Wedding traditions in Russia
Every culture has an abundance of wedding traditions – Russia is no exception. Despite ever increasing number of Russian couples opting for a more ‘westrernized’ wedding, many do still observe some of the traditions.
Paying a “ransom” («выкуп»)
Traditionally, the wedding day in Russia begins with a groom arriving at his bride’s parents’ house, where he has to pay a “ransom” in order to “free” his “kidnapped” wife-to-be. The whole idea may sound strange to the foreigners, but it is usually a very fun part of the day. Family and friends of the bride would hide her in a room or a far corner of the house, and place various “obstacles” in groom’s way. A traditional “ransom” would usually be a bottle a champagne, a box of chocolate or some cash. Once the family of the bride is satisfied with a ransom and groom has “freed” his bride, the couple along with the guests make their way to the ceremony.
The ceremony and karavai («Каравай»)
The civil ceremony and the exchange of rings usually take place in the registry office (in Russia such office is called “ZAGS”). Nowadays though, for an extra fee, couple can have a ceremony at the venue of their choice. As the newlyweds leave the ceremony, their parents and friends throw the seeds of grain, candies and coins in the air above the couple for their happiness and prosperity.
Furthermore, straight after the ceremony or at the beginning of a reception, parents of the bride and groom present the newlywed couple with karavai and salt. Karavai is a loaf of bread in a round shape, decorated with various ornaments made out of dough, and it symbolyses prosperity, happiness and luck. The newlyweds should take a bite of karavai in turn, while their parents say the words of blessing to a newborn family. It is believed that the spouse who has bitten the larger piece off, will be a head of the family. Then karavai is cut and shared amongst all the guests.
Following the ceremony and karavai custom, the guests make their way to the reception, first stopping at various historical sites and local memorials to make photos. Usually the newlyweds travel around the city in limousine, which is decorated with two big rings attached to its front – a symbol of fidelity and inseparability of the couple. Sometimes they are joined in the car by their svideteli (Maid of Honour and Best Man). Meanwhile their guests follow them in their cars that are also decorated with ribbons and flowers.
Reception: tamada (Тамада) and “Gorko!” («Горько!»)
Traditionally, the wedding celebration is led by a master of ceremonies – in Russia he is called tamada («Тамада»). It could be either a close friend or a professional. The main purpose of tamada is to run various wedding competitions and announce the order of toasts. Once the couple has arrived to the venue of their reception, they are greeted by all the guests and tamada raises the toast to the newlyweds («За молодых!»). After the first sip the guests start to shout “Gorko, gorko, gorko!”(gorko means bitter), protesting that their drinks are bitter. At this point the couple must kiss to take out the bitter taste of the guests’ wine and vodka. But if the newlyweds don’t kiss long enough, the guests can shout that the drinks are still bitter and demand a longer kiss. As the night continues the guests continue to make toasts, eat, drink, dance and play games.
So, if you ever get an invite to a Russian wedding, do accept it. You will get a chance to experience these traditions yourself.