Monday 8 July 2019

Bird wedding

The "Ptaškowa swajźba" (Sorbian Bird Wedding) is the centuries old "the end of winter" traditional custom practiced by Sorbs (Wends). Sorbs are a western Slavic ethnic group whose homeland is in a region divided between the eastern German states of Saxony and Brandenburg, and the provinces of Lower Silesia and Lubusz in Poland.

Birds' Wedding comes from the Upper Sorbian region where this custom is widely spread in families.

The wedding ceremony takes place on the 25th of January. In Kindergarten and schools, young children wearing traditional regional dress, which varies from town to town, are playing bird bride and groom.

In most areas the bride is a Magpie and the groom is a Raven, while in some other areas the bride is a Blackbird and the groom is a Thrush. 

Interestingly, ravens are one of the earliest birds to nest, nesting taking place in January/February, at the beginning of the spring...

The wedding guests are other "birds", wearing bird masks complete with beaks and feathers.

The custom has its roots in the pre-Christian era. The beginning of February (Imbolc in Celtic calendar) is the climatic end of winter and beginning of spring. The same climatic calendar seemed to have been used by Serbs too. I talked about the climatic cross quarter days in my post "Two crosses".

February is the time when first non migratory birds, like ravens, start making nests. This nesting activity signals immanent arrival of spring and summer.

In Slavic languages the word for summer "leto" comes from "let" meaning flight, because summer is the period between the arrival and departure of the migratory birds. The arrival of migratory birds was actually celebrated in some Slavic countries. I talked about it in my post "Leto".

Birds were extremely important in Slavic mythology. In pre-Christian times, Slavs believed that souls of their dead entered birds and through birds entered heaven, Iriy. So feeding birds with grain during the winter was basically a form of sacrificing grain to the ancestors. And happy full ancestors would repay hundredfold with bountiful grain harvest during the next summer. 

The birds were specially well fed the night before the Bird's wedding. Dishes were filled with grain and placed outside of the houses, high out of reach of any dogs or cats who might be around.  Overnight "birds" would fill the dishes with gifts to thank the children for feeding them through the winter: coloured eggs, bird shaped pastries, candies, nuts and apples.

In Serbia there is a belief that sparrows get married on the 2nd of February, Sretenje (Meeting), the day when Winter meets Summer....


  1. thanks for the informative post...

  2. Fascinating - a beautiful ritual and excellently described. Thank you.

  3. How interesting. It seems true that birds should have a big culture!


  5. I put out a plate of black sunflower seeds. A pair of juncos sat in the moss nest the flycatchers made last year. And we saw a new pair of birds, something like house finches or redpolls. Jan 25 was a great day.