With 145 million citizens and more than 200 distinct ethnic groups that combine elements of European, Western and Asian traditions, Russia is the biggest country in the world. Russia’s long history has affected many unique customs in this huge and culturally varied nation.
However, there are certain similarities among Russian weddings. Russian weddings are cheerful, humorous and whimsical compared to other nations with somber customs. They often incorporate a range of games and practical jokes. They provide a chance for lavish splendor and welcoming warmth. Weddings in Russia strongly focus on the finer points, entertainment and food.
A Brief History of Russian Wedding Traditions
Russian wedding customs are an intriguing fusion of enduring religious traditions, early 20th-century Soviet traditions and contemporary preferences. When Russia accepted the faith at the beginning of the previous millennium, many Russian Orthodox Christian wedding traditions were already in place.
The Soviet state established “The Red Wedding,” a secular celebration with no religious overtones, at the beginning of the 20th century, which transformed this. These weddings had no guests, no décor and were more of a governmental contract with just the bride and the groom in attendance.
Russian weddings today are more in line with Western norms, yet they frequently still incorporate certain traditional elements. For instance, brides in Russia wore red until the 1960s as a customary color. Now, practically everyone dresses in white.
Russian Pre-Wedding Traditions
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Several Days of Celebration
Russian weddings were often multi-day affairs. Today, many couples are arranging two festivities, which has given them a more contemporary edge. They will first exchange vows in a civil ceremony at the city hall in their neighborhood, then a few days later, a large celebration will take place in a stunning location outside the city. Some couples also opt for a church wedding ceremony.
The family members of the bride and bridesmaids “kidnapping” her and detaining her for “ransom” is a humorous (if rather old-fashioned) ritual. Several chores are required of the groom to demonstrate his devotion (and embarrass him slightly). To get his wife, he must ultimately pay the ransom, which may be a box of chocolates, a bottle of champagne or some other reward.
Russian Wedding Dresses
The Couple’s Attire
Russian brides used to wear red, a joyful and celebratory color reserved for weddings, rather than white. The bride wore a sarafan, a sleeveless vest with shoulder straps, over a blouse and accessorized with a tiara made of spherical beads and gold thread. Nowadays, most Russian women choose a white wedding gown and veil. The bride’s appearance is given a great deal of money since it is very significant. Similarly, most grooms wear a tux or suit.
Russian wedding guests typically dress more traditionally. Pretty clothes, hairdos, accessories, manicured nails and formal shoes are all highly significant. Modest dress is strongly advised for Russian weddings held in churches. Women often wear scarves to cover their heads, and knee-length dresses or skirts are favored (but not demanded).
Russian Wedding Rings
In every traditional Russian wedding, the rings get interchanged during the betrothal part of the ceremony, while the garlands are placed on the couple’s heads during the wedding part.
The bridal garland signifies innocence and purity. However, in northern parts of Russia, weddings were usually seen as a happy and sad occasion. The reason is that the bride ends her old life with her parents (sad part) and begins a new life with her husband (happy part). So, garlands play a vital role in Russian weddings.
Traditionally, the wedding rings were often made of silver for the bride and gold for the groom. But currently, in modern Russia, wedding rings are usually gold.
In addition, it is a tradition that the wedding rings are worn on the ring finger of the right hand. On the other hand, widows and widowers wear their wedding rings on the left ring finger.
The Russian Wedding Ceremonies
Russian marriages often occur in one of three locations: a church, a venue or the municipal hall. Like other weddings, Russian-American marriages occur in a venue or a church. The following describes each kind of wedding.
Numerous Russians opt to get married in a civil ceremony in their neighborhood city hall, either by themselves or with a select number of guests. This ceremony adheres to a predetermined template that cannot be altered, and it contains the well-known “Wedding March” by Felix Mandelssohn. Following the wedding, the couple usually gathers with friends and family for a celebratory supper at a different location or restaurant.
The second method of holding ceremonies is at stunning locations, frequently surrounded by a magnificent landscape. These establishments provide private dining areas and beautiful outdoor settings for ceremonies.
The ceremony starts with guests taking their seats, followed by a processional to live classical music. The length of the ceremony might range from 20 minutes to an hour. Following the ceremony, the couple takes photographs all over the location as the guests enjoy cocktail hour.
The Betrothal Service
The first phase of the Orthodox ceremony is the betrothal, in which the couple becomes formally engaged, and the priest blesses their wedding bands. They are given lit candles to hold during the rest of the ceremony as a symbol of the light of God in their life and their readiness to accept him. Several prayers and biblical readings are also included in this portion of the service.
