Wedding Traditions in Finland and the U.S.

Here Comes the Bride!
Wedding Traditions in Finland and the United States

Salla Hakulinen, Spring 2005 (US)
A FAST-US-7 United States Popular Culture Paper
Department of Translation Studies, University of Tampere



The marriage ceremony – in its various forms – is practically universal, and can thus be compared between different cultures. This paper studies customs and traditions involved when Finnish and American couples "tie the knot," and questions whether Finnish weddings are becoming more "Americanized."

The United States of America is arguably the wedding capital of the world, sending novelty "traditions" to the rest of the world by the means of its film and popular music industries. However, what is the reality of American weddings? Are they really as "ex-everything" – extravagant, expensive and extraordinarily luxurious – as popular films would have one believe? How much is "the white wedding image1" portrayed by American popular culture affecting modern Finnish weddings?

The definition of "American wedding" used in this paper is primarily that which is depicted worldwide via Hollywood films, television and other dimensions of U.S. popular culture. While this definition excludes Chinese-American, African-American, Jewish-American, Greek-American and other wedding customs that have also been portrayed in recent cinema, it still provides a distinct array of culture-specific features. These "mainstream" American wedding features are easily recognizable by the Finnish population; they are also comparable to most features of Finnish weddings.

The definition of a "Finnish wedding" was simpler, as the Finnish population is much smaller and more homogenous. The only major differences in Finnish weddings occur between religious and civil ceremonies, and, to a lesser extent, between Lutheran and Russian Orthodox ceremonies. However, the differences in the Finnish marriage ceremony itself do not extend to what is to follow at the wedding reception. Lutheran, Russian Orthodox and civil ceremonies may all be followed by virtually identical receptions. Indeed, as will become apparent in this study, the role of religion itself is not very strong in the Finnish wedding today.

The study's sources include a variety of print and electronic materials on Finnish and American wedding traditions, as well as the author's knowledge of Finnish wedding customs and traditions. Unique to the study is the data from 719 (84 American, 635 Finnish) brides and grooms who filled out internet questionnaires between February 5th to March 23rd 2005, thus providing insights on contemporary weddings in both countries. The questionnaire and its findings will be discussed later in the paper.

To establish a basis for comparison with Finnish wedding customs, several U.S. wedding-themed films were viewed to see how American brides, grooms and weddings in general are portrayed in the entertainment media. These films were The Bachelor (1999, starring Chris O'Donnell and Renée Zellweger), Buying the Cow (2002, Jerry O'Connell and Bridgette Wilson), The Best Man (1999, Taye Diggs and Nia Long), Very Bad Things (1998, Jon Favreau and Cameron Diaz), Runaway Bride (1999, Julia Roberts and Richard Gere) and The Wedding Planner (2001, Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey).

Since weddings are such a common and important part of virtually every culture, and since they are often portrayed in the entertainment media, especially in films and on TV, a knowledge of wedding practices and terminology is important for translators. Unfortunately not all Finnish translators seem to be familiar with American wedding terms, as one can often notice translation errors in the Finnish subtitles of American TV shows and films. Examples of these include "rehearsal dinner" = harjoitushäät [literal meaning: "a practice wedding"], or "She's having a bridal shower" = Morsian on suihkussa ["The bride is taking a shower"]. This strongly suggests that although weddings are becoming increasingly cross-cultural, especially in the Western world, there are still customs and traditions in other cultures that Finns find unfamiliar, even customs from such a well-known culture (based on its depictions in popular culture) as that of the United States.

American Weddings in the 20th Century

The United States' current position at the forefront of wedding fashion can partly be explained by the effect of World War II on the world economy. After the war the United States, having itself suffered comparatively small economic losses, was in a dominant position in the world market. However, prior to the war had been the Great Depression of the 1930's, which was then followed by the war and its rationing. Thus everyday life had also been far from carefree for the average American.

In their book Cinderella Dreams: The Allure of the Lavish Wedding Cele C. Otnes and Elizabeth H. Pleck argue that "big" weddings only became common in the U.S. in the 1940's and 50's, when the economic hardships of World War II finally eased and made guilt-free spending possible for the lower middle and working classes. Up to that point, only the upper classes had had the funds needed for a lavish wedding. After the war, mothers whose own weddings had been less than spectacular during the 1930's depression or the war years wanted to treat their daughters to something much better (Otnes and Pleck 44-45).

Pond's cold cream ad from 1943.
(Source: Roland Marchand, UC-Davis)
It was also at this time that weddings began to be associated with "magic" and luxury in commercial advertising. Brides were used in advertisements because the audience associated the bride with happiness, innocence and joy. Even products such as tomato soup were advertised with brides printed on the labels. The lavishness of weddings in general was promoted by this imagery of brides as special and magical women, as it made weddings seem even more important and desirable than before.

In January 1943, Life magazine ran an ad promoting Pond's cold cream that became famous. The ad cited: "She's engaged! She's lovely! She uses Pond's!" Brides were seen as beautiful, successful characters who had achieved what every girl dreamed of – securing herself a husband and having the opportunity to marry him happily in a dream wedding. Essentially, weddings were associated with carefree consuming, a trend that is still present today.

Perhaps another reason why elaborate weddings became popular after World War II lies in the fact that during the war, women got accustomed to a more active role than before. When their men were out fighting, women ran the households, the factories and the sawmills. Because of this newfound "can-do", women had the confidence to make their weddings bigger and more luxurious once the economic hardships eased. Perhaps they even earned money to contribute towards the cost of the wedding.

Since the war, weddings have slowly but steadily become bigger by the year. Only in the 1970's did some marginalized groups boycott the idea of a wedding and, indeed, the entire institution of marriage. But after this temporary change in fashion, lavish weddings became popular again when Prince Charles of England married Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 in "a fairytale wedding." Since then, during the 1980's, 1990's and indeed the 2000's, extravagant weddings have become increasingly more "normal." In 2002, an average American wedding cost $22,000, up from $15,000 in 1990 (Otnes and Pleck 2). In contrast, in 2005 an average Finnish wedding cost mere €10,000, less than half of the cost of a wedding in the U.S. (Perho).

Finnish Weddings in the 20th Century

Finnish culture, including its wedding traditions, remained largely unaffected by Anglo-American culture until halfway through the 20th century. Indeed, there were more influences from German culture, as well as from Russian and Swedish traditions which had become part of Finnish culture earlier on. Until World War II, Finland and Germany had close cultural ties, going back to Hanseatic trade. In the first few decades of the 20th century, German and Swedish wedding traditions were influential especially among the Swedish-speaking, upper-middle-class minority. Russian and Karelian traditions, such as wailing songs (itkuvirret)2 , ceremonial hair braiding3 and village community weddings were popular in the Finnish-speaking countryside.

