This picture was taken in late April and shows crowds of people walking in the summer garden on a chilly day. Petersburgers always took advantage of sunny days, regardless of the temperature. Spring comes suddenly to the city; within a few days of the beginning of the season the leaves burst fort and a transformation in mood and dress would take place. The Summer Garden was the site of the annual bride fair on Whit Monday in the middle of June. On this day prospective brides and grooms would congregate in the Summer Garden with the men lined up on one side of the great walk in the park and the women on the other. Both sides would be as richly dressed as possible and behind them stood their parents. It was a very serious business, where, once a man had made his choice, serious negotiation between the families took place regarding the dowry to accompany his chosen and the marriage terms.

The bride fair in Petersburg was a substitute for the services of professional matchmakers in the village. When a boy came of marriageable age in the country a father would talk to his boy about his preferences for prospective wives in the community. At the right time a father and mother would hire a "svakha", Russian for matchmaker to begin negotiations for the best match among the girls the young man had picked out as potential brides. Thus began a charming village game of courtship by proxy. The matchmaker would meet with various families to discuss the whether they would accept the young man's possible request for their daughter's hand. If the answer was in the affirmative the next step was to discuss possible dowries and marriage settlements the groom and his family could expect from the bride's family. Such discussions always took place around the samovar and a cozy cup of tea for the matchmaker.

Above: The Summer Palace of Peter I in the Summer Garden.

Once the adults had made their decisions the potential bride was told of the plans that had been made for her. By tradition the potential bride would feign dissatisfaction with the match - no matter how pleasant and agreeable the proposal actually might have been. After some period of persuasion the girl would then relent and accept the advice of her parents and the matchmaker, who had thus proven her value to the prospective couple, both families and the village community as a whole.

Above: A Petersburg mother and her four daughters.

Finally the fathers of both families would seal the pact formally by wrapping their hands in their coats and striking them together. In closing the deal the newly betrothed couple would be blessed by the family ikon.

In 1900 Petersburg traditions were changing and the idea of romantic love - as promoted by popular novels and serials in the papers - had taken hold. Although the press presented these soap-opera like serials as moral tales warning young women of the dangers of love, they actually had the opposite effect. From 1850 onwards young people read about the tragedy and joy of romantic love - along with veiled allusions to the power of its' physical pleasures. These ideas were particularly surprising to people who had just arrived from the village. They still maintained strong ties to the village community and usually planned to return home for important decisions such as marriage partners.

Next photograph: May in St. Petersburg

For a small map of the St. Petersburg area click here.

To see a large map of the center of St. Petersburg go here.

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