Wedding ceremonies in Lemkovyna clearly recreate the spiritual culture of the Carpathian mountain people. The Lemko wedding assists us in better understanding the character of the people and their life styles. National traditions are immortal they underwent transformation in modern times, but continue to develop and enrich themselves through input from the present day younger generations.
O. Toronskyi in his book "Rusyns-Lemkos", published in Lviv in 1860, gives a brief analysis of Lemko wedding traditions. The chapter entitled "Wedding songs gathered among Lemkos of the Sianik County" was included in the fourth volume of "Folks Songs of Galician and Ugro Rus' (Narodni spivanky Halitskoi i Uhorskoi Rus'i" (Moscow, 1878) by Yakiv Holovatsky. Wedding customs were described by V. Khiliak in an article entitled "The wedding customs of Lemkos" (Svadebni zvichai u lemkov) (1871), H. Beskid in an article entitled"Wedding in areas along the Poprad River" (Svadba v storonakh Popradskikh) (1890), and F. Rehor in "Svadba Lemkov u Karpatakh" ( Lemko weddings in the Carpathian Montains) (1897).
The Lemko wedding ceremony is similar to weddings held in western Ukraine. As a rule, the newlywed's special day was managed by a "starosta" (master of ceremony), who was closely assisted by his "marshalka", a thick cane adorned with a bouquet of flowers, periwinkle along the edge --- a symbol of his "chieftain's" authority. The masters of the wedding were "svashkas" (female assistants to starosta) who made sure that all rituals were carried out properly and respectfully.
The ceremony starts with "zaloty/zaruchyny" (courtship-engagement). The groom-to-be invites two respectable farmers to be "svaty1" and goes with them to the girl's parents. After traditional inquiries, the host invites them inside. In the meantime the girl hides herself in the pantry. After a successful "zaloty" a modest reception takes place. The groom-to-be sits down at the table next to the bride-to-be.
Several days prior to the wedding the bride along with the bride's maids personally invite guests to the wedding reception. The bride and bridesmaids then gather in her house. After traditional congratulations are bestowed upon the bride to be, the weaving of garlands made from perriwinkle, other flowers and decorations begins. This ritual is accompanied by singing.
In addition, the bride-to-be prepares a corsage for the groom, while the bridesmaids do the same for the ushers. Afterwards the future couple prepares a "rishka" (symbolizes the groom). For this purpose, the branches from the top of a spruce tree are stripped of bark, and are decorated with apples and "obarianky" (cooked peeled potatoes). The upper branches are tied together at the top. Throughout the wedding the "rishka" stands on top of the "korovai" 2.
This serves as a symbol for the groom, who initiates the beginning of a new life and guarantees the happiness of the family. The "korovai" symbolizes the bride and signifies wealth and tranquility within the family. The traditional union of the "rishka" with the "korovai" symbolizes the unbreachable union of the new family.
The wedding starts on Saturday or Sunday at the same time in both the houses of the groom and bride. From early morning the groom, along with the ushers, while holding the "korovai", round up the guests, musicians and "svashkas". The best man invites all to the table. The groom takes a seat between two "svashkas", who then start singing. After the benediction, called "blahoslovenstvo", the ushers with their decorative axes bless the thresholds, the upper door-post, and then the newlyweds, "svashky", "starosta", and the remaining guests pass under the decorative axes. Singing is heard coming from the yard:

Idemeh, idemeh, prez bukove lis'tsia,
(We are walking, we are walking, across the beech [forest] leaves)

Idemeh hladaty Van'ovi nevistsia.
(We are walking to find a bride for Vanio [name of the groom])

Idemeh, idemeh, stezhky neznayemeh,
(We are walking, we are walking, but we do not know the way)

Dobri liudeh znayut, to nam povidaiut...
(But the good people know it, and are telling us [which way to go]....)


