Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My (Cousin's) Big Fat Swedish Wedding

                This weekend I had the pleasure of going to my cousin's wedding south of Stockholm. I have been to a few weddings in my time, but only one other had been in Sweden, and I was fairly young and didn't really experience everything in the way it should be experienced. This was an interesting way to start off my "culturalization" into Swedish society and how they do things. Sitting there, I definitely noticed a lot of differences. And I'm sure you'd all love to hear them.
                A couple of months ago, one of my best friends got married. It was in a beautiful location in a somewhat small town near where I grew up. The wedding was in a chapel on a lake and the reception was right next door in a sort of tent thing that was set up. My friend stood at the altar and waited while the bride's father escorted her down the aisle towards her husband-to-be. This is a traditional American wedding style. The father of the bride brings her into the chapel and "gives her away" to the groom. The idea being that the bride and groom are about to embark on a new journey together as a new family, and the parents are no longer as prevalent in their lives, the father must give up some of his claim to his daughter and give her new husband his blessing and his love in order for them to live a happy life together. The priest did a very good job and gave some advice and had a few jokes, but overall it was to present the new couple to God and ask for His blessing. It was a beautiful service (just like the newlyweds... Aww).
                The reception was a lot of fun, with a buffet dinner and a DJ with good music and dancing. As is traditional, the best man (men, in this case) and the maid of honor made a toast to the new couple. There was also a microphone that went around the room and whoever wanted to say a few words were able to do that whenever they wanted to. The night ended with dancing and laughter and fun. It was a good time.
                This is a fairly normal wedding in America: a service presenting the new bride and groom, followed by food, dancing, and fun. It is a good system, and one that I quite enjoy.
                In Sweden, there are a few things that are a bit different. This particular wedding was a bit in the middle of nowhere. It took place in a very old church in the middle of farm country, with virtually no houses nearby. Everyone assembles outside the church, and walks arm in arm with his or her date (or if you don't have one, you make friends quickly) into the church. Once we sat down, the bride and groom walk into the church together toward the altar. The priest was a bit of a character (he sang a bit of Elvis, to the surprise of everyone – including the bride and groom), my aunt mentioned that she had never laughed so much at a wedding before. He gave his advice, said his prayers, sang psalms asking God for His blessing, and presented the new couple.
This bit, however, is pretty much purely tradition. Sweden's official religion is the Lutheran Church of Sweden. Only about 70% of the population identifies themselves as belonging to the church and only 2% are regular attendees. Religion is not nearly as prevalent here as it is in the US, so the church, the psalms, the priest, all seem to  be a tradition that people follow. I was told by the groom that the psalms were chosen pretty much at random. They said, "how about this one?" and the priest agreed that, "yeah, that works." Once the wedding was over, everyone filed out in the same way we went in, arm in arm, and waited outside the church until the newlyweds came out and we all blew bubbles at them and individually congratulated them before going to the reception.
The reception, then, was similar but different ("same, same, but different" as they enjoy saying here). We mingled a bit with champagne and hors d'oeuvres and waited until it was time to eat. Maybe that was just me being an American. Food is always my main priority.
This is where the main difference comes in. There is a seating chart for Swedish weddings, and really any formal dinner party-type event. It is carefully planned so that it is man, woman, man, woman, etc. You are not supposed to sit next to someone of the same gender, and you're not really supposed to sit next to someone that you know very well. This means that couples and families are separated in an effort to make you get to know other people. To help with this, there was a small booklet with the seating chart with numbers, and every number had a name to go along with it. Each name had a small description with an interesting fact or two to help conversation.
There was some talking and visiting before dinner came, which was served in three courses (soup, entrée, and dessert). Wine was constantly being refilled (which also helped with conversation), and overall it was a delicious meal. During the meal, though, the toasts were made.
This is another difference. There were a pair of "toastmasters" that introduced every person making their toast. The first two were the fathers of the bride and the groom, respectively. Then the best man and maid of honor and it finished with a few friends saying a few words and even a slideshow. It was very structured and very formal, with everyone finishing their toast with a "Skål!" and a deep drink. One of the toasts involved something which I tend to think of as very Swedish (correct me if I'm wrong here, but I know Christmas is similar to this), with a present being given to the bride along with a poem. It wasn't given directly, though, but to the bride, then she had to figure out the poem and give it to who she thought it fit, and it went around for a bit before it finally made its way back to the bride. It was actually really cool. Another quizzed the two about how well they knew their guests. We each got a card with a few things on it ("I have completed military service," "I have completed the Vasaloppet," and a few others) and we were asked to stand and they had to guess what the description was. That was pretty fun, too. All in all, the toasts were a mixture of formality, tradition, well-wishing, fun, and alcohol. The Swedish way, really.
After dinner, it went back to what I was used to, with music and dancing and even more fun. The music, though, was a bit different from what I usually hear at an American wedding. There was some Bruce Springsteen (awesome), and Michael Jackson, and something that I can only describe as what Richard Simmons would listen to while "Sweatin' it to theOldies" (not as awesome for me).  Everyone loved it though, and everyone, young and old, danced and sweated and had an amazing time.
At the end of the night, there was a shuttle to take everyone back to their hotels or hostels and we finished off the night walking into a brisk, star-filled night that perfectly capped off the night.
The difference were many, but in the end, the weddings in America and Sweden are essentially the same. They are about bringing two families together and sharing in a beautiful moment the love and loved ones that make a difference in our lives in a night of food, fun, and friendship. As I've said, I've been to several weddings, and I will always have an amazing time with those that I care about, no matter where I am.


  1. I love the fact that Scandinavian couples walk in together as it symbolises that women here has always gotten to chose their groom themselves!

  2. Yeah. So the father is "giving up his daughter"? Sounds like she's his property. I'd accept it if the parents handed both the man and the woman, then I'd accept it. Both families are giving up their son/daughter.

    otherwise, I see this as the same as veils on women, where women are supposed to cover themselves but men not.

  3. Mrs Advocat and Senchaholic -
    I agree with you on that, it sees to give much more autonomy to the women in the relationship, and even in the entire family dynamic. I'm not positive about this, but I believe the reason that the father "gives away" his daughter to the groom is a reference to the past in which a daughter (and really all women) were the property of the man of the house. He was allowed to do what he wanted with her, including choosing a husband, and so in giving her away, he is giving that power to the new man.
    Having them walk together seems to me like a much better way to show that man and woman both made a choice and are equally entitled to that choice (as well as rights once the marriage has begun).

  4. There was quite a lot of fuss two years ago about how Victoria was to enter the church on her royal wedding, and the solution ended up being a weid compromise: her father the king left her walk alone from the middle of the aisle.

  5. Mahällö - That just seems extremely awkward. Did he just stand in the middle, or was there somewhere he had to creep off to?