Ukrainian Wedding Rituals Bind Centuries Together
Once upon a time, a woman rejected a suitor’s marriage proposal by returning the gift of bread he brought with him or by presenting the marriage seeker with a pumpkin. While rejections may have changed over the centuries, many Ukrainian wedding customs are still preserved today. Embroidering the rich origins of Eastern Rite Christianity with ancient pagan rites, the Ukrainian rite of marriage is steeped in mystery.
Performed in Ukrainian to honor ancestors, the ceremony begins at the home of the bride where parents of the couple give their Blahoslovenya (blessing). During the first part of the ceremony, the Betrothal, wedding bands are blessed by the priest and placed on the bride and groom’s fingers in the rear of the church. The Ukrainian bride and groom walk down the church aisle together arm in arm as equal partners, flanked by the starosty, friends or family members who lead the procession with icons of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
During the Crowning, the most sacred part of the ceremony, the couple recites their vows as the priest binds their hands together with an embroidered cloth or rushnyk. Once bound to each other, the couple circles the tetrapod (small altar) three times. The word Crowning does not only apply to the recitation of vows, however. Many Ukrainian brides wear a coronet of periwinkle symbolizing eternal and faithful love and yarrow, a sign of strength and youthful vigor braided with roses and fragrant herbs to form a wreath.
Ukrainian receptions, while boisterous, also mark centuries of tradition and culture. Gifts of bread, salt, honey, and wine presented to the couple denote wishes of prosperity. After toasts are made, the korovai, the traditional wedding bread adorned with bird figures and the Tree of Life is cut and the couple is off on their new journey together.