FOLK CUSTOMS OF THE CARPATHO-RUSYNS:
Originally published and copyright 1985. C-RA Vol VIII #3. Unauthorized duplication or use is prohibited and in violation of international copyright law.
A wedding scene in the 1970's from Kamjonka - a Carpatho-Rusyn village in the Presov region near Stara L'ubovna. Wearing her bridal wreath, the bride greets with a glass of brandy her groom and the starosta.
The wedding, no doubt, has the dominant position among the domestic customs of the Rusyns. Historically, there developed at different times five basic types of weddings among Rusyns: (1) abduction of the bride; (2) "buying" the bride; (3) the so-called "exchange"; (4) prystasstvo (the man's marrying into his bride's parents' house); and (5) the "mainstream" type of wedding.
Abduction of the bride (vykkradanja) as a means of starting a marriage is mentioned in Nestor's Chronicle of the eleventh century, one of the oldest histories of the area. The continuation of this practice is attested in another important historical document, the book Description d'Ukraine, written in 1650 by the French traveller G. Beauplan. It is worth noting that the abduction of one's future wife was fairly widespread and generally tolerated.
The custom of "kidnapping" the bride was retained in the mountainous areas of Subcarpathia as late as the nineteenth century. It survived longest among the Rusyns settled in what is now a part of southwestern Romania. In the village of Skejus, in the county of Timisoara, I met a Rusyn woman who was "kidnapped" by her lover from her husband as recently as the late 1940's. The chief reason for the abduction of the bride (with her consent!) was that her parents would not agree to the marriage for some reason. The couple usually found asylum with relatives or friends in another village, and after several days or weeks, they returned to their parents' homes to get "properly" married - though without the usual wedding feast. Both the parents, who clearly had no other choice, and the society tolerated this unconventional manner of establishing a family. Some of the less affluent parents even welcomed it, for it absolved them of financing the costly wedding feasts.
Certain elements of the abduction of the bride are still present today in the Carpatho-Rusyn folk wedding ritual, though few people realize their connection with the "real thing" of the past.
The "purchase" of the bride usually took place at the "girls' fairs" discussed in the article on Whitsun customs (Carpatho-Rusyn American, Vol. VII, No. 2, 1984). The "girls' fair" held at Krasny Brod, near the town of Medzilaborce, was the most well known. The purchase of brides was not the only purpose of these fairs. They were primarily a pretext for the meeting of Rusyn shepherds and peasants living throughout the year in small, isolated hamlets and villages scattered across Subcarpathian Rus'. But, as was natural for young people who otherwise had little opportunity to get married in their sparsely populated communities, many agreed to marriages at these fairs. Since each member of the patriarchal family was an indispensable participant in the economic endeavor, the bride's family thought it appropriate to demand of the parents of the bridegroom a certain compensation for losing a member of its "labor force". This "purchasing" of the bride is reflected in many rituals of the present-day Rusyn folk wedding in Sub-carpathian Rus', such as the bridegroom's "purchase of a heifer" when he is courting the bride, his "purchasing" his bride during the course of the wedding procession, his buying the wedding crown or parta (a decoration with ribbons for the bride's head) for the bride, and so on.
The third form of contracting a marriage was the so-called "exchange" (obmin, cerjana). According to this custom, a brother and a sister from one family got married simultaneously to a sister and a brother from another family. In such cases, neither of the two families involved demanded the otherwise customary marriage dowry. The economic advantage of this kind of wedding, especially for the poorer people, was further enhanced by the fact that the families held only one wedding feast for the two couples. However, the "exchange" wedding, like the "abduction" or the "purchase" types of wedding, became very rare as early as the nineteenth century, and in the twentieth century, they are the exception.
The fourth form of entering the marital bond was the prystasstvo (the bridegroom's marrying into the house of his bride's parents). The most frequent reason for this kind of marriage was that the bride had no older brothers, and the bridegroom's helping hands were needed in this household, while the household of the man's parents could do without his help. This kind of wedding was rather disadvantageous for the prystas (the man who married into his bride's parents' house). In theory, he could inherit the property of his wife's parents (or at least a part of it), but in practice this hardly ever happened. Moreover, the bride's parents or brothers could disinherit the prystas any time they pleased. The uncertain position of the man who married into the house of his bride's parents is best summed up in the folk saying: Prystaseva torba vse na klynku vysyt' (literally,'The bag of the prystas is always hanging on a hook.") The meaning is that the prystas could be driven out of the house at any time, picking up his basic "chattel" from the "hook" and leaving.
