Weddings are extremely important and the church service part of the wedding is conducted according to the dictates of the appropriate church.
The folk or vernacular religion part of the wedding – Clothing
The wedding garment in Ukraine was complex, predominantly red, and contained many talismans to protect the groom, the bride and the bride’s future fertility. Ukrainian attire was quickly abandoned in Canada. In the early part of the 20th century, the typical choice was a nice suit.The images below are not wedding photos but early immigrants in their suits.
As people became a little more prosperous, men continued to wear suits, but women chose something special: the white wedding dress. This could be bought, or made, or modified. Elsie Kawulych, for example, modified her graduation dress into a dress for her wedding.
The white wedding dress was important to people and many women kept theirs. Some passed it along to their daughters. Others simply kept it. In southern Saskatchewan, the wedding dress is worn on an important anniversary such as the 25th. The wearing of the dress can be serious and a young female relative can model the dress before the people assembled at the 25th anniversary celebration. It can also be a mocking event where the dress is disfigured and worn by someone most unsuitable for it, such as a male relative.
The church ceremony required two crowns or wreaths, one for the bride and one for the groom. Many early settlers could not afford to buy crowns and made them out of beeswax or tin with ribbons and buttons for decoration.
Western instead of Ukrainian dress: The substitution of western dress for what was traditional in Ukraine was important. Ingrid Chalis showed her mother-in-law’s wedding chest to the Sanctuary team. The mother-in-law brought a trunk from Ukraine to Canada and it contained a full Ukrainian wedding outfit, complete with gold leaf that was to be used to gild the wreath that she wore on her head. The woman knew that she would be married upon arrival in her new country and brought the appropriate outfit. The Ukrainian wedding outfit, including the gold leaf, was never used and Ingrid’s mother-in-law was married in white. My supposition is that, as the wedding signals the acceptance of a new life, especially for the bride who must move in with her in-laws, so it was used to signal the acceptance of a new life in Canada. Some of that signaling was done through the wearing of Canadian, meaning Western-style, clothes.
The wedding rushnyk. In Ukraine, the couple stood on an embroidered ritual cloth called a rushnyk. It is a long strip of embroidered fabric and one explanation for this cloth was that it symbolized the road on which the couple would embark together. Various beliefs were associated with the rushnyk. For example, it was said that whichever member of the couple steps on the rushnyk first, that person would dominate in the household.
In Canada, the rushnyk is used in some weddings, although embroidered rushnyky are rare. In very recent times, a few people have brought in rushnyky from Ukraine. If the couple does stand on a cloth, it is usually a plain, white strip of fabric. See kryzhma below. Some beliefs, such as whoever steps on the rushnyk first will rule the household remain. How seriously they are taken varies. Sometimes people took regular towels and used them for their wedding rushnyk. To make the towel special, they added a little embroidery as the mother of Elsie Kawulych did for her wedding.
Wedding food: Cakes are important to weddings. In Ukraine, the cake was a korovai, a semi-sweet and highly decorated bread that was covered with symbols of marital union, fertility, and prosperity. Early Ukrainian settlers did not, as far as our data shows, bake the korovai. The typical wedding cake was a fruitcake. The reason that fruitcake was preferred was because it kept well and could be made in advance of the wedding. Weddings required a great deal of preparation and large amounts of food. So being able to prepare something ahead of time was desirable. One might suppose that fruitcake had some sort of fruitfulness, fertility, pregnancy symbolism. This was not the case. It was the very practical matter of having a cake that stayed fresh for a long time.
Styrofoam cake: In southcentral Saskatchewan, a number of people mentioned having Styrofoam cakes at weddings. As cake decoration became more fancy, one solution was to make a cake-like shape out of Styrofoam and to decorate that for visual effect. The Styrofoam cake was not eaten of course. It was discarded once it had served its decorative purpose, although the very top of the cake, usually figures of a bride and groom, was often kept as a wedding memento. In those cases where Styrofoam cakes were used, the guests received individually wrapped pieces of fruitcake to take home.
The (re)introduction of the korovai. After the Second World War, a wave of nationally and more politically conscious Ukrainian immigrants came to Canada. They were concerned not only with practical matters, such as having a cake that kept well; they wanted symbols of Ukrainian identity such as the korovai. The korovai seems to have appeared first in cities where the post WWII immigrants tended to settle. The korovai is now baked for weddings in a number of rural areas.
In Ukraine, the korovai had to be consumed completely to ensure the prosperity and well-being of the couple. In Canada, the korovai, because it was (re)introduced late and because symbolic importance was attached to it, became more of a souvenir than a food. People would dry their korovai and keep it as a wedding memento. They would use the same dried korovai in multiple weddings, such as for all of the sisters in a family. In many cases, a korovai, often a smaller one, was baked for important wedding anniversaries. Anniversary korovaii (plural of korovai) were also dried and kept as mementos.
The wedding banquet. The rest of the food at the wedding banquet was essentially festive food usually with an emphasis on Ukrainian tradition. This means that in addition to a roast of some sort, such as a turkey or chicken, people would try to serve pyrohy, holubtsi, and other foods identified as Ukrainian.
The location of wedding festivities. In Ukraine, the non-church part of the wedding was held at the homes of both the groom and the bride. The wedding party would go, not only to the church, but also back and forth between the two homes cementing the union of the pair and announcing to the whole village that a marriage had taken place.
This was not practical and often not even possible in Canada. The settlement patterns enforced by the Canadian government meant that people lived on quarter sections; they did not cluster in villages and houses were far apart. While some people interviewed did mention events at both the home of the groom and that of the bride, most people held their wedding banquets in a church hall. Church halls were convenient celebration venues. They were large and could seat many wedding guests. They were easy to get to, being located on or near church grounds. Church halls began to be built shortly after the construction of the churches themselves and were the locations of a variety of social activities.
Wedding pranks. Pranks were a regular part of weddings in Ukraine and people expected assorted foolishness and minor criminal behaviour, such as the theft of chickens, on the day after the wedding. Pranks were part of Canadian weddings as well, but took a different form.
Bride theft. One prank mentioned on a number of occasions was stealing the bride or one of her shoes. This would be done at some point during the course of the wedding banquet and the groom would have to pay, usually with liquor, or money for liquor, to get his new wife back. Pranks can generate other pranks and Chris Zorniak of Innesfree, Alberta described how he saved empty rye whiskey bottles and filled them tea so that looked like the real thing. He gave these out to the party-goers demanding payment and thus fooled them into thinking that they were getting real alcohol.