Belarusians have for a long time had a good tradition for all newly-weds to pay tribute to the heroes of the Great Patriotic War. That’s the way we have been brought up: our fathers and granddads paid so much for the victory and peace that those wishing to make a new cell of our society feel obliged to lay flowers to the monuments to those who saved the country from slavery and blackness. This noble and beautiful tradition continues, and wedding motorcades keep getting closer to the Eternal Flame.
There are older traditions, though. In villages they would never take brides to the parents for the groom “to look at her and get used to her”. The period of acquaintance could take months. The relatives or the groom would “assault” the parents of the would-be bride with unstoppable praising of the young man, and the parents of the bride would pretend that they would never give the only daughter to anyone however great the groom might seem.
Those were traditions of the 16th century. Time passed and ceremonies became calmer. A girl would receive marriage brokers and eat the bread they brought. If she dared drink a shot of vodka that they offered, the groom was certain she would be his. Anyways, each region had its own “orders”. The folks of the bride could ban the marriage, and marriage brokers could curse that house by breaking a bottle of vodka over the fence, which meant the girl would never get married. By the way, if there were several daughters in a family, one should have wood the elder daughter to marry him, even if she was not that pretty.
The phase of engagement looked like negotiations before the parties got united into a family. The bride and groom exchanged rings, and the parents were discussing dotal property. After dinner the bride was supposed to see the groom off to the gate of the house or even the last house of the village. After engagement it was a great shame to give up the marriage plans.
In these latter days engagement is an important part of the ritual, too. After the bride and groom file their marriage applications in the civil registration office all the parents meet in the house of the groom to get to know each other better. The groom presents a gold ring to his future wife, and she gives him a wallet, a shirt or a tie. The groom may also throw a party for all his friends to meet the future wife, and bridesmaids meet separately to say goodbye to her free life.
The wedding ceremony was a solemn action, with a long line of carts, which were later replaced by cars. Wedding motorcades would make numerous stops for various rituals, in which all neighbors and even passers-by were involved. In the city of Slootsk, the young couple would go round the table three times, bow to the icons, kiss them and then kiss the kissing kin. On the bank of the Berezina the bride was supposed to bow to every church-goer before getting married. Another tradition was to light as many candles as possible: the brighter the wedding the happier the couple.
May rites have been preserved till our days. A large traditional towel is put on the floor in the registration office, the couple stands on it during the ceremony, their rings are put into a bowl with grain, and after the ceremony the bride and groom take a shower of grain to be wealthy and flourish.
But the most wonderful view is the groom carrying the bride to the car in his arms!
By the way, Minsk’s Victory Square still sees ancient ceremonies besides the laying of flowers to the Eternal Flame. These rituals are taken to cities from villages. The mother of the bride greets the couple and gives them bread and salt and a glass of wine. The bride and groom kiss the bread and salt, drink the wine, hug their parents and invite them to take part in the wedding.
The Belarusian Culture Fund has recently revived an ancient tradition that started somewhere on the Belarusian-Lithuanian border. The couple would visit a local potter and make their own dishes, the first dishes to lay a foundation of their family. The bride and groom would each make one half of a pot, and the potter would help them get the two halves together, as if in some magical ceremony that meant to preserve the integrity of the family.
To have a real Belarusian wedding in line with ancient traditions it is enough to go to the museum of folk architecture and culture, located near Minsk, or any local lore club to get advice. You may then have a wedding to you liking from good old times, or even prehistoric times, for instance, a ceremony in the forest on pagan stones…
by Viktar Korbut