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A wedding in an age-old traditional style
Most of those who are getting married want the event to be a memorable occasion. Professional entertainers, musicians and caterers are hired to help make it a lively and enjoyable fete, but often enough such overregulated wedding receptions lack in emotion, authenticity and genuine joy. But now there is an exciting alternative to the “standard” wedding reception which is offered by Maysternya ukrayinskoho tradytsiynoho vesillya — Studio of Ukrainian Traditional Wedding.
There are quite a number of those who, after attending a wedding reception organized by a wedding reception service — a visit to a monument complete with wreath-laying ceremony, taking of standard pictures, waiting in a traffic jam, standard, formalized greetings and wishes, standard jokes, standard “fun,” standard wedding dresses — tell themselves that “never ever again” they would want their own wedding reception to be like the one they witnessed.
Happily, there is a way of turning the marriage ceremony and wedding reception into a really nonstandard event that would stay in memory for long. There is a project, which is called Maysternya ukrayinskoho tradytsiynoho vesillya — Studio of Ukrainian Traditional Wedding (Maysternya for short), and which has been launched by a number of musicians from folk groups (Drevo, Bozhychi, Hurtopravtsi) and other Ukrainian traditional culture enthusiasts who were encouraged and supported by Oleh Skrypka, front man of the Vopli Vidoplyasova folk-rock group and organizer of folk music festivals.
The first major wedding event organized by Maysternya took place in the village of Shershentsi, Odesa Oblast. The village is situated in that section of the Odesa Oblast administrative division which is a part of an area of Ukraine traditionally known as Podillya. The newlyweds — Dmytro, a young teacher from Odesa, and Nadiya, an artist from Poltava, had their wedding reception organized by Maysternya in accordance with old Ukrainian wedding traditions, and that meant, among other things, a lot of singing. The reception lasted for several days, from Thursday to next Monday. Folk amateur groups from the villages of Serby and Pyrizhna, a folk group Oberehy from the town of Hayvoron, the Roksolaniya folk group from Kyiv and a traditional dance group also from Kyiv sang old traditional wedding songs and danced traditional dances during all the days of the reception.
Many of the songs that were sung at the reception had been collected during ethnographic expeditions to the rural areas of Podillya for the express purpose of being performed at that wedding reception. The newlyweds had turned to historians and ethnographers for consultations about the proper style of their wedding dress, symbolism of embroidered decorative towels and other items used in the traditional Ukrainian wedding. Particularly helpful with lots of advice was the Ukrainian Folk Culture Centre Muzey Ivana Honchara in Kyiv.
Preparations for the wedding had taken almost full six months. Old dresses that had been kept in trunks for decades were pulled out, aired, mended and proudly worn by guests invited to attend the wedding. In fact, among the guests and singers at the wedding were many of the local villagers, some of whom were in their seventies. They said that it was the first wedding party held in this traditional style in ages, and they were happy that the tradition had begun to be revived.
Over 170 different old traditional folk songs which used to be sung at wedding parties were sung during the days of the long reception, and a good number of traditional folk dances were danced. The bride proudly wore a traditional wedding dress from the Land of Poltavshchyna, and the bridegroom sported a traditional wedding dress from the Land of Podillya.
The tableware was also thoroughly selected to fully correspond to what would appear on the table of an old-time wedding party — earthenware plates, dishes, cups and pots came from the traditional earthenware-making center Opishne in Poltavshchyna. The dishes that were cooked for the wedding were, of course, traditional ones too — borsch, kasha (a sort of buckwheat porridge), pork baked with potatoes in the old-style oven, pickled mushrooms, blood sausage, holubtsi (cabbage leaves stuffed with minced meat), kysil (jelly-like desert), uzvar (drink made from dried fruit), apples with honey and wine, apples baked with nuts and honey, plus a lot of other dainties. The drink was medovukha — mead, cooked to a traditional recipe. Everyone at the tables drank from the same cup which was passed around from guest to guest as the tradition requires.