In Finland, economic hardships during and immediately after WWII were extremely severe, and it was not until the 1950's that the American wedding fashion and customs started to infiltrate into the Finnish consciousness. Since then, and especially since the end of the Cold War, more and more American wedding customs have become a part of Finnish wedding culture as the standard of living has become higher, while many old Finnish traditions, such as the aforementioned wailing songs, have died out.

First Things First: Proposals and Engagements

Marriage proposals still rely heavily on male initiative, in both Finland and the U.S., although this is slowly changing as women take on more active roles. However, judging from messages on wedding-themed internet message boards, such as Naimisiin.info and theKnot.com, an average woman would still prefer the man to pop the question, although she may push him in the right direction by dropping both subtle and not-so-subtle hints. Based on the message boards, when it comes to wooing their men, Finnish women seem to be more active than their American counterparts, who tend to patiently wait for the proposal.

Today, the average American engagement lasts for 17 months. The average age for the bride is 27 years, for the groom, 29 (Fairchild 2-11). In Finland, first-time brides are on average 28.3 years old and the grooms 30.5 years (Euroopan komissio).

An engagement itself is a private matter, not governed by legalities. Therefore the time, place and manner of proposing marriage is up to personal preference. Perhaps due to cultural differences, the public marriage proposal appears to be more common in the U.S. than in Finland. One might think of baseball game scoreboards, planes writing messages on the sky, or just showy proposals at a restaurant, as portrayed in Runaway Bride (1999) and The Bachelor (1999). Possibly due to the more lavish nature of American weddings, the engagement is perceived as a similarly lavish event, for which an audience is considered appropriate. For example, in The Best Man (1999), a man proposes to his girlfriend on the dance floor at the wedding reception of his friend, amidst a crowd of people. In Finland, this might be thought of as rude (stealing attention from the bridal couple) and embarrassing for the woman.

Andrew Jacobs has written an interesting article for the New York Times titled "In City of Excess, No Theatrics Are Too Grand for "Marry Me". The article discusses this phenomenon of public marriage proposals as a tool for extravagance and for an added feeling of extraordinariness and life-transforming "magic" in wedding preparations. This theme of the transforming powers of a wedding is also discussed by Seija Paasonen, who compares it to the media studies term "spectacle," a ritual completely removed from daily life, transforming especially the bride into a celebrity or royalty for a day (Paasonen 74-91)4.

Family Involvement in the Engagement Ritual
When a couple decides to get married in the U.S. or Finland today, the level of family involvement is quite similar. Sometimes the man asks for permission to marry from the father and/or mother of the bride-to-be, but usually this is just considered a courteous gesture with no real meaning or effect. Instead, most couples go on and get engaged and only inform their parents afterwards. Indeed, some engaged couples only meet their future in-laws for the first time after the engagement, especially in the U.S. where the geographical distances between family members may be long.

Of course, the actual level of family involvement varies greatly from (sub)culture to (sub)culture and from family to family. Naturally, the age of the couple is also a factor, as is their religious background. In Finland one or both members of the couple sometimes give small gifts (such as flowers or a bottle of wine) to the parents of his or her partner upon the engagement, but this is often a personal preference. These gifts are not expected and have more to do with the couple wishing to celebrate their engagement with their parents.

An engagement party with family and friends may or may not follow the engagement announcement, this tradition being more common in Finland. The size and grandeur of the party varies, from simple coffee and cake with the future in-laws to a large affair similar to the wedding itself, with dozens or even hundreds of invited guests.

The Engagement Ring(s)
Like Jacobs in his New York Times article, Otnes and Pleck argue that as American weddings have become more "magical" and lavish, so have proposals and engagements. For example, the price of engagement rings is steadily rising at a rate higher than the inflation rate (Otnes and Pleck 61). Traditionally, the hopeful fiancé-to-be was expected to spend one month's wages on the engagement ring for his bride. Unsurprisingly, it is recommended by De Beers diamond retailers that the cost of an engagement ring be the equivalent of two months of the man's wages. Tiffany's beats this by quoting two to three months, setting the "ideal" price for the ring at several thousand dollars even for a man of moderate income. The expensive ring acted as a deposit of sorts: the man knew the woman would be marked "his", while the woman knew that the man was serious about the marriage because he had made an expensive investment.

Typical Finnish engagement rings.
(Source: www.kihlasormukset.com)
In Finland, it is taken for granted that both parties will receive an engagement ring, which is usually unadorned and plain, albeit often made of gold or white gold. It is not uncommon for both parties to have rings that are similar or even identical, except for the size and maybe the width. However, this is now changing, with the woman sometimes receiving an American-style diamond ring, and the man a plainer ring, usually without stones.

This change seems to have been affected by the American popular culture image of the man on bended knee, offering his beloved a diamond ring which he has already purchased in the hope she will accept it (and him). Internet message boards show that many Finnish men are confused by this image, which is different from the Finnish custom of the marriage proposal first being made, and the couple subsequently choosing their (plain) rings together. Sometimes in Finland a compromise is reached, with the man buying both engagement rings in advance (and hoping his bride will approve!) but still following the Finnish tradition of plain rings instead of the American preference for diamonds. The American custom of only the woman receiving an engagement ring is not common in Finland, although it enjoyed brief popularity in the 1970's.

However, this situation is reversed when moving from engagement rings to wedding rings. Whereas in the U.S. both the bride and groom exchange rings during the wedding ceremony, with the wedding rings tending to be relatively simple, in Finland only the bride receives a ring, which is often studded with diamonds.

According to Otnes and Pleck (67-69), in 1956 an effort was put forward by American jewellers to make the so-called "Acceptance Ring" fashionable. Basically, this was what the Finnish engagement ring is for the man – a ring similar to the woman's engagement ring, signifying that the man is engaged. However, the fad did not become popular; despite their effort, jewellers failed to double their engagement ring sales.

The Banns of Marriage/Kuulutukset
The Banns of Marriage, or simply "banns", is technically a Christian term, meaning a public announcement by a member of the clergy which informs the general public that the bride and groom will be married in a particular church at a specified time. Once it was compulsory to have the banns read in the church on three consecutive Sundays before the wedding could take place. Reading the banns was the simplest way to make sure that there were no impediments to the marriage of which members of the congregation were aware. In some localities, such as Ontario, Canada, having the banns read is still a legal alternative to acquiring a marriage license (Requirements).

In Finland, the meaning of having the names of the couple-to-be read out loud during a church service (kuulutukset) now primarily has more to do with receiving a blessing than anything else: when reading the names, the minister leads a prayer for the future marriage. It is also considered good luck for the couple to be present to hear their names being read. In some parts of Finland, especially in the west, the couple stands up to receive the blessing. They are often accompained at the church by their immediate family, and a small celebration may follow in the form of coffee and cake, or kuuliaiskahvit. When a couple (of Christian background) acquires a marriage license, they are asked if they wish for their names to be read aloud during the service or printed in the parish newspaper. Naturally, couples of non-Christian background cannot have their banns read but may, if they wish, place an engagement or marriage announcement in the newspaper at their own cost. This is quite common.

