Traditional Russian Wedding

Russian wedding
  ©iStockphoto.com/Moncherie

Russian weddings are celebrated on a grand scale. The extent of celebration and thoroughness of preparation are only limited by the financial situation of the family. Some couples choose to adopt western traditions, including the priest, marriage vows, staged shows and special tents for guests. Famous performers may be invited and celebration scripts may be written by professional directors. However, such celebrations are more of an exception in modern Russia. The traditional Russian wedding is, on the contrary, affordable to most newlyweds.

Official registration and civil ceremony

In order to get married on a set date, couples should submit an advance application to the registry office. Known as ZAGS (загс), the registry office is the official body for marriage registration in Russia. The husband-and-wife-to-be will usually file an application several months in advance to allow some time to think over their decision. When the wedding day arrives, the young couple visits ZAGS to receive an official marriage certificate (свиде́тельство о бра́ке).

Apart from the official civil ceremony, couples who wish to get married in church will arrange a special meeting with the priest. It is important that the meeting with the priest does not collide with the period of religious fasting as weddings are not performed on those days.

Preparations for the wedding: Wedding dress and toastmaster

Bridal dress and groom's suit can be purchased or rented. Apparel and accessories--purse, veil, necklace and earrings for the bride, and tiara, tie clip and cufflinks for the groom--can be obtained in a special bridal salon. Many other issues are arranged in advance, including renting a vehicle (often a limo) for the newlyweds to travel around the city on a wedding day, hiring a restaurant where the celebration will take place, and choosing a photographer and cameraman who will shoot the wedding ceremony. It is also common to hire or invite a toastmaster (тамада́) to manage many aspects of the wedding. A toastmaster announces performances, gives the floor to guests who want to make a toast, and holds fun contests for guests and newlyweds.

The Wedding Ring - A Symbol of love and commitment

Russian wedding ring
A pair of wedding rings
Photo by Jeff Belmonte cc-sa 2.0

Just like in the Western world, it is a tradition in Russia for newlyweds to exchange wedding rings. Usually, the groom provides for the wedding rings, although that might vary depending on specific circumstances and material possibilities. The most popular wedding rings in Russia are made of gold and might be decorated with precious stones or platinum and silver stripes. The rings may be customized with commemorative inscriptions on the inside. In comtemporary Russia, the wedding ring is called обруча́льное кольцо́ or сва́дебное кольцо́. The distinction between these terms ceased to exist after 1755 when betrothal (обруче́ние) and crowning (венча́ние) became a part of the same wedding ceremony.

Russians traditionally wear the wedding ring on the ring finger of the right hand. Countries like Ukraine, Poland, Georgia, Germany, Spain, Austria, India and Greece have a similar tradition of wearing the wedding ring on the right hand.

The Engagement Ring

Russian engagement ring
Diamond engagement ring on a finger
Photo by Jim Harper cc-by-sa 2.5

It's worth noting that engagement rings are a fairly new phenomenon in Russia. The tradition of presenting an engagement ring to a bride comes from the Western world and borrows most of its traits--the gentleman unofficially presents an engagement ring to his beloved on the day he makes her an offer. For those of you who are learning Russian, the engagement ring is called помо́лвочное кольцо́ in Russian.

The Wedding Day

So, you might be wondering what the traditional wedding day is all about in Russia? Well, we have a quick answer! From the start of the day, the bride usually gets some help from her friends and relatives with her looks and style. The festive makeover is often delegated to professional hairdressers and make-up artists who take care of every aspect of her looks. Fast forward a few hours, the bride arrives approximately an hour and half before the official ceremony of registration.

That's about time when a comical wedding tradition takes place. The parents of the bride pretend to steal the bride and ask the groom to pay a ransom. The groom usually ends up paying some symbolic monetary value or jewellery to get his beloved back. Of course, the entire event is played out only for amusement of the guests.

After the ransom is paid and parents return the bride to the groom, the young couple heads straight to ZAGS to officially register their relationship. The next destination for the wedding ceremony is a picturesque location of any sort where newlyweds can make memorable pictures, including city parks, places of historical interest, the romantic sea coast or any other places of interest. Finally the newlyweds head to the restaurant to meet with the guests they invited.

Russian Wedding Vocabulary

сва́дьба - wedding
справля́ть сва́дьбу — celebrate one's wedding
игра́ть сва́дьбу — celebrate one's wedding
жени́х - groom
неве́ста - bride
молодожёны - newlyweds
тамада́ - entertainer, toastmaster
свиде́тельство о бра́ке - marriage certificate
загс - registry office, ZAGS
помолвочное кольцо́ - engagement ring
сва́дебное кольцо́ - wedding ring
вы́куп неве́сты - paying ransom for the bride

Also, check out the lesson on Russian wedding and marriage vocabulary



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