The most widespread form of wedding, however, has always been that of the bride's marrying into the house of her bridegroom's parents. This occurred on the basis of mutual agreement between the future spouses and their parents. Let us now have a closer look at this most typical type of Rusyn wedding.
It is perhaps appropriate to say that the Carpatho-Rusyn folk wedding was a complex "theatrical" form comprising elements of song, dance, music, spoken word, and even artistic design. These elements, along with the rational and "magic" undercurrents present in the "performance," developed over time into a harmonious "play" with firmly established rules. Each of the participants had a particular role in the folk wedding.
The chief protagonist of the "play" was, of course, the bride (molodyca, moloda). She was dressed in a special wedding costume which, as late as the beginning of the twentieth century, had to include a fur coat, regardless of the time of year. The bridegroom (molodyj had to wear a long linen coat, the so-called cuha or guba. Both the fur coat and the cuha were to demonstrate the couple's affluence, and their wearing them at the wedding ceremony was also to signify their future prosperity. There were also other indispensable aspects of the couple's appearance at the wedding: the bride was to wear a small periwinkle (barvinok) wreath on her head, the bridegroom had to put a "feather" of rosemary in his hat. Important roles were played by the "wedding" father and the "wedding" mother of both the bride and the bridegroom. Should any of them be deceased at the time of the wedding, their role would be taken by one of the nearest relatives.
The two chief organizers of the wedding were the starosta (representing the bridegroom's side) and the marsalko or nastavnyk (representing the bride's side). They were to see that all tradition was carefully followed. The outward signs of their function were specially embroidered towels and a special kind of mountain axe, the so-called topirec. The "cast' of the wedding "play" also included the bridesmaids and the groomsmen. The respective godfathers usually played the role of zastavnyky (flag-bearers). The bridegroom's godmother was the senior svaska (the senior female member of the wedding party on the bridegroom's side), and the bride's godmother was the senior prydannyca (the senior female member of the wedding party on the bride's side). Other relatives played the parts of ordinary svaty and svasky (male and female guests on the bridegroom's side) and prydannyky and prydannycy (male and female guests on the bride's side). There was a special ritual prescribed for the invitation of the people who were to serve as "functionaries" at the wedding, as well as a special ritual for their inauguration into these functions.
The most popular time of the year in which to hold a wedding was in late winter or early spring, the period of fasyngy or maslenycja (roughly between Christmas and the start of the Great Lent before Easter). Even though each village had its own variations of the wedding customs, the basic pattern was common to the entire Subcarpathian region. This pattern consisted of the following stages:
Rozvydyny (the "reconnaissance"): In past generations of Carpatho-Rusyns (almost until the middle of the twentieth century), mutual affection among prospective spouses was not necessarily the main factor in contracting the marriage. Often the matchmaking decision was left up to the respective parents whose considerations were more rational than emotional. When choosing a partner for their child, they especially considered economic status, morality, character, health, industriousness, and so on. The initiative in the "reconnaissance" usually came from the parents of the bridegroom. The mission to determine the "marriageability" of the prospective bride was entrusted to an "envoy", usually one of the bridegroom's relatives. If his findings were favorable, an "official delegation" of the bridegroom's family was sent to the bride's parents' house.
Sprosyny (the asking for the bride's hand): The above-mentioned delegation consisted of two or three relatives of the bridegroom. At least one of the delegates was to be an experienced man and a convincing orator. Usually this man later became the starosta. The delegates (sprostary, literally, "the askers") came to the bride's parents' house unannounced. It was not appropriate for them to come directly to the point. In a roundabout way they started to speak of themselves as pilgrims or shepherds looking for a lost sheep, or as hunters chasing a deer, or as merchants looking for a heifer to purchase. The response of the bride's parents was in a like manner. If they found the prospective bridegroom to be a good partner for their daughter, they would answer: "We do have the sheep (deer or heifer) here except we are not sure if she is the one you are looking for." If for some reason they disliked the prospective son-in-law their answer would be: "There is no such animal at this house." This metaphorical conversation had a particular purpose: it was to divert the attention of the "unclean spirit' away from the real event (the planned wedding), and thus insure that the wedding proceed without any difficulties.