Bridal Showers

After the disappearance of family-provided dowries or "marriage portions" in the 1880's, bridal showers appeared in lower class communities in the U.S., where brides had no financial means of buying everything they needed for their new households at once. Other women in the community assisted by chipping in so that all brides would have a decent trousseau for their weddings without going broke (Pleck 212-213).

Today, bridal showers still exist in all classes of U.S. society, irrespective of the financial status of the bride-to-be. To some extent, they are the female counterpart of the Bachelor party, although this is changing, with women having more and more Bachelorette parties that are similar in style to Bachelor parties5. Bridal showers are viewed as being the more conservative method of celebrating the future marriage "with the girls." Indeed, the main entertainment at bridal showers consists of watching the bride open her presents, chatting and drinking coffee. There may also be some party games.

Often a bride has more than one shower, making it possible to accommodate all female guests of the wedding in case the number is large. Each shower has a distinctive theme, for example a recipe shower, a kitchen appliance shower or a lingerie shower, and all guests are expected to bring a gift that suits the theme. Because the main purpose of the event is gift-giving and receiving, the bride herself or her mother traditionally does not host the party, as this would be considered greedy. More and more couples are also now having "couples' showers" instead of bridal showers, with both the bride and groom present at the party and picking the themes of the showers around their shared hobbies. For example, a couple may have a camping equipment shower or a bar-stocking shower (Otnes and Pleck 74-75).

The closest equivalent of bridal showers in Finland would be engagement parties (see "Family involvement"), where family and friends bring presents to help the happy couple equip their future (or existing) household with practical things. Typical engagement presents include kitchen appliances, dinnerware, glassware, cutlery and bed linens.

The American Rehearsal Dinner

In the U.S., on the night before the wedding itself (often coinciding with the ceremony rehearsal), a so-called "rehearsal dinner" is sometimes held. Close family, friends and relatives who have travelled from far away take part. The rehearsal dinner is more relaxed and informal an event than the wedding, with humorous and perhaps even suggestive speeches given by the friends of the couple. Traditionally, it is held at the home of the bride, but it is more common these days for it to be held at a restaurant or a community hall. Another tradition dictates that the rehearsal dinner be paid for by the parents who did not pay for the wedding (usually the groom's parents). Of course, this no longer necessarily applies, especially as nowadays both sets of parents might contribute to the costs of the wedding.

Whereas Finnish weddings often involve only the wedding day (often Saturday), Americans sometimes talk about "the wedding weekend," with the rehearsal dinner on Friday evening and then possibly other festivities on Sunday after the wedding. Consider this with the possible engagement party, bridal/couple showers and bachelor and bachelorette parties, and it is easy to understand why American weddings can be so costly.

Marriage Licenses and Other Legalities

A clear distinction between Finnish and American weddings exists in the question of who can legally perform the ceremony (at least in some states; in others, the variety of officiants available is similar to Finland). There are also some differences in the way a marriage license is acquired.
Acquiring an American Marriage License
In the United States, the process of acquiring a marriage license varies from state to state. For the purpose of illustration, three states were picked at random, namely Wisconsin, California and Oklahoma. Information on the state's legislation was derived from the governmental websites of these three states.

Generally, the process is similar in all these states, only the details varied.

  • In all three states, both parties must apply for the marriage license together in person.
  • Sufficient ID must be produced (Social Security Number, proof of residence and a birth certificate in Wisconsin; picture ID such as a driver's license and/or a birth certificate in California; driver's licence/birth certificate/passport and Social Security Number in Oklahoma).
  • In Wisconsin, the date and place of the marriage ceremony must be disclosed, as well as the name, address and phone number of the officiant.
  • In the case of remarriage, all three states require proof of divorce/death/annulment, and Wisconsin and Oklahoma require a waiting period of six months after divorce.
  • Only Wisconsin has a general waiting period of six days; California has none, while in Oklahoma there is a three-day waiting period for minors (under 18).
  • On average, the marriage certificate costs $70 in Wisconsin (the cost varies by county), $45+ in California (the cost varies by county) and $50 in Oklahoma ($5 if the couple has proof of completed pre-marital counselling).
  • In Oklahoma, the couple must have blood tests taken within 30 days at a state-approved laboratory.
  • In general, underage marriages are possible with the consent of the legal guardian(s) when the bride and groom are 16 years or older. In Wisconsin, a notarized form signed by a guardian is required. In California, written consent from a parent/guardian is required, as well as permission from a California Superior Court Judge. In Oklahoma, a parent/guardian must appear with the couple when applying for the certificate.
  • Marriages between first cousins are illegal in Wisconsin (although legal if the woman is 55 years old or older or one party is permanently sterile) and Oklahoma, but legal in California.
  • The marriage certificate is valid for 30 days in Wisconsin, 90 days in California and 10 days in Oklahoma.
Acquiring a Finnish Marriage License
A couple wishing to marry in Finland must acquire a Certificate of the Examination of Impediments to Marriage (esteidentutkintatodistus) which states that the couple is not closely related (parent/child, siblings or descendants of siblings, i.e. uncle/niece; first cousin marriages are allowed), previously married or under the age of 18. However, special permission may be acquired from the Ministry of Justice for underage couples under special circumstances, e.g. pregnancy. Unlike in some states in the United States, it is not possible in Finland for minors to wed simply with parental permission.

When applying for a certificate, the couple must list the names of their previous spouses (if applicable) and state the reasons for the ending of the previous union(s), i.e. divorce or death. Proof in the form of documents is not required, however, as the information given is checked using the nationwide social security information database. The certificate is then mailed to one of the applicants after a waiting period of seven days.

The couple must apply for the certificate together, in person, at the local registry office seven days to four months before the intended wedding date. The certificate can also be issued by the Evangelical-Lutheran Church or Finnish Orthodox Church, if at least one of the couple is a member of one of these institutions.

Who Can Perform the Ceremony?
As marriage legislation differs from U.S. state to state, the choices available for an officiant also vary. As above, the legislation of Wisconsin, California and Oklahoma is used as examples.
  • Wisconsin: An ordained member of the clergy, a judge, a court commissioner, or certain [unspecified] religious appointees. Two witnesses are required.
  • California: Clergy, justices, judges, magistrates, marriage commissioners (current or retired). One witness is required.
  • Oklahoma: Any ordained or licenced clergymen, justices of peace. Two witnesses are required.
The main interest here is the "marriage commissioners" who have the right to perform marriage ceremonies in California. According to sections 401 (a) and (b) of the California Family Code, a marriage commissioner may appoint temporary marriage commissioners. In practice, this often means family and friends of the couple who receive the right to perform marriage ceremonies for one day.

