Armenian weddings are some of the most joyous and spectacular celebrations I have ever seen. The culture of Armenians includes a lot of old Armenian wedding traditions which they respect and follow until now. Armenian brides in the United States incorporate old customs into the timelines of their modern weddings. The family of the bride can include the whole Armenian community 🙂 all members of which will try to make her big day unexampled.
My personal experience with the Armenian community is very positive. Armenians are a very generous, friendly, and cordial nation. People of this community maintain friendly relations as families or clans. If I need help, I ask about it in the Armenian community and always get it.
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Armenian Pre-Wedding Traditions
In the past in traditional Armenian society, the families of the bride and groom arranged matchmaking, other older relatives and friends helped them as well. Sometimes the family hired for a proposal a matchmaker. The wedding was a social event involving the whole community of the village.
In the past, the engagement began as a series of negotiations between families. The idea of the engagement was to make families know each other more. The bride and groom were not directly involved in this process. Nowadays, this tradition of long-lasting betrothal has mostly fallen out of favor, and proposals are now similar to those in Western countries.
The traditional engagement process had the following steps:
- Pre-engagement step: The family of the bride visited the family of the chosen girl. Visits could be more than two. During the negotiations that could be very wordy, the bride’s father expressed his consent to the groom’s father. That meant the Koshk-Kap — “the word is tied” and families could start pre-wedding preparations.
- The bride’s parents hosted a party — the Nshandreq — an official engagement dinner at the home of the bride. The groom’s party brought flowers, sweets, and other gifts. The groom’s mother or the groom by himself presented a nshan — an expensive bridal gift. There could be gold coins, jewelry, and a betrothal ring. During the gathering, the eldest member of the groom’s family asked for the bride’s hand, and when the bride’s family answered positively, everyone drank tea or cognac to celebrate the union.
- The engagement could last from several months to two years. In the past, the bride didn’t talk to the groom during family visits. By the time this Armenian custom had changed and the groom could see her and speak to her under the supervision of the bride’s mother but without touching ..
Armenian wedding day traditions
So, the day of the wedding celebration has come. For Armenian newlyweds, there are some events and traditions besides the actual wedding ceremony and reception that the couple needs to go through.
The wedding festivities begin in the morning in two separate locations. The groom and his family members start celebrating at the groom’s parent’s house. At the same time, bridal party prepares the bride for the wedding at her home.
Wedding preparation of the groom
The guests of the groom’s party arrive, congratulate the groom, treat themselves to served meals, make toasts, and listen to the traditional Armenian music.
The important role in preparations played the godfather “kavor”. In Armenian wedding traditions, the kavor was the most important figure in the wedding, except for maybe the bride and groom of course. He is typically a close friend of the family and guides the couple during all wedding preparations.
In the past, the preparation of the groom took place at the home of kavor. The kavor organized а ritual bathing of the groom and helped him to change into his wedding attire.
The best man called azapbashi also was in the past the important figure at the wedding. He guarded the groom and bride standing with a saber near to them.
At the same time, the bride organizes a bridal party at her home where she with the help of bridesmaids (or invited professionals) does her hair and make-up. The photo session of bridal preparations also takes place at this moment.
Welcoming the groom at the bride’s house
The groom’s party moves to the bride’s house accompanied by musicians, with songs and dances. In Armenian wedding traditions, the groom has to bring to the bridal party sinis — gift-wrapped baskets full of various goodies for his bride. There she can find everything that she needs for her big day: shoes, a veil, perfume, make-up tools, flowers, sweets and alcohol.
While the bride changes into her wedding gown, the men toast to the newlyweds and continue to merry. When the bride is ready, she makes her entrance and takes congratulations. Also, at this moment, the bride and groom can perform their First Dance. After this small party at the bride’s house, the guests and the couple move to the church.
Other Armenian wedding traditions
In the past, it was an interesting Armenian custom to steal the wedding shoes of the bride. The groom’s party had to pay to find shoes. Nowadays, the variation of this ritual is common: the bride’s brother or close cousin puts money in her shoes as a symbol of good luck, and then he helps her put them on.
