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Marriage Customs Of Scandinavia And Poland

( Originally Published 1897 )



IN Sweden if a youth and maiden eat of the same piece of bread people say they are sure to fall in love with one another. This is not an indispensable preliminary—at least in the province of Bohus and in Finland. In those parts a matrimonial go-between is often employed to carry the youth's offer to the fair lady, whom perhaps her suitor has never seen. Should the proposal find favour with the maiden and her parents, the ambassador presents his client to the family on the following Sunday. The young people do not at this stage converse with one another ; the girl, ignoring her suitor's presence, devotes herself to knitting ; but the youth, having no resource of the kind, is often reduced to the last stage of self-conscious misery.

In the neighbourhood of Torna (Scania) the maid's acceptance of her lover's offer is celebrated by a feast called Fa-al, or yes-ale," and the suitor gives his mistress a Fa-gofva, or yes-gift," a silver goblet containing coins wrapped in paper. At the betrothal they exchange rings and present gifts to each other—on the maiden's side a trifle of her own handiwork ; from the lover a prayer-book, on the cover of which is engraved a heart and some Scripture texts. In Rackeby (Western Gotland) the girl's present to her lover, a shirt of the finest material, which is worn on the wedding-day, but never afterwards. On his death he is buried in it. No one should make presents without due reflection ; if a youth offer his intended bride a knife it will cut the love between them ; shoes, and she will leave him for another ; a pocket-handkerchief, and it will wipe away her affection for him.

Sometimes years may elapse between the betrothal and the wedding. Great preparations are made as the day approaches, and invitations are sent to a great number of guests. These do not, as in the Tyrol and elsewhere, pay their share towards expenses incurred at an inn, but they lighten the cost of entertainment by bringing with them to the bridal house a large supply of provisions. As long as these last the festivities continue. In Norway it was usual for the rejoicings to be spread over a fortnight, but nowadays people are content with a day or two of merriment. A pretty custom obtains in Bohus and Finland. Two spruce pine-trees, divested of their lower branches and bark, are placed one on each side of the entrance door of the bridal house, not, say some, to be removed until the bride becomes a mother. The wedding-day in Scandinavia begins with a repast at the house of the parents of one or other of the bridal pair. In the south of Sweden (Gotland) the guests each take away with them a ring of wheaten bread and a flask of brandy, so that, as was the custom of old time in Scotland, they may be able to treat any friend they meet with on the way. Already the bride has been dressed by her tire-woman (Drott-sata), the wife of the pastor of the village. She wears a black dress, with much display of artificial flowers and parti-coloured ribbons ; a girdle clasps her waist ; round her neck hang pearls ; while her crown is either a myrtle-wreath, a circlet of spangled paper, or a gorgeous one of silver—a loan from the church. The shoes, which in some places are put on by two members of the bridegroom's party, form an important part of her apparel. There must be no buckles or ties in them, as she hopes for easy child-bearing, and in each a silver coin is placed so that money may never be lacking in her new life. Shod in these she sallies forth to the cowhouse, where, if she milks one cow, milk will never be lacking in her new home. While in England we welcome the appearance of the sun on the bridal day, the Swedes are glad to see a gentle rain ; she will be a rich woman, they say, on whose crown the rain falls.

During the ceremony the bridesmaids hold a canopy of shawls over the bride. When the service is over the Warend woman stands to distribute alms in the churchyard, no doubt, like her German sister, to " take away misfortune."

In some districts of West Gotland, on the return home the mother meets her daughter on the threshold and puts a lump of sugar or a coffee bean in her mouth.

Is this a means of securing future plenty, or does it serve as a reminder of the necessity of preserving a sweet temper through married life ? In the olden time an offering was made to the " trolls " or " fairies " by placing under the charmed tree of the homestead a plate of delicacies coming from the feast. Traces of the reverence paid to these "little people " still remain ; the bride puts something of every dish of which she par-takes during the wedding meal on a plate, and it is given in alms to some dependent of the family.