In Finland, the choice is between a religious and a civil ceremony, the latter often performed at the local registry office, the Finnish equivalent to the American city hall/county clerk wedding ceremony. A religious ceremony may be performed by a minister or another legally appointed member of a religious group. Each religious group decides for itself if one or both of the couple must be members of the group before a religious ceremony may be performed. The Evangelical-Lutheran Church, of which approximately 85% of Finns are members, requires that both parties be members. However, if either the bride or the groom is a member and the other party is not, there may be a religious blessing ceremony of the marriage after a civil ceremony, in lieu of the full religious ceremony.6

A Finnish civil ceremony can only be officiated by a district registrar (henkikirjoittaja), a chief judge (laamanni) or a judge (käräjätuomari). It is not possible for other people to acquire licenses to perform wedding ceremonies. Also, religious groups that are not officially recognized in Finland are not entitled to perform legal marriage ceremonies.

However, it should be noted that civil marriage ceremonies can also be beautiful and lavish in Finland (in contrast to the brief registry office ceremony), even though they require extra effort compared to church weddings. More and more couples are choosing to pay for the officiant to travel to the wedding venue, where the ceremony can take place outdoors or in a beautiful room or hall. From May 1, 2005 an extra fee of €200 is charged for a civil celebrant having to travel outside the registry office and/or outside business hours to officiate a civil marriage ceremony (Oikeuslaitos). Even if the couple chooses to have a brief and private ceremony at the registry office, it does not mean there may not be a full-blown wedding reception afterwards, perhaps on a different day, as the popular day for weddings in Finland is Saturday, and the registry office is only open Monday to Friday during office hours.

In 2002, 34% of Finnish weddings featured a civil ceremony, with or without a religious blessing ceremony (Vantaan seurakunnat).

The Civil Ceremony in Finland and the U.S.
The Finnish civil ceremony at its minimum is approximately two minutes long. Basically it states the purpose of marriage (to found families and preserve the community) and presents the questions to the bride and groom. There are no sections to be repeated by the couple and no vows; even the ring(s) is/are optional. After the bride and groom say "Tahdon" ("I do"), they are pronounced husband and wife. Of course, this basic ceremony can be expanded, adding speeches, music performances, and vows or other participation by the couple. The mimimum version, however, is all that is required by law.

The religious ceremony is usually much longer, half an hour or more, with speeches, scripture readings, prayers and music numbers. The contents of the ceremony vary from one religious group to another.

In the U.S., the couple must sign the marriage license after the ceremony, otherwise the marriage is not legal. Usually two witnesses are required. Often the couple goes into a separate room to do this while the wedding guests exit the church and assemble outside to greet the newlyweds. Signing the marriage license is not required in Finland; voicing consent to the marriage during the ceremony, with at least two witnesses, makes the marriage legal. However, the couple receives a marriage certificate after a civil ceremony and a wedding bible after a Christian ceremony.

The Wedding Ceremony; Different Customs and Traditions

The Bridal Procession
Perhaps the grandest moment of both the American and Finnish wedding ceremonies is when the bride makes her entrance. In an American ceremony, the entrance of the bride is typically preceded by flowergirls, bridesmaids and the maid of honor (see "Bridal Attendants and Ushers" below) walking down the aisle in formation, holding bouquets. Then the bride appears, usually with a male relative to escort her and to "give her away." In smaller-sized churches it is common for the bride and her attendants to walk slowly, perhaps taking only one step at a time, to make the moment last as long as possible.

Compared to American weddings, Scandinavian7 wedding ceremonies usually lack the question of who gives the bride away, as well as the prompting of the groom to kiss the bride (however, the couple usually kisses after the ceremony even without prompting). These rather patriarchal customs are unpopular with Scandinavian brides, who are used to being independent and who do not think they are their fathers' property or goods "to be given and taken," let alone kissed without their consent (even if only in theory). Notably, in the study questionnaire, an American woman (who had been born and raised in Norway but who identified herself as an American) pointed out that since she was a feminist, she did not wish to be given away by her father and therefore she walked down the aisle alongside her groom. Whether this decision was affected by her Norwegian background is not known.

According to Finnish tradition, the couple enters the church and walks down the aisle together, either holding hands or with the bride holding onto the groom's arm. However, the Anglo-American custom of the father or other male family member walking the bride down the aisle has become popular in recent years. Today, it is a toss-up between these two traditions, although other versions can also be seen: the bride entering alone or escorted by her mother or both her parents. This is true of American weddings as well: in a recent episode of the American reality-TV show "My Best Friend's Wedding," in both of the weddings featured the bride was escorted by both her mother and father.

Bridal Attendants and Ushers
The original purpose of bridal attendants (bridesmaids and maids of honor) was to trick evil spirits who may have wished to harm the bride by having other women present who were dressed in identical clothes as the bride (Otnes and Pleck 82). These days, the trend seems to be quite the opposite – the color of the bridal attendants' dresses tends to be very distinctive from that of the bride. It is common for the American bride to dictate what her attendants should wear; indeed, it is considered her right. The design of the dresses is usually rather plain and modest-looking, to let the bride shine in the limelight. In fact, some claim that brides purposefully pick unflattering dresses for their attendants in order to make sure they get to be the belle of the ball. Examples of "bridesmaid's dress horror stories" abound on the internet, a good example being a website called Bridesmaid Dress Incinerator.

An American bride with nine bridesmaids.
(Source: www.unfeign.net)
There is often more than one bridesmaid, and there can even be many more. One bride who filled out the study questionnaire form stated that she had eight attendants. However, this is exceptional: in the replies received, the average number of bridesmaids and ushers was roughly four each. Obviously, finding a dress that compliments in color and cut such a vast variety of women is next to impossible. It is therefore interesting to observe that (presumably) adult women agree to wear dresses that they may not like or feel comfortable in for the sake of someone else's aesthetics. Of course, being one of the bridal attendants is a privilege reserved for close friends... or is it? (See quotation below)

Ushers (also known as groomsmen) usually have no real purpose in the ceremony beyond demonstrating emotional support by standing alongside the altar, and possibly showing the guests (especially the parents of the couple) to their seats. Of course, the best man frequently has the duty of taking care of the rings, as well as arranging the Bachelor's party before the wedding. The number of ushers and bridesmaids is usually not determined by a need for attendants but by aesthetics and symmetry, having as many ushers/groomsmen as there are bridesmaids. This is demonstrated by the words of a recent bride in one of the survey responses:

"My husband calls me in a panic. He had just realized that he asked 9 guys to be groomsmen and I had 8 bridesmaids (I know this is not a major but I am big on symmetry). No sweat, I called a friend from childhood and explained the situation and told her I got to add to my special girls and I would love it and be honored if she would join us. She accepted and was soooo sweet. Problem solved."
Finnish tradition has called for a single bridal attendant, or kaaso, and a single groomsman, originally called puhemies (literally "speaking on the groom's behalf" when negotiating the marriage), but nowadays more often called bestman, similar to the English title. A kaaso was originally an older married woman who prepared the bride for the wedding and married life and helped her acquire suitable things for her new household. Sometimes the kaaso would give the bride items from her own household that she no longer needed. Therefore wealthier women were popular choices when picking a kaaso (Kaivola 23-24).

