Weddings à la Russe: Following old traditions
The traditional Russian wedding scenario went like this: matchmaking, bride-assessment, hen-party and stag-night, the wedding journey, the dowry, the wedding ceremony, going on a walkabout, and the nuptial feast.
Courtship is the tradition of putting a girl forward for marriage. Specially hired brokers acted as intermediaries, whose job it was not only to talk up the bride’s good features, but also to assist in the courtship and finding a suitable groom.
How it used to be
During the Soviet period, the traditions of courtship were not observed; most young people today look on these traditions as washed-up nonsense that has long past its sell-by date.
Even so, there are marriage agencies in Russia’s larger cities that will provide a matchmaker — for a suitable fee — who promises to find seekers an agreeable bride or groom.
Most of these agencies are quite new, but the popularity of the service they offer has increased several-fold in recent years. A professional matchmaker from Vis-a-Vis Marriage Agency, Olga, gave RBTH more details on the matchmaking industry.
The traditional Soviet wedding. Source: Reuters
“Well, first we hold a meeting with the client to make a character assessment, find out what makes them tick, and some other related aspects of our work. Of course, there are some who prefer to make their own searches — they choose potential matches, select photos. But others prefer to leave the whole thing in our hands,” says Olga.
“Recently, quite a number of foreigners have begun approaching us. Of course, that’s not surprising, given that Russian girls are more feminine… and caring,” Olga says. She mentions that clients from European countries make up the bulk of their applicants.
Long-standing tradition requires that the bride and groom should not have seen each other before. Presentations of brides or grooms took place strictly in the presence of parents.
If the parents declared themselves satisfied with the matchmaker’s choice, they sealed their agreement with a handshake. In early Russia, the engagement would then be announced at the dinner table and declared by the bride’s father.
Once the engagement was announced, the parents would begin to decide on a date and place for the wedding ceremonies and celebrations.
On the eve of the wedding, hen-parties and stag-nights would be held. These would frequently involve visits to Russian baths, accompanied with songs and rituals.
The wedding itself might go on for several days. On the first day, the groom would usually bring a bride-price to the bride’s home — a kind of ceremonial payment — and then the wedding feast would be organized.
The paying of the bride-price might go on for several hours, including a variety of checks and tests on the worth of the groom. Frequently, the groom was asked to pick out the bride from a group of dressed-up girls.
Once the bride-price was satisfied, the happy couple proceeded to church separately — each in his or her own wedding carriage, accompanied by the matchmakers.
On the second day of the wedding, the couple would host the parents on both sides, sing songs together and make a ceremonial procession around the town to celebrate their wedding.
Very few people in Russia observe these old traditions nowadays. The elements that have survived are the wedding feast, the engagement traditions and the wedding ceremony itself — although the latter two are less honored in observance.
The demands of newlyweds grow with every passing year, with an accompanying rise in the price of weddings and in the services of wedding agencies.
Particularly costly are weddings that involve carrying out the registration in the countryside, or even abroad. The price of a wedding in a top restaurant can be exorbitantly high.
Alexandrina Remiz, a manager from the wedding agency pozhenimsya.ru (“getmarried.ru”) explains: “These days, agencies have to be able to set things up on any budget. I’ve known cases myself in which the young couple has done the whole thing in Moscow for just 100,000 rubles ($3,035), with 50 guests. Usually, the couple decides what they want to spend. We’ve organized weddings where the couple was ready to spend up to 2–3 billion rubles ($60.7 million–$91 million). Of course, that price includes the very top photographers, cameramen and other staff.”
“Today, most couples expect that their wedding will be organized by a designer; they take an interest in what the color theme will be, and so that the wedding reflects the history of their relationship,” says Remiz.
Generally, weddings can take 2–4 months to organize. The most demanding couples begin organizing the details of “the most important day of their lives” up to a year beforehand—booking the date, reserving the restaurant, etc.
“A wedding these days,” Remizsays, “is like a bet on the individuality of the couple. Just two or three years ago, couples were organizing theme-night weddings in the style of Chicago gangsters of the 1920s, or 1980s disco nights, or modeled on Ancient Russian traditions. So tradition can be found converging with the present.”