Rusyn Marital Customs and Superstitions

©1995 by: GCU Honorary Editor, Michael Roman K.S.G.G.

Let us - you and I - picture in our minds the Rusyn weddings which were celebrated in the early decades of this century. Of course, we will note that those early marital celebrations did not have the significant necessities of present day weddings. In the early 1900's there were no bridal shoppes, no florists, no printed invitations, no special photographers, no limousines or automobiles, no bakeries, no catered dinners and no ballrooms.

Nevertheless, the absence of the essentials of a modern wedding did not prevent the Rusyn men and women from Carpathian Rus' from entering into matrimony.

They reached the marital goal by first meeting each other while working for their parents in the fields, or on special occasions and holy days, in the homes of elders where and when they participated in folk singing, dancing, telling or listening to stories and fables, and playing superstitious games.

Especially very significant for the young Rusyns was the celebration of Saint Andrew's Day in Kamjonka of Spiš County on November 30, according to the Julian calendar. This day really had a special meaning for the Carpatho-Rusyn boys and girls in the early decades of this century.

St. Andrew's Day Superstitions

On Saint Andrew's Day the young Rusyns of the Old Country would melt some lead in small portions which then were thrown into cold water and soon there emerged various figures from the rapidly cooling lead. These figures would then be used to foretell the future of the young Rusyns present. Unfortunately the author, Ivan Ladizinsky, did not describe how this was done, I hope some of our readers can submit this information.

After looking at the leaden figures, the young women began cooking pirohi, each of which had the name of a young man concealed within. The first pirohi to rise to the top of the boiling water was opened to reveal the name of the young man who was hopefully to become the husband of the young woman who had concealed his name. Undoubtedly, this pirohi procedure was also used in the case of some other pirohi rising to the top of the boiling water. Perhaps this is the reason why our Rusyn mothers enjoyed preparing and cooking pirohi for their families.

The following superstition was used to determine when the young man would tell his parents that he was going to get married to the young woman who had concealed his name in the pirohi. The young women made some wreaths and went outside the hut to hurl them at the branches of a nearby tree. If a wreath were caught on a branch at the first attempt, it was superstitiously believed that the fortunate young woman would be married to the young man, whose name was hidden in the pirohi, within the first year. If the second attempt was successful, she would be a bride in the second year and so forth....

There was another superstition as to the time of the wedding. In this instance, the eligible maiden would knock at night on a pig sty. If the pig "oinked" on the first knock, it signified that the young woman would be married within a year. If the "oinking" came on the second or third knock, she would have to wait two or three years before those "wedding bells" would ring for her.

Yes, there was an additional superstition to determine when the wedding would take place. According to this superstition, id the maiden had successfully stolen some chopped wood from a neighbor at the very first nightly attempt, she would be married within a year. Since the older and married neighbors knew about this superstition, they made it quite easy for the young woman to succeed in her marital quest.

Parents Hear of Their Son's Marriage Intentions

About 58 years ago I translated into English, Nicholas A. Hornyak's lengthy Rusyn article on "The Marriage Customs of the Carpatho-Russians", (Carpatho-Rusyns) of the Laborec Valley of Zemplin County of present day Slovakia. Most of the following is a revised and condensed version of that translation.

If a young man desired marriage, he had to ask his parents for their consent. After he received the parental approval, he started a serious courtship with the maiden he wanted to be his wife. The first step in the direction of marriage was the betrothal announcement somewhat quietly in the presence of the "engaged" couples parents and family members. In most cases no "engagement ring" was given. The betrothal announcement meeting was held in the home of the maiden. At the same time the parents of the betrothed couple started to bargain about the dowry of the bride-to-be which was to be given to her husband-to-be. All present enjoyed a feast which consisted of cheese, rice, pirohi and liquid spirits and refreshments. After the two sets of parents agreed on the dowry, they gave their blessings and determined the date of the wedding.

Immediately after the betrothal event, the "engaged" couple went to their priest for the preparation of the banns announcements. The intended wife was not present in church when the first banns were announced because it was believed that her future mother in law would become angry. However, the groom to be had to be present, because if he were not, he would be subjected to and ruled by his wife.

After the third announcement and a week before the wedding date, the "fiancee" gave her "fiancé" an expensive handkerchief, symbolic of her love for him. This usually occurred in the morning when preparations were being made for another feast. The grooms ushers were was tied together with a lengthy towel, symbolizing that the couple would be bound together not only by love but also by law.

As the wedding day drew near, there was a great deal of activity in the homes of both sets of parents who were making preparations for the important event, in addition to cooking and baking for the feasts. Relatives and neighbors helped by bringing gifts of food such as cheese, meats, baked goods, etc.

The celebrations prior to the wedding started at the home of the groom who danced with all his ushers (druzbove), signifying that the pre-marital feasting had begun. Upon completion of this dance routine, fiddlers played enthusiastically while the youth danced and sang merrily.

Exactly at midnight before the wedding, the young women, including the bridesmaids gathered in the home of the bride for the purpose of making wreaths from the "barvinok" - periwinkle. Widows were not permitted to witness the wreath making in Ugoch County because it was believed, according to George Gulanich, a native Ugochan, that it would bring misfortune to the newlyweds.

As the bridesmaids were making the wreaths the sang the following:

"Barvinku, barvinku, l'ubl'u t'a nositi,

No pro chlopca molodoho mušu t'a lišiti."

Translated into English the above two lines are:

"Periwinkle, periwinkle, I love to wear thee,

But because of a young man I must leave thee."

The following was sung about the groom:

"Chija tota zastavochka

Ponad selo machajetsja?" I tak dale.

The above two Rusyn line in English are:

"Whose banner is it that is flapping

In the wind over the village?" and so forth.

After the wreaths were completed, the maid of honor took each one separately and place them on bread to be used in the wedding procession and ceremony by the bridegroom and the bridesmaids. She then made three complete dance revolutions in the center of the room. Then the fiddlers played some music while the young people danced to a few tunes and then retired to rest for the "Big Day".

On the morning of the wedding day they got up very early in the groom's home. Even the fiddlers came early to play dance music for each of the members of the grooms family. As noon approached, a "starosta" - old leader - was selected. Accepting the leadership, the starosta called the matchmakers to sit at the table to sing marital songs while they dined and drank beverages. At the same time the groom prepared himself for the farewell episode with his parents.

Continue On To Part 2

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