The bridesmaids and groomsmen at a wedding in Ukraine need to be single and never married before. This is Ukrainian tradition. Please do not ask me questions why, I really never thought about it. I was just a participant of all those traditions because I grew up in Western Ukraine. I am sure, some ethnographic researches can explain “why?”, but I am not speaking about science now. I am just telling you real stories about the Ukrainian lifestyle. I was a bridesmaid at weddings in Ukraine so many times that my friends started to joke that I am a professional bridesmaid. Then after a number of prayers “Oh God, send me a husband” I was blessed to have my Big Day and my own bridesmaids. Usually a Ukrainian bride (groom) will ask their closest relatives, like a sister, brother, cousin, or even a close friend, to be bridesmaids (groomsmen). All the relatives of mine were married already at the time of my wedding but thank God, I still had two girlfriends who were never married, so they became my bridesmaids.
Speaking about quantity of bridesmaids and groomsmen at a Ukrainian wedding, the most popular is number two: two bridesmaids, two groomsmen. In some regions a bride will choose four, six or even eight bridesmaids (I myself was a bridesmaid at a wedding with four of them), but having more than two bridesmaids is very rare in Ukraine and not as popular as in North America or Western Europe.
Both bridesmaids get a special rank from the Ukrainian bride. The first bridesmaid is called persha druzhka or starsha druzhka and the second bridesmaid is called druha druzhka or molodsha druzhka (druzhka means “bridesmaid” in Ukrainian).
The two groomsmen are getting the same rank from the groom. The first groomsman is pershyy druzhba or starshyy druzhba and the second groomsman is druhyy druzhba or molodshyy druzhba (druzhba means “groomsman” in Ukrainian). “Persha” (“perzhyy”) means “first”, “druha” (“druhyy”) means “second”; “starsha” (“starshyy”) literally means “older” and “molodsha” (“molodshyy”) means “younger”. In this case it means not an age, but a place in the rank.
The first bridesmaid and first groomsman perform the most important customs and traditions at the Ukrainian wedding, such as unfolding the ceremonial towel in front of the bride and groom at the Church or in a marriage office. Another is the holding of the crowns over the heads of the bride and groom at the Church. About 60% of all the traditions at a Ukrainian wedding require the participation of both bridesmaids and groomsmen. Bridesmaids and groomsmen also help the bride and groom with most of the preparations to the wedding. Bridesmaids will buy corsages for themselves, groomsmen and all the guests but not for the bride and groom. Also the bridesmaids stay with the bride the night before the wedding. They prepare the bride's wedding attire and then they have a girl's party. The groom and groomsmen have their boy's party too the same evening, the last bachelor's party for the groom.
Oh, I almost forgot one more important detail about being a Ukrainian bridesmaid (groomsman). What to wear? Is it required that the same dresses are worn by the bridesmaids and the same suites for the groomsmen? No, they can wear what they want, preferably a nice gown for the girl and an elegant suit for the man. But if you are a bridesmaid or groomsman at a traditional styled Ukrainian wedding, you better wear an embroidered shirt (you can buy it at any local market in Ukraine). Also bridesmaids in Ukraine do not have bouquets as in North America or Western Europe, a corsage is enough.
Well, here is the Big Day! I have to explain, Ukrainians do not have a tradition of the father giving the bride away, but they have many different customs and traditions for the wedding day, before the marriage ceremony. First of all, the groom with groomsmen and the groom's guests come to the bride's home “to buy the bride” from the bride's guests. This humorous custom takes place by the entrance of the home. So, when the “purchase” is done, the bride's guests allow to the groom's guests to enter the bride's home.
Next, the bride and bridesmaids bow three times to the groom and groomsmen, the groom and groomsmen do the same. Then the bride give a corsage to the groom and bridesmaids give corsages to the groomsmen. Each groomsman is suppose “to pay” his bridesmaid for the corsage; not in money though, but by some small gift like a box of chocolates.
After the parents blessing at the bride's home (another tradition!), the bride and groom are ready to go to the place of the marriage ceremony. If the Church is close to the bride's home, bride and groom and all the guests walk to the ceremony's place in a procession. The two groomsmen walk with the bride and two bridesmaids walk with the groom as on this video
But if the Church is too far from the bride's home, the bride and groom will be taken by separate cars as tradition does not allow them to go together to the place of ceremony. The first car of the wedding procession drives the bride and groomsmen and the second car drives the groom and bridesmaids.
At the entrance of the Church, a Priest meets the wedding procession and walks the bride and groom down the aisle. The bridesmaids, groomsmen and all of the guests follow them.
The ceremony now starts. The first bridesmaid and first groomsman will now do their main rituals at the Ukrainian wedding. First is an unfolding of an embroidered ceremonial towel onto the floor in front of the bride and groom (as on this picture)
The bride and groom then step on the towel. It is a sign, it is said: “Whoever steps on the towel first, will be the boss of the family.” :)
Another very important mission of the first bridesmaid and groomsman is to hold crowns over the heads of the bride and groom (see a picture)
It is a little difficult, because they have to hold the crowns for a long time, about 20 minutes or so (depending on the length of the Church service). They can change their hands but must not allow the crowns to fall down! It would be a sign of bad luck for newlyweds. In some Churches, however, the bridesmaid and groomsman do not hold the crowns because a Priest puts the crowns directly on the heads of the bride and groom as it was at my own wedding (here is a picture)
Then the bride and groom must be very careful to not to have their crowns to fall off. My husband and I did well, our crowns stayed on!
When the Church ceremony is over, the newlyweds can finally walk together to the reception (or they can go in the same car, if the distance is too far to walk). It seems like all the bridesmaids and groomsmen's job is over. But not at the Ukrainian wedding! The bridesmaids and groomsmen have to participate in a few more customs at the reception which is another story.
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