Unformatted text preview: 4/3/2016 Welcome to Ukraine Select magazine number 21:49 3rd April 2016 Rituals and traditions of the
Ukrainian wedding Wedding in the Ukrainian countryside used
to be — and to a large extent still is — an event
that involved the whole village in which it took
place, and lasted for days on end. The
traditional marriage rites, the rituals of the
wedding ceremony and of the wedding party
were strictly observed. In recent years, some of
the ancient wedding traditions have begun to
be coming back. Old site version I’ve got a noble daughter
Who is like a gem of clear water.
In marriage seek her hand,
And your happiness will never end.
From a Ukrainian folk song It is assumed by anthropologists that marriage is one of the
earliest social institutions and rites of marriage are observed in
every historically known society. These rites vary from
extremes of elaboration to utmost simplicity, and they may be
secular events or religious ceremonies. Marriage is a legally
and socially sanctioned union, usually between a man and a
woman that is regulated by laws, rules, customs, beliefs, and
1/10 4/3/2016 Welcome to Ukraine attitudes that prescribe the rights and duties of the partners,
and gives status to their offspring. Through the ages marriages
have taken a great number of forms.
The rituals and ceremonies surrounding marriage in most
cultures are associated primarily with fecundity and validate
the importance of marriage for the continuation of a clan,
people, or society. They also assert a familial or communal
sanction of the mutual choice and an understanding of the
difficulties and sacrifices involved in making what is
considered, in most cases, to be a lifelong commitment to and
responsibility for the welfare of spouse and children.
Marriage ceremonies include symbolic rites, often
sanctified by a religious order, which are thought to confer
good fortune on the couple. Because economic considerations
play an essential role in the success of child rearing, the
offering of gifts, both real and symbolic, to the married couple is
a significant part of the marriage ritual.
Fertility rites intended to ensure a fruitful marriage exist in
some form in all ceremonies. Some of the oldest rituals still to
be found in contemporary ceremonies include the prominent
display of fruit or of cereal grains that may be sprinkled over
the couple or on their nuptial bed, the accompaniment of a
small child with the bride, and the breaking of an object or food
to ensure a successful consummation of the marriage and an
The most universal ritual is one that symbolizes a sacred
union. This may be expressed by the joining of hands, an
exchange of rings or chains, or the tying of garments. However,
all the elements in marriage rituals vary greatly among different
societies, and components such as time, place, and the social
importance of the event are fixed by tradition and habit.
From its beginning, Christianity has emphasized the
spiritual nature and indissolubility of marriage. Some Christian
churches count marriage as one of the sacraments, and other
Christians confirm the sanctity of marriage but do not identify it
as a sacrament. Since the Middle Ages, Christian weddings
have taken place before a priest or minister, and the ceremony
involves the exchange of vows, readings from Scripture, and a
Ukrainian traditional marriage rites fit the general picture of
what marriage rituals are about, but at the same time, there are
things which differ them from such rites observed by other
peoples and nations. Marriage arrangements in Ukraine
Until the late 20th century, marriage was rarely a matter of
free choice. However, we shall not deal with the issue of love
between spouses, which in more recent times came to be
associated with marriage — it is a separate and vast subject to
discuss. What follows is a description of the ageold Ukrainian
marriage rites and wedding rituals. As a general observation,
one can say that in most cases romantic love was not the
primary motive for matrimony in the past, and one’s marriage
partner was usually carefully chosen.
It was believed that a marriage would be happy if certain
rituals were carefully observed at all the stages of courting, at
the wedding ceremony and at the wedding reception by the
betrothed and their kin. Some of these rituals, or probably most
of them, including songs and dances, must have had their
origin in the very distant preChristian past.
The Ukrainian word for “wedding” is “vesillya”; the root of
the word, “vesil” suggests something “vesele”, that is “joyous.”
The traditional wedding ceremony, which with the advent of
Christianity began to include the ceremony performed in
church, was a sort of a folk performance with many participants
each of whom played their roles prescribed by tradition. Some
of the wedding rituals, songs and dances also had some
symbolic meaning; others were of a “magical” nature,
performed to assure fertility, luck and happiness.
