Russia: Roma Wedding and Christmas

Global Voices Online
Friday, January 26, 2007

The flag of the Roma people. According to Wikipedia, it "was approved at the First World Romani Congress in 1971, held in London, UK. The flag consists of a background of dark blue and green, representing the heavens and earth, respectively. The flag also contains a red chakra, or spoked wheel, in the centre, representing the Indo-Aryan heritage of the Romani people."

Of the 8 to 10 million Roma people living all over the world today, more than 180,000 live in Russia. Photographer Tanya Kotova (LJ user tanyakotova) has recently posted two wonderful photo stories about the Roma population of Peri, a village located not far from St. Petersburg.

The first entry contains 15 photos and this text about a local wedding celebration (RUS):

"Tabor" [the camp] is how the Roma call their settlement in the village of Peri. They moved here from Moldova over 30 years ago. The local government built houses for them - a whole street named after cosmonaut [Yuri Gagarin]. Then the relatives of the Roma arrived, and relatives of the relatives, and the houses expanded... Currently, over 500 Roma families live in Peri. Live is tough here, but also bright and unusual - a true [Emir Kusturica] movie. Women's dresses of incredible beauty, the kids' curious black eyes, golden teeth of honorable men and silver threads in the long braids of the elderly - the endlessly beautiful old gypsy women. What's striking is the open-mindedness and hospitality of the young housewives with little kids in their arms, how they welcome you into their houses. Here, people smile a lot more often than they are sad, though they face a lot more everyday problems than their Russian neighbors do.


The Roma born in the village have never been to the motherland of their ancestors, but they treasure the traditions of the Moldovan Roma: they speak the Moldovan [Romanian] language and interlace their hair with red ribbons during weddings...

The Roma don't marry for love. Their fate is determined by their parents. The wedding is paid for in full by the relatives of the groom. They buy food and alcohol, prepare gifts for the relatives, dress the bride up. Moreover, they pay a big enough dowry to the bride's parents. After the ransom has been paid, they begin to prepare for the wedding.

They cook lots of food, since the whole tabor will be celebrating the wedding. They begin to eat, drink and have fun in the morning. A red flag is hung outside the house - a Roma wedding symbol. Also, every guest at the wedding gets a red ribbon, too.

The most solemn moment is when the wedding dress is carried out of the groom's house. A crowd of women and children runs towards the bride's house, holding with the snow-white dress, yelling "Hurray!" and opening champagne as they run. Once there, they stand tightly around the bride, the women dress her up, make her hair, put on old jewelry on her.

First, everyone has snacks at the bride's house, and by the evening the guests move to the grooms residence. Tables are about to collapse from all the bottles of champagne, vodka and other beverages. Plates with fruit and meat are everywhere. But the Roma drink very little, they raise their glasses only symbolically - to the newlyweds' health and to the birth of many children in the new family.

And - a tiny post scriptum in response to a comment:

tanyakotova: [...] By the way, I've learned today that they got this boy married recently. Just imagine, at the age of 12!!! The Roma found an eye doctor somewhere (the boy has big problems with his eyes) and the doctor said that the kid needs sexual life, so that the blood flows away from the head, and this should improve his vision :-)) Urgently, they brought a bride from Chudovo for him, a little bit older, and it happened. Yesterday I saw him, a child like any other, attends school, grade 4, and he probably still doesn't understand what's happened to him :-))

The second photo report shows how the Roma celebrate Christmas (RUS, 14 photos):

tanyakotova: This is how the Roma celebrate [Orthodox Christmas]: they lay the tables but no one really touches anything on them - it's like a shop window. They start cooking on [Jan. 6] and celebrate on [Jan. 7], but the peak of the celebration is Jan. 8. They dress up in the early morning and spend the whole day walking from house to house, congratulating each other and giving each other gift, yelling "Ure!" I asked why "ure" and not "ura" [Russian for hurray], and the kids told me that "ure" is "ura" repeated many times over :-) Christmas and Easter are the most favorite holidays. They buy presents half a year in advance. Dresses, jackets, sweaters, headscarves. And, of course, bottles of beer and champagne.

dervishli_duzu: So is it just a day for celebration to them or do they attend church service? If yes, where do they go? I'd like to watch )

tanyakotova: No, they don't go to church. The celebration goes exactly the way I described it above and it takes place on Jan. 8. They go to church (in Devyatkino) for Trinity, to baptize children. Sometimes on Epiphany, but it's cold then, so more often on Easter. We did take some photos there, but the light was very bad :-(



- Tanya Kotova is a student of the award-winning Russian photographer Sergei Maximishin (LJ user remetalk), who was mentioned in a Global Voices translation in June 2006 - here.

- I found Tanya Kotova's blog thanks to a link in kunstkamera's LJ; kunstkamera's photos and text on the Nenets people were featured on GV earlier this month - here. She also has an absolutely unforgettable series of photos from the Republic of Georgia - Encyclopedia of Georgian Life - here and here (each entry has more pictures under the cut).

- LJ user gipsylilya runs several Roma-related LJ communities (RUS): romanykultury, freegipsyschool, and romanopedia.

- These English-language LJ sites are about the Roma people as well: Roma (Gypsies) and Friends, Romani Legend and Culture, and Romany Women.

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