Tне Russian Wedding

Usually the three stages of the wedding are distinguished: the period before the wedding (matchmaking, bride shower, marriage agreement, girls’ party), properly wedding (wedding train, crowning, banquet, wedding night) and the period after wedding (the rites of the first day, visiting). 

The symbolic of the Russian wedding

In Russian tradition the wedding rite is the most consistent realization of the symbolic language of culture, realization of both mundane and spiritual longings of ethnos. As a ritual the wedding shapes and regulates creation of new family and in perspective it secures change of generations, continuation of collective’s existence in time.

Matchmaking and Girls’ Party

Usually the three stages of the wedding are distinguished: the period before the wedding (matchmaking, bride shower, marriage agreement, girls’ party), properly wedding (wedding train, crowning, banquet, wedding night) and the period after wedding (the rites of the first day, visiting). 

 Matchmaking was usually carried out in the evening; horses were adorned with ribbons and bells were tied to a bow. The behavior of the main characters got increasingly ritualistic, matchmakers stepped over the threshold only with their right foot, they sat on a bench alongside floorboards, and they spoke in parables using hunting or trade vocabulary.

After the matchmaking the bride’s behavior changed drastically. She rarely left her home and tried to move quietly and unnoticeably in house. She communicated with help of wailings, gestures and carefully observed food prohibitions. Changes also concerned the bride’s appearance: she put on unprepossessing clothes, a shirt with long sleeves and covered her face with a kerchief, which symbolized her symbolic death.  In accordance with the logic of the rite, one should get rid of the entire previous, the maiden one in order to become a man’s wife. Girl should die ritually for her new life as a woman with new name, new hairdo, new clothes, new family in new house and new environment.  This motif in great measure determined particular dramatics of the Russian wedding. These changes in behavior weren’t so relevant for a groom.

The cycle of the rites before the crowning included: the marriage agreement − rukobt’e (also zaruchiny, propoi) and the hen party− devichnik, plakanye, where exchange of gifts and refreshments took place. The most important symbol of these rites was the maiden beauty (volya) to which the bride said   farewell on the eve of crowning at the hen party. The hen party  was a complex of ritual acts  including unbraiding the bride’s braid, the bride’s bathing in bath as well as making and elimination or transmission to a friend of the “beauty – the symbol of maidenhood incarnated in a braid, a tow, a small tree, a wreath or a band.  

The crowning and the wedding banquet

The culmination of wedding was the crowning which was carried out in on the next day after the hen party. The church crowning gave marriage the legal force.

In church the groom and the bride sled in different sledges: the groomsman druzhka rode in front, the groom with the tysyatsky followed him, then the bride with her godmother and further the rest of the wedding train people.  The crowning was accompanied with exchange of rings, reciting of prayers, blessings and putting crowns on the heads of the bride and groom which was interpreted as the imposition of the God’s glory.

The wedding banquet which followed the crowning was a form of official recognition and approval of marriage. In the northern and central Russia banquet was held on in the house of groom immediately after the crowning, in the south - first the authorizing rites were carried out in the house of bride and only after that wedding festivities were moved to the house of groom. The newlyweds were brought to the table and set on the benches covered with fur coats so that “the life will be rich”. As a rule the newlyweds ate nothing at the table, guests sang songs and praised the newlyweds.

The First Wedding Night and Otvodiny

One of the most important wedding rites symbolizing transition of groom and bride into new social age group was the wedding night. The transitional character of rite determined strict constraint of behavior of the newlyweds and their entourage.  The place of the wedding bed was a cold room, a basement, a porch, a closet, a bath, a barn, a stable or a summer construction. It is characterized by the “liminality” of location (neither house nor street) and reflects the specifics of the newlyweds’ condition; they are husband and wife, but their wedding night is still ahead.   

The bed brought to the house of groom together with dowry was made by the bride’s mother-in-law, sister-in-law or matchmaker – “the bed matchmaker”.  The plants possessing the fertility semantics like rye sheaves, straw, oat and hop were placed under the bed. In order to protect the newlyweds against the evil eye the people circled the bed with a  rowan branch, an oven fork, a poker, a frying pan were placed under the bed and a whip was put under the bed headboard. During the wedding banquet the newlyweds were brought to bed. In different provinces it was done by women, groomsman or groom’s godmother. In the Russian North it was accompanied by sweeping the road with a brush and the groomsman stroke the door and the bed with a whip.  Everywhere the rite of bed’s warming was performed when the wedding bed was occupied by a sister-in-law, a brother-in-law of bride or groom, a happy pair of newlyweds, a groomsman or girls to whom a ransom should be paid   with a towel, ribbons, vodka or money. 

The wedding night determined the character of   the newlyweds’ relations in future In this case every gesture or uttered word acquired magic power.

For example, before going to bed the bride should take off the boots of the groom recognizing his headship in the family. She received money hidden in a boot for this service. Sometimes husband also should take the bride’s shoes off for money. At first the matchmaker and the groomsman undressed the groom and then the bride and brought them to bed wishing good health.  They noticed who would take offer the boots first or go to bed first or who would get up first, this person would rule the family. Sometimes the bride placed her earrings on a pillow and asked the groom to bring them to the table if he would do what she asked the wife would head the family.

The groomsman, the matchmaker or the mother-in-law usually woke the newlyweds up by making noise; they rattled frying pans, shouted, rang a bell, broke pots with peas or money pronouncing good wishes: “As many pieces as many sons”

Checking of the bride’s virginity was important moment; people examined the bedding and the bride’s shirt, asked the groom: “Did you break ice or trample on dirt?” They observed the groom’s behavior at the table. If he touched the bottom of glass with fork or drank red vine it meant that the bride was a virgin; otherwise the groom broke the glass or asked white vine.

After the wedding night the purifying rites followed: the wedding bath was prepared for the newlyweds or they were just showered with water.  These rites were oriented to return of the newlyweds to life, their incorporation into new social structure.  The end of wedding as a particular state for its participants was marked by otvodiny – joint visit of the newlyweds to their parents and mutual treats.

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