The Wedding day has arrived. It is going to be a long day with many activities, people and excitement. Enjoy every second!
Ukrainian weddings were typically held on Sundays. Saturday was the day of Preparation, Sunday the day of Celebration and Monday the day of Recuperation!
Dress Up Time (Uberannia/Уберання)
On Sunday morning, the Bride and Groom stay apart at their own homes and get ready for the church ceremony. At the Groom’s house the Groom dresses in his finest attire. It may have been made for him by the Bride. Starosty lead the Groom and all present out of the house where they all circle around him. His mother blesses him with Holy Water while he bows and kisses each person in the circle. He heads to the Bride’s house with his Groomsmen (Boyary) and Svitlyky – his sisters who carry lit candles and a korovai.
Meanwhile, at the Bride’s house, her braid is being unplaited by the closest unmarried male relative in a ceremony that involves singing by the Svashky (Свашки). The Bridemaids(Druzhky) comb out her hair, covering it with butter and honey and dangle coins and garlic in it and add a crust of bread. Her hair is rebraided into a wreath on her head. She is then dressed in her finest attire that she made just for this occasion. See the section on Wedding Attire for more information.
Redemption Time (Vykup/Викуп)
When the Groom and his entourage arrive at the Bride’s house, he has to pay a ransom to get his Bride. He arrives at the house with two loafs of bread to gift to the Bride’s family, but instead of being taken inside right away, he stands at the “Brama/Брама/Gates”. This refers to a nicely decorated table with some flowers and special rushnyk that sits outside the main entrance of the Bride’s house. On the one side of the table - Bridesmaids, friends of the Bride, and locals from the neighborhood wait in anticipation. He is greeted by the Bridesmaids whose responsibility it is to protect the Bride from getting “stolen” without the adequate ransom. The Bridesmaids begin by asking the Groom why exactly he came here today? "To receive my Bride" – he says proudly. The girls work hard to up the price of the ransom by stumping his Groomsmen on questions about his Bride (every wrong answer required him to pay more) and by glorifying and complimenting the Bride, to establish her high sense of worth. Eventually the Groom realizes that he cannot get the Bride so easily. Because she, having all that beauty, kindness, and thrift, is very precious for her family. The Bride's family will require the Groom to acknowledge the Bride's sense of worth. The wise Groom shall offer his full cooperation with the demands of the Bride's representatives. Finally, the long-awaited moment! Or so he thinks! The parents of the Bride bring out another woman or man dressed as the Bride and covered with a veil, so the Groom can’t see her face to trick the Groom. It is said that once the Groom realizes that it is not his Bride, he asks to pay for his Bride who is much more valuable, again extolling all of her virtues. Eventually the two parties agree on price. It can be anything – champagne and candies, money, or some other presents from the Groom's party.
In some regions of Ukraine, the Groom brings the Bride her wedding shoes, filled with candies. After the Groom is finally allowed to enter the Bride’s home, he sees her sitting on an embroidered pillow and he places the shoes on her feet. The Groom throws the candies behind his back to the guests. This symbolizes a sweet future for the wedding couple. The Groom kisses his Bride and helps her stand up from the chair with the special pillow on it. The Bridesmaids each trying to sit on the pillow first so that they can be next to be married.
Bless Us Everyone (Blahoslovlennia/Благословління)
Before the Wedding Party can leave for the church, the Bride and Groom ask for a blessing from their parents. This was done because in olden times, the parents did not attend the church service. The Blessing has remained to this day, even though most parents wouldn't miss any part of the wedding. During this ritual blessing the Bride and Groom kneel on a rushnyk in front of their parents before they leave for the church and ask them to bestow a blessing for a long, healthy, happy, and prosperous life. Their parents hold a Korovai and 2 Icons of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, that are draped with rushnyky. The Starosta recites a ceremonial text such as the following: "As these two children stand before their own mother, before their own father, before their uncles, before their godparents; if they did not listen to one of you, I ask you to forgive them and bless them." In Ukrainian, the word proschannia is used to describe forgiving someone of their offenses as well as bidding them farewell. Then the family members repeat 3 times, "Хай Бог простить і благословить." (May Holy God forgive and bless you.) The couple then bow and kiss their parents, kiss the icons, and then hold them. This blessing is performed three times by the parents, grandparents, godparents, and all those present. This ritual symbolizes forgiveness for any sins, and a blessing of the marriage from the parents. It is here that the two families officially become one.
