Armenians - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Armenian families were traditionally patrilocal, requiring that the bride move to the home of the groom's parents at the time of marriage. In traditional Armenian society marriages were arranged by the families of the bride and groom or by a matchmaker hired by the groom's family. In-law ( khnami ) relations were very important to social life in the village, and therefore the wedding was a social event involving the entire community. The average age of a bride ( hars ) was between 14 and 16 years, while the average age of the groom ( p'esa ) was between 15 and 20. The bride and groom were generally, but not always, acquainted prior to the engagement. The engagement began as a series of negotiations between families and did not involve the participation of either the bride or groom. When the boy's father ascertained the approval of the girl's father for the marriage, the "word was tied" ( khos-gab, i.e., preengagement, occurred), and the female relatives on both sides began visiting one another. With the first visit of the girl's entire family to the home of the boy, the actual engagement and in-law relationship was established. The engagement usually lasted from several months to two years, during which the boy and girl prohibited from talking with one another during family visits. If the girl had older, unmarried sisters, it was considered important for her to wait for them to marry first. A party to celebrate the formal betrothal was hosted by the girl's parents, and at this party the boy's mother placed gold coins or some other ornament (like a ring) on the girl ( nshan ) , thus instigating the period of her initiation as bride in the boy's household.

The wedding celebration itself ( harsanik' ) was commonly held in autumn (approximately one year after the engagement). It would begin on a Friday and last between one and seven days, with the consummation occurring on a Sunday evening. On the wedding day the groom and his party would go to the home of the bride, where she would be dressed by his godmother or, if dressed by her own female relatives, she would be veiled by the godmother. An outer veil was removed after the wedding ceremony; an inner veil was not removed until after consummation of the marriage. After she was dressed, the bride was escorted to the church by the groom and his relatives. The marriage took place there, and the godparents ( k'avor and k'avorkin ) of the groom usually presided over the ceremony as well as over the subsequent festivities. These festivities were conducted at the home of the groom, where all the guests gathered. Upon entering the house, the bride and groom would break dishes, jars, or sometimes eggs to symbolize good luck in the new home. Also during their entrance to the house, the bride and groom wore lavash (traditional Armenian flat bread) draped over their shoulders to ward off evil spirits. The wedding festivities usually included (and still do in some regions of Armenia) the pre-Christian practice of jumping over a fire three times to ensure fertility. The bride and groom would "fly" ( t'rrch'il ) over the fire together, while the guests circled around them, holding hands and dancing. The bride was expected to remain quiet throughout the party, both in respect for her in-laws and husband and in sorrow at leaving her own family. The period directly preceding the wedding ceremony was one of joviality for the groom and of lamentation for the bride, who was about to permanently leave her home. On the day following the wedding ceremony the groom's parents would send a red apple to the parents of the bride, to recognize the bride's virginity. The bride was prohibited from seeing her family for the first week after marriage but on the seventh day her parents would visit her at the home of her in-laws, bringing symbolic gifts or sometimes the trousseau. This practice is known as "head washing" ( gloukha laval ). The bride herself was not permitted to visit her parents until after the birth of her first child or, with the permission of her mother-in-law, after forty days. Many of these practices pertaining to marriage are still common today in the Armenian Republic, although generally engagements are shorter, lasting one to two months. Similarly, whereas autumn was traditionally the season for weddings—because fruits and vegetables were still available, because the summer's wine was ready to be drunk, and because animals that could not be supported during the long winter could be slaughtered—today weddings take place year-round.

Division of Labor. Labor in the household economic unit was strictly divided according to the principles of gender and generation: the patriarch managed communal work and the incomes of all family members, while domestic work and the household itself were supervised by the wife of the head of the family. The rigidity of the domestic labor hierarchy and the pertinence of gender and generation to the associated social roles are best illustrated by the subordinate position of the new bride. Upon entering the household of her in-laws, the bride was expected to serve all of its members. Because cooking was the privileged work of the mother-in-law, the bride's responsibilities included menial tasks such as cleaning the shoes of all household members. Her face was usually veiled in public for at least one year (and sometimes it was tightly bound, a practice known as mounj ) , and during a ritual period of silence she was allowed to speak to no one except children and her husband (should they find themselves completely alone). After the birth of her first child, she was sometimes permitted to speak to the women of her household. Some women maintained a period of ritual silence for ten years or for life. The other responsibilities of the bride included kissing the hands of elders, never falling asleep if her father-in-law was still awake, and helping him to dress and undress. Humiliating tasks were considered an initiation of the new bride into the household. In general, women's responsibilities included the preparation of food, clothing, and domestic items such as candles, soap, and pottery; the weaving of rugs; and the tending of dairy animals and poultry. While women were working, the eldest children of the household would care for the younger children. This required little work in the case of infants, who were swaddled. Men were responsible for the heavy agricultural work, the building of houses and furniture, and the working of leather. The vast majority of labor was organized by family units, although occasionally an entire village might undertake a project. Hospitality, regarded by Armenians as a great virtue, was considered to be the obligation of everyone, male and female.

Domestic Unit. Within a village, families resided either in extended family (clan, or gerdastan), or nuclear ( untanik' ) units. Extended family residences were usually multigenerational and consisted of somewhere between fifteen and fifty relatives who were bound together by principles of patrilineal descent. Residential nuclear families usually consisted of an elder married son who had left the extended family home with his wife and older children.

Inheritance. The extended family home was typically inherited by the youngest son, who remained there with his wife and children and cared for his parents after his elder brothers had moved away. Property was nevertheless generally distributed evenly among brothers. The senior male of the domestic family was usually succeeded by his eldest son, and the wife of the family head was typically succeeded by the eldest son's wife.

Also read article about Armenians from Wikipedia

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Dec 6, 2011 @ 4:16 pm
I am wondering what are the current traditions regarding weddings for Armenians living in America?

What holidays are important to Armenian Americans?

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Jan 13, 2012 @ 3:15 pm
I stumbled upon this article while looking for a good description of a "khosgab" for my blog ( Thanks for the great description.

Kathy - I'm Armenian American, and while these traditions date back hundreds of years, we tend to tie many of them into our lives in one way or another. My fiance asked my parents permission to propose, and after he proposed to me when we were alone, he and his family had a khosgab with my family. It wasn't exactly like the traditional khosgab, but it was similar. Instead of a dowry, they brought a toy farm, something symbolic of the old world, and obviously just for laughs. It was more about the unity of our families.
As far as other holidays Armenian American's find important, many of them are traditional, but it depends on the person's affiliation with the Armenian church as well. As an Armenian Orthodox Armenian American, Easter is our most important holiday, as well as Christmas (celebrated as the epiphany and theophany on January 6th). There are other feast days that are celebrated throughout the year, but many Armenians and Americans celebrate them differently depending on their affiliation with their church and their up bringing in the Armenian community.

I am starting a blog (see above address) about a modernized-traditional Armenian American bride's perspective of wedding planning if you are interested in learning more about how we tie these old traditions into our lives.
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Apr 4, 2013 @ 11:11 am
In the present day Armenian Polish Catholic American family what are the expectations of the maternal grandmother of the children? The father is Polish Armenian and the mother is German Polish.
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Jun 6, 2016 @ 8:20 pm
My daughter married an Armenian American young man who comes from a large family. She is about to have her first child, and for some reason she has cut off communication with me for no apparent reason. I am afraid the mother in law is taking control of the impending birth. Is this a possibility? I can't understand why my daughter is doing this.

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