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Russian Wedding - A Blend of Cultural Traditions

March 10, 2014
Russian Wedding - A Blend of Cultural Traditions

Nowadays, Russian weddings come in a variety of different forms. It can be a mix of a traditional Russian wedding and also hints of a European or American-style wedding. The latter have become more and more popular and modern in recent years.

Keeping Traditions
Marriage is important and most Russians get married a lot younger than their Western counterparts. So what goes on in a traditional Russian wedding? True Russian weddings are unique in the fact that they are always lavishly played out! We say “played out,” as a Russian wedding ceremony is usually conducted as though it were a theatre spectacle where there is a script and everyone knows their role.

Asking parents for blessing
In times gone by, a form of courtship would have taken place to secure the union of the happy couple. By tradition, the groom's parents would ask the bride's parents for their daughter's hand in marriage for their son. Nowadays, this tradition has become practically extinct and only from time to time will the groom ask the bride's parents for their daughter's hand in marriage or request an approval of their union. Still, it’s very common to introduce your girlfriend or boyfriend to parents before if your relations considered being serious.

Wedding ceremony
As part of the Russian wedding ceremony, people still enjoy the tradition of ransoming the bride. Before the young couple leave to go to the ZAGS (Registry Office), the groom must go to his future wife's house where he will be greeted by friends of the bride, relatives and guests. They organize various fun games for the groom, like, for example, asking him challenging intrigue questions, persuading him to carry out certain tasks and demanding a ransom for the bride. The groom must fulfill all the tasks, namely, singing, dancing, reciting poetry, solving riddles and various other challenges. Then, as a ransom, he must give out sweets and money to all those who have arranged the obstacles along the way to him winning his bride (in other words, those who have set the groom challenges to prove that he is worthy of his bride.)

There is an age-old tradition that on the day before the wedding the bride will arrange a hen party and invite all her friends who will support and protect her in her new life. It is now also common for the groom to arrange a stag party; a tradition that has been imported from the West. The groom will say goodbye to his bachelor lifestyle whilst in the company of his friends.

Official marriage
Several cars proceed to ZAGS (municipal registration office) where the ceremony takes place. The bride and groom usually go in separate cars. The more cars there are in the “wedding train”, the better. Usually the couple asks all their friends and relatives who have cars to join the ceremony. All cars are decorated with ribbons, flowers and balloons. Some of the weddings last for 2 days or longer, but the majority of them nowadays last for just one day. There is no rehearsal, nor is there a rehearsal dinner before the wedding.

During the ceremony in ZAGS the bride and the groom are asked if they want to marry each other. They say “Yes”. They exchange rings, kiss each other, and sign the registry. Then the two witnesses (a guy from the groom and a girl from the bride) sign it. The official representative of ZAGS says a few greeting words, and play the official hymn of marriage ceremony – the march of Mendelssohn.

The guests bring a lot of flowers to the couple, they present them to the bride, and everyone drinks some Champagne outside of ZAGS.

Church Ceremony
The Russian Christian Orthodox Church ceremony is colorful and solemn. The complete traditional ceremony can be as long as 2 hours. The guests and the couple have to stand during the ceremony as there are no benches in Russian churches (only a few for those to whom it’s difficult to stand). Faints during church ceremonies are not rare.

The couple exchange rings. The rings are the symbol of betrothal and their exchange signifies that in married life the weaknesses of the one partner will be compensated for by the strength of the other, the imperfections of one by the perfections of the other. Then bride and groom are handed candles which they hold throughout the service. The candles symbolize the spiritual willingness of the couple to receive Christ, Who will bless them through this Mystery. The hands are kept joined throughout the service to symbolize the "oneness" of the couple.

The service of the Crowning, which follows, is the climax of the Wedding service. The crowns are signs of the glory and honor with which God crowns them during the Mystery. The groom and the bride are crowned as the king and queen of their own little kingdom, the home - domestic church, which they will rule with wisdom, justice and integrity. The crowns used in the Orthodox wedding service refer to the crowns of martyrdom since every true marriage involves immeasurable self-sacrifice on both sides.