If a basic agreement was reached between the delegates and the bride's parents on the mutual "compatibility" of the two young people, the delegates were invited to the table by the parents. After a lime "fortification" of the two sides with a few slugs of homemade brandy brought by the delegates, the bargaining over details was begun. This was usually rather difficult - the main bone of contention obviously being the amount of the marriage dowry. When an agreement was reached on that matter, the future bride who was hiding in the closet or in a neighbor's house, was sent to the inn to bring some more brandy to seal the preliminary contract. This was also a sign to the whole village that the girl in question had been "asked for her hand".
Rukovyny (engagement): A week or two later, the closest relatives of the two young people, including the bridegroom himself, met in the house of the bride's parents to formally conclude the agreement. The bride was again in hiding, and when the bridegroom's starosta (the former head of the delegation, now one of the chief organizers of the wedding) ceremoniously asked the bride's parents to introduce the bride to the young man, they would not comply with his wish immediately. For the first and second time they would bring an old woman, a strange girl, or a boy dressed in girl's clothing into the room. Only the third time would they introduce the real bride.
The starosta would then ask the young couple to shake hands with each other (thus, the engagement ceremony received its Rusyn name - rukovyny or zarucyny, meaning holding hands or handshaking), to go around the table, and to exchange rings. The bride then decorated her future husband with a "feather" of rosemary which the bridegroom wore either on his hat or on the lapel of his coat until the wedding day. In addition, she gave him a decorative towel, embroidered by herself, and a shirt also made by herself. Both gifts were a demonstration of her skill and industriousness. She also gave a decorative towel to the starosta and to some other guests. The youth of the village would gather under the window of the betrothed girl's house and sing joking songs in an attempt to dissuade her from marrying.
Vuhlyny (the visit of the bride's parents to the bridegroom's parents): About a week after the engagement (most often on a Sunday afternoon), the bride's parents would visit the house of the future son-in-law in order to get better acquainted with the bridegroom's family and-its economic status. Since it was customary for the bride's parents to closely inspect all the "corners" (vuhly) of the bridegroom's parents' house, the visit was thus called vuhlyny. This visit also offered the opportunity to resolve all remaining practical questions concerning the wedding ceremony: the day of the wedding, the number of guests, the expenses, and so on.
Oholosky (the banns): In the past, the church was the only institution authorized to contract and register marriages, so the young couple had to inform the local priest of the forthcoming marriage at least three weeks before the ceremony. The priest would then test their basic knowledge of religion. If the couple's answers failed to satisfy him, as they often did, the young couple had to attend the priest's special classes for several days. Only then would the priest announce in the course of three Sunday services the decision of the couple to enter marriage.
The preparation for the wedding: After the betrothal, the families of the two young people prepared intensively for the ceremony. The young man hired the musicians, the groomsmen, and other functionaries. The bride and her girlfriends embroidered decorative towels, stripped feathers for the featherbed, finished her wedding dress, and completed her trousseau. The preparations reached their peak during the last week before the ceremony. Special attention was paid to the baking of the wedding cake (korovaj, balec, kuch).
On the eve of the wedding, the guests would bring gifts, usually a basket of food. The nearest relatives would also give the young couple some articles of clothing and things for the household.
Plescyny or zahudovanky (the bachelors' dance): On Saturday evening, the day before the wedding, the young man staged the bachelors' dance in which he said his last good-bye to batchlerhood and to his friends whom he was now "leaving" for the marital bond. It began with the bachelors' dance of the bridegroom and the groomsmen, followed by a party. At the end of the bachelors' entertainment, the bride came to part company with her single girlfriends.
Weaving of the head wreaths: On Saturday night the bridesmaids came to the house of the bride's parents. They would then go with the marsalko or nastavnyk (one of the chief organizers of the wedding on the bride's side) to the woods or to the backyard where they would stay until sunrise. There they would pick barvinok (periwinkle), an evergreen plant which was regarded as a symbol of everlasting affection. The bridesmaids would then make a little wreath out of the periwinkle with which to decorate the head of the bride at the wedding. Also, the shape of the wreath was believed to have a symbolical meaning: it was round like the sun and was thought to assure the newlyweds of fertility and good luck. With the wreath on her head, the bride would be dressed in her wedding costume.
