The City of Passaic was a major area of immigration between the years of
1882 to 1920 and the immigrants who came to this city brought with them not
only their language and religion, but also their cherished traditions which
included their marriage customs.
Most Rusyns who came to this city mostly
originated from Eastern Slovakia, former Saros county and therefore, most
customs tended to be somewhat identical.
Many immigrants to Passaic were from
Udol / Ujak
and the surrounding village areas of Hajtovka, Orlov, Circ, and
Most of these immigrants lived
within a 6 block radius (the lower East Side) of each other and it was quite
common to see the traditions performed in this city.
Most customs were
found in both the Greek Catholic and Orthodox churches as these were the two
dominant religions in the United States (many having gone back to Orthodoxy
upon arrival in America) of the Rusyns at that time.
In the early days it was not common here for Rusyns to wait for a long
engagement period. As found in the microfilmed copy of the "Passaic Daily
Herald" dated February 2, 1904 an entire article was printed giving some
insite into how these customs were carried out years ago, exerpts from this
Epidemic of Weddings in Foreign Quarter
Thirty Odd Couples Made Happy within Twenty-Four Hours
Priests were Kept Busy Saturday and Yesterday
More weddings took place in Dundee (Lower East Side) in the twenty four
hours beginning last Sunday morning that ever before in the history of this
City. The large number of weddings are credited to the fact that Lent
begins two weeks from tomorrow and during that time the rules of the church
forbid the solemnization of marriages.
"You will find" said the rector of
one of the churches yesterday, "that the foreigners are not advocates of
long engagements. You Americans can be engaged for two or three years but
the young Slavish couples think that they are being punished if they have to
be engaged more than two or three months".
The following are customs that were told to me by my deceased great aunt,
Mrs. Edna Warchol, who told of her own wedding and other friends she had
known down through the years here in Passaic.
A custom which was generally
followed was prior to the wedding was to have the couple "blessed" by both
sets of parents, the couple would come to the home where the parents had
assembled, the fathers of both the couple would bless them with the icon of
Christ, the mothers would bless the couple with the icon of the Holy Virgin.
(this was followed by both Greek Catholics and Orthodox during these years).
While the bride was dressing (which, many times here did not include the
traditional "white wedding gown", they wore whatever they could afford) the
brides mother would tuck under her skirt a small piece of cloth sewed
together, inside was a piece of bread, that they may never go hungry, and a
coin, that they may never be poor).
Once at the church (where the entire
party would walk from the tenenment building) the bride and groom would
enter the back of the church and the betrothal service would begin (in the
Orthodox church, there is no "bride walking down the aisle" as has become
custom today in many churches), when this was finished both would follow the
priest to the altar and the service would begin.
Custom dictated that friends of the family were witnesses, not family members as is common today.
It was custom for neither the bride or groom to look at the other during the
service, it was said whoever looked at the other first would be the first to
die in the marriage.
There were no classes for preparation for
marriage, only a meeting with the priest to pick the date and make sure that
date would be acceptable according to the church calendar.
After the service, the wedding party would walk back to wherever the
"reception" was to be held, most times this was a privately owned home which
had a small back yard that a family member or friend offered to the couple,
renting a hall was non-existent and having the party in the tenement
building was cramped, but, it was done if there was no place else to hold
This party would go on for 3 days, sometimes more, all the
guests bringing food and drink, nothing was purchased, some who had to work
(most factories in Passaic worked 3 shifts, 6 days a week) would leave, go
to work, and then come back again and it was not uncommon for the groom
himself to have to do this.
The party would continue until all the food and
drink were exhaused and the guests were just too tired to go on. Music was
provided by anyone who knew how to play a violin, or some other musicial
instrument, I was told whoever did provide the music was not expected to
give a gift to the couple as he had already given his gift, which was, the
If the bride was lucky she may get a total of $20.00 in
gifts from her family and friends, my great-aunt said she felt especially
lucky as one better off relative gave her a hand pushed carpet sweeper, that
was the extent of the gifts the couple received.
All in all, marriage was a "casual" affair, no big floral arrangements,
photographers, big cars to take them to the church, gowns and all the other
expensive trappings that are considered vitally necessary for todays wedding
It was very popular here to have your marriage over the long
labor day weekend as this way, you could have Monday off and the guests
could enjoy themselves without having to worry about work.
All in all, these wonderful immigrants started their lives with their
marriage simply, lived simply and in the end, died much more content that we
She is researching Kovalcik (Kovalycsik) Vansco, Szurgent, Biss, Kravscak, Kundrat,
Belej, Fengya,Szadlock, Sokol, Zavatsky, Murczko surnames from
Udol / Ujak,
Eastern Slovakia and the surnames Stegena and Hrabscak from Orlov, Eastern
The Kovalcik (Kovalycsik) family were the one one of the first Rusyn
families to arrive in the City of Passaic in 1882. The family owned
businesses and were in business for themselves in that city up to the
1960's. The family were Greek Catholic in Eastern Slovakia but upon
immigration many were disillusioned with the forced latinization of the
Greek Catholic church in America and most went to the Orthodox church in
Joy has been researching the immigration of Rusyn families from
Eastern Slovakia to the City of Passaic and would be happy to share any
information I may have (census records, city information) and would be happy
to correspond with anyone who has connections to the above surnames and/or
areas in present day Eastern Slovakia.