Wedding traditions in Kyrgyzstan

Family forms the backbone of Kyrgyz society to this day, and marriage and family relationships remain significant. Families traditionally would produce most of what they would need to survive, and would take care of each other in times of need or sickness. There are strict hierarchies within families, and weddings were ceremonious occasions for welcoming a new member (or seeing one leave).

Sometimes, weddings are arranged when children are still young, though the ceremony doesn’t happen until the children have grown up. Sons should get married in order, with the eldest marrying first and the youngest last. After marriage, the older sons could move away and start their own families, but the youngest son should stay to take care of his parents. There is a hierarchy among the sons and their wives, with the eldest son’s wife having more power than the youngest son’s wife. People tend to get married young, though men are generally several years older than the women when they get married.

Wedding in Kyrgyzstan
Wedding in Kyrgyzstan
Wedding in Kyrgyzstan

Grooms should ask for permission to marry from the bride’s family and negotiate a bride price. This could be horses, cattle and money, plus embroideries and clothing, paid from the groom’s family to the bride’s. In some places, such as in Uzbek and Uighur families, the bride would prepare textiles and embroideries for her own wedding, often starting in childhood. Once everything was negotiated and agreed upon, the groom gives the bride earrings, and they are officially engaged.

Traditionally, there were plenty of feasts for specific occasions, like feasts for when the bride’s family says goodbye to her, and then an official wedding feast, plus ceremonies and customs after the wedding. The bride and groom would dress in special clothing, with the bride in an embroidered white dress, and the groom in a dark velvet suit. Now, there is usually one main wedding celebration, usually held at a wedding hall. Before, the bride and groom will drive around the city to take photographs at landmarks. The bride and groom will wear more typically Western clothing, and the celebration will include lots of eating, dancing, and toasts. Some married women wear scarves over their hair to show that they are married, and both women and men wear rings on the ring fingers of their right hands.

New brides are the lowest in the family hierarchy, and spend a lot of time cleaning, cooking, and taking care of children. Respect for elders is a central part of Kyrgyz culture, and traditionally the patriarch of the family (called aksakal, or white bearded), would sit at the place of honor opposite the door of the yurt. His sons would sit to one side, and his wife, daughters and daughters-in-law would side on the other side. The youngest daughter-in-law would be in charge of serving her family and making sure that everyone had enough to eat and enough tea to drink.

If there are guests, then they take the honored spot across from the door. Guests are seen to be a gift from God, and are treated with the utmost respect. Any visitor in Kyrgyzstan can attest to the fact that guests are welcomed into homes and yurts with plenty of food and warmth. If visiting or staying with a family, guests should bring small gifts or photographs, especially from their home country.