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Prince or Pumpkin? Understanding Ukrainian Wedding Traditions

20. October 2009 by Marie 0 Comments

No matter where you are in the world, The Big Day is the Big Day. Weddings are celebrated around the world in many unique ways. Although some customs – from white gowns to Bridezillas – have been joyfully tossed like post-ceremonial rice across the world, each region retains its particular traditions.


If you are planning a wedding with a Ukrainian bride, here are a few tips on what you – and she – can expect to incorporate into the process of a lifetime!


Popping the Question

Presenting a ring in a little velvet box at a romantic dinner is the time-honored way to propose in North America, sometimes accompanied by the man kneeling before his beloved and asking, “Will you marry me?” Channeling Cinderella! Asking a father for his daughter’s hand in marriage is a quaint custom that’s fast dying out and is merely symbolic. Parents are usually involved only peripherally these days. They usually don’t know eachother, and perhaps want to keep it that way. Think "Meet the Fockers".


If you want to marry a Ukrainian woman, you’d better add Dear Old Dad into the equation. In Ukraine, the groom traditionally asks the prospective bride’s father for her hand. His parents usually come to the bride’s home, bearing an intricately decorated,  circular, braided loaf of bread called korovai. This is presented on an embroidered tea towel, called a rushnyk, hand-made by the man’s mother.


Ukrainians traditionally don’t exchange rings until the wedding itself (and they wear these on the right hand), but your Ukrainian bride is well aware of Western customs and may indeed want a diamond engagement ring!


It’s customary for the woman to give the man a rushnyk if she agrees to marry. But if her answer is “no,” she gives him – are you sitting down? – a pumpkin! If you get a jack o’ lantern emoticon on an email from your Ukrainian love interest, now you know!


Preparing for the Big Day

In America, the typical advent of a wedding is composed of more parties than you can count: engagement parties, multiple showers, and let’s not even bring up the bachelor and bachelorette parties –at least not here, not now!


A typical Ukrainian marriage is also a festive affair, but much more community-oriented. Preparations start a month before the wedding. In earlier times, on a Thursday,  the young couple walked to the village church to the music of violins, drums, and singing.


Here Comes the Bride

In Ukraine, unlike the US, UK and Canada, the wedding lasts two days. On Saturday, the official marriage takes place in City Hall. A ceremonial church wedding is optional. The groom and his family and friends drive to the bride’s family’s home in a car festooned with balloons, flowers and ribbons. The men honk, announcing their presence, then go inside to get the bride. Then a cherished tradition ensues: The maid of honor pretends to hold the bride hostage, and the best man has to negotiate for her release. The result is the groom being forced to do some Stupid Human Tricks – such as doing a silly dance or singing a song of the bride’s choice – to coax her outside. Under a shower of seeds (for well-being), rose petals (for prosperity and health) and coins (for financial success), the couple heads to City hall. There, bride and groom  stand on a rushnyk and the ceremony is performed. The bride and groom are presented with a korovai.


After the civil ceremony, everyone heads to the bride’s house for a champagne toast, more food than the entire village could consume ina week (no exaggeration!) and a party that literally lasts all night.


On the second day, the bride leaves the gown at home and dons a white dress or suit. After nursing the previous night’s hangover, everybody heads back to the bride’s parents’ house for Round Two: more eating, drinking, toasting and games that lasts late into the night.


Traditionally, one person – a friend or relative – was granted the role of tamada’ – a combination of party organizer, wedding planner and emcee. But more and more brides are opt ot hire a professional to plan the festivities.


Next in this series: After the wedding...