Wedding Walk About (Pokhid/Похід; Vyhuliannia/Вигуляння)
As the couple leaves the Bride’s house and makes their way to the church, they are sprinkled with Holy Water by their parents. The procession of Bride and Groom, musicians, Bridal Party, family, and guests sings songs and travels to the church with a banner, the hyl’tse and Korovai leading the way.
Wedding Ceremony (Shliub/Шлюб; Vinchannia/Вінчання)
The marriage ceremony is one of seven sacraments in the Church. The ceremony itself is a mixture of traditions from Eastern Rite Christianity and from Ukraine’s pre-Christian past. It is the act of obtaining God's blessing and special gift of love, which combines two hearts forever becoming one in soul and body during this ceremony.
Before the sacrament of marriage, the couple should confess in front of God and take Holy Communion. Accordingly, the day before the wedding, the couple should abstain from any alcohol or smoking. In some cases, the priest may also instruct the couple not to eat meat dishes (to lent).
In Ukraine, the marriage ceremony (vinchannia) in church, usually occurs on a Sunday and is highlighted by 6 sections.
In the Ukrainian tradition, the father of the Bride does not “give away" the Bride. Equality and teamwork have been centuries-old traditions therefore the Ukrainian Bride and Groom enter the church together arm-in-arm as willing and equal partners. The priest meets the young couple at the rear of the church in the Narthex(vestibule) and the ceremony begins. The betrothal at the vestibule of the church is considered the ‘human’ marriage where the couple exchange promises of love and loyalty. They will then proceed into the Nave (Central section) up the aisle to the alter to enter into the ‘spiritual’ marriage.
During the Betrothal, the Bride and Groom affirm to the priest that they are both entering into the union of their own free will. The priest then blesses the wedding bands and places them on the fingers of the Bride and Groom. Traditionally, the rings were placed on the 4th finger of the right hand. This may stem from the ancient Roman belief that the ring finger had a vein directly connecting it to the heart, "the vein of love" (lat. vena amoris). They also believed the left hand was unhappy and "unreliable."
At this point, the priest gives the couple two burning candles, as a symbol of joy, warmth, and Christ as a beacon of light. The priest takes both their free hands and leads them to the tetrapod in front of the alter--symbolizing that God is leading them into matrimony.
A Ukrainian embroidered towel, called a Pidnozhnyk, is spread before the tetrapod across the aisle on which the couple will stand. The use of the Pidnozhnyk symbolizes the hope that the newlyweds will never face poverty or "stand on a bare earthen floor". Tradition dictates that whoever steps on the towel first will be the head of the family. Of course, Ukrainian folk wisdom declares that the man is always the head of the family--but it is the woman that is the neck that turns the head.
~The Binding of Hands
The hands of the Bride and Groom are joined with another embroiderd cloth, a rushnyk, to signify their union. They will remain bound throughout the ceremony.
A highlight and focal point of a Ukrainian wedding ceremony is the Crowning. The word in Ukrainian for the wedding ceremony is Vinchannia/Вінчання and translates to “being Crowned.” During the ceremony and throughout the festivities the Bride and Groom are often referred to as Princess (Kniahenia/Kнягиня); Queen (Koroleva/Kоролева) and Prince (Knyazh/ Княж); King (Korol’/Княж). The crowns symbolize that they will be the King and Queen of their own family kingdom--ruling side by side. The crowns themselves can be in two forms, actual metal crowns borrowed from the church or wreaths, woven of myrtle or periwinkle. The live crowns are a symbol of love, purity, and fertility.
The Bride and Groom place their right hands on the gospel, exchange their vows and become married in the eyes of God. Crowns are placed or held above the heads of the Bride and Groom by their bridal party as the priest says, “O Lord and God, crown them with glory and honor”.
~The Common Cup
The service of crowning is followed by the reading of the Epistle and the Gospel. The Gospel reading describes the marriage at Cana of Galilee which was attended and blessed by our Lord and Savior Christ, and for which He reserved His first miracle. There He converted the water into better wine and give of it to the newlyweds. In remembrance of this blessing, wine is given the couple. This is the "common cup" of better life denoting the mutual sharing of joy and sorrow, the token of a life of harmony. The drinking of wine from the common cup serves to impress upon the couple 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 couple each take three sips (for the Trinity) from a silver goblet, the common cup. This shared cup of wine reminds us of the miracle at Cana and symbolizes the oneness of life-- a life which must be shared equally by both--in hardship as well as in joy.
