In this section, you will find all the preparatory traditions that happen before the big day. It can be months before the wedding that many of these steps occur.
There are lots of Ukrainian traditions and special events associated with wooing. Read more in our section on How To Catch A Mate. Most involve some type of entertainment, eating, singing, dancing, and games. Couples could only be alone until sunset. This was hopeful thinking that a girl’s virtue would be intact. Girls, who gave boys free rein, were beaten with bell ropes soaked in salt brine.
During the time of Soviet occupation, "The Klub" was introduced to the villages in order to control ritual activities including courtship. Dances, movie nights, civil wedding ceremonies, meetings all happened at these Communist run social centers. Now those building often house Community Centers.
Proposal (Zapyty/Запити; Dopyty/ Допити; Vyznavanky/Bизнаванки)
At some point in the relationship between a couple, discussions of marriage occur. Once the couple gets to this point and they make a pact between the two of them to marry then the formalities begin. As in many cultures around the world the young man approaches the young woman’s family to make a formal marriage proposal. In Ukrainian tradition, this is highly ritualized.
Late in the evening, not on the lenten days of Wednesday or Friday, and in secret, in case of a “No”, the young man takes 2 married men (Starosty/elders) with him, a loaf of bread wrapped in a rushnyk (sometimes called Palinka/палінка or Matchmakers’ bread/сватовська булка) and a bottle of horilka (homebrew/vodka) or brandy and heads to the Bride’s parents home. The two men, carrying clubs of authority, do the talking. They offer the gifts and tell a tale that they are hunters looking for a marten, deer, or red fox. They have tracked it to this house. The daughter touches the hearth(pich) in order to welcome the spirits of her ancestors to the conversation.
If the proposal is accepted by the Bride’s family in return they give the groom a loaf of bread and they all share in a shot of the horilka and a piece of bread. The Bride will wrap an embroidered rushnyk (ritual cloth) around the Starosty’s right shoulders. Sometimes the bride and grooms’ wrists are also tied with a rushnyk. This is not a binding contract yet, as there are some other hoops to jump through to seal the deal and make the Betrothal official.
If the young woman and family do not agree to the proposal, she will hand the starosty a pumpkin (harbooz) instead of a loaf of bread. In defeat, the group would exit the house quickly and attempt to close the door with their backs, if they were successful before the parents hurried to close the door, it would mean the young girl would never marry and be a spinster.
Inspecting and Considering (Ohliadyny/Оглядини; Rozhliadyny/Розглядини; Obzoryny/Обзорини)
Inspection of the Bride’s capabilities and the Groom's Family's assets. The bride had to meet her future mother-in-law and show off her skills, cooking, embroidery, gardening and more. They also inspect her dowry. The future mother-in-law had to approve the skills of the bride in order for the marriage to happen.
The bride's relatives visit the bridegroom's house for the purpose of assessing his wealth to be sure their daughter could be taken care of.
Negotiations (Uhovoryny/Уговориний; Domovyny/ Домовини)
This is the first meeting of the families. The Starosty act as advisors at the discussions about who to invite, meal preparations, and what gifts will be given. There is food and drink.
Betrothal/Engagement (Zaruchyny/Заручини; Rukovyny/Руковини; Khustky/Хустки)
For the Betrothal, the Bride’s family, Groom’s family, Starosty and Bridesmaids gather at the bride’s house. First the Groom, must pay a ransom for his Bride. Ransoming is a common feature throughout the festivities. The Bridesmaids protect the Bride from getting "stolen" without a ransom. The Groom offers something valuable, often money or jewelry for his Bride. The parents of the Bride bring out a woman or man dressed as the Bride and covered with a veil, so she can’t be identified. When the Groom realizes that it is not his intended, he asks for his true love. The family demands a bigger ransom because she is valuable. Once the ransom is negotiated, the Bride's family offers the real Bride to the Groom.
Traditional songs are sung and the couple receives a blessing by their parents. 2 loaves of bread tied together with ribbon are presented to the couple, along with a sheaf of corn symbolizing fertility. Four sheaves of corn are brought into the house and placed in the four corners as pokrasa – decoration. There is a feast, dancing and the final wedding preparations are discussed.
After all the ceremonies, the young people were considered engaged and could no longer refuse to marry. The refusal was considered dishonesty, which entailed material compensation.
Ukrainian weddings typically occurred on Sundays, so Saturday was a bust day of preparation.