The entire village seems to have taken part in the wedding party — the villagers baked karavay bread, helped in cooking food for the party, provided horses and carriages, and of course, did a lot of earnest singing and dancing and eating and drinking.
Maysternya and the Ivan Honchar Museum of Ukrainian Folk Culture in Kyiv take a great care to organize traditional wedding receptions in a way that would be profoundly authentic and true to the age-old traditions. Scenic surroundings in the countryside enhance the festive atmosphere and add their wonderful touch to the whole event.
The bride’s dress will be made to correspond, on the one hand, to the ancient traditions, and on the other hand, to fit the bride perfectly and satisfy her esthetic tastes. All the details of decorative elements of the headdress and of all the garments are carefully chosen — feathers, laces, corals and beads. Depending on the season, the dress can be very light, both in fabric and in color, but with all the traditional elements preserved, including the white embroidery on the white fabric, or it can be heavier and more colorful.
Every little detail must be taken a good care of. Embroidered decorative towels for example, must not be presents from the people you don’t know well, they must always be one length of the appropriate fabric, not two pieces sewn together; the design must be of the tradition-approved type. The wedding party must proceed in accordance with a certain scenario which has come down to us from the times of old. There is an established sequence of who speaks after whom, making toasts, and what is said is also regulated by the time-honored tradition. No wonder it takes weeks and even months to prepare such a wedding properly.
The rituals attending the traditional wedding party are performed with no deviations from the original proceedings — putting the karavay bread into the oven, unbraiding the bride’s braids, procession to the church, covering of the bride’s head with a special kerchief, to name but a few, are all performed in the manner it used to be done in the long-gone past. Each ritual is accompanied by incantations, which may have even been a pre-Christian origin, and blessings derived from the Christian church traditions. In fact, many of the verbal formulas pronounced at the wedding rituals go so deep into the local or all-Ukrainian traditions that it would be impossible to establish to which distant time in the past they can be dated. Such rituals and what accompanies them are called upon to ensure happiness, fertility and protection against evil.
Traditionally, there are a lot of tears shed at the wedding by the bride’s mother and the bride herself, but there is also a lot of humor and jokes that are bandied about. Some of the traditional songs that are sung at the wedding party contain in their lyrics something that would now be considered as obscene if they were performed out of the context. Such lyrics had their special meaning and purpose in the times of old.
The marriage ceremony and the wedding reception that follows are organized in the traditional way, do take a lot of time and effort to organize and hold, but it is also a sure way of making it a very special, momentous event that will indelibly stay in the memory of the participants and guests. No doubt we can’t completely ignore the twenty-first century we live in, neither can we re-acquire the psychology of the people who lived in the past, but we can surely enjoy the atmosphere which is recreated. It is not accidental that reenactments of historical events are staged in many countries of the world at an increasing rate — we want to establish firmer links with the past, to maintain the cultural continuity.
Based on an essay by Myroslava Shchokina
Photos have been provided
by the organizers of the project
To find out more about being invited
to attend such age-old traditional wedding receptions call 38 044 229-5687 or 38 067 316-6879,
or go to the Ukrainian Folk Culture Centre Muzey Ivana Honchara at 29, Mazepa Street, Kyiv.
Decorating karavay — the wedding party bread.
The bride’s mother blesses her daughter and gives
her go-ahead to invite guests for the wedding
The bridegroom and bride proceed to the church in
different carriages — he is with his best friends,
and she — with her bride mates.
The parents of the bride (to the left of her) bless
her with a choir from the village of Kydrasivka
singing wedding songs.
The bridegroom is tossed over the fence of the
bride’s household in obedience to the age-old
Carrying icons, the newlyweds leave
the bride’s house.
After the wedding ceremony in church, the
newlyweds, their relatives, friends and guests
move in a solemn procession through the village.
A gulp of medovukha — mead for courage.
The headscarf is put on the bride’s head as a symbol
of her married status.[Prev][Contents][Next]