The dowry in Lapland consists of reindeer, so many head of cattle according to the state of the parental finances. The Lapp is above all things careful to " go where money is." How many reindeer has she ? " is always a bachelor's first question when he thinks of entering upon a marriage treaty. As he gives a goodly supply of presents, plate and jewelry, at the conclusion of the bargain, the Lapp may in a sense be said to buy his wife.

An American tourist once joined, out of curiosity, a wedding party of Lapps. He was invited to partake of their meal of boiled sheep. After drinking the bride's health, he watched the guests take their meat from a common dish, cut it with the knives they wear at the waist into small pieces, and swallow it at a gulp. He noticed that the bride was older than the bride-groom, and learned later that it was the usual thing in Lapland—a money match, in fact.

In Norway, where old customs are rapidly falling into disuse, it is not uncommon for a wedding feast to take place at a popular restaurant in the nearest town. A bridal party may sometimes be seen rowing in a boat across a fjord, as in our illustration.

When the guests have eaten and drunk to their heart's content, dancing is the order of the day- In many districts the bride dances off her crown " with much ceremony. She stands blindfolded in the centre of a ring of dancing maidens, and puts her crown hap-hazard on the head of any one of them within reach. The maiden thus distinguished is looked on by the company as the next bride, and becomes in her turn the centre of the ring ; so the crown goes from one to the other throughout the party. Lastly the young wife, lifted high on a chair, drinks to the speedy marriage of all the maidens present. She then takes her place among the married women.

The bridegroom takes leave of the ranks of his bachelor " associates " in a similar fashion. He dances with each in turn, and is then hoisted on their shoulders. A scuffle ensues for the possession of his person between the married and single men, and he is often severely handled in the struggle. At the conclusion of this ceremony the pair are sometimes called by the quaint title of young father " and young mother," and retiring, they take off their bridal clothing and reappear in simple garments befitting staid married folk.

The mirth and jollity continues far into the night, when in the Torna district the pastor conducts the wife and then the husband to the bridal chamber, where he delivers a suitable exhortation. The guests presently throng in to utter their good wishes, whereupon the bridegroom hands every man a glass of brandy, and the bride gives to every woman one filled with wine. Next day, in Bohus and Finland, the bride hides away and a search ensues for the missing one. After she has been discovered, brought home in state, and installed as mistress of the house, she celebrates the occasion in the usual manner by filling glasses ; and these are refilled when the friends make their offering to the young couple, each one placing a coin on the wedding cake. Perhaps these potations are less liberal now than they were a generation ago. The return home after these festivities must have been attended with some danger to those who had done honour to the host's cellar, and forests and mountains have witnessed strange sights.

Danish weddings are mostly celebrated in July, or about Christmas time. With regard to days, Thursday is considered favourable, but Danes are frequently married on a Saturday or a Sunday. Invitations are given through a friend of the bridegroom, who rides on a horse with gay trappings. Should the good people be not at home, this envoy goes in search of them. Hat in hand, he delivers his message in a formal set speech, which is written out legibly and placed in the hat, in case he should forget any part of it. " You must not put the messenger to shame," he says in conclusion, and rides away to the next house where friends or relations of the bridegroom may be dwelling.

The bride, on her way to church, must never once look back, such an act would augur ill for her future happiness. Musicians head the procession, bridesmaids come next, then the bride ; the bridegroom and his men follow in their own separate procession.

The feast takes place at the bridegroom's house ; a few speeches are delivered, and the company begin to dance. After about two hours the husband must take his bride's crown from off her head.

In West Jutland guests and relatives assemble at the bride's house in the morning, to help in preparing the feast, as in Lower Brittany. They bring contributions of butter, eggs, or poultry.

The bride, who has been attired by the clergyman's wife, heads the procession to the church ; she is accompanied by two " bride-women " (of whom one is the lady who attired her), and her own bridesmaids. All walk in twos, and after the ceremony (among Roman Catholics) the guests attend Mass.

