Of Russian origin: Karavay
Karavay - symbolic bread
Karavay is a traditional round Russian yeast sweetbread usually baked for weddings (and more rarely – for funerals or birthdays). It is always richly decorated with a pastry wheat-ear-shaped wreath symbolizing prosperity and – when for marriage – with two interlaced rings – as a symbol of spousal faithfulness. Karavay is also often adorned with arrow-wood twigs, which in pagan times were believed to possess magic powers and could help a young woman become pregnant.
Karavay is seen as a symbol of happiness and affluence. The puffier the karavay – the happier and richer the newlyweds will be once they taste it.
Who is the boss?
Karavay is usually served by the newlyweds’ parents on an embroidered towel and traditionally with a little bowl (or cup) of - salt! This practice dates back to times when salt in Russia was very expensive, so offering it to guests meant you were sharing with them something very precious.
The parents invite both the bridegroom and the bride to take a bite of the karavay – without using their hands. Whoever takes the largest bite is considered to be the head of the new family.
The rest of the karavay is divided among the guests; it is thought that in sharing karavay with relatives and friends, the newlyweds are also sharing their happiness.
Occasionally, karavay is also baked on birthdays. But more often, especially if it’s a child’s birthday, the tradition is to sing a karavay song, rather than eat a karavay pastry.
Children join hands and make a ring – for a round dance; the one whose birthday is being celebrated stands in the center. The others dance around him (or her) and sing:
“Once for someone’s birthday (the name of a child)
We baked a karavay
It was this much up (children put their hands in the air, as high as possible)
This much down (children squat)
This much wide (children make as wide ring as possible)
This much narrow (children move towards the child in the center)
Karavay! Karavay! Choose someone you love the most!
[The child in the center answers]: To tell the truth, I love everybody,
But most of all I love … (the name of a child)”
The one who’s been chosen goes to stand in the center, while the one who’s chosen him (or her) joins the other children.
Buy or bake?
In the past, karavay was always homemade. Today it is usually bought or ordered at the nearest bakery… although it’s still not hard to prepare at home.
Make some leavened (yeast) dough, shape it into a round loaf, decorate it and send to a preheated oven! To make it shine - smear your karavay with beaten eggs or sugared water when it is almost ready.
Written by Maria Finoshina, RT correspodent