Prof. Fedir Vovk, a prominent Ukrainian ethnologist, wrote
in one of his papers in 1895, “Here is a fact which may surprise
European readers, but which helps better understand to what
extent rituals are important in Ukraine — the religious blessing
2/10 4/3/2016 Welcome to Ukraine given to a marriage is not considered enough for the
newlyweds to consummate their marriage and start their
married life. The newlyweds have to perform all the rituals that
tradition demands to be performed in order to be considered to
be truly married.”
The Ukrainian ethnographer T. Osadchy wrote in his book
Shlyubny uhody u malorosiyan (Marriage Agreements of the
Ukrainians), “Marriage is strengthened to become a rocksolid
union not by purely practical interests but by a close spiritual
bond which is deeply rooted in the Ukrainian human nature
that is lavishly endowed with an ability to love.”
Marriage rituals and traditions, and attitudes within the
wedlock, and attitudes to those people who become related by
marriage began to be formed at some early stages of the
development of the institution of marriage of the Ukrainian
nation. One of the early medieval chronicles states, for
example, that “The Polyany (one of the protoUkrainian tribes)
were of a benevolent disposition and adhered to the habits
and traditions of their ancestors; they greatly respected their in
laws and their kin.”
Christianity was adopted in Kyivan RusUkraine at the end
of the ninth century but it took centuries before the church
wedding was firmly established.
In contrast to the traditions of many other peoples and
nations, in Ukraine it was not so much the father of the girl, who
wanted to get married, who had the last word in finalizing the
marriage decision, but the girl herself and her fiance. Also, not
only young men had the right to “svatatysya”, that is to court
and propose marriage, but unmarried girls as well. Foreign
travelers and observers were much surprised to discover such
customs in Ukraine. One of them, Guillaume L. Beauplane, a
French engineer and cartographer, wrote in the first half of the
seventeenth century: “What I am going to describe may seem
very unusual or even incredible to many — in Ukraine, unlike it
is with all the other peoples, it is not the young men who
propose marriage, but the girls who propose their hand in
marriage to the young men, and it is a rare occasion that their
suit is not successful.”
Girls would go the house of the parents of the young men
they wanted to marry and would insist that marriage be
arranged there and then, adding that they would not leave the
house until their demands were met. Betrothal rituals
When it was a young man who did the proposing, the first
thing he was supposed to do was to find a respected person
who knew well all the rituals. This man, svat in Ukrainian, was
sent to talk to the prospective bride’s parents (this mission was
called svatannya). The chief svat usually had other svats to
accompany him. Properly dressed (their dress proclaimed their
purpose), the svat delegation would begin their “performance”
from the moment they arrived at the door of their destination.
Their mission was variously described as “a hunt” or “trade” in
which they were the merchants asking for the “goods” — that is
the girl. At the time when the svats were declaring their
purpose, the girl was supposed to be standing by the pich (a
combination of a cooking stove and a heating installation) and
silently addressing the ancestors with a request to bless her
If she accepted the proposal, she would give the svats long
embroidered towels which they would put over their shoulders
and chests as sashes. If she turned the proposal down, the girl
would present the svats with a pumpkin (hence the Ukrainian
idiom — daty harbuza which literally means: “to give
somebody a pumpkin” and metaphorically — to refuse to do
If the first stage of the svatannya was successful, the
second stage, ohlyadyny (“inspection”) began. The bride’s
parents went to the bridegroom’s house to have a good look
around and ascertain that he could support his wife. If the
bride’s parents were satisfied with what they saw, the third
stage, zaruchyny (“betrothal”) was declared. The bridegroom’s
parents went to the bride’s parents’ place, and in the presence
3/10 4/3/2016 Welcome to Ukraine of their parents, the bride and bridegroom announced their
intention to get married. Usually, at such meetings, the village
elder was present and he would wind an embroidered towel
around the betrothed hands. The parents then blessed their
children, and presents were exchanged. If any of the parties
involved declared some time after the zaruchyny that they
refused to go ahead with the marriage, they would have to pay
a fine “for causing an offense.”
Usually two weeks elapsed between the zaruchyny and the
vesillya (wedding). The bride was supposed to make a wreath
of flowers and colorful ribbons and whenever she appeared in
public, she had to wear such a wreath.
