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:
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].
Document URL: http://lemko.org/art/wedding.html
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Originally Composed: February 2nd, 1998.
Date last modified: September 28th, 2012