The wedding procession to the bride: In the meantime, in the house of the bridegroom, the svasky (the female members of the wedding party on the bridegroom's side) were busy making the zastava (wedding flag). Usually this consisted of a flagstaff or a trunk of a small coniferous tree decorated with ribbons. It was held at the front of the procession by the zastavnyk (flagbearer), usually the bridegroom's godfather. It was his duty to protect the flag from getting "stolen." If he was not attentive enough, and the flag was "stolen" by practical jokers, the godfather had to buy it back from the "thieves" at a high price. At about nine o'clock in the morning, the bridegroom's parents gave their son a blessing for a "long journey." and the wedding procession proceeded to the bride's house. The flagbearer was followed by the starosta (one of the chief organizers of the wedding on the bridegroom's side), the groomsmen, the musicians, and the other members of the wedding party. Outwardly the wedding procession gave the impression of a military expedition. In some villages the groomsmen rode on horseback, shot off rifles in the air out of fun, and generally made quite a row. The house of the bride's parents was locked up "out of fear" of the unruly procession, and only after a ritual conversation between the bridegroom's starosta and the bride's marsalko was the house unlocked for the bridegroom's party.
Calling the bride out of hiding: The bride's relatives regarded the bridegroom's party as "adversaries," and behaved toward them accordingly. They hid the bride in a closet or in the neighbor's house. Asked by the starosta to show the bride to the procession, the bride's people would initially show them a false one -- an old woman, a Gypsy woman, or even a boy dressed as a girl. All these actions of feigned distrust in the bridegroom and his companions, and the resulting practical jokes, had a more serious, rational aspect. They reflected the age-old fears of parents of marriageable daughters that their offspring would be forcibly kidnapped by strangers. Only after a long "bargaining" session did the bride's people bring in the real bride. The marsalko then gave a touching speech in which he thanked the bride's parents for her upbringing. The bride responded by kneeling in front of her father, mother, grandparents, and brothers and sisters. She gave each of them a kiss and asked them through the marsalko for forgiveness. Her nearest relatives would then give her their blessings. The bridesmaids joined the ritual by singing melancholy songs about parting from one's parents.
Upon receiving the blessing, the bride decorated the hat of the bridegroom with a wedding sprig of rosemary. The starosta and the bridegroom's nearest relatives were then decorated by the bridesmaids with embroidered towels, and the remaining relatives were decorated with sprigs of periwinkle.
Going to the wedding: When the bride said her good-bye to her parents, the bridegroom's party and the bride's party joined together, and, accompanied by the musicians, went to the church to participate in the ceremony. The bride was led by the senior groomsman and the bridegroom was led by the senior bridesmaid. The mother doused all of the members of the procession with consecrated water and sprinkled them with grain. On their way to the church the members of the procession sang emotional wedding songs. In some villages, the parties of the bride and bridegroom met only at the front of the church.
At the church door, the bride joined her bridegroom, and they entered together. Interestingly enough, it was believed that the one who stepped into the church first would have the first and last word in the family's affairs. It is worth noting that among Carpatho-Rusyns, the customary church wedding ritual was mixed with many elements of the folk wedding rooted in an older, mainly pagan past: the exchange of wreaths and rings; walking around the tetrapod (center table) with a burning candle; drinking wine from one cup; and so on. Also, when the priest was marrying the couple, the senior svaska (the senior female member of the bridegroom's party) held above the couple's heads a loaf of bread bound over with yarn.
The return from the wedding: When the wedding ceremony was over, the bride sprinkled the guests standing in front of the church with grain. She would give candy to the children so that her own married life would be "sweet." The procession then returned to the bride's parents' house in the same arrangement as it had left for the church. The only change was that the newlyweds went together this time. At the bride's home, the couple and the guests were ceremoniously welcomed and offered festive dishes. The wedding feast was opened by the starosta with a speech ornamented with stories from the Bible. He then called on the guests to join in a common prayer in which he blessed the food. Symbolically, the newlywed couple had to eat from one plate (often with one spoon) and to drink from one cup. The wedding feast consisted of several courses. Among the obligatory dishes were macanka (mushroom soup), chicken soup, meat, and holubky (rolled cabbage leaves stuffed with meat and rice). The guests ate from mutually shared bowls and drank from one cup which circulated among them together with the bottle. At the same time they continued singing and dancing.