The priest then leads the bound couple around the tetrapod three times (for the Holy Trinity). This procession symbolizes that marriage is a never-ending journey and that the journey should be led by Christ symbolized by the Gospel and the Cross on the tetrapod. During this walk around the table a hymn its sung to the Holy Martyrs reminding the newly married couple of the sacrificial love they are to have for each other in marriage - a love that seeks not its own but is willing to sacrifice for the other. These are the first steps the young couple takes as husband and wife.
The priest, blessing the Groom, says, "Be thou magnified, O Bride Groom, as Abraham, and blessed as Isaac, and increased as Jacob, walking in peace and working in righteousness the commandments of God." And blessing the Bride he says, "And thou, O Bride, be thou magnified as Sarah, and glad as Rebecca, and do thou increase like unto Rachel, rejoicing in thine own husband, fulfilling the conditions of the law; for so it is well pleasing unto God." When the priest removes the crowns he says, “Receive their crowns into your Kingdom”.
Toward the end of the ceremony, the priest escorts the Bride to the icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As the priest offers up prayers on her behalf, the Bride kneels in front of the Virgin Mary and presents her with a bouquet of flowers.
In some places, the Bride's wreath is replaced by an ochipok and namitka that covers her hair and signifies that she is now married. The Groom ‘s crown is replaced with a hat, symbolic of him accepting responsibility as a man.
The newly married couple walks out of the church into the world as husband and wife to the choir and assembly all singing “Mnohaya Lita", "Many Happy Years." In some regions, once the newlyweds exit the church they are presented with a 'колач' (kolach) - a kind of wedding bread that had a hole in the middle. The couple raises it to the sun and, looks through the hole, counts how many rays of the sun they see. This fortune tells the number of children they will have. They then take the bread in two hands and break it in half. Whoever ends up with the bigger piece is said to be the head of the household.
Dueling Parties: Party at the Bride’s (Vesillia u Molodoyi/Весілля у Молодої; Povernennia/Повернення) Party at the Grooms (Vesillia u Molodoho/Весілля у молодого)
After church, the wedding Party and Bride’s guests head to the Bride’s house. The parents of the Bride greet the couple with a tray of bread, salt and horilka or brandy. After the couple bow to the parents, the father blesses the newlyweds and mother sprinkles grain behind them, wishing for the couple’s wealth, health, fertility, and happiness. After this ceremony, the Groom leaves the Bride there and returns with his friends and family to his own house. A meal is served at each house, after which the mother of the Groom dispatches him and a special train (poizd) to the home of the Bride.
Hop on the Kidnap Train (Poizd/Поїзд)
The fetching train is a folk ceremony where the Groom and his Groomsmen head back to the Bride’s house to fetch the Bride. Only the train goes back and forth between the two houses. The rest of the wedding guests stay at the home of the person who invited them. Because literally hundreds of people are invited by each side, the families of the couple set up outdoor tents so that they can seat all of their guests at the banquet. The procession, called a poizd or train, has some of the nature of a military parade and the members of the poizd can have military titles. Older men tied with rushnyky and carrying staffs walk in front. They are followed by the Groom, the boiaryn, and the svitylka, a female relative of the Groom. The bouquet the svitylka carries is called a shablia or sword. The Groom’s mother dispatches the wedding train, showering them with coins, grain, and candy.
Who is That? (Predstavliuvannia/ Представлування)
Along the way, the Bride’s friends’ block the trains passage and stage mock attacks. The groom gives them small amounts of money or horilka to let them pass.
When the train reaches the Bride’s home, they bargain with the Bride’s druzhky and pay money or horilka to gain entrance. When the Groom finally can get into the house, he sees his ‘Bride’ all covered up with a shawl. The bride's relatives attempt to substitute other girls for the Bride until he pays an appropriate ransom. Finally, after further demands for payment from the Groom, he is permitted to see the real Bride.
Peace! (Pomyrennia/ Помирення)
The reconciliation (pomyrennia) is the presentation of gifts to the Bride's parents and the establishment of peace between the two families. The Groom calls his new mother-in-law to the center of the room, washes her feet, and puts new shoes on her, that he bought. This symbolizes his good intentions and respect towards his new family.
Place of Honor (Posad/Посад)
Finally, the party can begin, we have a real Bride and Groom now! The Starosty take the Bride and Groom around the table 3 times and places them on the posad, a place of honor in the corner of the room under the icons. They are offed some horilka or brandy as the rest of those present sit to partake in an elaborate meal.
