My counterpart informed me a few weeks ago that I was going to be a guest at her cousins wedding. It wasn’t so much an offer as a statement of fact. Ok by me, I told her excited to once again be a witness to such an amazing cultural occasion. The thing she didn’t explain to me however was that her cousin was the groom, and that by inviting me to go to the wedding I was actually going to be an active participant in the wedding. This I did not find out until much, much later.
On the day of the wedding, I asked my favorite neighbor if she would come to my house and do my hair for me. I got just about as dressed up as I can be here considering I don’t even have a pair of high heels in country with me. When I walked into my counterpart everyone made a huge fuss over me, as if I am some kind of tomboy that never wears dresses or something, it was very strange.
As we take pictures at my counterparts house I notice a white basket covered in tool and all glittered up. I recognize the basket as the bride’s basket which contains her wedding cloths. I thought it was sort of strange for my counterpart to have the basket as I know it plays such an integral part later in the day. But I didn’t think to question her about it as we soon we were piled tightly into a car and on our way to the festivities.
When we arrived at my counterparts house, where the festivities were to be held, there were cars piled outside of a house. Everyone jumped out of the car, people shouting that we were late. I didn’t quite understand what it was we were late for. I asked my counterpart, whose house is this. This is my cousin’s house she told me. The bride is upstairs in a room waiting for us. Your cousin is the bride, I ask. No my cousin is the groom. I look as her aunt grabs the basket with the bride’s cloths in it, and a bell goes off in my head. I’ve seen this before, the groom’s family is going to have a precession to the bride and they are going to dance with the cloths. I can hear the music begin as we walk around the coroner to the house. A group of girls from the groom’s side of the family are at the gate waiting for us. My counterpart tells me to come and they begin to dance up to the house. My face drops; you mean I have to dance?? Yes she tells me, we are the grooms family, we must dance. I follow at a distance behind her, videotaping it, so as to not have to dance. We get to the yard and people are yelling and whistling and the girls are all dancing, with the brides cloths and flowers up in the air. For about ten minutes they dance, before someone notices I am not dancing. I get thrown into the mix. We dance for awhile and then the groom comes out, wearing a shinny white coat, white shirt and white pants. People scream louder and louder as he joins the dancing party. He throws up his hands, lips pressed together and a face that says, yes this is my party and I have arrived. Confidence and exuberance radiate off of him. You can’t help but to dance when he is dancing. The party dances for about 20 minutes and then we head on up the balcony to the bride’s room. Once in the room the family begins to sing a song. The aunt and the grooms mother place a glove on each of her hands, we all shout shnorhavor (congratulations). They take her shoes off and place the new shoes on her, we all shout shnorhavor again and they burst into another song. It is such a beautiful song, welcoming the bride into their family and telling her congratulations, it kind of reminds me of one of our sorority ritual songs. The bride takes candy from the basket and begins throwing it out to the large group of women gathered in the tiny room. The women around me push me forward and tell me I must take some candy and put it under my pillow tonight. They tell me that who I dream of this night will be the man that I marry.
Soon the footsteps of men are heard approaching the door. The women all turn around and face to face them and make a blockade in front of the door. A little boy in a suit waits at the threshold. The groom approaches and the little boy shakes his head no. Laughter from both the men’s side and the women’s side erupt. The groom hands the boy 5,000 dram (I think) and the boy takes the money but still shakes his head no. The groom hands the little boy more money and the boy allows him to pass. All the women create an aisle and the groom walks to his bride, huge smile on his face. They link arms and we escort them out of the room.
Then it was off to the church!
The church was in a nearby town called Stepanavan. It’s a very old 13th century church and was very beautiful. As we piled into the church the priest person (I have no idea what they are called in Armenia, bisop, minister?) began to speak, even before we were all seated and quiet. I soon learned that is because even during a wedding ceremony Armenians talk!! I was pretty shocked, though I guess it didn’t matter so much for me because I couldn’t understand a word of anything. The only word that I picked out of everything was Genya, which as it turned out was the brides name… good thing I didn’t ask anyone to translate for me, I would have felt really stupid!
During the ceremony the priest sang, placed a crown on the bride and grooms heads, read from a bible, and sang some more. After the ceremony was through we each had to go up to the pulpit and congratulate the bride and the groom and the grooms God parents. We kissed them each on the cheek in a precession ending with the priest whose ring we had to kiss as well as a cross.
Overall I thought the ceremony was very beautiful, though I didn’t understand the words. There was a part of the ceremony where the bride and the groom stood forehead to forehead and the god father placed a cross over their head. They stood like this for a minute or two, just staring into each other’s eyes as prayers were read over them. For me this was the most beautiful part of the ceremony. The one thing that I did feel was missing is that they didn’t have to say any vows, which I think is the most beautiful part of an American wedding.
After taking a few pictures at the church, we drove around the city center three times honking the horns of the cars. Now I have seen this done before, and have always found it to be the most annoying thing, and actually I can sometimes hear horns honking even here in Spitak, but somehow being in the car while it was happening was kind of fun! Next we were off to the reception… To be continued