The bride goes to the bridegroom's house: In the evening, when the festive meal was over, the bride, her eyes filled with tears, said her final good-bye to all the members of the wedding party on her side, including small children. She gave each of them a kiss, and in return they put money into her apron. The last to kiss and bless the bride were her parents who provided her with the ritual bread for the walk to the bridegroom's house. The starosta then thanked the bride's parents in the name of the bride for her good' upbringing. Sometimes the bride's parents gave their blessing to their son-in-law also. The whole ritual took place against the background of the guests singing sad wedding songs.
In the meantime, the groomsmen and the bridesmaids paid a symbolic sum to "buy" from the younger sister or brother of the bride the appropriate trousseau: a lada (a kind of wardrobe) with apparel, feather-beds, cushions, and various other items for the household. In western Subcarpathian Rus', the members of the wedding party had the right to "complement" the agreed-upon dowry by "stealing" from the bride's parents' pots and pans, bowls and plates, and even hens. The members of the bride's family inevitably had to be on their guard to protect their house from too much stealing, even though it was done for the bride. On the other hand, things which were once "successfully" stolen for her were regarded by all to be the bride's rightful property. If the bride's parents insisted on getting them back, they had to pay the members of the wedding for them in kind -- usually with homemade brandy.
Those villagers who were not invited to the wedding added to the humorous side of the festivities by stopping the procession. They did so by putting a hurdle (perejma or sl'abant) on the road. They removed it only after being treated with brandy. Even that was not enough if the bridegroom was from another village. He would then have to add some "ransom" money in addition to the brandy. This, a mere practical joke in more civilized times, was no doubt another reflection of the origin of many wedding traditions in an older, rougher past.
In the house of the bridegroom: Here the wedding procession was welcomed by the mother of the bridegroom. She was dressed in a fur coat turned inside out. She offered the bride a piece of bread and an egg which she let slip down the bride's bosom -- so that she would bear children easily. As for the other guests, the bridegroom's mother sprinkled them with consecrated water and grain. She ushered the bride into the house by pulling her by her embroidered wedding towel. Both women walked three times around the festive table, whereupon the mother seated the bride on the most honored seat next to her son. When offered the first glass of brandy, the bride poured it out behind her seat. The second glass she offered to her husband. It was only the third glass of brandy which she emptied herself.
The newlyweds were then joined at the table by the remaining guests, and the festivities, comparable to those which were held at the bride's house, lasted until late into the night.
The newlywed couple's first night: In the evening, the female members of the wedding party on the bridegroom's side made the bed for the couple in a loft or in a closet. Under the bed they would put a yoke, a harrow, a plow, an axe, or another object made of iron. With the accompaniment of music, the starosta and the members of the wedding saw the couple off to their bedroom. This prelude to the wedding night was highly ceremonious. First went the starosta with a mountain axe held upright in his hand, followed by two women holding burning candles (svitylky). The newlywed couple also held burning candles. Then came another of the practical jokes: the senior groomsman lay down on the bed, demanding of the husband "compensation money." Upon receiving it, he blessed the bed with the mountain axe and laid it under the cushion. Next to the bed the members of the wedding who were present put a piece of the wedding cake (korovan.
When the couple was left alone, the bride took off her husband's shoes where she found a few coins for good luck. At this time, he helped her take off her wedding dress. In the meantime, the festivities in the house were becoming even rowdier. There were performances of jocular plays and the guests started singing erotic songs. If the newlyweds spent their first night in the loft, the groomsmen jokingly "supported" the ceiling with straw so that it would not "fall through" under the couple.
Taking the wreath off the bride's head and putting on the married woman's bonnet: According to custom, the bride was to be the first person to get up the morning after the wedding night. She whitewashed the oven (the seat of "the good spirit of the house") with clay, and she cleaned the room. With the room tidied up, the bridegroom's parents and the female cooks arrived to arrange another stage of the wedding festivities. At about nine o'clock in the morning, the members of the wedding on the bridegroom's side gathered in the room, and after a treat they engaged in another ceremonious act -- the taking off of the bridal wreath and its substitution with a married woman's bonnet.
