Life Cycle or Family Rituals, also called Rites of Passage

In Ukraine, life cycle rituals mark birth, marriage, and death. These are transition points in a human life. The rituals surrounding birth and death help incorporate a new individual into society and they help friends and relatives accept the loss of a person who dies. They articulate beliefs about the nature of the soul and about the relationship between the human and spirit worlds. In Ukraine, the dead never truly separate from the living. Memorial rituals are important. For the first year, they commemorate the date of death. Afterwards, the deceased is seen as one of the ancestors, while remembering ancestors becomes part of the rituals of the calendar year.

Marriage is a special time because it is the one ritual that can be controlled. One cannot set the date of birth or of death, but the time of the wedding can be negotiated between the bride’s family and the family of the groom and the whole village can prepare and participate. Villages weddings are still enormous, with several hundred guests routinely attending. Village weddings also last for days, usually from Friday through Monday.

Because weddings are the most subject to control, they reflect changes in culture more readily than other rituals. Thus, Soviet attempts to change birth and funerary customs did not have much of an effect and people continued to baptize their children in secret, to “seal” the grave of the deceased, and to erect crosses on gravesites, even if these had to be hidden inside Soviet monuments called tumbochky. In the case of weddings, what used to be the mere registration of the marriage became, in Soviet times, an elaborate civil ceremony conducted in the village club. This ceremony is practiced today, even as the church wedding has been reintroduced. Weddings readily reflect cultural adaptation to change. Through weddings, Ukrainians also express their new, post-Soviet identity. Thus, many are now making it a point to wear traditional costume for at least part of the wedding, as well as to bake a korovai and stand on a rushnyk.