Wedding-Hochzeit: Volga German Wedding Customs (Early 1900)

The Introduction:
Wedding customs may have differed in various villages but generally followed a definate order similar to those practised in Germany. The engagement was brought about either by the consent of the young people involved, by the instigation of the parents or the use of a matchmaker. The first two situations were common, in Volga colonies, but matchmaking was also highly recognized.

When a man chose a women for his wife, he first got a blessing and appproval from his parents. He then formed a group made up of his father and godfather who made a visit to the girls home. The father, doing most of the talking, would expound on the merits of his son and what a wonderful wife their daughter would be. If the girl's parents consented there was much hand-shaking and gaiety which called for drinks and refreshments. Sometimes the girl's family would not readily accept and another visit would be required.

The German term in referring to an engaged couple is "Sie sind gefreit" (they are engaged). Wedding dates were set usually in the winter, since the rest of the year was occupied with work, and also in the middle of the week so as not to interfer with Sabbath because wedding celebrations usually lasted three days.

After the agreement of marriage, a dinner was attended by the families which added to the festivity and was referred to as a "Wunghoff". Three consecutive Sundays before the wedding date,  announcements were made at the church services which  gave anybody a chance to speak out against this union.

Hochzeitslader:  (Wedding Inviter)
Instead of sending out invitations, a Wedding Inviter visits all guests and invites them to the wedding personally. The invitation to the wedding was made by close friends who carried canes. When a household accepted the invitation they acknowledged it by tying ribbons to the canes which became quite elaborate. Drinks were served by the household to celebrate the upcoming wedding. After making several house calls the invitation delegation could go no further ( feeling pretty good by now) and took several evenings to perform their task.

Polterabend: (Ghost Evening)
Another social function that took place was a party on the day before the wedding. Friends of the bride and groom show up at her home to smash plates and dishes on her doorstep. Only china is used - broken glass would bring bad luck. This is done with a lot of noise and merriment because the more smashed pieces, the more good luck for the bride. All the friends are then invited in for a piece of cake and a glass of wine. Afterward, the bride and groom get to clean up the mess. (Welcome to married life!)

Ribbon Custom:
The ribbons or streamers were frequently worn by the groom, the length of them varying quite a bit. After the wedding was over, friends and relatives would pin money onto the groom's ribbons as a gift for the newlyweds. This most likely would have occurred at the dance after the wedding ceremony was over.
Groom Teasing:
On the morning of the big day the groom and best men go to the bride's home to take her to church to be married. They called to her to come out of the house. To tease the groom one of the bridesmaids instead would open the door and come out. The groom and his friends would express disapproval and keep calling for the bride.

Sometimes this game was played as the groom arrived to take his bride to the church. Upon arrival he would discover that the bride, as well as her attendants, were dressed in a similar fashion in order to confuse him. He would then have to identify his bride before proceeding to the altar.

Procession & Ceremony:
Not only the relatives but also a large part of the community attended the church wedding. For the bridal procession people lined the streets and gathered in front of the church. At times they were accompanied by musicians or they might ride in decorated horse-drawn sleighs in winter. At intervals salvos of gunfire might ring out in honor of the young couple.

On entering the church, the bridegroom walked on the right, the bride on the left. The bride traditionally carries bread and salt in her pocket to bless their union with plenty and the groom carries grain in his for wealth and good fortune. When the couple kneels during the ceremony, the groom may kneel on the bride´s hem to show that he´ll keep her in line. As she rises, she may step on his foot to prove that he won´t.

After the celebrants throw the rice over the bride and groom as they leave the church, tradition says that the wedding couple will have as many children as rice grains left in her hair.

After the ceremony, they proceed to the house where the wedding is to be celebrated, usually the groom's family. The guests are greeted by the bridesmaids and brides men who serve them pastries and a glass of whiskey. The groom's mother would come out of the house and welcome her new daughter-in-law to her new home. The bride was now a member in the household of her husband's family.

At the reception, games may be played, speeches are given (normally beginning with the father of the bride), songs are song. The wedding cake is usually large with lot of ornaments and must be cut by the bride and groom together. Another tradition is to give wedding guests kerchiefs so they can carry the leftover food home.

Beginning with the formal "dances of honor" with the bride, the first dance is a waltz only for the bride and groom. The following dance is for the bride and her father, the groom with his mother, and the bride's mother with the groom's father. Later every man or woman who wants to dance with the bride or groom has to pay for the privilege.

A wedding consisting of much dancing and musicians is referred to as a "danz-hochzett" (tanz-hochzeit or dance-wedding) and one with a more religious aspect would be a "brüder-hochzett (brother-wedding). Children gave recitations; grown-ups sang folk songs and hymns.

Three Day Celebrate & Gifts:
The celebration would last for two or three days with guests coming and going. Two meals a day were served consisting of roast, dumplings, schnitzasoupa (dried fruit soup) and other dishes and breads.

In Russia there was a great variety of drinks from potato schnapps to fine grape wine. There was a punch served consisting of hot tea and cognac which had a great effect on the participants.

Most gifts to the newlyweds were in the form of money. An exception was a beautiful pillow or two made by the bride's godmother. This was passed around to the guests who placed gifts upon it. When any man danced with the bride he pinned money her. Coin money was placed in the drinks served to her.

Another activity was to auction off the brides wedding shoe. This would at one time be stolen from her and then reappear,  being displayed on a pillow with much ceremony. A best man was generally expected to be the highest bidder.

Great Social Event:
The amount of lavishness of a wedding was governed by the means of the families and other economic conditions prevailing at the time. This was the greatest social event in their lives and they spent as much time and money as they could afford. It was shared by the families of both the bride and groom.

After the wedding the new wife would assume the duties as that of the other woman in her home. A cow and a sheep were brought along as her dowry. She would now live happily there-after with her new husband, his father and mother, his brothers and their wives, his nephews and nieces, his grandfather and grandmother - and maybe some aunts and uncles.

To the German colonists big families were a great joy for both religious and economic reasons. The birth rate was 41 per 1,000 inhabitants; for the same period it was only 19 in Germany. There were many families with 10 to 15 children.