American weddings are full of traditions. Examples: 1.) If the groom catches a glimpse of the bride on the day of their marriage – especially if she’s wearing her gown – it’s bad luck. 2.) The bride is supposed to wear something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. 3.) At the reception, the best man should offer the first toast to the newlyweds.
And one for mothers of boys: 4.) The groom’s mother
should wear beige and keep her mouth shut.
Russian couples have traditions, too. One in
particular sure was new to me.
During a recent cruise from St. Petersburg to
Moscow, our tour group chanced upon this peculiar tradition five or six times.
As we approached a point of interest, a bride and groom, dressed in their wedding finery, were posing for photos in front a statue or monument. Most of the couples had the entire wedding party in tow, and they also took turns having their pictures taken.
St. Petersburg's colorful palaces, various statues of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, elaborate fountains, war memorials and onion-domed churches all over Russia serve as backgrounds for photos in wedding albums.
Apparently, it goes like this: After the formal
wedding ceremony-- the bride and groom, the bridesmaids, groomsmen, mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, the flowergirls and ring bearers – all pile into rented limousines. The limos are lavishly decked out with floral arrangements and oversized replicas of entwined gold wedding bands or doves or hearts. The names of the bride and groom are painted on the sides of the limo. Ribbons and balloons are attached to door handles and antennas.
The whole wedding gang rockets around the city
where they stop three or four times to pile out, and arrange themselves in front of landmarks that have special meaning for the newlyweds.
In Uglich, one of the oldest cities in the upper
Volga basin, we paused to admire a bride and groom as they staged a romantic scene for their videographer. They were on a raised platform for what I guess was a World War II monument. I couldn’t read the inscription on the base of the memorial, which of course was in Russian, but it featured the profile of a fairly modern-looking soldier and the numbers 1945.
The bride stood on one side of an open area
between two monuments, the groom on the other. They ran toward each other, arms outstretched, and embraced for the video camera. Their friends cheered and clapped. Then the rest of the bridal party joined them for the usual wedding photo lineups.
In St. Petersburg, on a Saturday afternoon, a
queue of limousines formed as several wedding parties waited their turns. One couple posed for photos, then beckoned to a man in a tuxedo, who ran across the grass and wedged himself between them. He opened a small box and released a pair of white doves. More cheering and clapping.
I imagine the vodka was flowing freely inside
the limos. In truth, vodka was everywhere. Russians are extremely proud of their national drink and most restaurants and bars offer dozens of varieties and
brands. Vodka tastings were common. We even had a chance to tour a vodka museum in the city of Uglich.
It started to rain one day as we witnessed one
of these wedding tableaux. As the next limo pulled forward, the doors flipped open, the bride and her entourage trooped out – oblivious to the rain. A kindly groomsman waved a huge black umbrella above the bride, but she ignored it and loped across the pavement beside her groom. The hem of her long white skirt with its three tiers of poufy ruffles dragged through puddles and wet grass. The bride’s hair drooped and her bouquet sagged, but the whole gang joined the newlyweds, posed, smiled, cheered, then trooped back to the limo and headed for the next post-wedding photo op.
After we witnessed this ritual three or four times, it didn’t seem nearly as odd as it did at first. It was rather charming. Everyone involved seemed to be having great fun.
Maybe the vodka helped.
Stay tuned for more about my recent trip to Russia. This blog is updated every two weeks. Or not.