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Understanding Ukrainian Wedding Traditions

A photo of a man and woman in traditional Ukrainian Clothing
Kiev PersonalsUkrainian wedding traditions blend the fun and creative and the traditional and orthodox.

Ukraine has a very rich and vibrant culture. Although modern wedding traditions around the world are what’s common nowadays, Ukraine still retains a majority of their Ukrainian wedding traditions.

Ukrainian women are proud of their heritage, which is why, in spite of the modernity of wedding practices all over the globe, they would always choose to follow the customs to which they find meaning in their cultural identities.

For some cultures across the world, their wedding traditions may be a little too far off to simply adjust to. It might be completely contrasting to what you’re used to seeing. For Ukrainian wedding traditions however, they lean on the cultural mores of the Ukrainian people in general. They are known to be very familial in nature, thus their wedding culture is a representation not just of the union of two souls, but of the union of two families.

From the outside looking in, Ukrainian cultural wedding traditions do seem similar to other western wedding customs. But little snippets of quirky and fun Ukrainian heritage are woven into the entire ceremony.

Wedding Dress

Before Soviet rule, the traditions were that brides would wear a traditional Ukrainain wedding dress which had intricate embroidery and Ukrainian wedding crowns to their marriage ceremonies. The traditional wedding dress would be colorful, vibrant with lots of patterns, embroidery, and ornaments. It would be complimented by a Ukrainian wedding crown which would be hand woven, like a wreath. Whereas, the men would wear similarly embroidered shirts with plain trousers to be married.

Today, wedding dress traditions are similar to that of North America. However, there will sometimes be touches of embroidery on the dress or veil. Some brides will wear a Ukrainian wedding crown made of flowers and a traditional embroidered cloth as well.

Paying the Ransom

This practice does sound a bit unorthodox especially to those who have never seen it. But it showcases the quirky side of the Ukrainian traditions.

Paying the ransom is essentially what it sounds like. The bride waits at her parents house together with the bridal entourage and her family to protect the bride. The groom the knocks on the front door and attempts to pay the ransom so he can go and finally be married to his bride.

The groom will offer something valuable like jewelry or money in exchange for the bride. The parents of the bride might send out a woman or even a man covered with a veil so the groom won’t recognize the face. Once the groom realizes it, he will go back and up the ante. At this point the bride is then given to the groom by her parents with their blessing.

A modern twist to this tradition is to ask the groom a series of questions about the bride. Every wrong answer increases the value of the ransom the groom is required to pay. There may be other challenges other than asking questions such as forms of physical activity. If the parents of the bride reject his payment, he will be given a pumpkin instead so that the groom will not leave empty handed.

Blahoslovennia

This is a ritual where parents bless the nuptials of the young couple. It usually takes place shortly before the wedding ceremony. The bride and bridegroom perform this ritual at their own homes with their parents and grandparents.

When the bridegroom arrives as the bride's house, after he has paid ransom for his bride, the bride and bridegroom perform this ritual together, in front of both of their parents.

In the combined blessing ceremony, the elder (starosta) first asks the couple's parents to sit on benches. Once seated, a long embroidered cloth, rushnyk is placed on their lap, and everyone is given a loaf of wedding bread. 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; maybe 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 "Bih sviatky" (May Holy God forgive and bless you) three times. The couple then bows to their parents and kisses their faces, hands, and feet. This blessing is performed three times. This ritual symbolizes forgiveness for any sins, and a blessing of the marriage from the parents.

The Binding of the Hands

During the ceremony, the hands of the bride and groom are joined together with an embroidered cloth, (rushnyk) to signify their union. The priest then leads the bound couple around the tetrapod (small altar) 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. These are the first steps the young couple takes as husband and wife.

Stepping on the Rushnyk

At almost every krainian wedding ceremony will see the couple step on the rushyk before they take their vows. Traditionally, the person that steps on the rushnyk first will wear the pants in the family, so to say, and have the final say throughout the marriage. Sometimes, the groom lets the bride step on the rushnyk first, a gesture that is both respectful and endearing during the marriage ceremony.

The Korovai

The korovai is an intricately woven traditional wedding bread that is steeped in symbolism. This Ukrainian wedding bread took the place of a wedding cake, however modern brides often choose to have both. In the olden days, it was baked by all the village women as an expression of support for the newlyweds. The women would sing wedding songs and share their marriage advice to the newly married couple.

Ukrainian Wedding Ring Finger

In the western cultures, we’re used to seeing the bride wear her wedding ring on her right hand, however, Ukrainian brides usually wear their wedding rings on their right hand.

She will wear her wedding ring on her right hand until her husband dies before her. In that case she will switch to her left hand indicating that she is now a widow. Ukrainian wedding traditions can sometimes extend past the wedding into the marriage.

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