20 Russian Wedding Traditions
What comes to your mind when you hear a phrase “Russian wedding”? Russian weddings are known for their large scale and fun organized for the whole district! Unfortunately, today many traditions of the original Russian wedding were irrevocably lost, and those few remaining exist in a greatly changed version.
Even few hundreds of years ago the wedding was a complex of rites, which were held in a strict sequence according to a certain traditional plan. The most important Russian wedding traditions included a match-making, agreement, hen party, wedding, wedding night, and a bridal feast. Each of them had a definite sacral meaning. We are going to tell you about the most popular traditions kept nowadays.
There was a time when parents could decide on the fate of young people. But now the future newlyweds choose their soul mate themselves. In ancient times, relatives and parents of the groom came to the house of a girl to arrange a marriage. During the match-making the future relatives got acquainted with each other and established important connections.
In our time Russian marriage customs became much simpler: the groom comes to the bride’s house and asks her parents for the permission to marry their daughter. Though, some young people neglect this ritual and simply inform both sides of their decision.
2. Blessing of the young couple
The word “blessing” means a wish of good fortune. Considering the wedding, it is the parental approval of the young people’s decision to link their lives in a single whole.
This custom has reached our days, but not in the obligatory form. Mostly it depends on the relations between children and parents. In the old days, the marriage was unthinkable without a parental blessing, and a refusal of any parent to bless the young served as a serious obstruction to the wedding. It was believed that even if the marriage was concluded against the parental will, it would not be a happy one.
3. Hen Party and Bachelor party
Modern and ancient hen parties are very different. If before the Russian women brides listened to whining and instructions, cried for leaving the father’s home, etc., now a hen party is held in the atmosphere of lightness and fun. Nowadays a bachelor party and a bachelorette party is more like the last chance to “hang out loud” and say “goodbye” to the single life. Club or bar, hard drinks, karaoke, strippers – all these can be considered the attributes of a modern hen party or bachelor party.
4. Boutonnière as a part of the bride’s bouquet
In the old days a groom made a bouquet for the bride himself: he collected flowers, arranged them into a bridal bouquet. When the bouquet was given to the bride, she took one flower out of it and put it in a buttonhole of the groom. That’s how the custom of a boutonniere of the groom appeared. As a matter of fact, it is a mini-version of the bride’s bouquet, making a single whole the bride’s bouquet.
5. Russian wedding dress
In Ancient Rus the festive color was red. Red traditional Russian wedding dress was thought to be the most elegant and served as a symbol of fertility. Now brides choose white color as a symbol of purity.
It was also popularly believed that Russian wedding dress should be new. The dress of the mother or the eldest sister was not suitable, because it had the imprint of the fate of his previous owner. And why does the bride need someone’s negative experience and mistakes? She will start her family saga from scratch.
6. Russian wedding ring
Russian wedding ring has undergone great metamorphosis since the moment of appearing. Today a wedding ring can be an elegant decoration of the intricate form, with precious stones and memorable engravings. All this contradicts the original meaning given by our ancestors to the wedding ring. An endless circle is a symbol of the infinity that means a long marriage, without divorces and losses.
Smooth surface promises smooth marital relations, without cheating, misunderstanding and insults. For these reason, the stone on the wedding ring, even a precious one, is seen as a visible barrier. Family life can stumble over this stone, and moving on an endless circle of the family life, happiness will again and again face an obstacle on its way…
But these rules are obligatory for a wedding ring, while Russian engagement rings can be of any shape and material. Engagement rings are given when a man proposes to a woman. It can be done in the presence of parents or in a public place. There are no strict rules about it now.
7. Bride price
The Russian orthodox wedding day begins with the dressing up of the bride and girlfriends. The groom gathers matchmakers, friends, a groomsman and goes to the house of the bride, who is supposed to be priced from relatives and girlfriends. The groom must pass the “obstacle course”, during which he solves riddles, passes various contests, etc. For each fail the groom has to buy off a gift or money.
8. Registration of the marriage
After the bride price, the couple and their relatives go to the registry office in order to register their relationship officially. Some couples also go to the church to have a wedding ceremony there as well. It depends if the couple is religious or not.
9. Rose Way
There still exist a number of beautiful wedding customs that have successfully lived up to our days and are actively used by modern newlyweds. This is, for example, a custom of the showering of young couple with rice or wheat, coins, sweets and confetti after a church wedding or a wedding ceremony at the registration office. Each of these items has its own congratulatory meaning and bears a certain wish to the young: rice – fertility, coins – welfare, pink petals – beauty and romance of marital relations, sweets – sweet, prosperous life.
10. Rite of bread and salt
After the wedding ceremony and walking around the city for photos, newlyweds before going to the wedding banquet in the restaurant, go to the groom’s parents. At the doorstep of the house a father and mother-in-law greeted the newlyweds with bread and salt. In the old days, the young wife, having got married, left the parental home forever and went to live in the family of her husband.
