Bernard and Monique explain to Tommy the Bear, how a “real party” is organised.*
Every Sunday after Bastille Day, we celebrate the “Streiselhochzeit” because we want to maintain the traditions of Seebach. It is an old-fashioned wedding (“Hochzeit”) celebration. “Streisel” is an Alsatian word for a bouquet of flowers. In the past, people from the village looked for flowers in the fields. When a couple got married the whole village participated and was invited to the wedding. It usually lasted 3 or 4 days. The preparations were enormous, but the whole village pitched in.
Today, preparing the Streiselhochzeit begins 6 months before the festival. Everything is carried out by an association. It first meets in January to start a well-organized process. It invites the folklore groups and the musicians, also from other countries. It organizes the important parades on Friday evening and Sunday. It has to take care of security, parking for 25,000 people, catering. It then organizes the theme in the 25 participating courtyards which offer different meals, entertainment, seating, waitress service and a table for people to pay at.
All in all, 1000 people are involved in planning, helping organize the festival over the three days. An entire infrastructure has to be set up. The central information point, security points, first aid, fire brigade, police. To organize and support everything, we need an army of volunteers for cooking, baking, preparing, serving, cash desk, cleaning.
People, who have a courtyard on their properties, can open it for the festival. The courtyards are privately owned but all the proceeds go to the association. Because there is a night parade on Saturday evening all the courtyards are illuminated. The atmosphere, on a warm summer’s evening, is breathtaking.
The association generally decides what food can be served in the courtyard to avoid neighbours selling the same food. The owner is responsible for cleaning and preparing his space in the courtyard. The association is responsible for the food and beverage, the lighting, the seating, the infrastructure needed. One week before the wedding, the whole village is mobilized, and people set up the equipment in the village and in the courtyards.
For us in Seebach, tradition is very important. We want to preserve the folklore, the wedding atmosphere, to promote the village and the region for tourism. It is part of our identity and culture. We want to preserve the costumes, the dances, the music. Every region has its own traditional costumes. Our dialect and the local cuisine are also part of this.
For people who move from elsewhere to the Alsace, we tend to be reserved. Not unfriendly, but we just wait to see what happens. Then as the relationship develops, and we open up more and more. Once you are in, you have a friend for life.
But there is also a reason for this. Historically, our villages are made up of several big families. You can see the same surname on the letterboxes in the different villages. But the best way to integrate is to join and participate in an association. This is the key. The families and the associations stick together. It is a rural community and quite conservative, even if we are in the 21st century.
Today, we have one foot in tradition and one foot in modernity. The world is more open, and this affects people. Especially the younger generation. They are now taking on more and more responsibility and with that, they bring change. But they also have their strong roots.
Eight days before, the whole village helps to prepare the Streiselhochzeit. Huts are erected, the owners get their courtyards ready. In the middle of the village, tents are erected.
In Spring, people plant many flowers in the village and their gardens. It makes the village beautiful and flowery. By the time summer arrives, the whole village is one celebration of flowers.
Day 1 Friday.
The Running Association in Wissembourg organizes a mini-marathon (Corrida) for adults and for children. All roads to the village are blocked at 6 pm, you cannot enter them. But there are many car parks dotted around the village. The car parking is free. Entry to the village is free, but on Saturday and Sunday, there is an entrance fee of €5.00.
The children’s marathon (3km) starts at 7pm and for the adults, the 10 km marathon starts at 8pm. The running track is in the entire village. This event already attracts about 3000 of 4000 spectators.
After the Corrida, you can eat in the area around the town hall, there is live music and a disco for young people. At 10 pm you can walk along a path where volunteers stand like statues and depict scenes from the village past. This is repeated on Saturday evening. At midnight everything closes and the first day is over.
Day 2 Saturday
During the day, everything is normal until about 4pm. Then the village is blocked, and people can start coming in. The volunteers take up their posts at 6 pm, all the courtyards are open, people come in to eat and drink, and walk around to have a look at all the courtyards. There is lots of live music in the courtyards, in the village itself. At 10pm is a light parade, with the folklore groups, music groups. The people carry torches. Colourful lights projected onto the half-timbered houses. There are many different bands in the village where you can sit, dance and listen to music. Usually, 15k people come. Everything officially finishes at 2am.
Day 3 Sunday
This is the official day of the wedding. There is a free shuttle from Wissembourg to Seebach. It begins at 10 am and “Schorsche” will marry “Bavvele”. It is not a real wedding, every year a couple will “play” the role of bride and groom. Usually, people volunteer to play the roles. But the couple is only from the village. You can hear the church bells and the wedding parade walks to the church and then around the village centre.
Then, the wedding is celebrated with music, dancing and food. Also, local artisans display their products which you can buy. At 4 pm is the “grand parade”. The Wedding and the Parade can attract ten to twelve thousand people from the region and far beyond.
The party continues until 1 am.
After the festival
The great clean up begins. Volunteers come in to clean away the rubbish, dismantle all the tents, stages and equipment. A “thank you” lunch is served in the village hall for all the volunteers. By Monday evening, 6pm the whole village looks like nothing happened. Two weeks later, the association publishes the balance sheet, the village wants to know the financial result. How many people came, how much was earned, what food and drink were sold. Then there is peace and quiet until the next January.
*at the time of writing this article, it was announced that the 2021 Streiselhochzeit would also be cancelled. There are serious doubts if this festival will ever take place again as the organisation is too complex and the effort involved too great.