the songs and music associated with them, have changed and adapted in Utica because they have had meaning for this relatively cohesive ethnic group. The composite description which follows applies to weseles in the Utica area during the period from 1900 until World War II. The customs and rituals described here were practiced by the early twentieth-century immigrants from Poland and their children, referred to as the first and second generation, respectively. To some extent these traditions are kept today by those who feel it is important to maintain them, but the changes in the urban context have changed the wesele’s meaning. It is interesting to note that while giving accounts of the old-fashioned weddings, informants, especially women, spoke in both the present and past tense, indicating the vitality of this memory for them. In general, however, the old-fashioned wedding is perceived as part of the Polish-American community’s past....


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