Removal of the bridal wreath: The ceremony of the taking off of the bridal wreath and its substitution with a married woman's bonnet started when the starosta would call on the senior groomsman to remove the bride's wreath or parta (a decoration with ribbons for the bride's head). This was done with a mountain axe, a knife, or a fork, for the groomsman could not touch the wreath with his hands. While doing this, the senior groomsman asked the young woman a rhetorical question which, he repeated three times: Cy tobi maju holovu stjaty abo vinec dolov znjaty? ("Am I to cut off your head, or merely take off your wreath?") The customary answer of the bride to the first two queries was: "Cut off my head!" Only the third answer gave permission to take off the wreath. This act was also accompanied by the guests singing songs appropriate for the occasion. Then, with the wreath on his mountain axe (knife or fork), the groomsman danced a solo. When he finished, he "sold" the wreath to the young husband for a symbolic sum which they agreed upon after a lengthy bargaining session.
The svasky (female guests on the bridegroom's side) then took the young bride to the closet or another place, seated her on a pail filled with water from the local stream - the pail being covered with a fur coat - and began the final stage of turning the bride into a wife. First they arranged her hair into a "bun," and upon this they put the married woman's bonnet. They also exchanged her single girl's dress for that of a married woman. Like all other wedding customs, this one too was accompanied by friendly joking and singing. With the bonnet on her head, the young wife distributed the wedding cake to the nearest relatives of her husband (his father, mother, grandparents, brothers, and sisters) and to the other wedding guests. She also distributed her handmade presents among the guests - mostly articles of clothing.
Rjadovyj tanec (the "dance in a row"): The final step in the transformation of the bride into a married woman was "sealed" by a spirited dance of the young wife with all the male guests. In the midst of a circle formed around her, one by one the guests joined her in the dance. Since there were usually some fifty to one hundred dancing partners, the marathon was rather exhausting for the young woman. On the other hand, it brought her quite a considerable financial sum (which she did not have to share with her husband or parents-in-law). This was because each of the dancers had to pay her a certain amount of money. The nearest relatives usually gave the most, the more distant ones somewhat less. Meanwhile the husband watched the dance from a distance. When he noticed that his wife was dancing with someone for too long or that she was too exhausted, he asked for a dance himself (he had to pay her also). After several steps, he took her in his arms, broke the closed circle, and they both hid in the closet which he locked up. Some anthropologists interpret this dance as a remnant of an ancient ritual intercourse of the bride with all male relatives of the bridegroom which is recorded in old documents and which may still be practiced among some groups in remote areas of the world.
Washing the young wife in the stream: The "dance in a row" nurtured a growing excitement. When the excitement reached its peak, the starosta brought the newlyweds out of the closet and with a burning candle in his hand led them to the local stream. They were accompanied on their way by the music and by the singing of the wedding guests. The newlyweds washed first, followed by the other members of the wedding. Sometimes the wedding guests threw the starosta, the senior groomsman, and other wedding functionaries into the water. The bridesmaids also used to throw into the stream their single girls' head wreaths to find out from the speed with which the wreaths were carried away by the stream whether or not they would marry soon. On their way back to the house, the newlyweds leapt across a fire to "dry out." In the house, they sprinkled the oven, the table, and icons with stream water and doused the guests with it as well. Both the water and the fire had a symbolic magic function: to purify the newlyweds and the guests from sin and thus to assure them of a happy life.
Propoji prydany (the feast staged by the relatives of the young wife): With the bride finally "turned into a married woman," the bridegroom's mother sent a junior groomsman or some of the relatives to break the news to the young woman's parents. The bride's parents summoned their family for a small dinner. In the course of the dinner the women of the family made a darnyk (a flagstaff on which each of the women fixed a piece of linen or a bandana). Then they formed a procession which brought the darnyk into the house of the bridegroom. There, the old ritual of "enmity" between the family of the bride and the family which took the bride away was repeated.
The bridegroom's party locked the house, opening it only after a long bargaining session between the marsalko (one of the chief organizers of the wedding on the bride's side) and the starosta. The propijci or prydannyky (the members of the wedding on the bride's side) were then seated at the vacated tables and reunited with the bride, who was now wearing the married woman's bonnet. The young woman first greeted her mother, who gave her the ritual bread called balec or pryvykanec. Then the bride kissed all her relatives and received their gifts. However, the "enmity" between the two families continued further. The prydannyky and the svasky exchanged a series of songs mocking each other, but when the singing and feasting was over, the "enmity" did not prevent the guests of both parties from joining in a new round of dancing which lasted until late at night.
