Greek Catholic Wedding in Udol, Slovakia, c1940s
The daily life of Rusyns was hard in Europe. Most were poor with little to no education, enumerated as zsellars, men who might have owned a family house (shared with extended family members) and who had a small plot of land to farm. In short, they were mostly peasant farmers, who might have had some trade skills, such as carpentry to supplement their meager incomes.
There was little medical care available and the village mortality rates were very high. Infants who survived childhood might well die in the cholera and typhoid epidemics that struck every few years.
Remember, Rusyn social life in the 19th century was centered on the church. In Udol, pictured above, it was the little church of St. Dimitry. Weddings provided some of the happiest times in villagers’ lives.
By the 1940s, pictured above, clothing styles had changed greatly and traditional clothing was shelved in favor of the modern white wedding dress and veil.
A Rusyn bride at the turn of the century would have worn this style of clothing:
Mary Scerbak, sister of my grandmother, Julia Scerbak Sabo, c1917
Nana’s Brothers – Michael & Stephen – with Michael’s Wife, Mary
This picture above might be Michael’s & Mary’s wedding day, in the 1920s.
Although I have no wedding photos from the 19th century in Udol – I think photographers in Nana’s village were a scarce commodity – I do have several photos from the same era 1910-1920. However, these brides were Rusyn immigrants to Passaic, New Jersey and their bridal styles reflect an American influence.
Nana (R) with Groomsmen and Another Bridesmaid, c1912
Unknown Wedding Party in New Jersey
This photo in my collection is not labeled. I have no idea who the bride is or the bridesmaid on the left. The young lady on the right has a slight resemblance to Nana, but it isn’t her. It is most likely a cousin.
Passaic Rusyn Wedding, c1912
Julia Scerbak (Nana), on far right
What was it like to attend a Rusyn wedding? The events outside of the church ceremony varied somewhat due to the differences in the European villages compared to American cities where most Carpatho-Rusyns settled, so some changes were evident by the turn of the 20th century.
However, the wedding day in general would have been quite similar in terms of the bride and groom and their families and friends.
Once the betrothal was announced in church, there would be a short engagement period so that preparations could be made. In the village, the groom and his friend and spokesman visited the bride’s family to settle on the dowry, which formalized the engagement.
On the wedding day itself, often on a weekend so no one had to work, the bride and groom would both receive wreaths to wear for the ceremony, added to their best clothing.
When they reached the church, the priest would meet them at the door and escort the procession inside. The couple kneels during the ceremony, while holding one lit candle representing the light of Christ. The couple exchanges vows and are crowned to signify that they are united. After receiving communion, the priest and new husband and wife walk around the altar three times to receive the protection of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
The wedding reception was held at home, not in big halls as they are today. Gifts would be brought to the celebration, which featured lots of music, singing, drink and food. Bread, wine and traditional foods are enjoyed by all.
Wedding celebrations, both in Europe and America often continued for two or even three days!
For an extremely detailed description of the betrothal and wedding ceremony in Europe, you’ll want to read The Carpatho-Rusyn Wedding.
For further details about Rusyn wedding customs: