A family historian in the English-speaking world searching speculatively for the marriage of an ancestor on an unknown date does not usually consider seasonality; that is, they have no preconceptions as to whether a wedding would or would not have taken place at any particular time of year. Furthermore, one rarely comes across any especially noticeable peaks or troughs in the frequency of marriages across the calendar year.  Couples get married all year round, perhaps in the post-WW2 world showing a preference for summer weddings. 

In contrast, in most rural societies across Eastern Europe before WW2 and certainly before WW1 when traditional ways of life were still very much intact, there was marked seasonality of marriage. This is reflected in the pages of any volume of a parish marriage register. 

One of the two chief factors was the agricultural year. Throughout the growing season and especially during the harvest, farmers, smallholders and peasants were joined in the fields and in the processing of harvested crops by just about every available hand – villagers of both sexes and all ages would be involved and frequently laboured both long days and by moonlight.  During this period, there was generally no time for marriage. 

The second factor was the religious calendar. In particular, fasting created marriage seasonality. Especially in Eastern Orthodox communities, marriage was an occasion of extended feasting and therefore incompatible with the fasts, during which meat, dairy produce, rich oils and so on were eschewed. There are various individual feast days during the Orthodox calendar, upon which it would be unthinkable for a wedding to be celebrated. But more to the point there were two fasts of great length. 

The first fast was the great or holy fast of the seven weeks of Lent. For instance, in the Serbian Orthodox calendar, traditionally the Church celebrated no marriages between Bele Poklade (a moveable feast, “white Shrovetide”, the last Sunday before Lent) and Đurđevdan (St George’s Day, 6th May). 

The second fast took place over the 40 days leading up to Christmas. Again, for the Serbian Orthodox calendar, this is the Božićni Post period from 28th November up to Božić, the Orthodox Christmas itself, on 7th January. 

Marriages therefore tended to cluster between these two extended feasts. Factoring in the principal months of agricultural activity, this produced a spate of weddings from mid-January to early March, and again from October to late November. 

Of course, for other Orthodox societies, the harvest might move a few weeks according to latitude, altitude, climate and other factors. Similarly, fasting at Lent might well take place over fewer weeks. However, the pattern itself remains largely true and produces the same seasonal peaks in marriage.

Filed under: Genealogy Research

Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!