Russian weddings are so much more than just getting the bride down the aisle. They can be two-day long events packed with unusual and quirky traditions, from kidnapping to drinking out of shoes to customary party games. Arm yourself with a little knowledge of what to expect, and you should be able to survive and enjoy a wedding, no matter what it throws at you.
It all kicks off before either the bride or the groom arrive at the church or town hall. To get his fiance to the altar, sometimes the groom has to complete a series of challenges or pay a ransom, which can be either real money or a symbolic token. This is because someone – usually the bride’s own parents – have kidnapped her in a custom that has the dual purpose of representing the groom’s love for his future wife, and to embarrass him too. If the groom fails to complete the challenges, he should gift small presents to the bridesmaids.
At the ceremony, watch out for smashing glass. Once the couple is announced as ‘married’, the parents will hand the husband and wife a glass each. The newlyweds will then attempt to smash the glasses into as many little pieces as possible. Each broken piece represents a year spent as a happy couple.
After the ceremony, the newly married couple (and quite often their bridal party) disappear for a few hours as they traipse around the city or countryside taking photos. It is customary for the bride and groom to take a series of wedding photos in front of well-known landmarks and to pay respects to fallen soldiers at whichever war memorial is nearby. This part of the wedding festivities can be quite consuming, and so it is not uncommon for the first day of the action to end here for guests. Even if the ceremony and reception are held on the same day, take this time to freshen up and re-hydrate because the reception will be full of boozy toasts and good fun, so you’ll want to bring your best game to the party.
Unsurprisingly, at the reception there are copious toasts in tribute to the newlyweds, usually liberally doled out by someone in the wedding party. It is even customary for the best man to have a drink out of the bride’s shoe. If you hear ‘gorko’ being shouted, join in. Gorko means ‘bitter’ and is shouted at the end of a toast. It is the signal for the bride and groom to kiss; Their kiss removes any bitterness of the alcohol. Often, partygoers will count the seconds of the kiss; the couple is only allowed to stop smooching when the counting does, so feel free to keep on counting until it gets awkward.
While everyone feasts, superstitious games are played, which are supposed to indicate what the married couple’s future life will be like. Whoever takes a bigger bite of a piece of salted bread is the one who will end up ‘wearing the pants’ in the relationship and domestic chores are doled out through a symbolic lucky dip.
Ridiculous games are also played at the reception, so you might want to leave your inhibitions at the door. A popular wedding game is when the wife is blindfolded and male guests volunteer to kiss her hand, along with her husband. The wife then has to guess which peck belongs to her husband. There is also the innuendo-loaded fry pan game, where a fry pan is placed between a woman’s legs and a ladle is tied around a man’s waist. The aim of the game is for the man to hit the fry pan with his ladle as many times as possible, which is best done drunk, obviously.