Ritual Baking (Korovai; Shyshky)
In both the Bride and Groom’s homes, special ritual breads are baked on Saturday morning. The main bread, the Korovai is a large, round, braided bread baked from wheat flour often decorated with various symbols.
The Korovai and other ritual breads are baked by a specific group of women called Korovainytsi (Wedding Bread Bakers). They are invited by the starosty and are usually in an off number, most often 7. The number figures prominently in the baking of the Korovai. It is connected with the number of the celestial being from ancient times: the sun, moon, Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Only married women who are living with their husbands can take part in this. Widows and women whose husbands are absent cannot be there for fear that their situation will be baked into the korovai. Each baker brings the agreed quantity of salo (pork lard), eggs, flour, etc. The women adorn themselves with wreaths of periwinkle, red ribbons around their waists and sometime embroidered cloths. The ingredients for the korovai should be brought from seven wells. seven sacks of four, that the has been grown in seven fields, ground in seven mills and kept for seven years. A Kopa of eggs (a medieval form of measurement that means 60), that have been taken from seven white hens, which stood in seven coops. The salt has been taken from seven salt wagons, and the butter taken from seven pots, turned from the milk of seven cows. There is a song that tells how God himself kneads the dough, the Blessed Virgin holds the light, Angels carry water, and Saint Nicholas helps them.
The Korovainytsi wash their hands with Holy Water while the Svashky sing songs to bless their work. They must be in good spirits so that no evil will be baked into the bread. If the Korovai dough fell or it cracked that was an ominous omen to the success of the marriage. They will bake the Korovai and Shyshky – pine cone shaped buns used to invite guests. The Korovai is the centerpiece of the wedding. It is used at the Blessing of the couple, it accompanies the Bride and Groom to church, it sits in a place of honor at the reception and is distributed to all the guests during the evening. It sits on an embroidered cloth and symbolizes prosperity and eternity. Some weddings have numerous Korovayi.
All this shows that the Korovai is a Sacred loaf and has not only a symbolic meaning, but they believe has magical properties to affect the future of the Bride and Groom and avert evil.
Saturday afternoon, after the Korovai and shyshky were baked, the Bride would walk the village with one or two of her Bridesmaids inviting guests. The entourage would enter the home, leave a shyshka and issue their invitation. The Groom did the same with his Groomsmen and the shyshky baked at his home.
Branching Out (Derevtse/Деревце; Hil’tse/ Гільце)
In the morning, while his home was being invaded with bakers, the Bride Groom with his Groomsmen, would hunt for the perfect branch the Hil’tse and cut it from a tree. The branch was chosen from a pine, fir, cherry, apple, or pear tree. The Hil’tse represents the Tree of Life and a new Family Tree that is being formed with the wedding of the Bride and Groom. Traditions vary with this branch. Sometimes it was its own separate decoration and in other regions it was wedged into the Korovai. The Groom will bring it to the Bride’s home to be decorated at the Divych Vechir that night.
Maiden’s Evening (Divych Vechir/Дівич Вечір)
On Saturday evening, the girl friends of the Bride-to-be gather at the Bride’s home for 3 important rituals: The Bathing; Wreath Weaving; and Branch Decorating. It was a melancholy evening with sad songs and phrases for the Bride relinquishing her childhood, her childhood friends and the separation from her family and home. Many tears are shed. The Bride is bathed in preparation for her Wedding Day the next day. This is a cleansing ritual preparing her body for a new life and family.
Wreath Weaving (Vinkopletennia/Вінкоплетіння)
Part of the Divych Vechir is the Vinkopletennia. Wreaths of periwinkle - barvinok are made by a group of maidens, one for each of the betrothed. Due to their evergreen nature and round shape the wreaths are a symbol of love, marriage, longevity, and eternity. The Bridesmaids also make wreaths for themselves out of rue or mint. Garlic was sometimes added to the wreaths or the Bride’s hair to strengthen the magical belief that the wreaths were also a talisman against evil. While braiding the wreaths, the women sing specific ritual songs, which describe the actions taking place.
The Hil’tse that the Groom and his Groomsmen gathered in the morning is also decorated at this time. Decorations can include flowers, ribbons, pinecones, candles, grain, and coins. Decorating the Hil’tse, is accompanied by prayers and songs. Different groups of people add decorations to the Hil’tse, the parents start at the top and say to the Starosty “Pan and Pani Starosto, bless the decoration of the hyl’tse.” The Starosty bless it 3 times.
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