Wedding Traditions in Kyrgyzstan
Family forms the backbone of Kyrgyz society even to this day, and so it is not surprising that wedding traditions in Kyrgyzstan remain a significant aspect of local culture. There are strict hierarchies within families, and weddings are ceremonious occasions in which the groom’s family welcomes a new family member and the bride’s family tearfully parts with a beloved child.
Weddings are sometimes arranged when children are still young, although the marriage ceremony is not held until they have come of age. Sons are expected to marry in turn, with the eldest marrying first and the youngest last. Traditionally after marriage, the older sons can move away and start their own families, but the youngest son should stay at home to care for his parents. There is a hierarchy among the sons and their wives, with the eldest son’s wife having more power than the spouse of the youngest son. People in Kyrgyzstan tend to marry young, though men are generally several years older than women when they get married.
Grooms should ask for permission to marry from the bride’s family and negotiate a bride price, which could include horses, cattle, money, embroidery or clothing. The dowry is then paid by the groom’s family to the bride’s parents. In some minority cultures in Kyrgyzstan, most notably in Uzbek and Uighur families, the bride will prepare textiles and embroideries for her own wedding, often beginning this task in childhood. Once everything is agreed upon, the groom gifts the bride with earrings as an official sign of engagement.
A defining feature of wedding traditions in Kyrgyzstan are the many feasts which both the bride and groom’s families are expected to hold. There is a feast for when the bride’s family says goodbye to her and an official wedding feast, followed by more post-wedding ceremonies which also revolve around food. The bride and groom dress in special clothing, with the bride in an embroidered white dress and the groom in a dark velvet suit. Today, there is usually one main wedding celebration which is held in a wedding hall. Before the ceremony, the bride and groom will drive around the city with their friends to take photographs at city landmarks, with the bride and groom often wearing Western clothing for this photo session. The wedding ceremony is filled with lots of eating, dancing and toasts. Once married, many women will wear scarves over their hair to indicate their married status, and both men and women now wear wedding rings too.
Wedding traditions in Kyrgyzstan only mark the beginning of the bride and groom’s new life together, a life which revolves around further traditions. New brides are the lowest in the family hierarchy and must spend a lot of time cleaning, cooking and looking after the children. Respect for elders is a central part of Kyrgyz culture, and traditionally the patriarch of the family (called aksakal, or white beard), will sit at the place of honor opposite the door of the yurt or home. His sons will sit to one side and his wife, daughters and daughters-in-law to the other. The youngest daughter-in-law is in charge of serving her family at meals, ensuring that everyone has enough to eat and that their cups remain filled with hot tea.