Ukrainian weddings are renowned for toasts. Parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, second cousins twice removed, everyone had something to say. And every toast ended in the famous Ukrainian phrase “Hirko!”, meaning “Bitter!”, which indicates that the Bride and Groom must kiss. As tradition goes, if something is bitter, kissing will sweeten it. Guests love yelling out “Hirko!” whenever they can.
Korovai and Gifts (Rozpodil/Розподіл; Darovannia/Даровання)
After the meal, the Groom and the Bride hold the Bride’s Korovai together and attempt to break off a piece of the bread. The person with the bigger piece was believed to become the head of the family. The Korovai is then cut and distributed, with the guests offering gifts in exchange for horilka and a piece of the bread. The presentation of gifts is accompanied by songs or rhymes, some joking and off-color.
Departure (Vid’yizd/ Від’їзд)
After the Korovai is distributed and all the gifts are given, the Bride and Groom together with her belongings and dowry, travel to his home. The departure is the final separation of the Bride from her family and her youth, so it is a sad one. Her parents bless her for the last time as the procession, accompanied by music and songs, heads to the Groom’s house.
Foiled…. Captured Again! (Pereima/Перейма)
The interception (pereima) is the ritual capturing of the Bride and robbery by a group of young people. Once again, she is ransomed and only returned when the groom pays up in some way.
Welcome Home (Zustrich/Зустріч)
The final reception (zustrich) of the evening occurs with the welcoming of the Bride and Groom to his home. The Groom’s parents greet them at the entrance to the home with bread, salt and shots and blessing on their marriage. A final meal at the Groom's house is the occasion of the cutting the Groom's Korovai and its distribution among the guests, along with horilka, speeches, and more gift-giving.
In more recent times, the wedding reception is no longer a separate affair. The Bride and Groom’s families and guests all gather in the same place. They are often held in bigger facilities like Community Halls or large tented areas. The receptions often begin with a ceremony welcoming the Bride and Groom into the community at the entrance of the reception hall. The parents and Starosty meet the newlyweds at the door with a tray of symbolic gifts: bread, salt, honey, and horilka/wine. Bread represents nature’s bounty, salt is a necessity of life, honey-the sweetness of life and horilka -- prosperity. The newly formed families unite in a toast. Only then, does the Master of Ceremonies or Starosty announce the Bride and Groom into the hall with the Bridal Party following behind.
The new mother-in-law and the Groom take the flower wreath off her head and undo the Bride’s braided hair, taking out all the additions from the morning. They comb it through and re-braid it into a crown, no longer able to wear the single long braid down her back of her youth. The Bride now, is considered a wife and, when in public, must wear her hair covered. They put a scarf called an “ochipok” over her braided crown which symbolizes the new status of a married woman. 2 times the Bride throws the scarf down to indicate her sadness at the end of her youth and only on the 3rd time does she agree to wear the headcovering. The Bride then takes the wreath and throws it towards the unmarried girls at the wedding without looking at them. There is a belief that the girl who manages to catch the wreath would be the next one to marry.
Chamber of Secrets (Komora/Комора)
The storeroom (komora) is made into a Bridal Chamber for the couple. The bed is prepared with a heap of straw then covered with a cloth and the bedding the bride brought with her dowry. The icons and the bread and salt are placed at the head of the bed. The couple are blessed and then brought into the room by the Starosty in order to consummate the marriage.
Blood ceremonies have a history dating back to the Middle Ages in Western Traditions. Ukrainians also believed in the value of a girl's virginity as being pure, untouched and unsoiled. The tradition is rarely observed today. Once the act has been completed the Groom knocks on the door to allow in the Matchmaker to gather the proof of the Bride's virginity and to announce it to the guests, hopefully in great celebration. There are many secret stories of other ways that proof was supplied if it couldn’t be proven in the natural fashion usually at the expense of one of the farm animals. Red decoration and flags were put out to also add to the announcement.
At the Groom’s (Prydatky/Придатки)
The Groom’s family sent word to the Bride’s family of their daughters’ honorable reputation by sending a loaf of bread tied with a red ribbon and decorated with red Kalyna berries. Upon receiving this message, the Bride’s family comes to the Groom’s house to celebrate. The feasting and celebrating continue late into the night at the Groom’s House. More toasts and gift giving occur.
Click here to go on to Act 3