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Russian wedding traditions

With the onset of Soviet Russia, Church weddings; and the Church itself; became a thing of the past. ZAGS, or the Civil Registry Office, was established. This is where couples went to get a wedding certificate (marriage license) and to get married in a civil ceremony. The waiting period for the certificate is, typically, 30 days. These locations are known as Wedding Palaces and featured a public official bestowing the official blessing of the State upon the newlyweds all to the rousing stains of Mendelssohn's Wedding March.

A Church wedding is still not considered official in Russia. Russian couples still need to get a certificate from the ZAGS. Additionally, if a couple lives together for two years, they are considered married. This is known as a Citizen Marriage. Today, whether one has a civil or Church wedding, a trip to the ZAGS to get the wedding certificate is required.

Usually Russian weddings last two days. The official civil ceremony is just a part of the wedding. The bride and groom arrive in seperate cars and are lead into seperate rooms where they are to wait until they are called. When they are called they are greeted by the receptionist in the entry of the registration hall with bread and salt. The bread symbolizes the hope for health, long life and prosperity.

Then they are lead into the hall where the actual rites are to be held, they stand on a special carpet and the official reads a short speech and then asks the bride and groom if they do. Then there is an exchange of rings, the couples sign in the registry, then the witnesses sign and the couple are pronounced man and wife.

After the wedding, it is customary for the wedding party to hop in their decorated cars and make a tour of their town's historically sites, leaving flowers at each. In Moscow, popular stops include the Grave of the Unknown Soldier and Sparrow Hills near Moscow State University. If you are in St. Petersburg, likely stops will be the Rostral Columns, the Bronze Horseman statue, Field of Mars and so on.

After the tour of the town, a gala feast is held. This is not unlike wedding receptions in the West. The event features quantities of food, drink, dancing, toasting, singing and general merriment. The party seems to be the main event and the ceremony secondary.

Since the demise of the Soviet Union, the number of Church weddings has increased. Many couples choose both a civil ceremony and a church one.

A Church wedding normally takes place during the morning hours, preferable following the morning liturgy. The Bride and Groom fast prior to the ceremony.

Preferably on the wedding day, the Bride and Groom approach the confessional and partake of the Sacrament of Penance and then Holy Communion in order that they cleanse themselves of all sin and come pure before the marriage altar. Orthodox church members must receive communion on the Sunday before the marriage ceremony.

The Groomsmen, or best man, must be of Orthodox faith. Other witnesses, ushers and Bridesmaids may be non-Orthodox. The Eastern Orthodox church allows interfaith marriages, but one partner and one witness must be Eastern Orthodox.

The bride's dress usually is made from white fabric that is believed to be the color of joy, the symbol of purity and chastity. However, modern brides choose not only white wedding dresses, but also fashionable red, cream or apricot-colored ones.

Another important wedding attribute is a bridal veil. Earlier the veil meant a simple thick shawl that closed the face tightly. It was forbidden to see the bride and the violation leaded to various misfortunes and even untimely death. Therefore the newlyweds touched each other only through the veil and didn't eat or drink anything during the wedding. The bridal veil also served the protection from evil spirits and the devil. Sad wedding songs drove the girl to tears, even if she married her beloved one. The reason was simple - she was leaving her home and giving herself at the husband's disposal.

The bride should be constantly surrounded with bridesmaids, single girls, who had to accompany her to the church. Their principal task was to distract evil spirits, so they wore dresses similar to the bridal one.But what is the wedding without wedding pie? Bread at all times has been the symbol of abundance, rich life and luck (earlier was baked a huge wedding pie - kournik) and that's why a just married couple is met at home with "salt and bread".

The kiss of the bride and groom deserves special attention. In old times there was a legend that during the kiss the souls of two loving people are brought together. And the ancestors, appreciating spirituality and chastity of young people, considered the kiss in public as the bond.

At the end of the wedding party the bride turns back to guests and throws the wedding bouquet to young women who try to catch it as it means near marriage.

Well, good luck to you at your wedding party!

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