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ivona & niko: a grandiose Croatian wedding celebration in Oakville

There are truly an endless number of ways to do a wedding. There are hundreds of traditions, both cultural and religious; and, as follows, there are hundreds of hundreds of ways to break or reinvent those traditions. In my 18 years of photographing weddings, one of the best parts of this job has been observing what people from various traditions decide to do with the day. I am no expert of course, even after all the many weddings I have seen. There is always something I haven’t seen before, right around the corner. This wedding was one of those for me.

The Croatian tradition, as Ivona & Niko explained it to me, is that the groom, along with his friends and family, comes to the bride’s family’s house on the morning of the wedding to request the bride come out and marry him. Then, in an attempt to dupe the groom, so the tradition goes, the bride’s family will send out a ‘false bride’ in the shape of a doll in a wedding dress, or a grandmother, etc. forcing the groom’s family into further negotiations before the real bride will surface. When she finally does reveal herself, much celebrating ensues. Then everyone heads to the church led by a ‘Barjaktar’ or ‘banner holder’ who with great exuberance (not unlike a hypeman) waves a Croatian flag.

In Niko and Ivona’s version, Niko and his entourage come striding up to Ivona’s family home accompanied by a four-piece band and the flag waver, and the entire yard basically erupts right there and then into a giant Croatian wedding celebration. Trays of food are passed from house to tent to tent to house, shots poured and drank through songs and embraces. A hundred percent front-yard rager at 11 o’clock in the morning!! Awesome.

Eventually it’s time to send the the fake bride, which turns out to be Ivona’s cousin in wedding-dress drag, full beard and mantank visible under the veil. Obviously a hit for the crowd. Then finally, the bride emerges. Such a stunner. Niko lights up, the band sparks a new tune; and the two have a dance surrounded by all their people. Seriously, what a way to kick off a wedding day! So much joy under those trees.

So then, save for some solemn and sacred time spent at the church, the celebration really never stops escalating. A party-bus full of wedding party follows us down into Lions Valley Park for some lively photos under the Dundas Street overpass along Sixteen Mile Creek; then leads us over to St Volodymyr’s Cultural Centre for post-wedding festivities. A receiving line replete with shots and snacks, alive with singing and dancing as the band plays on, flag still a-waving.

Some boisterous introductions, which begins to feel like the wedding crew might peak early, but not on your life. Not this head table. A delicious meal served to a gigantic room serves as only a short breather, a few brief speeches….and then the dancefloor breaks open! Live band. All Croatian songs. Full participation. Almost every single person joins in the frey. It’s incredible. What else can I call it? It’s a grandiose Croatian wedding celebration.

I feel so honoured to have been a part of it.

Ivona & Niko, I’m amazed you could hold your own heads up by the end of the day. But you did so in true style, perhaps buoyed by all that love in the room, yes? You are true superstars. You clearly bring out the best in each other. Here’s wishing you all the very best for all your years to come. xo.