5am wake up
6am Hair up
8am Meet up
We were off to a Ukrainian wedding!
(Watch the video below for the full intimate details!!)
A few weeks earlier, a student shared her excitement in the letter she’d just received: the invitation to her good friend’s wedding. Her eyes lit up in anticipation as we exchanged stories of dating and wedding traditions in Ukraine and in the US. We used it as a time to introduce new words into our expanding vocabularies: hers in English and mine in Russian.
Fiancé and fiancee would become groom and bride, then husband and wife. For a while after their ceremony, we would refer to man and woman as newlyweds. Likewise Мужчин and женщина would join together as муж and Жена. I learned of a few wedding traditions, such as washing the bride’s mother’s feet in vodka, smashing a plate on the ground in front of the happy couple, and decorating cars with flowers, bows and bells.
I’d put the wedding excitement in the back of my mind and used it as a topic in several of the conversational groups I led in the coming days. A week after our conversation, I found myself with an invitation to experience the traditions alongside my sweet Ukrainian friend and the celebrating party.
I couldn’t believe it. In fact, I didn’t believe it until I woke up early that Saturday morning, slipped on a blue and brown dress with leopard print details and the first high heels I’d worn in months. I felt more like I was dressed to go to an afterparty rather than a holy ceremony, but I felt amazing. Thanks to the kindness of friends, I was able to take my pick of several outfits, trading in for one day the plaid shirts and pants which have become my traditional attire.
When I met up with my friend that day, I realized my morning’s preparation was nothing in comparison to that of hers or the other guests. Her day began before five, and continued following the schedule listed at the start of this post. Mine began two hours later: Makeup by Anika and hair by nature’s forces, tamed by Anika. I felt and looked beautiful but she and her friends looked red-carpet ready.
Just after 8am, we exchanged cheeky kisses and were off to the bride’s home. When we arrived, there were only three others at home: the maid of honor, the bride, and the bride’s mother. We invited ourselves in to the bedroom where Mother laced up her daughter’s white lace bodice. Golden curls swept into a loose bun were covered in a flowing veil, reaching below her knees. I introduced myself and she joked that any English she knew had been replaced with the day’s excitement.
More guests appeared as we went outside to decorate the car in pink and cream satin ribbons, as to gain recognition as part of the wedding party while driving down Khmelnytskyi’s crowded streets. We were in and out during the next hour as a trio of professional photographers documented her last moments as a single woman spent within the comforts of her childhood home. In the family room, balloons inflated for the occasion bounced around as photographers aimed for the perfect angle. Next door in the living room, she stood surrounded by wooden frames crafted by her own grandfather, each holding a special memory. In the background, still threaded from recent use, stood her mother’s sturdy sewing machine. She walked around the room like a princess in her castle, and while many of her expressions were simple poses for the camera, several moments passed when the look on her face turned to a gentle longing to hold on to each treasure surrounding her. As these final moments were captured, a black SUV pulled up outside. All the guests gathered in the fenced courtyard in eager curiosity. An elder gentleman opened the gate and approached the car slowly. The deeply tinted front window rolled down, revealing a young man in sunglasses. Smiling and whispering, the younger man stepped out to reveal his freshly pressed outfit and quickly turned around to open the car door behind him. One after another, each passenger exited leaving the most important for last.
Carrying two bread loaves decorated in white icing and topped with red and yellow flowers, the groom hesitated as he approached his bride’s home. He was followed closely behind by his family and best man, who made perhaps an even greater spectacle by carrying a meter-tall fir tree draped heavily in a rainbow of streamers.
Before them, guarding the entranceway, stood three of the bride’s best friends with sinister smiles. Before he could go in to meet his bride, the groom would have to prove his love to her friends by completing several heartfelt, somewhat embarrassing tasks. Over the next twenty minutes, he was prompted to tell guests why he loved his bride-to-be. He shouted promises through closed doors, read “I love you”s in languages ranging from Japanese to Spanish, and laughed along as his best friend was blindfolded and forced to draw a picture of the bride from memory.
Finally, when the women decided the men had shown their love and devotion and were worthy of this new life, the bride’s mother came outside to receive the bread and an offering of money from her son-in-law.
He was then permitted to enter the house and see his love. The two exchanged words and gentle kisses, then repeated vows in front of her mother and a group of twenty others. The vows ended with each bowing, briefly placing their lips on the bible. Onlookers wiped away a few tears and quickly retreated outside for the final moments.
We all formed a circle, the couple’s parents standing on the far end facing the front door. The bride’s mother held a plate of candies, coins and seeds. The groom’s father held a small broom which he wetted in a silver cup of water. When we were all set, the couple walked outside and stood in the center as their parents circled round and round, tossing upon their children offerings from the plate and dashes of water. When the plate was empty, Mother threw it to the ground at the couple’s feet. As it shattered into pieces, we all cheered and she held a lace kerchief up to her eyes.
It was time.
Photographers three led the friends to a riverside photoshoot where we stood under shade trees with a bottle of champagne for ladies, a bottle of vodka for men, and cold cuts for all. When the couple wrapped up this part of the shoot, we were off to the church.
Their families met us at a glamorous cobalt blue structure trimmed in gold and capped with glimmering golden domes per traditional Orthodox Christian churches. We swam upstream again members of a baptism ceremony which had finished minutes prior to our arrival. Nearly empty the chapel had only an alter and four pews, along with a dark carpet splitting through the room’s center. The wedding party hovered around twenty five, including bride, groom, priest, and each of the couple’s closest friends and family.
During the ceremony, the maid of honor and best man each held a crown of silver over the newlyweds’ heads, included during the procession in which they followed their priest, circling the alter three times. This procession signified their first steps taken together as husband and wife. No words were spoken while guests stood at the sides of the chapel. Instead the priest sang his blessings, joined occasionally by two women seated in a front corner, nearly hidden from the eyes of onlookers. When they weren’t filling up the room with their angelic voices, the two women’s could be heard telling stories to each other, accompanied by occasional snickers; like little schoolchildren knowing their day’s task was an important yet simple one and doing their best to pass the time.
The was ceremony was magical in every way. The intimacy of the small party, the role of traditions, the bright biblical images painted on walls and ceilings, and the young couple so clearly in love.
As the couple left with rings on right hands, as is typical in Ukraine, another family waited outside to give their best wishes and soon after move into the church for yet another baptism. After pausing for hugs and smiles, we again went to two new locations for photos of now husband and wife, and another taste of celebratory champagne. It was only after that, around 3pm, the the party could truly get started- it was time for dinner, dancing, and samogon for all!
Congratulations to the couple and thank you for inviting me to be a part of your big day!
Желаю вам обоим море счастья