The couple drinks church wine from a Holy cup that serves to impress upon them that from that moment on they will share everything in life, joys as well as sorrows, and that they are to "bear one another's burdens." Their joys will be doubled and their sorrows halved because they will be shared. The priest then leads the bride and groom in a circle around the table on which are placed the Gospel and the Cross. It symbolizes the way of Christian living as a perfect orbit around Jesus Christ as the center of life. The couple returns to their places and the priest blesses each of them. After the marriage ceremony the couple leaves the guests for a tour around the city sights. Usually it is only the couple, their witnesses and a few of the closest friends. Lots of pictures of the couple are taken during the city tour. Sometimes a bigger bus or a boat is offered to the guests to have a nice time before the dinner.

The Dinner
Groom’s parents greet the bride with a round loaf of bread and salt, as a symbol of hospitality and acceptance of the bride into the family. It also symbolizes the health, prosperity and long life.

Both bride and groom take a bite of the bread and the one that takes the largest bite will be the head of the family.

As the young newlyweds enter the reception hall, they are showered with oats or wheat and occasionally rose-petals to make the scene more beautiful.

Groom and bride drink some champagne and throw the glasses on the ground. If they break, it is considered to be good luck. A new fashion today is to use glasses made of ice but still looking very fancy. It is while everyone is sat around the table that all the guests will pass on their good wishes to the couple, raise toasts and offer presents. The host of the celebration will then organize fun games and entertainment. By tradition, two toddlers will be put in the centre of the room, one dressed in blue to symbolize a boy and the other dressed in pink to symbolize a girl. The guests will then offer sums of money to whichever toddler they choose. The toddler who receives the most money determines the sex of the married couple's first child.

Tables for a wedding reception are moved together, where the couple and witnesses sit at the "top" (in the case of home reception tables sometimes go through one room to another). Next to the couple and witnesses sit their parents, then close family and friends, then the rest of the guests. The seats for the quests are not assigned; people sit where they want.

It is traditional to have an entertainer, in Russian "Tamada" (Master of Ceremony), who organizes games, dancing and ensures the guests get to know each other and are looked after. If there is no Tamada, the witnesses run the wedding reception.

The reception starts with a champagne toast for the newlyweds. After the first sip somebody says "Gor'ko!" ("Bitter!"); it means the drink is bitter and in order to make it sweeter the couple has to kiss. All guests together start to shout "Gor'ko! Gor'ko!" The newlyweds stand up and kiss each other for as long as possible, and all the guests start counting "1, 2, 3, 4 , 5..." while they are kissing. If the couple was not kissing long enough, the guests can insist that the vine is still bitter, and request another kiss. This happens after almost every following toast, so the couple has lots of kissing during the wedding.

The second toast is always for the parents; and after a witness announced the toast, the bride and the groom have their say of "Thank you" to both bride's and groom's parents. (With another "Gor'ko!" and kissing afterwards.)

The guests say lots of toast throughout the reception dinner. The pause in between the toasts is 5-10 minutes to give people some time to eat and talk.

The dinner is not a buffet style, and usually there is no open bar. All the food and the drinks are on the tables in front of the guests, and they seem never-ending. As soon as the serving plate is emptied by the guests, the wait staff replaces it with another one. There are 10-20 starters on the table, followed by the main course at least an hour later..

After a while the witnesses ask everybody to give their gifts. Traditionally money is considered as the best gift, and is given in an envelope.

First dance is opened by the new couple, and then dancing for all starts.

There is no tradition of a wedding cake in Russia. There are lots of desserts and different kinds of cakes served, but there is no custom of bride and groom cutting the cake together.

All in all, Russian weddings are a lot of fun. People make jokes, play games, propose very special toasts, eat, drink and dance.

According to European tradition, the wedding ends with the bride throwing her bouquet over her head to all the unmarried girls in the crowd. Whoever catches it will become the next bride. After the ceremony has ended, the young couple goes off to their new house or hotel.

At this point, the groom must take the bride in his arms and carry her across the threshold; a ritual that symbolizes the strength of their union. As a rule, the young couple then happily journey off into the sunset for their honeymoon.

Most popular time to get married is from May to September. Still winter marriages are also popular to enjoy Troika ride, white furs for a bride and traditional Russian snow games outside.

One of the sweetest traditions of a Russian wedding is that the couple places a padlock somewhere in the city.

Bride Parade
In Russia being married is a lot more important than being married in the rest of Europe. In fact recently there was a ‘bride parade’ in Moscow to promote marriage over cohabitation. Both married and unmarried women took part and one participant was quoted in one of the papers saying, “I’m not married yet, but I hope to find a man today.” Crazy.