Today, a Finnish kaaso is nearly indistinguishable from an American maid of honor, except that she usually gets to decide what to wear herself, often even without consulting the bride. The kaaso does not walk down the aisle in a showy manner; rather, she arrives at the altar quietly and gives the organist (or the person responsible for the music) a signal that the bride is ready. Like her American counterpart, the kaaso nowadays is usually the same age as the bride, and may be either single or married. Although having just one kaaso is still the norm, in the survey there were several cases where two or more were reported. However, having more than three attendants is rare.

Typical Wedding Ceremonies in the U.S. and Finland

Although wedding ceremonies will vary by denomination, congregation and elements the couple itself chooses for the ceremony, Protestant ceremonies are basically similar. Below are typical outlines of Finnish Evangelical Lutheran and American Presbyterian wedding services. The detailed form of the American ceremony is linked from the paper's Appendices. More information about the Finnish ceremony (in Finnish) is available from the website of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Finland.
A Typical Finnish Lutheran Wedding Ceremony
  • Prelude, Processional and/or Hymn
  • Blessing
  • Greeting
  • (Wedding Psalm, optional)
  • Wedding Prayer
  • Scripture Reading
  • Minister's Words to the Couple
  • Charge to the Couple
  • Ceremony of Marriage:
      Declaration of Intention
      Blessing and Exchange of Rings
      (Exchange of Vows, optional)
      Pronouncement of the Marriage
      Blessing
  • (Hymn, Song or other music, optional)
  • Prayer of Intercession
  • The Lord's Prayer
  • Benediction with Blessing
  • Recessional
A Typical American Wedding Ceremony (Presbyterian)
  • Prelude
  • Lighting of the Candles
  • Seating of the Mothers
  • Solo (Music)
  • Processional
  • Greeting and Gathering
  • Prayer
  • Charge to the Couple
  • Declaration of Intention
  • Scripture Reading
  • Minister's Words to the Couple
  • Exchange of Vows
  • Blessing and Exchange of Rings
  • Pronouncement of the Marriage
  • Lighting of the Unity Candle
  • Solo (Music)
  • Wedding Prayer
  • Benediction with Blessing
  • The Kiss
  • Introduction of the Couple
  • Recessional

An African-American couple jumping the broom.
(Source: www.sweptoffmyfeet.com)

African-American Weddings: Jumping the Broom
The custom of "jumping the broom," while not part of the mainstream definition of "American weddings" used in this paper, was depicted in the film The Best Man (1999) and was also described in Otnes and Pleck's Cinderella Dreams: The Allure of the Lavish Wedding. In both the film and the book a ceremony of an African-American couple jumping over a decorated broom immediately after the wedding ceremony is described.

The custom of "jumping the broom" to symbolize a temporary or secret marriage, or as part of a recognized ceremony, is Celtic in origin. In the 19th century, African American slaves took up the tradition of their Welsh or Scottish masters as a means of having a commitment ceremony, as actual marriages between slaves were illegal. Therefore the couple took vows, jumped the broom and were considered married in the eyes of the slave community, and sometimes their masters (Random House).

After African-Americans acquired legal rights to marry, this tradition died out, only to be rekindled by Kunta Kinte in the American TV series Roots in 1977. Since then, it has been a part of many African-American wedding ceremonies, although some people object to the slave background of the custom. Interestingly, jumping the broom is also popular among Wiccans and people of Scottish and Welsh origin (Handfasting).

The Wedding Reception

Personal and Cultural Factors in the Food Selection
When it comes to food, the cultural background of the couple becomes a crucial factor: after all, they probably want to serve dishes they consider traditional for a wedding feast as well as something they enjoy eating themselves. Naturally, this varies enormously from person to person, and between cultures. Another matter entirely is the level of formality of the reception – whether the food is served in buffet style, as finger food, BBQ style or served on tables by waiters in white gloves. Considering the communal nature of marriage celebrations throughout the world (up until recently, at least), it is easy to understand why a typical wedding feast of any culture is relatively simple but plentiful. Fancy five-course meals have become more popular as the lavish wedding has trickled down the social ladder, but the buffet style remains the most practical method of feeding a large number of people. Indeed, this seems to be by far the most common way of serving food at Finnish weddings. A smorgasbord also minimizes the hassle involved in taking into account various guests' food allergies and preferences.

By looking at random wedding menus brought up by the Google search engine8, some differences between Finnish and American wedding menu trends can be noted. The most notable difference was that almost all Finnish menus contained fish (often salmon) in at least one dish, often in both entrées and main courses. The American menus frequently contained a lot of meat, including carved main courses. Finnish menus also tend to be more traditional, representing popular but perhaps slightly unimaginative choices, whereas American menus had more options and original dishes. It was also quite common for the American menus to be finger food only, whereas this was rare in the case of Finnish menus.

In both countries, it is common for people to give speeches and to toast the happy couple during or after the wedding meal. These speeches are usually delivered by people close to the couple, such as their immediate family and close friends. Although Otnes and Pleck argue that in the U.S. a woman giving a speech at a wedding would be considered inappropriate and aggressive (177), in Finland it would not be unusual for the bride to give a speech, or even her attendant(s) or her mother, or other female members of the family. While these are not 'standard' in Finnish weddings, if the ladies choose to give speeches they would have equal status to the speeches given by men. In the U.S., there is the additional custom of clinking the glasses to prompt the couple to kiss9.

(L): A typical Finnish cake, with fresh berries and cream.
(R): An American cake, iced with sugar frosting.
(Sources: www.tilisanssi.com and www.andrieroseinn.com)

The Wedding Cake
The wedding cake is equally important in both Finnish and American cultures. The couple first cutting the cake is one of the highlight photo opportunities of the day, and having the couple feed the cake to each other is a symbolic ritual of nurturing and caring. However, the idea of a traditional American "white frosted cake" is not very popular in Finland. Perhaps this is partly because sugar and almond icing is not often used in cake decoration in Finland. Instead, whipped cream and fresh fruit or berries (such as strawberries or raspberries) are favored.

An American phenomenon that practically never happens in Finland is that of the newlyweds pushing wedding cake into each others' faces. Presumably this does not happen in the U.S. either as often as one might think from the "America's Funniest Home Videos" TV shows... However, this is something that would never even enter the mind of Finnish brides and grooms; it would be considered a horrible faux pas, should someone actually venture to do it.

Reception Fun and Games
While an American wedding reception largely consists of enjoying the wedding feast, listening to a few speeches and dancing later on, Finnish weddings often include wedding games. While these are not universally loved even in Finland, many weddings have at least one game. These games may be akin to those played by children, such as musical chairs, or they may include a quiz about the happy couple's life. Usually the theme of love and marriage is present; an alternative motive is to collect money. An example of money-collecting games was described by an internet message board member: guests were asked to throw coins at a prize (e.g. a champagne bottle) like playing with marbles; the one who got his or her coin closest won the prize. The coins went to the bride and groom to help cover the costs of the wedding.

