Korovai, or wedding bread, symbolizes an entire Ukrainian community’s blessings for a couple’s wedding. And it should, because it takes almost a village to make it.
In a ritual that begins on the Saturday preceding the ceremony, seven women gather to knead dough and sing folkloric wedding songs. These bakers are said to pass on the fate of their own marriages through the bread, so only women who are living happily in their first marriage are allowed the honor. After they’re done, a happily married man must place the bread into the oven. Then everyone prays for the best. A cracked or malformed korovai is a bad sign for the marriage, but the higher it rises and the more decorations or layers it contains, the better the marriage will be.
Though wedding breads are a part of ceremonies across Russia, Bulgaria, Poland, and Romania, Ukrainian korovai is usually considered the most decorative. Each flourish crafted from the dough has a specific meaning: Roses symbolize beauty, ears of wheat mean future prosperity, and a wreath of periwinkle represents the strong connection that binds the couple together. Often, two birds grace the top of the bread, one baked with its wings outstretched to represent the groom, the other with wings furled to symbolize the bride.
During the wedding, the beautiful finished bread is prominently displayed close to the altar. At the reception, everyone gets a piece. In some versions of the tradition, the bride and groom both chip off a bit of bread, and whoever comes away with the bigger slice will be the head of the household.