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• CostaRica •PhotographyKevin heslinEST.D 2006

A Traditional Wedding in an Exotic Location

The happy bride and groom pose for a formal bridal portrait

A traditional wedding can look like many different things depending on where you are in the world. But there are no rules on where and how you can incorporate different wedding traditions into your celebration.  With a little creativity and flexibility you can bring many time time-honored traditions from other parts of the world to Costa Rica’s tropical shores.

Just check out Aleksandra and Sergey’s wedding. They put together a beautiful Ukrainian-style wedding–and added a bunch of Latin American flair!

The groom beams at the camera before the ceremony

An Exotic Location

When it comes to exotic locations in the world, you can’t get much more exotic than Costa Rica. The jungles, the beaches, the luxury right in the middle of it all just can’t be beat.

Aleksandra and Sergey decided to hold their wedding festivities at the Gaia Hotel and Reserve here in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica. This place is the perfect combination of luxurious comfort and beautiful nature. The snippets of scenery in these photos give you just a tiny taste of how gorgeous this spot is.

Sandy, Gaias amazing wedding planner goes above and beyond to ensure that all her wedding couple’s dreams come true. This is a huge plus for destination weddings as details can be hard to work out from afar.

A grouping of wooden Ukrainian dolls

A grouping of wooden Ukrainian dolls

Ukrainian Traditions

Modern-day Ukrainian weddings are a unique blend of old cultural traditions and Western wedding customs. Aleksandra and Sergey opted for the unconventional by staging their wedding on the beach in Costa Rica. But they brought with them bits and pieces of their cultural heritage.

For example, embroidered clothing and objects are common in Ukrainian culture. For a year before the wedding, Aleksandra labored lovingly to delicately embroider a traditional wedding towel!

This towel traditionally goes on the ground in front of the altar. The couple stands on it during the ceremony and it is a symbol of prosperity. The idea is that the couple will never live in a home with a bare earthen floor.

Aleksandra opted for a veil with a delicate spray of white flowers for her headpiece. But she gave a nod to Ukrainian tradition by having her bridesmaids wear brightly colored floral crowns with ribbon streamers.

Fans hand beaded by the bride's mother for the ceremony

Fans hand beaded by the bride’s mother for the ceremony

The bride and her girls having a blast while getting ready

The bride and bridesmaids tossing confetti when they get ready

Champagne and Confetti.

The bride with her dress and flowers

Traditional wedding collage

Check out the intricate embroidery on that traditional wedding towel!

Traditional wedding portraits of just the bride

The bride with her bridal party and their traditional wedding headpieces.

Wreaths and crowns are a big part of Ukrainian tradition. And we can’t forget the ribbon streamers!

The Ceremony

The ceremony was held on the beach in a decidedly non-Ukrainian setting. The waves splashed in the background as the sun slowly sank closer and closer to the Pacific Ocean.

Just before heading down to the beach, Aleksandra and Sergey shared a special “First Look” moment. Sergey’s reaction was a tear jerker for sure.  It was an honor to be able to capture this moment in photos.  I was also lucky that my good friend and amazing photographer Joseph Nance was second shooting to make sure we captured the day from all angles.

What a beautiful moment that I felt privileged to capture with my camera. These emotion-laden photographs are the kind of photos that draw people to pull out their cherished wedding albums to show their children and grandchildren.

The bride coming up behind the groom for a traditional wedding first look.

Coming up for the first look.

The groom's face when he sees his beautiful brideThe look of love on the father of the bride's face as he walks her down the aisle.Pure happiness on the groom's face during the ceremonyThe love shining in their eyes as they say their wedding vowsThe ceremony setting: the beach, the ocean, and the sunset in the background.Everybody on the beach for a group shot just after the ceremony.The bride and groom's silhouette perfectly placed in the middle of their wedding arbor. The bride and groom looking lovingly into one another's eyes.Traditional wedding portrait time!Traditional wedding portrait time! The bride on the beachTraditional wedding portrait time!

Traditional wedding portrait time!

There’s the epic kiss!

The Reception

In keeping with the traditional wedding theme, Ukrainian traditions also made their appearance during the reception as well. The most notable was the traditional “bread and salt” ceremony.

This is a beautiful moment between the bride and groom and their parents. As the bride and groom enter the reception, their parents meet them with gifts of bread and salt. Bread represents the bounty of nature and salt is necessary for a dash of flavor in life. The parents then proceed to bless their children as they begin their new journey and form their own, new little family.

Music and dancing is a big part of the Ukrainian culture, and there was no lack of either at Aleksandra and Sergey’s wedding. But to mix things up a bit, they hired a professional Salsa teacher to teach them and their guests some new dance moves. A live band provided plenty of music to keep toes tapping and hips swaying long into the evening!

The beautiful backdrop: sunset over the pacific ocean.

The bride and groom start off the dancing with a traditional wedding waltz for their first dance.

Traditional wedding waltz for the first dance

The bride and groom start off the dancing with a traditional wedding waltz for their first dance.Traditional wedding speechThe shoe game adds to the fun

The salsa instructor showing everyone how it's done!

The salsa instructor showing everyone how it’s done in Latin America !

The bride's radiant faceHaving fun at the reception–Ukrainian style!The bride holds aloft her bouquet and the single ladies each grab a streamer connected to it. Stunning silhouette of the bride and the groom on the beach in front of an epic sunset.

Your Traditional Wedding Abroad

Who says that a destination wedding can’t also be a traditional wedding? Just because the location is exotic doesn’t mean you can’t bring special cultural elements along with you.

Who knows? Those traditions might even feel fresh and that much more special for being out of their normal atmosphere.

For more ideas about ways to make your wedding vacation special, check out my guide to group activities that you and your guests can enjoy during your trip!

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Kevin Heslin
Photography