Another Armenian custom of gift-giving to the bridal party is the blocking of entrance by the brother or cousin of the bride. In the past, he blocked the door with a sword until the groom’s party (usually kavor) paid him to make the couple go to the church.
Traditional Armenian wedding dress
In the past, a newlywed couple had wedding attires of two colors. The red wedding dress of an Armenian bride symbolized happiness and family hearth. Green of the groom’s attire meant male fertility.
Nowadays, a variation of this tradition exists. The bridal party can fasten green and red ribbons on the groom’s wedding attire. After the wedding ceremony, the groom can take ribbons off.
In the past, the bridal attire consisted of:
- a red dress,
- an apron with rich ornaments that had to protect a bride from evil’s eye,
- a belt embroidered with the name of a bride,
- a bridal headdress with a very long veil adorned with many colorful ribbons.
Besides, a bride wore a lot of jewelry protecting her from misfortune and bad luck. People believed that the sounds of gold coins and jewelry scared away evil spirits.
The groom’s attire also had to be very expensive and of high quality.
Nowadays, Armenian brides prefer to wear a white wedding dress in the traditional Western style. The difference is in the degree of modesty. The gown of an Armenian bride shouldn’t be too short, also a veil is a usual part of an Armenian wedding dress.
Armenian wedding gifts
It’s very traditional to present gold at Armenian weddings. In the past, it was presented in the form of coins. This was a very desirable gift because people believed that gold provides safety over time. Nowadays, gold jewelry is also a very popular and desired wedding gift.
It is also a great idea to present Armenian newlyweds a cash gift. At modern Armenian weddings, cash is the most preferable gift. The guest can give it to the bride and groom during a dance or a toast. Or he can just deposit it into a special box for wedding gifts. The wedding planner usually informs the guests if it will be a special format for receiving the gift.
Armenian wedding ceremony
Armenians belong to the Armenian Orthodox Church and the wedding ceremony at the church is very important. All the rituals that newlyweds will go through during the church ceremony are provided by their religion.
The wedding ceremony at the church typically lasts for approximately one hour or less. It consists of :
- The Blessing of Rings;
- The Joining of the Right Hands: when the Priest joins the right hand of the bride to the right hand of the groom, symbolizing the sanctifying blessing of their union;
- The Vows: the priest asks the couple to respond three times to the inquiry;
- The Reading from Holy Scripture;
- The Crowning: the most showy ritual for the audience and the couple. The Armenian wedding crowns placed upon the groom and the bride are of Biblical origin, the sign of glory and honor;
- The Common Cup: when the couple drinks wine from one cup that symbolizes that they will share in the joys and difficulties of life together;
- The Final Blessing: after the singing of the “Lord’s Prayer”, the newly married couple receives the blessing of the Church.
The traditional characteristic of an Armenian wedding ceremony is the ritual of tying the narot, red-green, intertwined cord. In the past, the priest put it on the hands or necks of the couple. This cord symbolized the unity of the couple. Some days after the wedding, the priest visited the newlyweds at their home, read prayers, and removed the narot from the hands of the couple. Only after that ritual, the couple could share the marriage bed.
Family & Group Portraits
Group shots with all the family and friends are not exactly a tradition but rather a very important part of an Armenian wedding. The couples with whom I worked usually rented a party bus or a car big enough to accommodate lots of friends and family members. Somewhere on the way from the church to reception we were out to take group shots. Keep in mind that for outdoor shots it’s very important to find a well-shaded place where the whole group will be covered from direct sun. As you see in the pictures below, we have much more than 10 persons in the photos 🙂 To make pictures more joyful and expressive you also have to be loud 🙂 And lastly, to organize such a big group you have to get out of the crowd for a second just to control the positions of all.
Bride & Groom Portraits
Again, it’s more of a think, an idea to try, than a fixed tradition and as with another part of the wedding it’s on the other level. For example, one of my couples rented a vintage car for their photoshoot. This very special moment for them both was perfectly reflected in their pictures.
