The Korovai is a traditional Ukrainian celebration bread used at weddings and anniversaries that symbolizes family and community. The parents of the newlyweds greet them with bread and salt. The Korovai is adorned with ornaments of baked dough: two birds represent the couple, and other ornaments represent family and friends. The entire arrangement is surrounded by a wreath of periwinkle, a symbol of love and purity. It can be shared with the guests as a symbol of good luck and future prosperity.
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The Ukrainian Korovai
Bread holds a very strong meaning to the Ukrainian people. Known as the bread basket of Europe, Ukrainians belief in the power of bread goes back millennia. Bread can be a symbol of the sun and the life giving forces of nature. Bread was used in many of life’s rites and rituals from Christmas celebrations to weddings.
At weddings and anniversaries, the Korovai is the most significant and widely seen of the celebration breads here in North America. It symbolizes community and the circle of life.
Another smaller, less decorated bread is used for the greeting or blessing of the bride and groom. The parents of the newlyweds and the starosty (often the godparents or the MC’s) greet the bride and groom at the reception with bread and salt and shots (vodka usually).
In previous times, an odd number of women were invited to the bride’s home to bake the korovai. Usually the number was 7. Known as korovainytsi, these women brought the ingredients necessary to make the bread. 7 cups of flour, 7 eggs, water from 7 different wells and so on. They sang ritual songs that guided them through the baking steps.
The korovai can be decorated in a variety of ways. It can be adorned with dough embellishments, coins, leaves, berries, wreaths, twigs, branches, arches, ribbons, cloths, and flowers. The colors red, gold and silver were most commonly seen on the korovai. Each of these embellishments also carries its own meaning.
Dough embellishments can be doves, other birds, the sun, the moon, leaves, crosses, pine cones, braids, swirls and many more.
Two birds represent the couple, and other birds represent family and friends. The entire arrangement is surrounded by a wreath of periwinkle, a symbol of love and purity.
Before being placed in the oven it is appropriately blessed.
The bottom section of the korovai called the pidoshva can be shared with the guests and the band as a symbol of good luck and future prosperity. The birds can also be given to the guests. Smaller versions, a mini-korovai, can be placed at each place setting for guests to keep. I have also seen people save, dry out and varnish their korovai for display in their homes. Now the korovai is a work of art.
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