Recalling 'I do's' the Serbian way

YOUNGSTOWN -- For a short time before Pete Hrelec's wedding more than 50 years ago, he wasn't allowed to see his bride.
Nevertheless, Hrelec didn't object; it was part of his Serbian tradition to have the best man bring her to the church before the bride and groom walked down the aisle together.
Hrelec, a board member at Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church, married his wife, Dorothy, in June 1948. During Sunday's 73rd annual Serbian Day Picnic, he recalled many of the traditions that his wedding was steeped in.
Hrelec was one of about 100 people who attended the picnic at the church, 53 Laird St., on Youngstown's West Side. Despite intermittent light rain and the threat of thunderstorms, two outdoor tents were filled with people who enjoyed relaxing while eating traditional food and filling their ears with Serbian music.
The picnic was designed to celebrate Serbian heritage, culture, customs and traditions. The all-day fund-raiser also was set up to raise money for the church and its Sunday school programs.
Features of the event were a menu consisting of traditional Serbian food, as well as eight hours of entertainment by Libby's Tamburitzans and the Velibor Drobnjak Orchestra. While the orchestra played, some people took part in a kolo, or native dance.
Bountiful selection
Participants had their choice of cevapcici (sausage combined with lamb, beef and pork), paprikish (chicken with dumplings), hot dogs and barbecued lamb. Also available was krofne (doughnuts), pogaca, which is bread often served with onions, and plenty of draft beer and cupcakes. All of the items on the menu were homemade.
A raffle, games for kids and refreshments also were offered.
Libby's Tamburitzans have been spreading Serbian and other types of ethnic music through the Mahoning Valley for about 60 years, said the group's leader, Libby Fill. The trio spent most of its three hours at the picnic playing Serbian music as well as a few Irish tunes and their rendition of "Spanish Eyes."
Reminiscing his wedding
Hrelec remembered standing for two hours during his wedding because the church, which was built in 1929, didn't have chairs or pews. Weddings typically began in the morning and lasted for most of the day, he said.
Hrelec recalled how his wedding started with an orchestra serenading him before he was dropped off at the hall, and how the orchestra went to his bride's home in Campbell and did the same. All of this took place before the two-hour ceremony, Hrelec added.
After the woman is serenaded in her home, her grandfather brings her outside, turns her around three times and she's "sold" to a stari svat, or old uncle.
The stari svat is a friend, family member or other person selected to oversee the wedding, he said. Duties include resolving conflict and tending to a variety of details to ensure everything goes smoothly, he said.
"We had the reception [at the hall] at night and it ended with a bridal dance," he said. "The last person to dance with the bride was the groom."
Unique gifts
Part of Serbian tradition, Hrelec continued, was to hand the bride an apron and broom after her veil was removed. Afterward, the party goes on but the bride and groom leave, he explained.
"She's back to the real world," Hrelec said. "She's now a housewife and no longer a bride."
Hrelec said more than 200 friends, family and relatives came to his wedding after organizers went door to door to invite people. No invitations were sent, he noted, so those invited received a visit at their homes.
Another facet of Serbian tradition is giving the man a cigar and the woman a handkerchief before the wedding, Hrelec said.
For the first few years, the Serbian Day Picnic, which is usually the last weekend of July, took place in Idora Park before coming to Holy Trinity in the 1930s.
Part of Serbian culture sees most families honoring a patron saint, which is a saint or prime exemplar to whose protection a person or church is dedicated. The custom, as well as the tradition of keeping a picture of patron saints in homes, started in Europe and has been handed down through the generations.
Another Serbian Day event is to get under way at 1 p.m. Aug. 13 at Old Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church, 420 N. Raccoon Road, Austintown.

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