A Ukrainian marriage is filled with traditions that originate in both Eastern Rite Christianity and in Ukraine’s ancient pagan past.
Part of the Ukrainian marriage takes place at the bride’s house. If you are not a close family member, you will most likely miss this part of the wedding. Before the church ceremony, the bride, the groom and their families meet at the home of the bride’s parents for the blessing, the blahoslovenya. At the blessing, the parents express their approval and good wishes for the couple.
The Betrothal part of the wedding ceremony takes place in the vestibule of the church, at which time the bride and groom affirm that they are entering the marriage freely. The priest then blesses the rings and places them on the fingers of the bride and groom.
In a Ukrainian marriage, the father does not walk his daughter down the aisle. Rather, the bride and groom enter the church together. One reason for this is that the father has already “given away” his daughter at the blahoslovenya. Another reason why the bride and groom enter arm in arm is that it represents an equal partnership.
The second part of the ceremony takes place at the front of the church and it includes the Crowning. Here, the bride and groom place their right hands on the Gospel and exchange vows.
The hands of the bride and groom are joined with an embroidered cloth, the rushnyk, which signifies their new union. Once bound to one another, the couple circles the small altar, the tetrapod, three times. This procession is called the “Dance of Isaiah”. These are the first steps taken by the couple as husband and wife.
During the ceremony, the couple will drink wine three times to acknowledge the importance of the Holy Trinity and to remind us of Christ’s first miracle at the wedding at Cana.
Toward the end of the ceremony, the priest escorts the bride to the icon of Mary in the church. As the priest offers up prayers on her behalf, the bride kneels in front of the Virgin Mary and presents her with a bouquet of flowers.
The reception starts with the welcoming of the bride and groom. The parents and starosty (two official witnesses) meet the newlyweds at the door. They offer them gifts of bread, salt, honey and wine. The newly-formed family then joins in a toast. In accordance with tradition, the father of the bride will drink the most wine out of the group.
Instead of a traditional wedding cake, Ukrainian weddings have their traditional korovai, a wedding bread symbolizing community. It is decorated with ornaments of baked dough. There are two birds which represent the couple and the other ornaments represent friends and family. In the middle of the korovai is a hiltse, a tree of life representing life and fertility.
Throughout the wedding reception, the traditional Ukrainian dance called the kolomeyka will take place as well as the singing of a song called Mnohaya Lita. It is a song of good wishes and means “many happy years”.