While walking towards the bride's house, they continuously sing and joke. If the house of the bride is far, they head out there in wagons which have been decorated with flowers.
In the yard of the bride's parents, the traditional and cunniving "haggling" takes place between "starosta" and "domator" (people living in the house), followed by the "verification of identity papers" of the newly arrived, and attempts "to bribe" the hosts. Finally the guests are allowed into the house, but they remain standing, awaiting the arrival of the newlyweds. Then the new couple enters. They greet everybody. The bride pins a corsage on the groom, while he reciprocates by offering her a kerchief with a floral design, which she will wear during the bridal dance, the so called "pochepyny3". Bridesmaids pin corsages on the ushers. The hosts invite everybody to the table. The bride takes the groom in tow and together they walk across the table so that it "always be full of necessities". Starosta sticks the "rishka" into the "korovai", which was placed earlier in front of the newlyweds. After a speech, "starosta" downs a bit of alcohol and passes the glass to his neighbor. Everybody sings, except for the future couple, who sit with serious expressions on their faces.
After the "benediction" the procession gets ready for the church ceremony. The procession is headed by "starosta", followed by ushers, bridesmaids, close family and guests.
From the church ceremony they return as a young couple. In the yard of the bride the wedding crowd is met by the parents of the bride. The mother throws wheat at her daughter and son-in-law for "happiness". She invites everyone to enter the house. The reception lasts all night. In the morning all head for "podalna" reception, there the bride is given her dowery.
In the evening, after all sorts of "adventures", the wedding guests head for the house of the groom. After traditional "haggling", the parents open the door and let them in. The mother covers the couple with a sheepskin coat turned inside out (to stave off all kinds of misfortunes and mishaps), and leads them to the reception area. The ushers grab the decorative axes and run to symbolically "knock down" the oven, so that the young wife will be kept busy patching the oven holes with clay. Only the sly usher manages to chip away a piece of clay.
Afterwards, the ushers bring in wine, while the parents invite the guests to the table. During the reception, the ushers carry the goose-down bedding to the bedroom, known as "komora", and prepare a bed for the newly weds. To assure the newlyweds of a"comfortable" sleep, scraps of lumber were inserted within the straw bedding, under the sheets.
"Starosta" thanks all for their hospitality and suggests to those who are tired to rest. On the second day of the wedding the"svashki" remind the groom that the bridal dance, so called "pochepiny", is in order. Only after "pochepiny" has taken place is the maiden considered to have become a wife.
On "starosta's" suggestion, the groom carries in the "korovai" with the "rishka", turns around three times and places it on the table. "Starosta" cuts the "korovai" into many small pieces, shares it with the parents of the bridegroom, the family and delivers presents from the bride (linen, shirts). A portion of the "korovai" is left behind for "pridantsi4" - relatives of the bride who have come at the end of the wedding. This gift giving symbolized the union of the families of the groom and the bride into one family. The bride unties the "rishka", cuts the branches into small pieces and distributes them to the musicians, who tie them to their fiddles.
In the evening the parents and relatives of the bride arrive ("pridany5") with presents for the groom. This part of the festivities is always the merriest. The guests entertain themselves all night, while reminiscing about past life experiences.
By early morning "starosta" thanks everyone for their hospitality. The guests continue to dance for a while, but shortly thereafter start leaving. This was how traditional weddings took place in Lemkovyna.

1"Svaty" - Match makers. This word is also used when referring to members of the family into a which a member of the family married.
2 The "korovai" is the most important of all wedding breads. It symbolizes the bride and is always of large circular shape. When a guest is offered a piece of "korovai", it is customary to hold the piece with a napkin, out of respect, since "korovai' is considered holy. The bread is decorated with symbolic figures made of dough such as doves which symbolize love and faithfulness, pine cones symbolizing fertility. Around the circumference the "korovai" is decorsted with green periwinkle ("barvinok") and other herbs.
3"Poczepyny" - preparation of the bride for the married life (similar to the bridal shower). This procedure is continued during the wedding reception when the bride's head covering is replaced with "chepets" (bonnet worn by a married Lemko woman). The bonnet is placed directly over the head and then covered with a head kerchief [babusha as we say it]. Only the lace trim of the bonnet can be seen above the forehead of the lady.
4"Prydantsi" - the relatives of the spouse who is leaving her home to live with the family of her spouse.
5"Prydany" - the ceremony in the house where the newly weds will live [it includes families and relatives of both families].



Originally appeared in "Lemkivskiy Kalendar, 1987". Monroe NY. English translation by Walter & Tania Maksimovich. Click here for the original version in Cyrillic.

A two hour DVD version of "Lemkivskie Vesilia - Lemko Wedding", transferred from a full feature movie, made in 1965, is available. Please visit http://lemko.org/lvpro/ to place an order. The entire ceremony was filmed using the original Lemko-Rusyn dialect as spoken by our ancestors. There are no English subtitles.

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Originally Composed: February 2nd, 1998.
Date last modified: September 28th, 2012