These Armenian wedding traditions and customs are based upon Western Armenian cultural history or Armenians of the diaspora and their descendants. These will help you understand customs to do with church, dress, food, and reception in Armenian culture. These items are infrequently discussed when Armenian people are dating, but marriage brings a whole new level of cultural awareness.
Orthodox Church Weddings
The overwhelming majority of Armenians (85 to 90%) are Apostolic, also referred to as Armenian Orthodox, or Eastern Orthodox. The remainder are Catholic (less than 10%), and a very slim majority are Protestant (less than 5%). We will focus on some of the traditions of the Armenian Orthodox Church.
- At least one person of the couple to be married is required to be Christian Orthodox (this includes Serb, Russian, Greek, and American Orthodox, as some Orthodox people choose a close-by church no matter their ethnicity).The other person need not convert, but must be Christian.
- The couple is required in most churches to attend pre-wedding counseling administered by the church. Virginity for first marriages is still prized in Armenian-American culture -- for both brides and grooms -- although it is not strictly expected. This belief holds true even 100 years after the Armenian Genocide in newer generations.
- Most clergy will only marry you physically inside the church, according to Orthodox tradition. This means no garden weddings, home weddings, etc.
- The bride is encouraged to wear a conservative wedding dress. Excessive showing of cleavage, tight wedding gowns, or wedding dresses with hems above the knee are discouraged. Modesty in sexuality is an Armenian cultural trait. This harks back to the tradition of Armenian women being married in gowns that covered their bodies from the top of their necks to their feet, and down to their wrists.
The Importance of Crowns in Armenian Weddings
There is no "You may kiss the bride" moment in Armenian Orthodox weddings. The culmination of the wedding is when the bride and groom are anointed king and queen of their households.
In fact, the most important part of an Armenian Orthodox wedding is the crowning of the bride and groom. It is just as important as having engagement and wedding rings. Orthodox Christian wedding crowns are used in Russian, Greek, Albanian, Serbian, and Armenian Orthodox weddings.
What no one tells the bride and groom is that unless they already have their own set of crowns, the crowns have to be given back to the church to be used for every bride and groom that is married at that church. This means that this ultimate token of personal love and unity in an Orthodox Christian wedding has to be given back.
What If I Use My Own Crown?
Fortunately, Armenian Orthodox Christians who can afford to buy the crowns as a personal keepsake often do so. Couples will buy their own crowns or request a set be bought for them by family members—often the parents of the bride or the parents of the groom, as part of the costs of wedding preparation. It is a culturally traditional sign of prosperity to be able to have your own crowns.
If you are a religious person or very much into Orthodoxy, it is a personal source of pride to be able to display wedding crowns on a fireplace mantle or in a buffet hutch in the dining room. Even more importantly, it is quite heartwarming to be a bride or groom and be able to look at the crowns and remember for the rest of your lives the day you were anointed King and Queen of your home.
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Gifts for the Bride and Groom
For anyone that is attending an Armenian wedding as a guest and is concerned about cultural gift etiquette, there are 5 types of gifts that are highly appreciated.
For Armenian couples in North America, it is also important to understand that you should not have explicit expectations for gifts if you have not created a wedding registry. Not all guests will know what to give you.
Food for Receptions
- Traditional cuisine at Armenian wedding receptions included lamb as the main dish, such as lamb shanks. If lamb isn't available, you may substitute beef.
- Armenians who descended from the former Soviet Republic of Armenia are often very comfortable with social drinking of alcohol, but quite a few people who are descended from diasporic Armenians do not believe in touching alcohol or simply do not drink because they grew up without its influence in their home. Diasporic Armenians commonly believed that alcohol was an evil, and even their present-day descendants often do not drink. If you choose to have alcohol at your wedding, you may wish to not partake, and everyone's wishes should be individually respected.
- Because historic Armenia lies in the Near East, dried fruits such as medjool dates, apricots, and black figs were prominently featured at wedding feasts. While it isn't entirely appropriate (or economical) to serve dried fruit buffet-style, placing chopped or mashed dried fruits in Armenian cookies (Hye khopou) is the best way to apply this tradition. Armav Anoush is the perfect date-filled cookie.
- Nuts were also plentiful on Armenian wedding menus, as there were many pistachio and cashew farmers in the homeland. Placing a bowl of these nuts at the table will give historic accuracy to your feast.
Elaborate Armenian Wedding Reception with Performers and Music
Traditional Armenian Music for Receptions
A contentious topic for couples at Armenian weddings is often the music. Often one party loves traditional Armenian music and wants their reception filled with it (especially Armenian parents), while the other party doesn't enjoy the music at all because the vocal styles are too exotic.
So to satisfy both types of people, ask the band that you hire to simply play the instrumentals, and not sing vocals. This satisfies the desire for Armenian music while respecting the party that doesn't like the singing. It also keeps your reception fully traditional with Armenian customs.
The Armenian Wedding Song is a standard at weddings. It is upbeat and most people can't help but get up and dance to it.
Questions & Answers
Question: What should I wear to an Armenian wedding?
Answer: A cocktail dress or dress suit will probably work.
Question: Will an Armenian priest perform the crowning ceremony in a Catholic Church alongside a Catholic priest who is affiliating the ceremony?
Answer: You would have to make that request to the priests to see if they will agree on this accommodation.