WARSAW- Grey-haired and grinning, two dozen couples hold champagne flutes at a Warsaw ceremony in their honour. They survived 50 years of marriage and in Poland, that is reason enough for a presidential medal.
“To qualify, you have to put in over 18,000 solid days of work. Other medals require less, so it really is a considerable feat to have spent the last half century together,” Warsaw mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz says at this month’s event.
The lucky-in-loves take turns walking down the red carpet to accept their medals — silver-plated with intertwined roses at the centre and a pink ribbon — while family members cheer and play paparazzi at the back of the room at the so-called Wedding Palace.
The tradition is regularly played out in cities across the heavily Catholic country, with a hefty average of 65,000 medals awarded each year according to the president’s office.
True, marital milestones are also recognised elsewhere. In the United States, a golden anniversary will get you a greeting from the White House, while Britain sets the bar a notch higher: couples have to make it through six decades without splitting for a message from the queen. She herself qualified seven years ago.
Yet no other country honors marathon marriages with a presidential medal, something more often associated with military feats for example.
“It’s really quite unusual. I haven’t found any other (medal) that’s specifically for sustaining a marriage,” says Megan Robertson, a 54-year-old computer programmer who runs the website “Medals of the World”.
“Although, many countries have awards for raising large numbers of children — something popular in Communist countries,” adds the Briton who has herself been married for nearly 30 years.
Socialist-era Romania for example had “what they called the Order of Mother Hero, which I think she was, because you had to have 10 children to get it. That sounds pretty heroic to me.”
Robertson says medals offer an indication of what a country finds important, whether it be a particular profession or trade or churning out enough children to fill factories and armies.