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Russian Wedding Traditions

If you' re lucky enough to be engaged to a lovely Russian lady, you may want to acquaint yourself with some of Russia' s typical wedding traditions. Courtship in Russia usually begins in the late teens, as becoming a treasured wife and beloved mother are two very important objectives for the average Russian girl.

Russians have no formal engagement ceremony. A man will ask a lady to marry him, she will agree, and generally there are no engagement rings, no bent knees, and many families are not even notified right away.

Wedding plans are quite simple compared to American standards. Russia does not recognize church weddings to be official, so each couple must register with ZAGS, the body of local government that officiates marriage, divorce, births, deaths, etc. The couple will plan their wedding to occur in the following 1 - 3 months, and will choose either a church ceremony or a civil ceremony at a so-called “Wedding Palace.” The latter is known as a “Citizens' Marriage.”

In a traditional Russian Orthodox wedding, the couple is crowned “Royal Couple of the Day.” The priest blesses the rings. After exchanging the rings, the bride and groom will be given lighted candles signaling the couple's spiritual willingness to receive God' s blessing. They join right hands to symbolize “oneness” as the priest leads everyone in prayer. Now the couple will be “crowned” by the priest who will hold elaborate crowns over their heads, signifying the martyrdom of Christ, and the immeasurable self-sacrifice required on both sides for a successful marriage. A common cup of wine will be given to the couple to drink, symbolizing the sharing of joys and burdens, and finally a blessing is bestowed upon the newlyweds and all those who attend .

In previous centuries, wedding guests used to attempt to drive away unclean spirits from the ceremony by firing a gun during the couple' s blessing. Other methods of scaring away evil spirits included hammering nails into the church walls, and the cracking of a whip by the best man. Sometimes guests and relatives would mention the bride and groom by name for several days so as to lead spirits astray.

In the modern Russian civil ceremony, each couple is greeted with bread and salt to symbolize fertility and success. Later at the reception, each may take a bite from the bread or wedding cake, and the one who takes the biggest bite may be the leader of the family household.

The groom will have to undergo a few challenges on the way to the alter to prove his determination to marry his beloved bride-to-be. For example, on his way to retrieve his bride for the ceremony he may be prevented from fetching her until he answers a series of questions or puzzles. He might be given a piece of paper with kisses on it, and be required to identify which lips were his bride-to-be' s before being allowed to move on to the next puzzle. Another popular wedding custom is for the bride' s friends to smuggle her away from the groom during the reception when he is preoccupied. They will hide her in an undisclosed location and make the groom find her, or pay a hefty ransom for her safe and timely return.

Wedding rings are placed on the ring finger of the right hand, and the groom still gets to kiss the bride. Russian weddings are usually a two-day affair, beginning with a church ceremony, continuing with a train of cars around the city while the couple visits memorials of people who died in WWII or the Russian Civil War, and other famous landmarks. The couple lays flowers at these sights, expressing appreciation for the sacrifices of those before them. After this 2-3 hour tour of the city, it' s time for the reception. The wedding reception will usually be held at a home or a restaurant, and may go on for several days depending on the amount of food, liquor and friends and family to share it with. During the reception, a close friend or relative will make a champagne toast to the new couple and, keeping with tradition, everyone will throw their glasses on the floor bringing good luck to the couple if the glasses break.

Some standard American wedding customs are only recently becoming popular in Russia, such as having a wedding cake, bridesmaid dresses and a release of doves to signify God' s blessing. The videotaping of ceremonies, receptions and first nights together is also catching on.

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