The preferred day of the week for weddings was Sunday.
On Friday, the korovay (big loaf of bread) to be given to the
newlyweds at the wedding ceremony was baked, as well as
other ritual biscuits and cakes. The whole process of korovay
making was accompanied by singing of songs appropriate for
the occasion. In the Land of Halychyna, a figurine of baran
(ram) made of bread was presented to the newlyweds. This
baran was a symbolic substitute of a real animal that used to
be sacrificed at weddings in the pagan times. In the
Carpathians, instead of the baran, two geese made of bread
The korovay presentation ceremony was performed by
women who were of cheerful disposition and happy in
marriage; no unmarried girls or widows were allowed to take
part in the presentation.
Also on Friday, the vesilne hiltse — “wedding ritual tree” —
was decorated in the bride’s house. It was a sapling or a big
branch that the bridegroom had to cut and bring to his
fiancee’s house. This tree symbolized the Tree of Life, and was
decorated by the bride’s parents or the next of kin, or girls,
friends of the bride, with multicolored ribbons and red berries.
At the hen party on Friday night before the wedding, the
girls present at the party were wearing wreaths made of
periwinkle or myrtle which symbolized virginity and purity.
Songs were sung; the bride loosened her braids (if she had an
elder brother, it was he who did the unbraiding) as a gesture of
farewell to her unmarried life. During the ritual called posad,
which was performed that night, the bride was led to the
chervony (“beautiful”) corner in the biggest room of the house
where the icons were displayed and where she paid symbolic
homage to her ancestors.
On Saturday, the bride with her friends and the bridegroom
with his friends went separately around the village with bread
inviting people to come to their wedding, and saying “My
mother, and my father and I, too, ask you to come to my
wedding tomorrow!” Wedding day
On Sunday, the molody (bridegroom; literally — the young
one) was to go to his bride’s house whence they would go to
church. The bridegroom’s mother walked him to the gate of
their household, blessing him and throwing grain or small
coins over him.
At one point on the way to the bride’s house, the
bridegroom’s progress was barred and “ransom” for the bride
was demanded by a group of the bride’s friends. The
bridegroom had to give out presents, food and drink, or money,
and then he would be let through. This ritual was called
“pereyma” — “interception.”
When he arrived at the bride’s place, the bridegroom was
supposed to take her in his arms and carry her some distance
from the house to the waiting carriage or wagon. The wedding
train consisted of many horsedrawn wagons and other similar
vehicles which were decorated with flowers, ribbons and rugs.
In one of the wagons was carried the vesilne hiltse — the Tree
of Life which also symbolized the continuity of generations (a
sort of “genealogical tree”). Traditions of arranging the
wedding trains varied from region to region. In the
Carpathians, for example, the participants, including the
molodi (the betrotheds; literally — “the young ones”) rode on
horseback rather than in wagons. The procession looked
4/10 4/3/2016 Welcome to Ukraine noble and impressive, and the bride and the bridegroom were
referred to as “knyaz” — “Duke,” and “knyahynya” —
“Duchess.” The bride carried a dyven — bread roll in the shape
of a wheel, or rather a tire, through which she would
ceremoniously look in the four directions of the world and see
what the future held for her with her husbandtobe. The
bridegroom carried figurines of an ox and a plow made of
bread which symbolized husbandry and the work he would be
After the wedding ceremony in church, the couple
proceeded to the bride’s place where a huge wedding
reception was held. Rituals of the wedding party varied in
different parts of Ukraine, but usually, the newlyweds would go
around the korovay (wedding bread) three times and then sit
on a bench covered with a sheep skin coat, the fur outside — it
was a symbol of prosperity. Then the newlyweds were given
bread and healthy and goodlooking children to hold in their
arms — for good luck in having healthy children.
Dances, in which all the guests were involved, were part of
the wedding celebrations; mostly, people danced not in pairs
but all together in a circle.
There were hundreds of different songs sung at the
wedding parties, most of which consisted of good wishes for a
long happy life of the newlyweds, of thanks to the parents, of
asking God to grant a happy destiny to the newlyweds, of
expressions of sorrow of the parents parting with their children.
Some of the things were of quite a bawdry nature, or teasing.
