On November 11, our little firecracker married her perfect match, Alex. And the rest of us got to experience a Jewish-Ukranian black-tie wedding!
The morning started before the crack of dawn, because by golly it's hard to be a woman. By 6:45am, bridesmaids already had butts in chairs getting blown out, twisted around, and painted up. We snacked, danced, and toasted in between our turns, and tried to enjoy the relative peace before the momentum of the day really caught up with us.
As for the bride, Maryana was frighteningly calm. She kept insisting that she was now "on the ride" and refused to fret about anything. Another great pacifying phrase was "Let go and let Svetlana" (her wedding coordinator). It was smooth sailing!
Mid-way through the morning, half the groomsmen came dressed in togas to deliver champagne! We also learned about their gifts from the groom, hilarious personalized bobbleheads:
Maryana very thoughtfully selected individual gifts for each bridesmaid. It was really nice to have a special moment just with her (granted, plus a few photographers/videographers).
And then, about six hours later, we were presentable to the world...
...and it was time to make moves and meet up with the gentlemen. We gave Maryana and Alex some time to have their first look without an entourage! Alex may or may not have sobbed.
Lauren flew out all the way from London and it was so lovely to get to spend the day with her!
#twinning to the extreme with Lauren
The lucky groom
A few lovely professional shots from the garden at the Fairmont:
It was really fun to be reunited with the gang from Mexico (plus a few more) to continue the party.
After photos at the Fairmont, we jumped on the party bus and headed to Congregation Emanu-El for the main attraction.
Once there, we did family photos under the chuppah, during which the most memorable moment was Maryana's grandfather leisurely strolling up toward his place in the photo, moving at a snail's pace and stopping to bow and sincerely greet those sitting in the pews, as if everyone was there to see him. It was a crack-up!
The next couple hours, while guests started spilling into the hall for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, the groomsmen and bridesmaids were upstairs in separate areas, snacking, refreshing, and either getting hyped or meditating, depending on what group you were in! The rabbi pulled Maryana and Alex each away for a few minutes for them to reflect on the momentousness of the occasion, and to recognize that these were the last moments in which they would be unmarried.
Soon, it was time. The most magical part of the whole day, rather unexpectedly, was the ketubah signing. Before the ceremony, and while the guests were mingling during cocktail hour, the rabbi brought the family and the wedding party into a beautiful side room, and we had a private mini-ceremony in which he talked about the weight of the moment, the parents gave personal blessings, the couple and witnesses signed the official documents (both civil and religious), and pretty much every single person in the room cried. There was this amazing sense of peace and stillness as we all acknowledged the rabbi's words. My tear ducts were thankful the majority of the parent's speeches were in Russian, although it might have made me even more emotional since all I could read was the feeling behind the words!
And then we lined up, tried to remember all of Svetlana's guidance, and made our way down the aisle. Maryana walked down to an instrumental version of "Tale as Old as Time" from Beauty and the Beast, which made everything feel a touch more magical.
They exchanged vows and rings, Maryana's toddler brother made rose petal angels in the aisle (fodder for the speech Maryana will give at his wedding 25 years from now), and in a flash Alex was breaking the glass (mazel tov!) and they were sharing their first kiss as husband and wife.
Mr. and Mrs. Kessel
The wedding party danced into the reception to "Uptown Funk" as we were announced, donning feather boas, crazy hats, and other silly accessories. Then we encircled the bride and groom and had our own private dance party before integrating into the fold of wedding guests.
The room was decked in flowers, with white tulips and roses and orchids overflowing from the ceiling and the tables. That is, where there was room on the tables, as they were also packed with platters of food! Each setting was set with your usual glassware, plus a shot glass. We were at a Russian wedding, after all, so we made sure to keep the vodka topped off for all toasts!
A favorite moment from the toasts (again, most of the touching ones were said by grandparents, in Russian), was when Kostya, one of the best men, in a very somber, seemingly nervous manner told Maryana to put her hand on the table, and Alex to put his on top of hers. Then he hit the punchline as he said to Alex, "Enjoy this moment; it's the last time you'll have the upper hand in your relationship."
Keeping with tradition, as Americans would tap glasses for the couple to kiss, the Russians would chant "Gorko" (pronounced gor-kuh) and would then count how long the couple remained lip-locked. The best part of this tradition was the group at our table who was convinced they were chanting "Vodka" every few minutes, and consistently took the crowd up on the suggestion.
Maryana and Alex surprised us with a beautiful, choreographed first dance to James Arthur's "Say You Won't Let Go." She even managed a secret costume change!
Dancing along with the live band was a huge part of the event. Many of the attendees, including Maryana, have formal ballroom dancing training, so there was a lot of sweeping and twirling (tan)going on, and at one point glow sticks were passed around, which really took things up a notch. We had a blast!
The rest of the evening, in between eating and dancing, they squeezed in lots of fun traditions, including breaking the challah, being hoisted up on chairs, cutting cake, and of course the garter and bouquet tosses.