The Crowning Service
The pair get formally married during the crowning portion of the wedding ritual. The couple stands atop a piece of rose-colored fabric during this portion of the ritual to represent their entry into a new life. The priest bestows a crown on their heads as a sign that they will rule their own realm as king and queen.
These crowns were once worn for eight days after the wedding, but nowadays, when the union is publicized, couples take them off. The couple shares a communal cup of wine and then walk three times around the priest as he speaks, representing their journey into marriage.
In the past, it was legally required for a couple to have at least two witnesses, or svideteli, present when they got married in Russia. Even though it is no longer required, some couples still want to name two witnesses, who frequently double as the best man or maid of honor. They frequently wear a distinctive sash to set themselves apart from the other visitors.
Smashing Crystal Glasses
The custom of the couple breaking crystal glasses presented to them by their parents is commonplace and may be observed in civil, religious and secular wedding rituals. The idea is that the more fragments or shards they produce, the more happy years they will have together.
Russian Reception Traditions
Since there are so many regional and cultural variations, different locations may have different reception standards. For instance, guests may be invited to accompany the pair on a supper boat trip around the lovely canals and rivers of St. Petersburg. The most distinctive feature of Russian receptions, wherever they are held, is how fun they are.
Couples give a lot of thought to providing their guests with entertainment as well as plenty of food and beverages. Take part in the many games played during the evening, such as “find the bride,” in which the blindfolded groom must locate the bride amid a group of her friends, as well as plenty of drinking and dancing.
The Tour of the City
The tour of the city is an old-fashioned Soviet custom that is still practiced at certain more rural weddings. Following the ceremony, the couple would drive throughout the city, stopping at various sites with historical value to take pictures with their witnesses and maybe additional friends. The Western custom of the bride and groom, their families and the wedding party taking pictures while the guests enjoy a cocktail hour or other entertainment is a more contemporary option.
For example, any newly wedded couples who marry in f will often do some of the following activities:
- Go down to Senate Square to take photos with the Bronze Horseman statue, the eternal flame of the heroes of World War II, and the monument of Peter the Great.
- Some may visit Peter Vassilevsky Island to pet the 4000-year-old Egyptian statues and stone griffons to get good luck.
- The couples may also pose for photos with their hands inside the Rostrum Column to signify their new bond of marriage.
- They can also go to the New Hermitage Portico and rub the toes of the marble Atlantic statues to get good luck.
- The newly wedded couples can visit any other religiously meaningful structures for photos.
The Toasts & “Gorko!”
Expect to hear plenty of toasts throughout the evening since Russians take their toasts extremely seriously. They can get rather long. In addition to toasts, attendees will occasionally yell out “gorko!” which directly translates to “bitter,” meaning that the beverages they drink are bitter. This indicates they wish the couple to kiss.
The concept is that the kiss would eliminate the bitterness. The longer the kiss, the stronger the marriage. The guests, who must finish their drinks when the kiss is over, also enjoy this game together with the couple.
Most Russian wedding celebrations have a tamada, a host who acts as an emcee by providing instructions, jokes and games. This individual oversees the entire evening while letting guests relax and have fun.
Prediction of Baby’s Gender
To decide the gender of the couple’s future child, a glue stick, rings of blue and pink paper, and a large drawing of a baby wearing diapers and a bow are brought to the reception venue.
After that, the master of ceremonies will blindfold the bride and groom and invite them to tie rings onto the bow. However, at the end of this game, the child will be a boy if there are more blue pieces of paper on the bow. Then, if there are more pink ones, the child will be a girl.
Russian Traditional Wedding Food, Drinks and Desserts
Variety is crucial when it comes to food. Most Russian wedding feasts feature meat, vegetable and cheese trays, canapés with caviar and other delectable toppings, salads (including traditional Russian salads) and hot dishes for the main course, which may contain meat or fish.
Wedding Bread (Korovai)
The korovai, a circular wedding bread with deep symbolic value, is a long-standing Russian wedding ritual. This puffy, elegant bread was originally covered with many designs — pigeons, flowers, the sun and stars — which indicate varied best wishes for the marriage. It is a symbol of wealth, well-being and fertility. Since then, wedding cakes have taken the role of korovai, but many couples still prefer to include them.
Russian Post-Wedding Traditions
Cleaning the Floor
It is recommended that guests leave cash on the floor when they enter the reception and all night long. It is customary for the bride to take care of collecting the cash after the reception. At the end of a wedding, which seems to be one of the longest days of your life, it could feel like a burden, but the money is there to support the couple as they start their new life together.
