Imagine, as you enter a party, cups and plates are flying through the air. Smashed porcelain is scattered all over the floor. The venue looks almost like a war field. And what’s worse: it is a wedding party. Could this be the end of the relationship so close before the marriage? Not in Germany! Because what looks like a raging fight of the bridal couple is actually quite the opposite. According to the old German saying, “Scherben bringen Glück”, shards supposedly bring good fortune. And shards is what it is all about at this special pre-wedding party known as Polterabend.
Initially, Polterabend took place until midnight on the night before the wedding. The traditional ritual represented the threshold in the transition from bachelorhood to marriage. Nowadays, it has become very common to celebrate Polterabend a week before the wedding, though. Actually, quite understandably. Because who wants to be hungover on the day of their wedding, right? Traditionally, the party happens in front of the bride parents’ house. Though, sometimes other event venues serve as alternatives. After all, a suitable space needs to be found where nobody gets in the way of the flying dishes.
While there are individual invitations for the wedding, the couple only openly announces the time and date for Polterabend. Thus, no invitation is needed and basically anybody can show up on this day. A great occasion for acquaintances or neighbors who are not invited to the wedding itself to celebrate with the couple. Although, it is always a good idea to specifically invite the neighbors. After all, they can’t complain about all the noise of the smashing china when they are at the party themselves. As the whole event is more easy-going, also presents are less “expected” on Polterabend compared to the proper wedding celebration. However, guests who aren’t coming to the wedding usually bring little gifts at this occasion.
Of course, a German celebration like this doesn’t go without food and drinks. The dish of choice here is often a good old chicken soup. Not only for its traditional and delicious taste but also for its symbolism. Back in the days, guests would hand the bridal couple chickens as a wish for fertility. The same is nowadays done with the soup. And if you think about it, a close connection of this very symbolism to the word “hen night” is not far to seek either.
Let The Chinaware Fly!
Now, let’s get to the main attraction of this spectacle that everybody is waiting for: the smashing of porcelain. Guests essentially bring all kinds of old stuff they want to get rid of – from cups and plates to pottery, flower pots or ceramic tiles. And of course every family has their hoaxers who go all out and show up with sinks and even toilets. But keep in mind that not all kinds of shards will bring good luck. According to common superstition, broken glass and especially mirrors mean seven years of bad luck. And this is really not what you wish for the couple on this day. So we recommend you stick to your old dishes to be safe. Whether guests throw their porcelain directly upon arrival or wait for everybody to gather around and smash the china in unison, depends on the individual tradition of the family.
After the guests have done their duty, it is up to the bridal couple to take on another essential part of the tradition. Thus, the bride and groom have to sweep the floor together and dispose of all the shards. This symbolic act represents the future challenges that the two will have to master together during the course of their marriage.
Garments for the wedding are chic in Germany, traditionally with a white gown and suit – or even Dirndl and Lederhosen in Bavaria. In contrast, clothing on Polterabend is rather casual. Especially for the bride and groom it is advisable not to wear their favorite outfits. Well, that is if they ever want to wear them again afterwards. Because when the clock strikes midnight another custom which is especially common in Northern Germany comes into play. As a symbol of keeping the couple running away from each other, the guests burn the pants of the groom and nail the bride’s shoes onto a wooden board. In some regions, also the bra of the bride falls victim to the flames. Finally, the ashes get buried together with a bottle of alcohol. One year in, the couple and friends dig up the booze again and drink it together.
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Polterabend Against The Poltergeist
Since Polterabend is a century-old tradition, the exact origins aren’t entirely clear anymore today. However, sources suggest that its beginning lies in the late medieval times. The way we know it today, started to evolve later in the 1800s. Supposedly, the name Polterabend initially came from Poltergeistabend meaning “evening of the Poltergeist”. For centuries, people have tried to chase away ghosts and demons with loud noise. Thus, similar to New Year’s Eve when fireworks take on this task, the smashing china serves the purpose to protect the bridal couple from evil. In a more symbolic than literal way, these “ghosts” can also represent the fears of the bride and groom. Thus, the transformational ritual helps to free them from any uncertainties as they start spending the rest of their lives together.
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