Russia has a long history of wedding traditions. The traditional Russian wedding ceremony does not have many traditions and many couples opt for a simple civil service that is not widely attended by their friends and relatives. The wedding reception however is a very important part of Russian tradition. Perhaps the most distinguishing aspect of a traditional Russian wedding is that it lasts for at least two days.
Russian law does not recognize church weddings so couples wishing to marry must have a civil wedding ceremony. At the conclusion of this ceremony the couple is given bread and salt which represents health and prosperity. This civil ceremony is considered unimportant by family members and many of them do not attend. In the Russian culture the wedding reception is a two day extravaganza that is considered to be more important than the ceremony itself.
The first day of a Russian wedding ceremony is filled with a series of events that includes the civil ceremony, a tour of the city and the start of the reception. The wedding day begins with the bride and groom in separate locations each accompanied by their own friends and family members. The groom will arrive at the bride's location well before the two of them need to arrive at the civil service. This is necessary because the bride's friends and family members make it difficult for the groom to reach his bride. For example, if the bride lives on a high floor of an apartment complex, the groom will be detained by friends or family members at each floor and asked trivia type questions about his bride. If he answers incorrectly, he must pay cash to advance to the next step. Once he arrives at his bride's side, the two of them travel by train, in separate cars, to the location of the civil service. Only their closest friends and family members accompany the bride and groom to this ceremony as it is not considered very important. It is viewed as merely a way to have the union recognized by the government.
Immediately after the civil ceremony the couple takes a tour of the city to visit memorials of those who have died. This tour is usually two to three hours long and during this time the couple honors those who were killed in wars by laying flowers at their memorials. The couple is usually only accompanied by the two witnesses to their wedding on this journey. Sometimes a few other close friends will come with the couple but family seldom partakes in this tour because they are busy making preparations for the reception.
After the tour of the city the couple arrives at the reception and this is where the true celebration begins. The reception always starts with a toast and usually the parents are the first to toast the bride and groom. The rest of the guests then offer their toast. Following the toast is the most prominent Russian wedding tradition. The guests drink wine after each toast and after they sip the guests will begin to shout, "Gor'ko" which means bitter. The couple then has to kiss in order to sweeten the wine. The guests will continue this tradition after each toast requiring the couple to kiss after each toast.
The rest of the first night is filled with dancing and another Russian tradition of playfully "kidnapping" the bride. The groom's friends will take advantage of the chaos that ensues as all the guests start to dance and "kidnap" the bride. They will then demand the groom pay a ransom for her return. The bride's friends also get in on the good natured fun by "stealing" the bride's shoes. Again the groom has to pay a ransom before her shoes are returned. This first day of the reception continues on late into the night leaving the guests exhausted.
The second day of a traditional Russian wedding is usually held at the house where the couple will begin there lives together. This is a more relaxed day and although anyone from the first day is invited to attend, usually only the closest friends and family members attend this second day of festivities. Day two of a traditional Russian wedding usually begins in the late afternoon or evening. The guests all enjoy a meal together and after the meal comes another Russian tradition of having the bride clean the floor. The guests will litter the floor with currency and the bride has to "clean" the floor by picking up the money. The guests can continue to litter the floor with additional currency while the bride is "cleaning" and are particularly fond of coming to the festivities with a large amount of coins to make the bride's job as difficult as possible. This tradition gives the guests the opportunity to make a contribution to the new couple.
Traditional Russian weddings are essentially two fun days of food, drink and friends. The ceremony itself is not viewed as the highlight of the wedding. The government will only recognize a marriage that is verified through a civil service and the church will not perform a church wedding unless a civil service has already been performed so couples often participate in both types of ceremonies separately. It is instead the reception that is the focal point
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