Taking a Bite of Salty Bread
As the newlyweds depart from the celebration, there is one final custom: they each eat a slice of bread that has been generously salted. It is claimed that the head of the family will ultimately be whoever takes a larger chunk.
Russian Weddings: The Rules
Same-sex unions are not permitted in Russia. As previously indicated, civil unions occur at a registered office in Russia. You must be at the location on the wedding day with your witnesses 30 minutes before the ceremony to ensure that your paperwork is in order.
A marriage certificate and the location of a government office where you can obtain an apostille will be given to you after the ceremony. This ensures that your home country’s authorities will accept the document and serves as legal certification of it.
How to Survive a Russian Wedding: A Brief Guide for Guests
So you’ve been asked to a Russian wedding? Congratulations! A Russian wedding is typically a lovely occasion — until everything goes wrong. But you’ll make it through it without (too much) drama, particularly if you take our recommendations to heart and plan ahead.
1. You will most likely have to drink a lot
Just accept this and go on. It must happen. In Russia, drinking is very prevalent at weddings. Although protesting is pointless, you can at least get ready in advance. For instance, attempt to swallow a little piece of butter before the wedding. It is said that to remain as sober as possible when obliged to consume alcohol, KGB agents were instructed to drink in this manner.
2. You’ll have to sit through lots of unbelievably long toasts
The good news is that there is absolutely no need to pay close attention to what is being said. They all essentially come down to wishing the newlyweds joy, health and longevity in the end. The bad news is that some toasters choose to do it in a poem they have written themselves. The issue is that not every Russian is precisely like Pushkin, making it difficult to sit through all of these poetic toasts.
3. People around you will frequently shout ‘gorko!’ (meaning ‘bitter!’)
However, there is probably nothing wrong with the food, and the newlyweds are the target of this frenzied yelling rather than the cook, so don’t be alarmed. Russian custom holds that the guests’ bitter vodka will be made sweeter by the newlyweds’ sweet kisses. Nobody is sure if the vodka does, in fact, taste sweeter, but since more people drink as the celebration drags on, there must be a deeper significance to this.
4. The main protagonist at a Russian wedding is not the bride, the groom or their parents, but the toastmaster
The toastmaster is the one who determines when it is appropriate to eat, toast, dance, etc. He oversees the entire event, sort of like a director of a movie. Although it would be ideal if he ended up being as sardonic as Woody Allen, it is also completely plausible that he would be more like David Lynch.
In this situation, the event will never end, and the longer it lasts, the more enigmatic its significance becomes. Typically, the toastmaster is blamed for the dissatisfaction or boredom of the wedding guests in Russia. Drinking is the only thing that will help you get through it.
5. There will likely be lots of participatory games and competitions
Some of them include contests of strength and agility; for some reason, classic games like tug of war or sack races are well-liked. Some of the games’ meanings are completely enigmatic; for instance, in Red Light, and Green Light, fully-grown people must freeze in uncomfortable positions at the toastmaster’s direction.
This may not be as easy as it seems when considering how much vodka is drunk. Then, who said it would be simple? However, returning to the first point will make things simpler.
6. You may be asked for money
There is one other tradition that is far riskier during Russian weddings. The toastmaster will approach you carrying a hat or other large object and begin implying that you should put money in the hat if you want the newlyweds to have a successful union or want them to produce a girl or boy.
This might occur at any time. It is best to avoid putting a credit card in the hat and to remain vigilant while carrying a little cash. However, there is no need to become irritated over it. It might be better to see it as yet another wedding gift.
7. Put on Closed-Toe Shoes
At the wedding ceremony, keep your eyes peeled on pieces of smashed glass. This is because once the couple is made public as ‘married,’ the parents will hand the husband and wife a glass each. The newlyweds will then try to smash the glasses into as many little pieces as possible. Each broken piece represents a year they’ll spend as a happy couple
You have everything you need. Now get out there and have fun at that Russian wedding!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Below are questions people tend to ask.
How Long Does a Russian Wedding Celebration Last?
Russian wedding celebrations can last a few days or even a week, with several events happening in various locations.
What Are Traditional Russian Wedding Gifts?
In most cases, Russians give generously at weddings. The guests are expected to give generously, paying not only for their plate but also giving extra for the couple to start their lives together. In addition, you should bring some extra cash if the tamada calls on you.
Serena & Dominic are a married couple and parents to 3 wonderful children. They plan weddings, run multiple small businesses, and curate wedding events.
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