A more traditional game that often causes alarm in non-Finnish wedding guests is called the "stealing of the bride" (morsiamenryöstö). In effect, the best man and his trusted men suddenly grab the bride at an unexpected moment and carry her out of sight. The groom then has to finish a set task, such as singing a song, writing a poem to the bride, or collecting money from the guests in the bride's shoe. Once he has successfully completed the task, the bride is returned unharmed, although sometimes slightly tipsy. Modern variations of this game include the stealing of the groom/mothers-in-law/fathers-in-law instead. The stealing of the bride is planned and implemented by the bride and groom's attendants, and usually comes as a surprise to the bridal couple.

Music and Dancing at the Reception
Along with food, music is also culture-specific. While dancing, in one way or another, is something that most human beings share instinctively, the kind of music used and the spontaneity/choreography of the dancing varies considerably from one culture to the next. Some form of dancing is common in many Finnish and American celebrations, perhaps particularly at weddings. This may be due to the "couply" atmosphere of the event. Some people do not consider a wedding without dancing a proper wedding; indeed, it is often only the extremely religious that choose not to dance at weddings.

In Finland, the most important dance is the bridal waltz. Indeed, it is virtually always a waltz, usually played by a live band. No guests may join in on the couple's first dance as husband and wife. The second dance is often reserved for the bride's parents, the bride dancing with her father and the groom with the bride's mother. The third dance is the groom's parents, and so on. From the second dance onwards, guests may join in. Only waltz music is usually played until all "turns" with the couple's immediate family have been taken.

Although the bridal waltz is not unheard of in the United States, it has largely been replaced by what is simply called the First Dance, be it to any sort of music. Usually a slow song is chosen, although it can also be salsa or rock'n roll! Judging by the American internet message boards, the idea of a wedding waltz seems to carry connotations of a conservative tradition.

In the U.S., hiring a DJ for a wedding reception is not uncommon, but this would be regarded as rather unusual in Finland, regardless of the kind of music he or she plays. In addition to waltzes, more contemporary music is usually also played at Finnish weddings. However, instead of playing CD's, it is more common to have a live band perform cover versions of evergreens and dance music. Sometimes the music gets more and more contemporary as the evening wears on and the older people go home!

Investigating Real-life Weddings: The Survey Questionnaire

In researching the existing resources for this paper, several sets of statistics on American and Finnish bridal couples were found. However, none were found in which the data had been collected at the same time or with an identical or even similar set of questions, making useful comparison difficult. As such a comparison was necessary for this paper, a questionnaire was designed and implemented.
The Groundwork For the Questionnaire
On February 5, 2005, two questionnaire forms were uploaded on the internet; one in Finnish, another in English. Otherwise the forms were identical. The address(es) of the questionnaire were posted on several wedding-related message boards, along with a friendly request for brides and grooms (or new wives and husbands) to fill out the form. These message boards were The Knot and OurWedding.com for American couples and Naimisiin.info, Suomi24.fi/Häät and Soneraplaza Ellit/Häähumua for their Finnish counterparts. These particular message boards seem to be tremendously popular, with The Knot enjoying almost cult-like popularity among both brides and academic researchers10.

Purposefully, both anonymous boards and boards that require registering a username were chosen in order to reach both active wedding enthusiasts and "passers-by," presuming that the first, on average, would tend to plan more extravagant weddings, and the second more modest affairs. However, since all respondants used the same survey form, possible differences in responses from the different boards could not be determined . Considering the nature of the message boards and the presumed interest of the visitors for detailed wedding planning, though, it must be taken into account that the results of this questionnaire may be biased towards more lavish and extravagant weddings (or at minimum that respondants to an internet survey may represent a more educated and affluent category in both countries).

What Was Asked in the Survey?
On the header of the survey form was a short greeting and introduction which explained the purpose of the questionnaire. The questions were as follows:
  • Brief cultural and/or religious background of the couple (free space to write in)
  • The ages of the bride and groom at engagement
  • The ages of the bride and groom at marriage
  • Number of guests
  • Number of bridesmaids (including Maid of Honor)
  • Number of groomsmen (including Best Man)
  • Place of ceremony; options available: Church/Temple/Other religious venue; City hall/Registrar's office; In nature/At the venue of celebration/Other.
  • Cost of the wedding; options available: [In the Finnish form, the sums were in euros; therefore slight differences were possible as the exchange rate between the dollar and the euro fluctuated. However, at the time when the responses were received, the exchange rates were very close to each other.]
  • Less than $2,000
  • $2,000 to $5,000
  • $5,000 to $10,000
  • $10,000 to $15,000
  • $15,000 to $20,000
  • More than $20,000
  • I don't know
  • I don't want to say.

  • Who contributed financially to the wedding; options available: The couple alone; The couple and parents; Parents only; The couple and another party; Another party alone; I don't want to say.
  • (A) Which of these items were present in relation to the wedding; and (B) Which items did the person not find necessary or desirable. Both used the same tick-box options, shown below.
  • Cocktails before the reception
  • Hired wedding planner/organizer
  • Several bouquets (including a separate "toss bouquet," etc.)
  • Non-edible wedding favors
  • Bridal shower
  • Bachelor party
  • Bachelorette party
  • Bridal luncheon
  • Rehearsal dinner
  • Other parties/celebrations
  • Limousine
  • Save the Date cards
  • Gift registry
  • Similar/same bridesmaids' outfits
At the bottom of the form were two buttons, one which emptied the form and another which e-mailed the information to the author. Once the latter was clicked, another page opened, saying "Thank you for helping with the study and the best of luck and happiness in your marriage!"

Analysis of Responses From the Survey

By the end of the six-week survey period, 719 responses had been received via the form. The extremely large number was very surprising. The author's expectations were for approximately 50 replies each from both Americans and Finns, yet the resulting numbers (635 Finnish responses, 84 American ones) far exceeded these.

The noticeably lower number of American replies is probably due to several factors. First, the message was only posted on two American message boards (vs. three Finnish ones). Second, both of these boards functioned so that the thread to which a recent comment had been made was moved to the top of the board. Thus, the message fell off the active lists quite quickly, probably causing many users to simply not see it. This problem was noted at the time, but interference with the process beyond the initial message was purposefully avoided. Indeed, the message was "brought up" again several times during the survey period as users commented on the project.

The first question in the form was open, giving an opportunity for the respondent to explain any background information he or she wished to share. The question was for "cultural and/or religious background of you and your spouse," but other information was also volunteered.

Cultural Differences in Responses Between Finns and Americans
In some respects, the Finnish and American responses were quite different. While Americans tended to list all the things that made them different from everyone else (such as the variety of nationalities in the family, different religious beliefs between the couple, etc.), Finns often emphasized the fact that they were "just regular people." Of course, Finns are much more homogenous as a people than Americans, but this fact was still striking. Interestingly, Finns tended to make a cultural distinction by the municipality or city from which they came, whereas Americans generally did not go into such detail, often mentioning only the part of the country in general.

