Russian music, singing, dancing, toasting and an abundance of food are all key to the two-day long wedding reception celebrations that traditionally follow a Russian wedding ceremony.
A very important role at the reception is that of the Tamada, or toastmaster. Usually this role is given to a friend or relative although more couples are now opting to pay a professional entertainer. The role of the Tamada is not only to give toasts, but also to introduce the guests, organize singing contests and make sure that everyone is having a good time.
The first toast is made to the newlyweds – traditionally with vodka shots but these days, often with wine. Following the first shot, the guests begin to shout Gorko, Gorko, Gorko,! This means that the vodka or wine is “bitter” and the couple must kiss for as long as possible to take out the bitter taste of the vodka.
This tradition’s origins are slightly different to what is practised today. Historically, the bride would offer a vodka shot to each guest. The guests would pay the bride for the drink and then shout “Gorko!” – this was to confirm that the drink was vodka and not water. After drinking, the guest was entitled to a kiss from the bride. Although this tradition has been simplified today, it is still a quintessential part of a Russian wedding.
The second toast is made to the parents, where the bride and groom thank their parents. The toastmaster will then invite friends and family of the happy couple to make toasts, with 10 minutes or so in between each toast for the guests to eat and drink. Usually when a guest gives a toast, he also presents a gift to the newlyweds.
Every toast is followed by a call of ‘Gorko, gorko’ – and the bride and groom must kiss again!
Table place settings and seating plans
At the reception, tables will be laid with a small plate for zakurki (appetisers), a vodka shot glass, a water glass, and a wine glass. The wine in Russia is usually sweet and often drunk only with dessert.
At each table, the most honoured position is at the head of the table, with the most important guest seated immediately to the right of the host (women to the right of the host, and men to the right of the hostess).
Stealing and kidnapping!
Following on from the first dance, another Russian tradition of playfully “kidnapping” the bride is often carried out (this is also done in the Czech Republic and Germany). As all the guests crowd the dancefloor, the groom’s friends will swiftly “kidnap” the bride. They will then demand a ransom from the groom for her return.
The bride’s friends also have a similar traditional game of “stealing” the bride’s shoes. Another ransom is demanded of the groom for their safe return.
Maybe due to the time required to recover from what must be cracking hangovers, day two of a traditional Russian wedding usually begins in the late afternoon or evening. Although anyone from the first day is invited to attend, usually only the closest friends and family members attend this second day of festivities. After another fantastic wedding feast, Russian customs dictates that the guests will scatter loose change all over the floor, and the bride has to “clean” the floor by picking up the money. The party continues late into the evening – a Russian wedding reception really shows you how to party!