Ukrainian Weddings

On this day I will marry my friend, 

the one who shares my dreams, my life, my love…

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Weddings are joyful events and can be a lot of fun.  No matter what culture, ethnic, religious or social group, weddings are ceremonies where people are united in marriage.  Traditions and customs may vary but this special event is a public profession of love by which a man and woman commit themselves to each other for life.  “It is a contract, a covenant, and when it is done in faith and in the presence of a priest, Christ’s representative, it is a sacrament: a mystery, a sign of God’s continuing activity among us.”

Okay, before I lose all of you, I want to explain why I am writing about marriage at this time.

In the last few days, I have been reflecting on the “sacrament of marriage”.

As many of you are aware, My Man and I celebrated our 30th anniversary this year. We were married in the Ukrainian Catholic church and have wonderful memories of family and friends sharing our day with us.  The Sacrament of Marriage to me as it is to many Ukrainian Catholics is a renewed life together in Christ.

It was an honour last week to attend a wedding of a young couple just starting out on their married life. This couple, Jen and Shawn, had a civil ceremony a few years back but Jen has always wanted to have “a church wedding”.  Well, actually, it still wasn’t a ceremony held in a church, but it was a Catholic service.  This celebration was made even more special because Jen’s uncle, an ordained Ukrainian Catholic priest, performed the ceremony.  It was a lovely gathering of relatives and friends.

I was asked to make the wreaths, or “crowns” for the young couple.

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These crowns, made of periwinkle, are placed on the heads of the bride and groom. They amplify the meaning of the rings that encircle their fingers. The couple’s hands are joined with an embroidered cloth (rushnyk) to signify their newly forged union.  The joining of their hands reflects the joining of their hearts.

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The couple’s hearts, heads and hands must work together in love. This is a high point of the ceremony. When the priest removes the crowns, he’ll ask for a blessing “Receive this couple’s crowns into your Kingdom”.  Symbolically, this marriage will grow into a perfect love which alone can only come from God.  Mnohaya Lita Jen and Shawn !

If you are interested in knowing more about Ukrainian wedding ceremonies in Canada, you may wish to check out a few of these websites that I found.

http://www.stnicholaschurch.ca/content_pages/ourfaith/art_faith003.FAQ.htm

http://www.weddingsatsoyuzivka.com/traditions.html

Growing up, my recollections of Ukrainian weddings are not so much about the ceremony but the wedding receptions and the Vesillia (весілля) that followed.  Whenever my parents or even my friend’s parents were invited to a wedding, we all went.  I think that’s why some Ukrainian weddings had well over 300 guests.  Everyone knew someone so they would go, personal invitations not necessary.  “…oh yes, the bride?  She is the daughter to Aunt Olga’s second cousin’s niece…sure, I know her!”

No one hired babysitters back then either. Everyone came, no matter the age. I recall sleeping in the backseat of our car with my sister and brother, while our parents danced the night away.

I also fondly recall a couple of my uncles who loved to go up to the bar once or twice during the evening.  I think this helped them rehydrate after dancing the vibrant polkas, hopak, or kozochok. My Uncle Metro taught me to do a whirlwind polka with him but he also taught me how to cool off with a vodka shot!  But that’s another story!

At some point at any Ukrainian wedding, I recall that a funny thing would happen.  The band would play only a few notes.  But my uncles, aunts, cousins, in fact almost everyone would actually leave the tables and the bar and form a large circle on the dance floor. This was a sure sign that a kolomeyka would begin. The kolomeyka is a traditional Ukrainian dance that features a medley of leaps, kicks, and spins. I’ll leave you now with a couple of links if you’ve never seen this dance.

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