Popravyny or svascyny (the gradual waning of the wedding festivities): On the third day of the wedding, usually a Tuesday, all the guests again gathered in the bridegroom's house. This time they treated themselves from their own resources. Each of the women brought a bottle of brandy and some food from which they prepared a lunch. When the guests ran out of food and drink too soon, the men of the bridegroom's party made a wooden horse with which they visited the households of the guests, requesting some food and drink "for the horse." During this final stage of the festivities, there was much merrymaking, music, and song, so that the revelry again lasted the whole day.
As we have tried to demonstrate. the traditional Carpatho-Rusyn wedding had a fixed pattern. It lasted three days and included many magic elements which could be traced to pagan times. Nevertheless, in the course of history. Christianity made its own decisive impact on the customs. This was seen not only in the church wedding, but also in the speeches of the starosta and the marsalko, which invariably commenced with stories from the Bible adapted for the common folk. The traditional Carpatho-Rusyn wedding pattern also reflected many elements of the ancient matriarchal system, life in an extended patriarchal family, ancient law based on customs, medieval military marches, and other historical components. The most outstanding feature of each ceremonial act of the wedding festivities was the singing of songs that mirrored the varied historical circumstances in which they originated.
In spite of the general rigidity of the wedding pattern, it did not remain immune to the enormous changes of modern times. The two historical milestones in the gradual disappearance of Carpatho-Rusyn wedding customs were the two world wars. After the First and Second World Wars there was a veritable "explosion" of weddings which, considering the hardships following these conflicts, took place with a substantial lack of food, drink, clothing, and in some cases housing as well. This resulted in a marked simplification of the wedding pattern that persisted even after the economy recovered. Moreover, after World War II, the Carpatho-Rusyn community lost its isolated character so that, consequently, many elements of Ukrainian, Slovak, Czech, and other wedding patters penetrated into the traditional Rusyn wedding. This development was no doubt accelerated by the influence of the modern mass media. Given all these tendencies, it is unfortunate that there is as yet no thorough scholarly treatment of the phenomenon of the Carpatho-Rusyn wedding tradition - not even a single book dealing with it.
Just how much things have changed in most Carpatho-Rusyn villages can be seen from the predominant present-day wedding pattern established in the 1960s and 1970s. The wedding festivities have been reduced to only one afternoon and evening. They usually take place in restaurants, or, in some bigger places, in local "houses of culture" -multipurpose institutions with a restaurant, a place for occasional theater and film performance, meetings of various organizations, and other functions. The traditional elements in such a modern wedding have all but disappeared. Contemporary pop music emitted from amplifiers has practically replaced the traditional choral singing of the beautiful old wedding songs. The old function of the two chief organizers of the wedding for the bride and for the bridegroom have also for the most part disappeared. A kind of substitute for the old humorous customs is the public reading at the wedding feast of jocular congratulatory telegrams.
All this would seem to demonstrate that the traditional Carpatho-Rusyn folk wedding is on the wane. However, in the past few years, we have observed a certain renaissance of wedding customs. Many folklore groups have included in their repertory a number of traditional wedding songs and rituals such as the ceremonious parting of the bride from her parents. It appears that Carpatho-Rusyn youth are becoming tired of listening to commercial pop music alone, and that they have started to look for lasting values in their own folk heritage.
A certain hint of this new trend can be found in the answers to my recent questionnaire concerning the relation of Carpatho-Rusyn youth in Eastern Slovakia to folklore. In 1983, I put questions to almost 500 Carpatho-Rusyn boys and girls 16-21 years of age who studied at secondary schools in the city of Presov. They represented not only Carpatho-Rusyn youngsters living with their parents in the city, but also youth from almost all the Carpatho-Rusyn villages and small towns in the Presov Region. It is certainly remarkable that in answering the question about the ideal notion of their own wedding, 93.1 percent of the respondents said that of all the options available, they would favor the "folk wedding." By this they meant quite unambiguously the traditional pattern with the broad spectrum of relatives and other guests, with the starosta and the marsalko, and with the old rituals and wedding songs. Only 12 of the respondents (11 of them city dwellers) favored a wedding in the narrow circle of nearest relatives. Not a single respondent favored a mere civil registration of the marriage without any kind of subsequent wedding ceremony. These answers seem to indicate that any prophecies about the imminent death of the traditional Carpatho-Rusyn wedding are premature.
Mykola Musynka - Presov
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