Love and Marriage in Old Russian Villages

The Museum’s collection of traditional Russian artifacts from the eighteenth to the first quarter of the twentieth century depicts in detail the themes of love and marriage in the patriarchal society of old Russian peasant villages. The selection of future wives and husbands was strictly codified, involving a whole series of conventions in which particular objects played important roles. These artifacts therefore played significant, sometimes even decisive, parts in the futures of peasant boys and girls who had reached marital age. Among these artifacts were the ritual wedding objects, which will be presented at the exhibition.  

The exhibit consists of two sections:

  1. The Marital Age ─ Age of Love
  2. The Marriage Ceremony

 The articles exhibited in the first section tell the story of meeting and first intimacy, and show the opportunities made available by the village community for this process. During the long winters, girls and boys would gather in houses for their parties, called posidelki. On the spring festivities, boys would play ball, games involving scarves or rings, and games resembling skittles, called bacha and gorodki which had some erotic character. During a game, a boy would choose a partner-bride from among the girls. The objects used for flirting are also shown in this section.

This section of the exhibit includes those articles of clothing that symbolized the marital age, such as female headpieces, male scarves, and numerous items of decoration associated with this time of life.

     Serious marital intentions were confirmed by gifts. A husband-to-be would present his girlfriend with a gift that represented a pledge of his desire, serious intentions, and love. All gifts had a secret meaning. A girl would usually be given a distaff, a piece of cake, a ring, or a candlestick. 

 The young people often sought to learn their fate with the help of magic and the supernatural. One of the exhibits depicts girls at a fortune-telling session. On a table covered with a festive cloth rests a mirror, two candles, and two sets of silverware. The most popular kind of fortune-telling in Russian villages involved the future husband appearing in the mirror. One can also see here a shawl, a comb, and a ribbon-items which a girl might hide under her pillow on the day of the Intercession of the Virgin (October 1, according to the old calendar), in the hopes that her future husband would appear in her dreams.


The marriage ceremony consisted of many rituals that involved the bride and groom, their parents, relatives, godparents, matchmakers and witnesses. The performance of these rituals by the whole community marked an important change in the young people’s lives: the transition from one social and age group to another. The rituals also signified an attempt to protect the young couple from potential troubles, and to ensure them a happy, healthy, and prosperous future. In every ritual, articles of everyday peasant life were used. Among the most fascinating are the items used in the ritual of “parting with virginal beauty”. The ritual “parting with virginal beauty” was performed solemnly in the presence of the bride’s mother, sisters, and friends. Of all the wedding exhibits, the costumes attract the most attention. An exceptionally beautiful garment was worn for the showing of the bride, when the groom and his parents would come to view her. In complete contrast is the costume worn by the bride at the party in the bathhouse, which involved a show of ritual mourning. The material for this costume was composed of traditionally mournful colors. The Russian peasantry believed that it was necessary for the bride to dress as though in mourning, as this symbolized the death of her present life. Also exhibited here are costumes worn for the wedding ceremony itself, and for the wedding feast. For the “morning after the wedding night” ritual, both bride and groom put on particularly bright and festive garments, with predominance of red symbolizing the new life.

The costumes at the exhibit are complemented by their accessories. They include bridal headdresses from various regions of Russia, and shawls used to cover the bride at the wedding ceremony in order to protect her from evil spirits. Also exhibited are the bride’s gifts to the groom and his relatives: scarves, towels, shirts, and tablecloths; and the bride’s dowry, placed in chests. It included sheets, tablecloths and towels which the bride had been preparing beforehead. Utensils used at the wedding feast also hold artistic interest; exhibited here, for example, are the bowls used for shchi (cabbage soup) and various types of drinking vessels, such as skobkari, bratiny and endovy.  

The approximate area of exhibition is 300 square metres,

Number of objects is about 250-300.