Going right to the source – a Russian wedding

I often write about different cultural and religious traditions, and many couples like to dive into their family roots for inspiration. Recently I created a ceremony that connected directly to the source. Here’s what happened:

I was fortunate to have a young Russia and the Ukrainian couple choose me as their celebrant. Politically Russia and the Ukraine have a complex and tumultuous relationship, but on the personal level, it was all love! Both recently graduated with advance degrees from universities, and had met through an International Student Association. And while there may be strain around the political boundaries, there is shared culture between these two countries.

The lovely couple.

As we discussed elements for their ceremony, I naturally thought of the ritual of the Bread and Salt which has origins in their home countries. I’ve found it’s not unusual to speak with younger people about the traditions of their family’s past, to discover they have no idea about these customs. But when they talk to parents or grandparents they are amazed to find out they know exactly what it is! Additionally, mothers or grandmothers are often thrilled to hear they are incorporating something from the homeland.

But for my Russian/Ukrainian couple – they were not first generation; they were immigrants themselves; additionally their mothers spoke no English. Now let me set the scene: We have the couple and just their two mothers and one sister attending. The trip here is long and expensive, visas harder to come by as well, and so they decided to combine the wedding with their graduation, so they could share both joyous occasions with family, however small.

I wasn’t sure exactly how it would all unfold, but trusted that it would work. I structured to ceremony with guidance from the couple to begin in a traditional way – the mothers would offer a prayer. Again, I didn’t know specifically what this would look – but what happened was the bride’s mother held up a photo of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, which she wrapped it in a special traditional embroidered cloth and offered a blessing. The groom’s mother joined in with the words as well.

My part was next – and the ceremony was in English, but I’d asked the couple to give their family a heads-up by providing a translation in advance.

When I’ve incorporated the Bread and Salt ritual in the past, I included it within the ceremony, but the couple told me to do it after the pronouncement – at the end of the ceremony. So of course, I did. That was great, too. Again, the mothers knew what to do!

A word about this ritual – it is known in most of Eastern Europe – from Poland, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, to Russia and elsewhere. It truly is quite ancient – dating back to the 15th century. The couple dips the bread into salt and they feed one another (reminds me of cake sharing) to symbolize that they should never be in want, always have enough to eat, literally, but also how they will care for one another, feeding not only body, but mind and soul. A special bread always adds to the flavor (pun intended) and they had a hardy looking dark bread for their ritual, with the salt placed right in the center in a little dish. I believe it was a Karavai bread – traditional in many areas – a round, braided style dark bread. Yummmm! It was hard not to ask for a bite.

The flow of the ceremony worked well – we opened with a Russian element, followed by some of their love story, a good Russian literary reference, their vows and ring exchange and then finished with another Russian element.

And that is any example of how much I love my job –  it is so interesting being a celebrant!

 

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  • Blog Author

    Lois Heckman

    Lois Heckman is a certified Life-Cycle Celebrant who officiates at weddings, funerals, and other ceremonies in the Poconos and beyond. She has performed hundreds of ceremonies and brings a wealth of knowledge to her work. Visit her website: ... Read Full
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