The Ukrainian Wedding is one of the most symbolic celebrations of Ukrainian culture. Centuries of Ukrainian culture bind various wedding traditions and rituals together evolving into complex and beautiful marriage ceremony. Today many Ukrainians choose to incorporate a variety of customs as well as delicious traditional foods into their celebration.
The day of the wedding traditionally starts with Blahoslovennya (Blessing). A few hours before the couple leaves for the church, the bride and the groom join both sets of parents at the home of the bride’s parents for the Blahoslovennya or «blessing». The young couple kneels on an embroidered ritual towel (rushnyk, in Ukrainian) in front of their parents. Usually the starosty (the oldest relatives from the groom’s family) hold the icons of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary, which are draped with embroidered towels. The parents bless their children, wishing them a joyous, prosperous and healthy life together. The parents hold the korovai, the ritual wedding bread. It is here that the two families officially become one for the first time.
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Unlike most western marriage ceremonies, in the Ukrainian tradition the father of the bride does not "give away" the bride. Historically, equality and teamwork has been a century-old tradition. The Ukrainian bride and groom enter the church together arm-in-arm as willing and equal partners.
During the Betrothal the priest meets the young couple at the rear of the church and the ceremony begins. Before entering, the bride and groom affirm to the priest that they are both entering into this union of their own free will. The priest then blesses the wedding bands and places them on the fingers of the bride and groom. At this point, the priest takes both their hands and leads them to the altar symbolizing that God is leading them into matrimony.
A Ukrainian embroidered towel is spread before the altar on which the couple will stand. The use of the rushnyk symbolizes the hope that the newlyweds will never face poverty or "stand on a bare earthen floor". After the ceremony the couple will use the wedding rushnyk where it is often displayed around an icon or used for the couple's first Easter basket (an elaborate affair in Ukrainian tradition). This embroidered towel will be the symbol of their family for the rest of their lives.
Tradition dictates that whomever steps on the towel first will be the head of the family. Of course, Ukrainian folk wisdom declares that the man is always the head of the family but it is the woman that is the neck that turns the head. During the ceremony the hands of the bride and groom are joined together with an embroidered rushnyk to signify their union.
The newly married couple walks out of the church into the world as husband and wife to the choir and assembly all singing «Mnohaya Lita» («Many Happy Years»). This will be sung throughout the reception, as well.
Ukrainian wedding receptions begin with a ceremony welcoming the bride and groom into the community at the entrance of the reception hall. The bridal party has been announced and is seated. The parents and starosty meet the newlyweds at the door with a tray of symbolic gifts: bread, salt, honey and wine. Bread represents nature’s bounty, salt is a necessity of life, honey-the sweetness of life and wine symbolize prosperity.
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Understanding Ukrainian wedding events can be difficult, especially if you don't speak the language. Foreign guests at Ukrainian weddings will be surely awed by the beauty and authenticity of the traditions and rituals.
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