Closer to the evening, the wedding wreath was removed
from the bride’s head and a headscarf was put on instead. This
ritual, called “pokryvannya” — “covering”, symbolized the
bride’s transition from girlhood to the status of a married
woman. The karavay, which was of a very big size, was then
cut into small pieces and everybody present at the
pokryvannya ceremony was given a piece, the newlyweds
The newlyweds were to spend their first night together in a
komora — a storeroom or storehouse. As they were not
supposed to eat or drink anything during the wedding party,
the newlyweds were given a baked chicken and a bowl of
honey to eat.
The young wife’s nightgown with bloodspots was displayed
the next morning as evidence of losing her virginity during the
night. The absence of such evidence would bring shame not
only on the young woman but on her parents as well.
Wedding celebrations continued for a week or more, with
customs and rituals differing from region to region, but in spite
of the local differences, the general pattern remained more or
less the same. In recent years, the birthrates have been falling in Ukraine
and the government introduced some measures to remedy the
situation. Women, for example, began to be paid considerable
bonuses at the birth of a child.
The number of people who would like to have their
wedding arranged in accordance with the ageold customs
and traditions is growing and they want to do it in the right way
but do not know how. The AllUkraine festival Rozhanytsya,
which was established some time ago by the joint efforts of the
Ethnographic Folk Theater Choven, the local authority of the
village of Bobrytsya and of the Muzey Ivana Honchara
Ukrainian Folk Culture Center, is called upon to spread
information about the authentic marriage rites and wedding
rituals (Rozhanytsya is an ancient goddess of fecundity;
representations of this ancient goddess can be found on
traditional embroidered towels and woven rugs).
The Festival, which was a colorful and joyous event with
most of the participants wearing traditional Ukrainian dresses
and actively participating in all the events of the festival, proved
to be an unqualified success. It also showed a growing interest
in the customs and traditions of the Ukrainian past — the
cultural continuity, which was severely disrupted during the
soviet times, is being reestablished. 5/10 4/3/2016 Welcome to Ukraine Based on an essay by Tetyana POSHYVAYLO Embroidered rushnyk Chernytsky.
Chyhyryn, Cherkasy Oblast, early 19th century.
Ukrainian Folk Culture Center Muzey Ivana Honchara. Bride Shower by Vladimir Makovsky.
Oil on canvas, 121,5 x 189 cm. 1882. 6/10 4/3/2016 Welcome to Ukraine Knyaz i knyahynya — a couple of newlyweds.
The village of Kosmach, the Land of Ivano
Frankivshchyna, 1920s. Photo from the historical
and ethnographic album, Ukrayina i Ukrayintsi,
published by Ivan Honchar. Ukrainian wedding. The village of Kosmach,
the Land of IvanoFrankivshchyna. May 2007. Newlyweds with guests and the priest.
The village of Kosmach, the Land of
IvanoFrankivshchyna. May 2007. 7/10 4/3/2016 Welcome to Ukraine A wedding ritual zavyvannya hiltsya as performed
by Roksolaniya folk song and dance group
at the press conference given at the opening
of the Rozhenytsya Festival.
Ukrainian Folk Culture Center Muzey Ivana Honchara.
October 2007. Korovay, a traditional loaf of bread to be
presented to the newlyweds. The villag
of Kosmach, the Land of IvanoFrankivshchyna. Oleksiy Voskobiynyk and Polina Bereza getting
married. The village Bohushkova Sloboda, 1918. 8/10 4/3/2016 Welcome to Ukraine
Photo from the historical and ethnographic album,
Ukrayina i Ukrayintsi, published by Ivan Honchar. Wedding, the village of Banyliv, Bukovyna, 1932.
Photo from the historical and ethnographic album,
Ukrayina i Ukrayintsi, published by Ivan Honchar. Embroidered rushnyk.
Sumy Oblast, end of the 19th century.
Ukrainian Folk Culture Center Muzey Ivana Honchara. 9/10 4/3/2016 Welcome to Ukraine Two Doves, a folk painting.
First half of the 20th century.
Ukrainian Folk Culture Center Muzey Ivana Honchara. [Prev][Contents][Next] создание сайта © 2002 2014 10/10 ...
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