Even more surprising was that many Finns said that even though they had had a Lutheran church wedding ceremony, they were in fact not religious. Some even described themselves as atheists. Not one of the many people who pointed this out offered a reason for desiring a church ceremony while not sharing the beliefs involved in the religion. The most common reasons are probably tradition, as well as the grand and majestic aesthetics of a church. This would also explain why lavish civil ceremonies are becoming more and more popular in Finland.

Ages of Engagement and Marriage in the U.S. and Finland
The next question involved the ages of engagement and marriage in the two countries. The results are depicted in graph format below. In the graphs, the respondent has been labelled as "female" and the spouse as "male". Since virtually all responses stated explicitly that the respondent was female, it was possible to use this information in the study, even if it had not been solicited directly.

 

Graphs of engagement age in the U.S. and Finland (XX = age in years, YY = number of respondents).
(Graphs produced by the author; click to enlarge for easier readability)

Interesting details emerge from these graphs. First, Finns seem to get engaged younger than Americans (the youngest Finn to get engaged was 14; the youngest American 18). The peak engagement age for American females was over 30, whereas in the case of Finnish females it was between the ages of 20 and 23, after which the graph fell, opposite to the American graph. The engagement graphs for males, however, were similar; both rose with age. In the case of both American and Finnish males, the "engagement peak" was in the over-30 section.

 

Graphs of marriage age in the U.S. and Finland (XX = age in years, YY = number of respondents).
(Graphs produced by the author; click to enlarge for easier readability)

It is hardly surprising that the marriage graphs were similar to the engagement graphs, as both concerned the same couples. The Finnish graphs, in particular, are remarkably uniform to the engagement ones, only shifted by a few years. However, for American females, the "marriage peak" was not in the 30+ section, as in the case of engagement, but at the age of 26. It is also notable that although Finns get engaged younger than Americans, the marriage age graphs are very similar (the earliest marriage at 19 years in both). This may be because engagement may not be considered as "final" in Finland as in the U.S., and may instead be taken as an expression of general commitment rather than an agreement of future marriage. This was very visible on the message boards, where many engaged Finnish women were hoping that their fiancés would finally propose, so that they could start planning a wedding!
Differences in the Sizes, Types and Costs of the Weddings
The average number of guests at an American wedding was 146, while the average number at a Finnish wedding was 103. In effect, American weddings were 42 per cent bigger than Finnish ones, if the size of a wedding is determined by the number of guests. There were, on average, 3.65 bridal attendants and 4.35 groomsmen present at an American wedding, compared to 1.35 bridal attendants and 1.08 groomsmen at Finnish weddings. 70% of American wedding ceremonies were held in churches or other religious venues. 30% were held at the place of celebration, in nature or elsewhere. Interestingly enough, there were no town hall weddings recorded. Out of Finnish respondents, 80% were married at a church or similar; 5% opted for a brief ceremony at the registry office; and 15% chose a (presumably) civil ceremony elsewhere, such as the reception venue. Considering the nature of the message boards on which the questionnaire was posted, this clearly demonstrates how differently Finns view the plain ceremony at the registry office. It is certainly not uncommon for a full wedding reception to follow, which seems unlikely for an American "town hall wedding", of which there were none reported among the American respondents.


Wedding costs in the U.S. and Finland
(XX = amount spent, YY = % of respondents).
(Graph by the author; click to enlarge)

Perhaps the most startling difference between the two cultures is the amount of money spent on a wedding. It was expected that the sum would be somewhat bigger in the U.S., but it was very surprising to find that the cost options given in the questionnaire form were obviously too low – the most common amount of money spent on an American wedding was more than $20,000. In Finland, the most common choice was €2,000-5,000.

These results concerning the costs of a Finnish wedding are strongly supported by the findings of a recent survey conducted by the website Naimisiin.info (the message board of which was also used for this study). The resulting figures were similar, with 45% spending €2,000-5,000 on their wedding, and only 4% spending more than €10,000 (Naimisiin.info).

It is a striking contrast that, although American weddings are on average only roughly one-half bigger in terms of the number of guests, they tend to cost up to ten times as much. The contrast is even starker if one considers the higher cost of living in Finland, and the high prices of luxury items that might be purchased for the wedding11.

In light of this information, it is also peculiar (or in a way perhaps understandable) that although American couples spend much more money on their weddings, they get or choose to accept financial help from their parents less often. 40% of American couples pay for their wedding completely by themselves, while only 20% of Finnish couples pay all of their wedding costs. The rest let their parents pay for some or all of the costs. Perhaps this is one reason why Finnish couples do not choose to spend money as extravagantly, as the money is not in fact theirs.

How Popular Are 'American' Customs in Finnish Weddings?
The final question in the questionnaire was about certain items and customs that are often referred to on American wedding websites and in other material (such as American films and magazines) which can be considered different from Finnish wedding traditions. The purpose of this question was twofold: (1) to see if these things actually are popular with American brides; and (2) to see if these unfamiliar things have caught on in Finland. Certain recent innovations, now popular in Finland (like Bachelor/Bachelorette parties) were also included to see how their popularity compares to that in the U.S.

 

The popularity of (L) and the aversion towards (R) some stereotypically "American" wedding items and customs
(XX = item/custom, YY = number of respondents [100% = 719 respondents]).
(Graphs produced by the author; click to enlarge for easier readability)

The author's expectation was that Americans would be more open to these ideas and customs. By and large, this expectation turned out to be correct. There were only three items that Finns liked more than Americans did: Bachelor and Bachelorette parties, and multiple flower bouquets (to include the "tossing bouquet"). This may not be surprising, considering the Finnish drinking culture12 and appreciation of fresh flowers, which in Finland are unavailable in nature most of the year. However, it was a bit surprising that Finnish respondents reported more Bachelorette than Bachelor parties, especially as there were substantially fewer of the first in American weddings. Finns also chose gift registries fairly often, although not as often as Americans.

The American wedding tradition that Finns feel most uneasy about is the rehearsal dinner (although followed closely by Save the Date cards13 and professional wedding planners). Perhaps the thought of a big dinner party immediately before the wedding seems unattractive to Finns, because then the wedding itself might seem less important. The idea of bridal showers, to which none of the Americans had an objection, was also generally disliked among Finns. However, it is worth noting that very recently baby showers have become somewhat popular in Finland (often labelled vauvajuhlat or "a baby party"), despite the government-funded maternity pack14 that comes with the essentials for the first few weeks of a baby's life (Saaritsa). Maybe it is just a matter of time before bridal showers become more common, too?

Sharing a Culture of Affluence?