Welcoming the newly married couple before the reception party
After the church ceremony, the bride and groom drive to the groom’s parents’ house or a restaurant for the reception. The groom’s mother welcomes them first. One of the Armenian wedding traditions is to put lavash (traditional Armenian bread) on the newlywed’s shoulders. The mother of the groom usually performs this rite with blessings plus invites the couple to eat honey. Eating a spoon of honey and keeping a lavash on the shoulders symbolizes happiness and good luck for newlyweds.
Also, she gives the couple a clean plate: they have to break it before to enter the party place. Armenians believe that a broken plate at the wedding party brings the couple happiness.
While the couple is entering the banquet hall, the guests shower them with sweets, nuts, and coins for a warm welcome. At this moment, it’s a good possibility to present gifts, money, and jewels.
Armenian Wedding Reception
Armenian weddings usually have a high guest count. A standard Armenian wedding counts from 200 to 500 guests, with lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins.
From my experience, Armenian weddings are very lavish, long, and impressively loud :). The budget of a wedding celebration is usually more than the average one. The Armenian wedding reception is a spectacular show with music and dances which don’t stop during the whole banquet. I don’t remember wedding festivities lasting less than 14 hours.
I was always amazed by the fact that such big events don’t have random people. Everybody knows everybody. At about 100 guests who perfectly know each other can dance in a circle, it looks very impressive and showy.
Armenian Wedding Food
The banquet of an Armenian wedding is very lavish. The parties usually organize a minimum of 6-course-dinner of the highest quality and very tasty. Armenians pay particular attention to food. In the past, tables rich in food were a matter of honor for the parents of the couple.
Traditional meals at Armenian wedding receptions include:
- meal dishes: khashlama — Armenian lamb stew, sadj, shish kebab.
- traditional pastry: gata, nazouk, paklava, etc.
Armenian Wedding Songs & Dances
Dancing and toasting are a large part of Armenian culture. Guests usually dance from the beginning to the very end of the reception.
Armenian banquet halls usually have a large dance floor for guests who are expected to participate in dances and all guests’ activities. When the guests take their seats, the bridesmaids and groomsmen make their entrance and perform a small show or dance. After the newlyweds will come in, everybody will congratulate them, cheer on and dance until the start of the banquet.
In the past, traditional folk dances, tunes of zurna (a woodwind instrument), and kopal (large, double-headed drum) were common at wedding festivities. An Armenian traditional wedding dance such as shabash and yarkhushta bids farewell and good luck to the newlyweds.
Nowadays, the most popular modern Armenian wedding songs are:
- Siro Avetis by Tata Simonyan
- Siro Or by DJ Davo & Suro
- Taq E Taq E by Armenchik
- Dhol Zurna
- La La La by Super Sako & Arman Hovhanissyans
- Harsanik E by Tigran Asatryan
- Kiss Me by Francesca Ramirez & Armenchik
Armenians are famous because of their flamboyant toasts and speeches. Traditionally at Armenian weddings, the most eloquent speakers are the father of the bride, kavor, best man, and other elder male family members. In Armenian culture, toasts and wishes for happiness are of big importance. For the Armenian bride and groom, it’s important that during the reception a photographer captures all toasts on camera.
Any spectacular performances are welcomed at Armenian weddings. Fireworks, special lighting and illumination, smoke bombs, and no noise restrictions — that’s all about Armenian weddings.
In the past, wedding festivities could last “seven days and seven nights”. Nowadays, it’s not common, but many couples still opt to incorporate some of Armenian wedding traditions and rituals into their weddings.
The Armenian wedding is a time of joyous yet quite hectic celebration, where all members of the big family take part. Every significant moment and every face has to be captured on camera. For such weddings, I suggest a special package of photo services which includes a photo session, a long video, and photo books for the couple and their parents. It’s all with a good discount. In this way, the newlyweds can be sure that the important moments of their big celebration will not be lost and unforgettable memories will stay with them for years.