Russian Language Blog

Russian Wedding – Part 2 Posted by on Jan 24, 2012 in Culture, Russian life, Traditions

Let’s talk some more about Russian weddings. I left off on the part where новобрачные (the newlyweds) leave the ЗАГС (registry office). In case you missed the first part, it is here. Somehow I completely forgot to mention обмен кольцами (exchanging the rings) that happens during the ceremony. Wedding bands in Russia are called обручальные кольца and are worn on безымянный палец правой руки (ring finger on the right hand, lit: the no-name finger).

This fact is not nearly as interesting, in my opinion, as the fact that the word окольцованный (ringed) describes both a married man (for a married woman it’s окольцованная) and a banded bird or animal. Note that this word uses страдательный залог (passive voice) and implies that the subject gets marked and kept track of.

But back to the ЗАГС! As молодые (newlyweds; lit: the young ones) return to their кортеж (motorcade) they are whisked away for прогулка (a walk). This is a well-established tradition and is a way to на людей посмотреть и себя показать (to see and be seen). Every town has a place or several that are traditional for such walks.

In my hometown of Volgograd, for example, it’s the Great Patriotic War memorial on the Mamayev Hill. If this strikes you as a strange choice of venue, I hasten to add that many couples visit such memorials not just for the obligatory свадебные фотографии (wedding pictures) or for showing off, but to pay their genuine respects and возложить цветы (lay flowers) honoring the war sacrifices. Besides, since Soviet times, there were very few beautiful and well-kept public spaces in Russia other than the memorials.

Other destinations for свадебная прогулка (wedding walk) include park with scenic views, historic buildings, or places that are meaningful to the couple, for example фонтан, возле которого было назначено первое свидание (a fountain near which the couple met for their first date).

If you are visiting Russia and want to see a Russian wedding, head over to a park or a memorial in the city center and, chances are, you will see not one, but several wedding parties. This is true even if it’s cold and snowy outside. The bride will still be in her lacy dress and dainty shoes and her maids will be in (usually very short and open) dresses and high heels walking gingerly over обледенелый тротуар (ice-covered sidewalk), posing for pictures.

And then it’s time for свадебное застолье also known as свадебный банкет (wedding feast or banquet). It used to be done at home and all the dishes were cooked at home as well. Since Soviet apartments were quite small and the number of приглашённые гости (invited guests) quite large, the merriment would oftentimes spill into лестничная площадка (a landing between the floors in apartment buildings) or into the courtyards. Then it became truly a communal affair as neighbors joined in, frequently bringing food and drinks to the table.

Nowadays celebrating in one’s house is a lot less common. Instead, a banquet usually takes place at a restaurant or a café. In some cases, a river cruise is booked, conveniently combining прогулка (a walk) and застолье (a feast). Either way, such застолье, with lots of food and plenty of alcohol, can go on for hours. If it’s held at a private house, it can go on for a whole day or longer.

And yes, Russians have the tradition of shouting Горько! (Bitter!) at a wedding banquet. When guests chant горько! the bride and the groom have to stand up and kiss. Where does this tradition originate? Nobody knows for sure. The version that I like the most explains that while vodka that is customarily drunk at weddings is bitter, the newlyweds sweeten its taste with their поцелуй (kiss).

Two other must haves at a wedding are музыка (music) and тамада (toast-master). Russians have a nice saying that sums up the importance of music at a wedding: что за свадьба без баяна – пьянка да и всё (a wedding without an accordion is just a drinking binge). Not to say that there is an accordion at every wedding…

A тамада (toast-master), however, is present at every wedding. Sometimes it is a professional, hired for the occasion. Sometimes it is a relative or a guest who is particularly knowledgeable in all things toast-making and keeping the banquet fun going until the wee hours and given the newlyweds the proper send-off for their свадебное путешествие (wedding trip) or медовый месяц (honeymoon).

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  1. Alex Sutter:

    Very intersting Blog & Videos.
    Thanks a lot,