The question of this paper – are Finnish weddings becoming more Americanized? – is complex. The short answer would be "yes," but that would not be the whole truth. A more truthful frame of thinking can be found in consumerism, individualism and what media scholars refer to as "the spectacle." Virtually all Western (and to a large extent, non-Western) cultures are consuming more and more products and services each year. More money is being spent on everything. The United States is further ahead in this development, so Finland may be moving towards where the U.S. is now. However, the U.S. also continues to move.

Many wedding trends are not originally from one specific culture, but have sprouted around the world as the standard of living has become higher in the decades since World War II. As the level of disposable income rises, the items and services purchased for a wedding may be determined by "a culture of affluence" instead of a culture of heritage. Wealthier couples are more likely to purchase similar luxury items or services, such as silk gowns, diamond rings or celebrity photographers, even if their cultural backgrounds are different.

As affluence becomes commonplace, people strive to make their special days even more special — including adding "magic" to their weddings. The wedding is seen more and more as an event that transforms the couple, especially the bride, into something new and better. Often this "magic" is ensured by consuming. Another way is to borrow from other cultures to "mix and match" wedding features that are aesthetically pleasing and meaningful to the particular couple, despite their own cultural backgrounds.

In embracing some American wedding customs, Finns utilize both of these methods. A typical "American wedding," on which markedly more money is spent than on a typical Finnish wedding, may appear desirable to some Finns simply because of its "luxurious" nature.

But the deeper American cultural value of individualism is also largely accepted by Finns. This can be deduced from the growing popularity of "me" things reported in the survey responses, such as using gift registries to ensure that the bridal couple receives the presents they want, and the addition of extra (though often smaller) "tossing bouquets" so that the bride need not part with her original bouquet.

There are also other customs, such as the giving away of the bride by her father, that may be accepted on the grounds of their grandeur instead of the values they convey. However, it is difficult to make a distinction between what is accepted for aesthetic rather than value-based reasons, as the reason may not always be consciously known even to the person who chooses to adhere to the custom.

This trend toward grandeur and individualism, however, is not new. Generally, people have always aspired to a more luxurious lifestyle than to one which is less affluent. Globalisation also affects what is considered meaningful, as people increasingly identify less with their national groups and more with those who have similar lifestyles and interests. It can be argued that other cultures have always influenced Finnish weddings; this is not a recent development, nor is it only American culture which has influenced the change. Certainly, some old Finnish traditions have all but died out. When Finns embrace "new traditions" they also reject existing ones which they no longer consider attractive.

The bride and groom's adaptation of new practices from other cultures can be seen as part of the construction of their own new identity. The particular customs each couple chooses for their wedding symbolizes how they view their past and project their future. Their new marital identity will officially begin on the occasion of their wedding.


Notes

  1. The term "white wedding" originates from the Victorian era, when white wedding gowns first became fashionable among the upper classes, prompted by the unusual choice of a white wedding gown by Queen Victoria herself. Previously, the common color choice for a royal wedding gown was silver (blue for commoners). The term was coined in distinction from lower-class weddings that were much more modest and indeed rarely featured a white wedding gown. Even more than purity or virginity, a white wedding gown communicated wealth and luxury, as only the wealthy could purchase an expensive gown that could be worn only once due to its color. Today, the bride does not need to wear white to have "a white wedding"; rather, the term simply suggests a lavish and luxurious wedding.

  2. More information (in Finnish) about Karelian wailing songs, used at weddings and funerals, can be found at http://www.jyu.fi/taiku/aikajana/kirjallisuus/ke_ki_itkuvir.htm.

  3. Maidens had free-flowing hair and did not wear veils, which were common only for married women. The bride's hair was braided and covered with a veil during or after the wedding ceremony as a sign of the transformation into a wife.

  4. This phenomenon of belief in the transforming powers of a wedding is widely discussed in American literature, but is hardly mentioned at all in Finnish texts. Paasonen's observations and arguments suggest that although not as common, this phenomenon is now also evident in Finnish wedding preparations.

  5. This tendency has clearly been grasped by vendors such as www.bachelorettepartyfun.com that sells everything from "a Deluxe Condom Veil" to "the HUNK-O-MANIA Show".

  6. The differences between the religious marriage ceremony and blessing ceremony are few and may even go unnoticed by guests. The main differences involve matters of wording: (1) both the bride and groom are called by their married names, should they have changed them at marriage; and (2) the wording involves the present, not the future (i.e. "in the marriage that you have entered into" instead of "in the marriage that you are entering into"). Naturally, the blessing ceremony does not involve the exchange of rings, as this will have already taken place during the civil marriage ceremony.

  7. In this context the term "Scandinavian" refers to both the countries of the Scandinavian peninsula (Denmark, Norway and Sweden) and to Finland, which is technically not a Scandinavian but a "Nordic" country. The reason for this is that in Finnish texts, the term pohjoismaalainen was generally used, which is ambiguous, meaning either Scandinavian or Nordic.

  8. The syntax used was simply "wedding menu" in English, and "häämenu" in Finnish.

  9. There are variations to this custom, as discussed by Darren Barefoot in his blog at http://www.darrenbarefoot.com/archives/2005/09/making-the-bride-and-groom-kiss.html

  10. When asking around on different American wedding-themed websites for an active message board to place the questionnaire on, practically all suggested TheKnot.com. Its following is enormous, as is its influence in wedding fashion because of this very factor. Some wedding vendors on the internet even offer discounts to "knotters" specifically, completely apart from the portal itself.

  11. Items such as jewellery made of precious metals, high quality apparel that is only going to be worn once or twice, and exclusively-priced cosmetics.

  12. Finns are notorious for consuming large quantities of alcohol, often starting in their early teens. Drinking often gets out of hand, and public displays of intoxication, including sexual harassment and picking fights, is considered almost "normal."

  13. Pre-invitations, often sent out with Christmas cards in the case of a summer wedding. The Save the Date card only reveals the wedding date, location and the names of the happy couple; the invitation itself follows closer to the wedding date. This way the guests can literally "save the date" in their diaries before other plans are made. This is considered courteous especially in the case of guests coming from abroad, when more time is required for travel arrangements. The author recently received a Save the Date card for an Australian wedding, planned for September 2007.

  14. All new Finnish parents have a choice between a free box of necessities for the newborn (such as clothes in different sizes, diapers, toys, etc.) or a tax-free sum of €140. The contents of the box (called "maternity pack" or äitiyspakkaus) change yearly and are identical for everyone. Although this custom originated in the hard years after WWII and is no longer economically crucial, the box is still a much appreciated gift from the state. View the contents of the box here

Appendices

  1. The original survey form in English
  2. The original survey form in Finnish
  3. Examples of responses received via the survey forms
  4. Sample U.S. Wedding Service (Presbyterian Church)
  5. US-7 Research Paper Followup Report

Works Cited

About the Author
Salla Hakulinen is a FAST Area Studies student at the University of Tampere, Finland. Research for this paper was conducted in spring 2005. The paper was completed in spring 2006.

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Last Updated 02 February 2010