The feasting is on a liberal scale, and the bride and bridegroom lead the dancing with a reel. When the girls are tired of dancing they play games until supper is served, about three o'clock in the morning. Each guest takes away a present in return for his contribution to the feast.

The following account of a Polish wedding in high life nearly a century ago, shows that the nobles of the country married their daughters with a splendour and magnificence which was almost royal. Its accuracy can be relied upon, for the facts are all taken from a diary kept by the sister of the bride herself. The ceremony of betrothal was briefly as follows :

The family lived in a castle, and one day at the dinner, which took place at noon, the mother put into the hands of her daughter Barbara an entangled skein of silk, upon which she blushed and appeared unable to raise her eyes. Her future husband had been invited to the meal—all eyes were fixed on the bride elect. The family jester made many sly jokes to amuse the company. After dinner the girl sat in a recess of one of the large windows, and began to unravel the skein of silk, upon which her future husband approached with these words, " Am I to understand, madam, that you do not oppose yourself to my happiness ? " Barbara's way of saying " yes " was, My parents' wishes have ever been sacred to me." The young man was con-ducted by his father and the priest, to a sofa on which the noble lord and lady of the castle were seated. Then the father, addressing the latter, assured them that his heart was filled with sentiments of the sincerest affection and of profound esteem for the illustrious family of , and that he had long desired this coming alliance. Their daughter was a model of virtue and grace, and his son was to his father a source of pride and consolation. He then took from one of his own fingers a diamond ring and, placing it on a salver held by the priest, said, This ring I received from my parents and placed upon the finger of my lamented wife upon the day of our betrothal. Permit my son now to place it on your daughter's hand, as a pledge of his unalterable love and true devotion."

This was followed by an address from the priest, after which the bride's father replied that he willingly consented to the union, that he now gave up all rights over her. The mother then placed a valuable ring on the salver with these words, " I concur in what my husband had said, and present my daughter with this ring, the most precious jewel of our house. My father received it from the hands of Augustus II. when he concluded the Treaty of Karlowitz. . . . It was with this ring, the memory of which is so dear, that I was betrothed. I bestow it now upon my child, in the fervent hope that she may be as happy in her marriage as I have been in mine." The priest having pronounced a blessing, one of the rings was given to the daughter, the other to her betrothed husband, who placed the one she received on the little finger of her left hand, fastening it down with a kiss. This finger is called the " heart finger." She, however, did not keep the ring, but presented it to her future husband with trembling hands. He again kissed her hands and, throwing himself at the feet of her parents, swore to do all in his power to make their daughter happy. While her father was filling a large goblet with old Hungarian wine, many pretty compliments were paid to his daughter. The health of the betrothed couple was then drunk—first by the father, who completely drained the goblet, and then by all the gentlemen present, so that it was refilled many times. Thus ended the first day. On the following day a consultation was held over the trousseau, the result of which was that the lord of the castle put down one thousand Dutch ducats with orders to prepare all that was necessary.

Chamberlains carried the news to all parts of Poland. The eldest of these chamberlains, all gentlemen of noble birth, attended by a groom splendidly equipped, was entrusted with letters for the king, the princes, the lord archbishops, and the chief senators, begging their blessings, and saying how greatly he would be honoured by their presence at the wedding.

The bridegroom, it goes almost without saying, gave costly presents to all members of the bride's family. One day the whole of the court at the castle went hunting, according to an old custom which is supposed to bring good luck to the betrothed. They came back in the evening with the spoils of the chase. The wild boar laid at the bride's feet had been killed by her betrothed.

For several days the ladies of the house were busily occupied in making useful gifts for the bride, the mother being naturally very busy with the trousseau. The skein of silk so successfully unravelled by the daughter (by which she fully proved her fitness for matrimony) was made into a purse for her husband. The latter then left the castle to return later on for the wedding. During his visit he confined his attentions not, as an Englishman would, to the young lady, but to the parents of his fiancee. This was the strict etiquette then, the idea being that the true way to win the lady's affection would be by pleasing her family. There is certainly something to be said for this custom—if only by way of rebuke to those engaged young couples in our own country, who constantly go and sit in a room by themselves, regard-less of their relations and friends.

