Armenian Traditions and Customs of the XIX Century. Unique Materials Gathered by Researcher S. Zelinskiy. Weddings
Ethnographic sketches of household of Armenian migrants from Persia, living in the Nakichevan region of Erivan province.
Sourcebook describing the regions and populations of the Caucasus
1882, S. Zelinskiy
The parents try to the best of ability to marry their children before their attainment of majority at the latest. The mother of an adult son in particular is desperate to have a daughter-in-law to help her in the household chores. There are many cases when mothers betroth their children as early as in the cribs; it is not rare when they tie them with bonds of common-law marriage before their birth.
In the Armenian culture the young man does not choose a bride for himself, his parents or close relatives take care of it. He only tries to at least see the silhouette of his future wife from afar, which is easy, since the girls do not hide heads although they do not speak to men. Usually the parents of the girl do not immediately agree to give their daughter in marriage to the one who was proposed as a potential husband, since this kind of hastiness is considered reprehensible. For the sake of decency they force the other side to ask many times and hold long talks about their daughter. Upon receiving the endorsement the parents of the groom at first commit kind of unofficial betrothal. For this purpose the parents accompanied by two or three relatives and close friends, go to the bride’s house with a bottle of vodka and golden or silver ring. There, over dinner they start a conversation and say among other things: «we came to your house to light our candle»; when they get permission, they ask to show them the girl. She comes in with a closed face and kisses everyone’s hands. Then the groom’s mother puts the ring on her ring finger and this way the ceremony of unofficial betrothal is finished. Then the parents start to arrange a public engagement, since almost no wedding is done without the engagement.
As per our ancestors the wedding itself is not the church wedding but the celebration that is held before or after the church wedding ceremony. Sometimes the church ceremony is done a month before the wedding but the bride continues to live in her parents’ house and by virtue of narot (a cord from green and red threads, tied by the priest in the church on the hand or on the neck of a groom or a bride as a symbol of marriage) she is untouchable until it is taken off from bride’s neck after two or three days of the marriage ceremony through a special ritual.
Usually they start the wedding on Friday.
Since the very morning several dressed up female relatives of the groom with bouquet of flowers accompanied by the groom and the best men under the sounds of zurna go to the houses of people and ask them to attend the wedding, what is more they give the landlords a glass of wine and some flowers. At around three- four o'clock in the afternoon the guests gather in the groom's yard where they are treated with vodka and wine. Then the wedding bull is taken out to slaughter, but it is not done at once: at first girls and women dance around it and then the priest says a prayer on it, and only after that it is allowed to slaughter the bull. For this purpose the groom or the «king» makes a small cut on the neck of the bull with his knife and the butcher then finishes the cutting operation. Meanwhile alongside the zurna is playing and the dances continue. In the evening of that day the guests are served a dinner and upon its completion the priest blesses the wedding clothes of the groom and the sword that is given to a person who undertakes the role of bodyguard or brother of the groom. Then the dances are resumed and last till 4-5 o’clock in the morning.
The next day, i.e. on Saturday everyone is engaged in dancing, and in the evening they take the wedding dress and the “henna” (vegetal paint to paint hands) to the bride’s house accompanied by many guests with candles in their hands. The zurna player and the guests stay at the disposition of bride’s parents that night. There they are served with wine, and the groom and his friends are treated with dainty dishes.
On Sunday the groom goes to the bride’s house accompanied by the zurna player and guests.
There after a hearty dinner they begin to dress the bride into a wedding dress, which was blessed by the priest in advance. A young married woman dresses up the bride and during this process the zurna player plays the saddest music pieces.
Here I would like to describe one of the types of costume of Armenian women, that deserves the full attention of the readers for its ingenuity: the woman puts on a long narrow red shirt and on top of it wears a short caftan, usually of green material with edge notches or kiuladju (a long caftan with sleeves up to elbows). The shirt is usually calf-length that is why one can see the end part of the pants embroidered with multicolored silk. On the right side, on the copper ringlet they suspend a bandana, a needle-case, scissors and other things, and on the chest they hung several rows of ancient silver and gold coins on a string with corals and secure them with long silk ribbon or just a silver belt of the most fanciful shape.
The headwear of Armenian women is also very distinctive. At first they put on their head a kalkuch (a print hat with a tail of half arshin long) in which they put their hair in tresses. Then they tie the kalkuch with a kerchief and fasten a metal insert in the back of the neck through a lacing, with different coins hanging at the front together with corals.
They tie a kerchief around their mouth and putting on an embroidered earpiece, they throw a wide scarf over their heads, the ends of which cover the entire back. In addition to all this they put on one more red kerchief on the head of the bride, known as oorpang, which covers her whole face. For the completeness of the costume they add to all of this a gold or silver ring worn on the nose and silver earrings in the shape of brushes heavy for the tender ears. The above-described female costume has been altered a little lately as fashion penetrates to the girls living in the villages, who have now begun to replace their complex costume with something more comfortable: now in many places they have begun to wear long dresses instead of short narrow shirts called oyma or minitana, and the head cylinder was replaced with half-round hats in the shape of Georgian tasakravi.
The dressing of the bride is completed with tying a belt by the groomsman, because this way they say the woman’s spine will be strong during child labor. After that the bride approaches the tandoor (a furnace in the shape of pit), bows on four sides and kisses the edges of it; it means that she is grateful to the furnace for feeding her in her parents’ house. Then she says good-bye to her parents, relatives, she approaches, or more correctly she is taken to the groom from behind and she holds the costume of her future husband, which means “from now on I must follow him”. Groom takes best man’s hand from one side and bodyguard’s hand from the other side and slowly walks to his house, if the church wedding was performed earlier, if not, they go to the church. Meanwhile the best man holds a cross in one hand made of wood covered with colorful silk and gold leaf on three sides. The cross means royal crown. By the way I would like to say that in the house of the bride they pin red and green ribbon on the chest of the groom, signifying the emblem of royal dignity.
Painting: Sargis Muradyan, "Wedding in Hrazdan"