Finnish weddings are a beautiful mix of old and new. They blend traditional customs with modern sensibilities and celebrating love and commitment. As you step Into a Finnish wedding, you’ll notice a mix of deep-rooted customs and contemporary touches. It makes for a truly unforgettable experience.
In this post, we’ll explore some of the most unique and fascinating Finnish wedding traditions.
Kihlaus – The Engagement
The journey to a Finnish wedding begins with an engagement known as “kihlaus.” Traditionally, the bride and groom wear an engagement ring (kihlat), a simple gold band on their left ring finger.This symbolizes their eternal love and commitment. The engagement period can last anywhere from a few months to several years.
Polterabend – The Pre-Wedding Celebration
Originating from Germany, the “polterabend” is a Finnish pre-wedding tradition involving families and close friends. This informal party is characterized by loud noises, singing, laughter, and joy. Guests break old porcelain and glassware to symbolize the shattering of the couple’s previous lives to make way for their new future together.
In Finland, the sauna holds a special place in the culture, which also extends to wedding traditions. The bridal sauna is a Finnish custom in which the bride, often accompanied by her closest female friends and family members, spends time in the sauna before the big day.
This ritual is believed to purify the bride, both physically and spiritually, as she prepares for her new life as a married woman. The sauna experience is filled with laughter, bonding, and well-wishes. It’s an intimate and memorable event for the bride and her loved ones. It is sometimes said the sauna helps the bride to ‘sweat out’ her ex-boyfriends, before she marries.
The use of a bath broom, also known as vihta or vasta, is a common practice. The bath broom is made from birch twigs and is used to gently beat the skin to improve circulation and provide a relaxing massage during the sauna session.
Wedding Ceremony Traditions
The Finnish Wedding Procession
Unlike many Western weddings, Finnish wedding processions don’t have a strict order. The bride and groom usually walk down the aisle together. Often they are accompanied by their parents or other family members. This embraces the Finnish belief in unity and togetherness as they enter a partnership.
Traditionally only Finnish brides receive a new wedding ring at the wedding ceremony. The groom wears his engagement ring.
Wedding Reception Traditions
The Wedding Toastmaster
Finnish wedding receptions often include a designated “toastmaster” who oversees the festivities and ensures everything runs smoothly. They are responsible for introducing speeches, organizing games, and guiding the evening’s events.
The Shoe Game and Kidnapping the Bride
During the reception, it’s common for the couple to play the Finnish version of the “shoe game.” They sit back-to-back and swap one shoe each. The toastmaster then asks a series of questions, and the couple raises the appropriate shoe to indicate their answer.
Another light-hearted tradition is “kidnapping the bride,” or “morsiamenryöstö. Friends of the couple “kidnap” the bride, and the groom must complete challenges or pay a “ransom” to get her back. This showcases their unity and commitment to each other.
Dancing and the Wedding Waltz
Traditional Finnish weddings feature live music and dancing, with the couple leading the first dance, called the “häävalssi” or wedding waltz.
Finnish Wedding Music and Timeless Melodies
Music plays a crucial role in Finnish weddings. One of the most popular songs played at Finnish weddings is “Prinsessa Ruususen Häämarssi” (The Wedding March of Sleeping Beauty). It was composed by Erkki Melartin in 1905. This enchanting piece has stood the test of time and remains a favorite choice for Finnish couples.
Finnish Wedding Cuisine
Finnish wedding cuisine features a delicious blend of traditional and contemporary dishes, showcasing the rich flavors and fresh ingredients characteristic of Finnish cooking. The wedding menu often includes the following elements:
- Appetizers. Finnish wedding appetizers typically consist of an assortment of cold fish dishes, such as gravlax (cured salmon) and herring, alongside seasonal vegetables and freshly baked bread.Savory Karelian pies are sometimes served too.
- Main Course. The main course at a Finnish wedding often features meat or fish, such as roast lamb, salmon, or whitefish. Seasonal vegetables, potatoes, or other side dishes usually accompany these dishes.
- Dessert. A popular dessert is the wedding cake, which can range from simple and elegant to elaborate and multi-tiered.
- Beverages. Finnish weddings typically serve a variety of beverages, including local beers, wines, and non-alcoholic options. It is also common to serve Finnish spirits, such as Koskenkorva or jaloviina to toast the happy couple.
Wedding Guests and Their Involvement
Finnish wedding guests actively participate in the festivities, contributing to the overall atmosphere of joy and celebration. Traditional Finnish wedding games, such as a variation of musical chairs, engage the guests and add fun to the event.
Single women may participate in activities that involve predicting their future husbands. While other guests may partake in contests designed to bring good luck to the newlyweds.
Civil Ceremony and Traditional Elements
While many Finnish weddings involve a religious ceremony, some couples opt for a civil ceremony at a local registry office or another chosen wedding venue.
Regardless of the type of ceremony, elements of Finnish tradition, such as the bridal couple’s attire and the presence of a wedding toastmaster, remain integral to the event.
Protecting Against Bad Luck and Evil Spirits
Some Finnish wedding customs stem from superstitions and beliefs in warding off bad luck and evil spirits. For example, the bride may carry a silver coin in her left shoe and a gold coin in her right shoe. This is signifying a future filled with wealth and prosperity.
Wedding Day Superstitions and Popular Choices
In Finland, as in many other cultures, beliefs surround the most and least auspicious days for wedding ceremonies. The unluckiest wedding day is considered to be Tuesday, while Saturday is the most popular day of the week for Finnish weddings.
Reception Customs and Their Global Origins
Several wedding reception customs in Finnish celebrations originate in other parts of the world. For instance, the bouquet toss is reminiscent of an ancient Roman tradition. The custom of tiered cakes can be traced back to medieval Europe. The wedding feast often incorporates dishes from neighboring countries, reflecting the diverse culinary influences on Finnish cuisine.
Old Wedding Traditions
These wedding traditions are not so common anymore.
The traditonal Finnish wedding attire of the bridal crown, has been influenced by various cultures and historical periods. The tradition of wearing a wedding gown dates back to ancient Rome, while the bridal crown has roots in 16th and 17th-century Europe. In parts of Finland, people still adhere to old traditions. Brides donne wedding crowns similar to those worn by Swedish brides in the 17th century. Modern Finnish brides, however, often opt for a contemporary take on the wedding gown.
In the past, when a woman got married, she brought with her a dowry (Myötäjäiset). This consisted of property, goods, or money contributed by her family to support the new couple and their future life together. This dowry, was meant to ensure the financial stability of the couple. It was seen as a gesture of goodwill from the bride’s family.
However, as with many dowry systems worldwide, the tradition of myötäjäiset has largely disappeared in modern Finland. Today, Finnish weddings focus on the love, commitment, and partnership rather than the exchange of property or wealth between families.
Finnish wedding traditions offer couples and their guests a unique and memorable experience. The blend of old and new customs ensures that these celebrations are steeped in history and reflective of modern values. As the bride and groom embark on their journey together, the Finnish wedding customs encapsulate the essence of love, commitment, and harmony.