St.Petersburg

Russian weddings

25 Sep 2017

A month and one day
No one elopes in Russia. There are no shotgun weddings in casinos out in the tundra. A month and a day is the mandatory waiting period for any engaged couple. Once they’ve agreed on a day, they head down to the local ZAGS office (Russian State Registry Office) to make the booking. It goes without saying that the best times are highly sought after, and the more organised you are, the luckier you will be when it comes to the date. It seems no one wants to get married at 9am. If for some reason, you need to change the date, you have to wait another month and a day, although Russian superstition dictates that any rescheduling is bound to curse your union.

The Groom’s Labours…
Russian men looking to star in their own action movies just need to get married. Come the wedding morning, the groom, with some helpful friends, goes to collect his bride from her house. And it’s not easy or cheap. The bride’s friends will make sure he undergoes enough trials to prove both the strength of his love and the depth of his pockets. Examples of the cheesy tasks the poor groom is subjected to include; identifying his bride’s lipstick print from among other prints and picking which photo of different toddlers is her photo. If he can‘t do it or he makes a mistake, then he needs to pay… The groom may also have to complete a physical challenge – climbing up the side of her building to present her with a bouquet or he can be induced to yell that he loves his bride-to-be at the top of his lungs. There is not much regard for the neighbours at the stage of proceedings! When he finally wins his bride or when his wallet is empty and the friends take pity on him, they are reunited and they then head off to ZAGS in separate cars. Things go a little smoother for the bride - she’s only got to get up early and get her hair and make-up done.

The ceremony
Short, sweet and Soviet. Do you? Yes, you do. Swap the rings. Sign your name. Start the music! Out you go, next please! The wedding ceremony, mandatory to legalise the union, takes just a few minutes. The music is always Mendelssohn’s Wedding Marsh. The couple usually are accompanied by their witnesses, who are the Russian equivalent of the Bridesmaid and Best Man. Straight after the ceremony, the couple are shuffled over to see a just-recorded video of their ceremony to see if they want to purchase it, although most couples organise their own recordings. The speeches are rote-standard and impersonal as befits such a quick-sign-on-the -dotted line affair.

The Wedding Factory
The photographer lurches down the steps to get into position for the perfect wedding kiss shot. Outside the young twenty-somethings and their parents and relatives stand poised and ready to hurl petals, coins and rice at the happy couple as they emerge. They don’t have to wait long. The groom struggles out through the wooden doorway with bride in arms and her voluminous gown. They embrace. The photographer snaps the moment before the guests begin separating the couple and congratulating them fiercely. Then someone from the back of the crowd yells “Gorko! Gorko! (Bitter, bitter!) soon the crowd is shouting. Soon the limo driver is also shouting. The pedestrians walking by have turned around, see the bride and groom and then they too are also chanting. “Gorko! Gorko!” The bride and groom start to kiss…. Then everyone is moving to the hire cars (either a pink Hummer limousine or a more sedate white mini van) and the champagne bottles. And about time too, because the next instalment of friends are already gathering to welcome the next bride-in-line.

The party
After the city tour of the most famous monuments (see our illustration above) the party starts either at home or in a restaurant. Although it’s a sit-down affair, it is hardly sedate. These days, couples often hire an MC or host for the evening, known as a ‘tamada’. Male or female, they are in charge of proceedings and can quote Pushkin’s love poetry. They run more of the competitions for the hapless bride and groom and again it tends to involve money. Whereas at a Western wedding, the bride and groom circulate, chatting with guests, at the Russian wedding, guests can be looking for a good time to kidnap the bride (this can happen either at the brides apartment or at the party after the wedding). And the groom has to pay to get her back. But first he has to notice she’s missing… There are more ‘gorko’ toasts, and games involving shoes or baby’s clothes. A shoe is passed around and the guests stuff it with money. As much as a quarter of all the wedding expenses can be spontaneously and generously donated by the guests. When it comes to a wedding, Russians seem to not even consider the question of money. They simply give. If money isn’t being stuffed into a shoe, they stuff it into a baby’s suit - on the right side if you think the couple will have a boy, on the left for girls… The host can keep a wedding party going for two days.

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