Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Wedding Traditions in Ukraine

Daria Klemick, an active participant in Ukrainian cultural activities, was born and raised in the greater New York area. Within Ukrainian culture, weddings hold great significance and are celebrated following many traditions and customs. While the wedding ceremonies have evolved, many traditional elements remain. While more outdated traditions, such as buying out the bride, have been heavily modified or removed from weddings, others have remained a part of weddings for their religious connections. These ever changing traditions are often difficult for those outside of the community to understand, but to those within, they are important aspects of their cultural identities. 

Blashoslovennya is the familial blessing prior to the arrival at the church. This involved both parties' parents meeting at the home of the bride-to-be. The prospective husband and wife kneel on a rushnyk, an embroidered ritual cloth, in front of the parents. The parents present icons of the Virgin Mary and Jesus wrapped in a rushnyk. Happiness, prosperity, and health is wished upon the couple. It is after the presentation of the korovai, the ritual wedding bread, that the two families are united. 

At the ceremony itself, Ukrainian is often spoken at Ukrainian-American churches. Giving away of the bride is not practiced in Ukrainian wedding ceremonies. Instead, as a show of equal partnership in life, the bride and groom enter the church together. Often, the majority of the ceremony is sung. The exception to this is the sermon itself. 

Prior to entering the church together, the betrothal takes place. Here, the priest joins the couple in the back of the church. It is now that the priest's blessing and exchanging of rings is done. As a representation of God leading the couple into holy matrimony, the priest guides the newly weds into the church by the hand. 

A rushnyk is placed before the alter and is where the couple stands. This is symbolic of prosperity and not having to face poverty by " standing on bare earthen floor". It is said that the person who steps on the rushnyk first is the head of the family. Traditionally, this is the man, but is it said that the wife is the neck of the family that turns the head. Elders, starosty, are chosen from each family to be witnesses to the marriage and leaders of the wedding processional. The starosty gift the couple figures of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ, which are prominently displayed in their home. This is symbolic of the spiritual center of the household.

Another prominent feature of Ukrainian weddings is the binding of the hands. An embroidered cloth is used to bind the hands of the bride and groom. This signifies the union of the marriage. The union is then led by the priest three times around the alter, representing the Holy Trinity, the journey of marriage, and that Christ leads this journey. This hold great significance as there are among the first steps the could take together. Following the trips around the alter, three sips from a silver goblet, again representing the Holy Trinity. The sharing of the cup is representative of the oneness of the union and equality through joy and hardships. 

Among the most identifiable aspects of an Ukrainian wedding is the crowning of the bride and groom. Members of the bridal party hold crowns above the heads of the bride and groom while they place their right hands on the gospel and exchange vows. This represents the newly weds being the king and queen ruling their family kingdom. 

The korovai, the traditional wedding bread of Ukraine, is another element that is found at nearly every Ukrainian wedding. This bread was historically baked by the women of the village and came to replace wedding cake. Today, most brides chose to have both the korovai and a cake. This bread is gifted to the bride accompanied by wedding advice by the women gifting the bread. The bread is covered in symbolic baked ornaments. Among those are two doves represent the couple, and pinecones to represent fertility. A derevo zhyttia, a tree of life, is placed at the center of the korovai as a symbol of life, love, hope, and building of a new nest. Purity and love is symbolized by a wreath of periwinkle that surrounds the entire korovai, and the assembly is placed in a prominent location at the reception on an embroidered tablecloth. 

While Ukrainian weddings have evolved through time, many traditional elements remain as prominent aspects that clearly identify any Ukrainian wedding. While many components were discussed here, much more goes into the planning and celebration of a Ukrainian wedding. Follow me for more posts and updates regarding the food, dance, and music that help make Ukrainian weddings memorable. 

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