by Don  

The Russian word for wedding is свадьба, which means both the marriage ceremony itself and the festivities that follow it. The word can also mean “wedding party,” in the sense of those who participate in the wedding. Since свадьба includes the later festivities, sometimes it's better to translate it as “reception.”

Most of the Protestant weddings I have attended in the US follow a fairly standard pattern: first there is a brief wedding ceremony in a church, which often takes less than half an hour. There may be hundreds of guests at the ceremony, and those who attend it are not necessarily invited to the reception. The wedding reception is a party or dinner afterwards, which may be held in another building on the church grounds or in a room at some other location rented for the event. All wedding receptions include a small event where the bride and groom mutually cut the wedding cake and feed each other a small piece. My favorite reception of all time was a seven-course sit-down dinner and dance for one hundred people. Now that was a reception.

The standard non-religious Russian wedding is a very different thing. It begins with a visit to ЗАГС or a wedding palace where the brief ceremony itself is held.¹ The bride, groom, and closest friends participate; parents do not necessarily attend. This is followed by a traveling party where the same people drive around town visiting various city sights where they drink champagne and take photographs.² This is followed by a meal, usually in a home, but sometimes in a restaurant.

In English one “holds” a wedding somewhere, and the guests “attend” a wedding. In Russian they often use the verb играть “to play” and гулять “to enjoy oneself” to express similar ideas:

В каком ресторане вы играли свадьбу? (adapted from this source) What restaurant did you hold the reception in?
В каком месяце вы играли свадьбу? (adapted from this source) What month did you hold your wedding in?
Большинство русских не играют свою свадьбу в церквях. Most Russians don't hold their weddings in churches.
— Где ты был в субботу?
— Я гулял на свадьбе.
“Where were you on Saturday?”
“I attended a wedding.”
Ты не хочешь со мной погулять на свадьбе в пятницу? Would you like to attend a wedding with me on Friday?

Of course, not all weddings fit the description above. Devout Orthodox Russians will have church weddings, which are elaborate and lengthy affairs. For a decent description of a modern Russian wedding, see www.womenrussia.com. When you are in the mood for some amusement, you should read about the many interesting customs around weddings in Russian villages of yesteryear, which included the kidnapping and ransoming of the bride.

¹ ЗАГС is a civil registry office which often has a particular suite of rooms where marriages are solemnized.

² If the wedding is in Moscow, the wedding party usually includes visits to Red Square, the eternal flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the scenic city overlook in front of Moscow State University.


Comment from: Loki [Visitor]

And it’s bloody annoying. Drivers are often drunk. Driving around near them is an exercise is awareness. They block whole streets and the people wander across the road drunkenly without looking at the traffic.

I appreciate it is their special day, but their behavior really annoys me.

And of course, the road police will never interfere with this regardless of what they are doing.

11/30/09 @ 05:24
Comment from: Paul Baxter [Visitor]

I don’t have any idea how widespread this is, but when I was in L’viv in the summer several years back we saw dozens of cars driving around town with very large ribbons attached to them. We were told these were people who were having their weddings. Our friends also told us that weddings are MUCH more common in the summer since food is cheaper then.

10/22/09 @ 07:59

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