Russia- Day 8

April 11, 2010

As I write today’s update, I am sitting in the banquet room of our hotel suffering from a slight cold and severe sleep deprivation.  It is actually Sunday afternoon and I am just now getting around to blogging about yesterday’s events.

Sergey sent for us around noon yesterday and the entire family met at Sergey and Irena’s apartment which is located about 5 miles from the hotel.  We overloaded the elevator at the apartment complex and got stuck for about 25 minutes.  Ten people in an elevator almost makes a sauna. A great way to start the day!

At approximately 1:30pm we left for the courthouse in a wedding train consisting of one white, stretch limousine and seven black Toyota Land Cruisers.  The tradition is for all the cars to honk their horns sporadically all the way to the courthouse.  When we arrived, we all filed into the building and waited our turn for the official ceremony.  As a couple must go the courthouse for the marriage to be recognized, Saturdays are quite busy with couples getting married.  We showed up at he courthouse at the same time as another wedding party and when we finished, there were two more waiting in line!

The immediate family, close friends and wedding party filled the ceremony room and the actual exchanging of vows was very similar to what you’d expect.  This lasted only about 15 minutes before we were ushered into an adjoining room and toasts were made celebrating the union.  From there we loaded into the vehicles again and started a tour of the city in which various stops were made at area landmarks for pictures and fulfilling local traditions.  The one that made the biggest impression was the stop we made at the big river (Ob river) that runs through the town.  The newlyweds walk to a fence by the riverwalk trail and put a lock on one of the vertical supports.  There are thousands of various locks hanging from the fence!  Once the lock is in place, the couple continues their walk to the river’s edge and together, they throw the key to the lock into the river. Although, even in April the river is still frozen solid even with a boat frozen into in place. After a few more stops, we arrived back at the host hotel at 5pm for the reception.

Walking into the banquet area was like walking into the king’s palace!  The tables were loaded with meats, bread, vegetable and fruits of every kind.  At both ends of every table was a bottle of wine, vodka, mineral water, cranberry juice and cognac.  Instead of trying to explain all of the foods, you will find several pictures in the gallery below.

There was an emcee of sorts that kept everything moving along.  I counted eight tables of fourteen guests along with the head table of four that consisted of the bride, groom, maid of honor and best man.  For entertainment there were violinists, traditional dancers, a live band and a DJ that played mostly American rock and roll songs.

There were a few of the local wedding traditions that made an impression on Lisa and me.

  • The first is carrying the bride around in her chair raised high in the air.
  • At one point, the bride is placed in a chair and wrapped in a shawl given to her by her mother-in-law.
  • Then a crystal candleholder with a candle is lit and the bride and groom dance by themselves.
  • Another time in the celebration, all of the guest light a candle and stand in a circle while the bride and groom go from guest to guest blowing them out.
  • At another point, roses were handed out to every guest and we all line up and created a tunnel of roses by holding them out at an angle. The bride and groom walked through the tunnel and then all the roses were thrown on the floor.  The bride and groom then return the way they came by avoiding stepping on the roses.  I don’t understand the significance or meaning of this ritual and my translator was M.I.A. (Zina).
  • Another interesting thing was the cutting of the cake.  Instead of cutting the cake with a knife, a spoon is used to scoop out a bite of cake big enough to eat.
  • The neatest tradition is the shouting of “Gorka”!!!  The translation is “bitter” and every time the wedding guests start chanting it, the bride and groom must kiss to “sweeten” the bitterness.  You never know when the guests will start the chant and it happens sporadically throughout the night.

I am proud to say that the wedding finally broke up at 2:00am and I was still sober!  You learn very fast to pace yourself when drinking with Russians.  During the wedding there were approximately 150 individual toasts.  I’m not exaggerating one bit.  With this in mind you learn to partially fill your glass.  If you don’t you’ll be plastered within a couple of hours!

Once the majority of the guests left, the immediate family members and very close friends were the only ones sitting at a table.  That’s when the “real” toasts begin.  (The toasts that most people are not privy to).  The toasts are quite lengthy and are often very personal.  I was touched to be invited into this circle and participate.

The first day of the wedding lasted 12 hours.  I’ve never had a more interesting wedding experience!  To top things off…it’s snowing in Siberia!