Time passed quickly, and noble guests arriving at the castle were received with discharges of musketry and troops presenting arms. Bands played at intervals.

The marriage deed was drawn up in the presence of all the assembled guests. At last the wedding-day arrived. Early in the morning the bride and bride-groom went to church to confess and receive the Holy Sacrament. The priest gave his blessing as they knelt before the altar. Breakfast was served at the castle, after which the bride was attired in a rich white dress, with Brabant lace worked in silver. In the bouquet worn at her waist there had been put a golden coin, struck on the day of her birth, a piece of bread, and a little salt ; when this custom is observed they say the married pair will never be in want of food or funds. A morsel of sugar was added to give sweetness to their lives.

Then the folding doors were thrown wide open and the bride appeared supported by two ladies. She was in tears, and advanced with trembling steps striving hard to restrain her sobs. The bridegroom came forward, took her hand, and led her to his father and mother-in-law, before whom both knelt down together to receive a blessing. On rising from their knees, the bride and bridegroom walked all round the room, while each person present wished them happiness. Then all proceeded to the private chapel attached to the castle, where the priest stood before the altar on which an immense number of candles were burning. A rich cloth covered the altar steps. The bride and bridegroom knelt, while bridesmaids, groomsmen, and parents behind stood at one side. The Veni Creator was chanted, and the priest gave a long discourse in Latin. Rings having been exchanged, the newly-married couple threw themselves at the feet of the bride's parents to receive their blessing. At a signal from the master of the ceremonies, an Italian vocalist, sent expressly from Warsaw, began singing, accompanied by a band of musicians. Outside the dragoons kept up a continued discharge of musketry, and at intervals cannon were fired off. At length when the noise had ceased, the bride's father made a speech which so affected his daughter that she could make no reply.

Dinner was served in the great hall. The wedding cake, an edifice of sugar four feet high, represented the Temple of Hymen adorned with allegorical figures and surmounted by the arms of the two families now allied by marriage, surrounded by French inscriptions. This cake was the product of a fortnight's work on the part of the confectioner. The table bore many other beautiful things, such as china figures, gold and silver baskets, and toast after toast was drunk with great enthusiasm, and a tun of Hungarian wine was emptied during the dinner ! The company drank to the newly-married couple, to the State, the king, the princes, the arch-bishop, the clergy, and lastly, to the host and hostess. After each toast glasses were broken and cannon fired, and a blast was blown on the trumpet. When dessert was ended there followed a silence, during which the father called for the master of the household, and in a low tone of voice gave him orders to fetch something. This proved to be a morocco leather box containing a golden cup in the form of a crow, studded with precious stones ; showing it to the company he told them that it had descended to him from a long line of ancestors. He then filled it with very old wine, and drank to the health and prosperity of the bride and bridegroom. The toast was received with great enthusiasm, the music became louder than ever, and all the guns thundered at once. Before all had drunk from this beautiful old goblet, a hundred bottles of wine had passed out of it. In the evening there was a grand ball. The king's representative danced with. the bride by way of opening the ball." First a polonaise was danced, then came minuets, quadrilles, mazurkas, and other more lively dances.

In the middle of all this dancing a curious ceremony took place. A chair having been placed in the centre of the room, the bride sat in it while the twelve brides-maids unfastened her coiffure, singing all the while in the most melancholy tone, "Barbara, it is all over, then—you are lost to us ; you belong to us no more ! " Her mother took the rosemary from her hair, and a little matron's cap of lace was placed on her head. The dancing then recommenced, and each of the gentlemen had the privilege of a short dance with the bride, her last partner being her father, who gave her up to his son-in-law for ever. The married ladies conducted her to the bridal chamber with tears.



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