And often, the first time a young couple lived together with his parents in one house. That is why it was so important, how the young wife enters the family, whether she will be obedient or command everyone. The bride and the groom simultaneously have to bite off a piece of the bread held by parents. It is still believed that the one who bites a larger piece of the loaf will be the leader in the family.
11. Threshold of the house
Then, it was very important for the groom to carry his young wife through the threshold of the house in his arms. This is also a very ancient custom, originally from the paganism. It was believed that in this way the newlyweds deceive different evil spirits, which always want to harm the young wife. It is like if she didn’t touch the threshold with her feet, she didn’t come into the house, so, she’s not here at all. That’s why, she is safe.
12. Russian wedding toast
Our ancestors believed in evil spirits, which, in their opinion, adored building intrigues against peacefully cheerful people. Especially, the evil did not like when people were happy and having fun. And so, trying to deceive the evil spirits, at the wedding, people shouted “Bitter!”, thereby showing that they were not doing so good. After hearing this, the evil spirits had to believe and walk away!
In our time, having heard the Russian wedding toast “Bitter!”, newlyweds should stand up and kiss as long as possible, while all the guests loudly begin counting: “One, two, three… five… ten…” and so on. The longer the young couple kisses, the stronger their marriage will be. That’s why now exclamation “Bitter!” just means “Now a kiss!” Speaking about the wedding feast we cannot but mention Russian wedding food, which is greatly determined by the region, as every region has its local food.
But the universal thing is a special sweet wedding loaf, called “karavai”. The piece of it must be given to each guest. In general, Russian wedding feast is very rich with lots of meat, fish, appetizers, alcohol and sweets. The dishes are changed minimum three times. Nobody will be hungry at the wedding.
13. Stealing the bride at the wedding
Like most rites, this also originates from antiquity and has very interesting roots. In the times of dark feudal serfdom, there appeared a custom in which the first wedding night the serf bride had to spend with the landlord. Of course, grooms resisted this, so a landlord sent his servants and in the midst of the wedding they kidnapped the bride. Now the bride is stolen more for fun, and the groom also has to redeem the bride, but performing various tasks.
14. Stealing the bride’s shoes
In the old days there was a custom, during which unmarried girls asked the bride to give her shoe for a try. The one of her friends, who was fit in the shoe, took the shoe and demanded a ransom from the groom. This rite was a sort of a test of the groom’s prosperity.
15. Wedding Cake
In old times it was thought that if you break bread with someone you become close to each other. It is believed that the ritual of cutting the cake originates from this custom. The newlyweds cut together the first piece of a cake, but with one knife. They must feed each other with it. Then the rest of the cake is given to all guests.
16. Removal of Veil
This rite can be considered the most ancient and beautiful among Russian marriage customs. In ancient times the bride did not wear a veil, but a wreath, embroidered with ribbons. Married women could not go out with their head uncovered, so wearing a head shawl was mandatory for them. That’s why after removing the wreath and unplaiting the braid, the head of the wife was covered with a head shawl. That’s how the rite of removing the wedding veil and covering the head of the bride with a head shawl appeared. This ceremony of the veil removal symbolizes the transition from a maiden life to a family life.
17. Traditional Russian wedding gifts
The traditional Russian wedding gifts are very practical. They are aimed to provide comfortable life for a new family that needs to arrange a cozy home. For a gift you may choose a dinner set, electric appliances, sets of bed lining, furniture or money.
18. Russian wedding dance ceremony
Apart from an obligatory dance of the newlyweds, there must be a dance with a dad. Dance with the father is one of the most touching and exciting moments of the whole wedding, leaving no one indifferent. For the bride, this dance with the father is an excellent opportunity to express her gratitude and love for parents, particularly to the father.
19. First wedding night and honeymoon
After the end of all ceremonies and farewell to the guests, the newlyweds go home or to a hotel room, where they spend their first wedding night, and then go on a wedding trip. In the old times it was not allowed for young people to have intimate relations before the marriage. The moral principles were very strict. But nowadays the situation is far more democratic.
20. “Mother-in-law’s pancakes”
Sometimes the celebration lasts two days. On the second day only family members and close people are invited. The second day is devoted to congratulations of the parents. This day is called “mother-in-law’s pancakes”. On this day parents of newlyweds are congratulated with their new titles and given gifts. The newlyweds have to serve their parents and make them pleased. Now it is the parents turn to kiss when relatives shout “Bitter!”
There are also many other superstitions and beliefs connected with the marriage ceremony. To keep them or not totally depends on the newlyweds and their idea of the marriage. Many couples tend to have a simple registration ceremony with only a few witnesses at the registration office, while others want a traditional wedding in the church.