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
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
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
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).
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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.
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
- 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
- Oklahoma: Any ordained or licenced clergymen, justices of
peace. Two witnesses are required.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
- (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
- (Hymn, Song or other music, optional)
- Prayer of Intercession
- The Lord's Prayer
- Benediction with Blessing
A Typical American Wedding Ceremony (Presbyterian)
- Lighting of the Candles
- Seating of the Mothers
- Solo (Music)
- Greeting and Gathering
- 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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
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
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
item/custom, YY = number of respondents [100% = 719 respondents]).
(Graphs produced by the author; click to enlarge for easier
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
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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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".
- 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
- 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
- The syntax used was simply "wedding menu" in English, and "häämenu" in
- 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
- 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.
- Items such as jewellery made of precious metals, high quality apparel
that is only going to be worn once or twice, and exclusively-priced
- 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."
- 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
- 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
- The original survey
form in English
- The original survey
form in Finnish
- Examples of responses
received via the survey forms
- Sample U.S. Wedding
Service (Presbyterian Church)
- US-7 Research Paper
- "Avioliittoon vihkiminen: Edellytykset". Consulted on
February 5, 2006.
- Divorce Source California: Family Code: 400-402.
- Euroopan komissio. "EU-tiedote 10-2002 1.3.13: Miesten ja naisten ensimmäisen
avioliiton solmimisen keski-ikä Euroopassa". 2002.
- Fairchild Bridal Group Pre-engagement Study 2003.
- Handfasting Info - Jumping the Broom. Consulted on
January 5th, 2006.
- Jacobs, Andrew.
In City of Excess, No Theatrics Are Too Grand for 'Marry Me'.
New York Times. February 14, 2005.
- Kaartinen-Koutaniemi, Jaakko, and Markku Mattila. "Kirkkohäät vähenevät".
Vantaa: Vantaan Lauri 4/2005.
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suomalaisista häistä. Jyväskylä: Gummerus Kirjapaino Oy, 1995.
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December 20th, 2005.
- Oikeuslaitos. "Muut maksut". 2005.
- Oikeusministeriö. "Information on the Marriage Act". 2005.
- Oklahoma Marriage Initiative. usmarriagelaws.com. Consulted on
December 4th, 2005.
- Otnes, Cele C., and Elizabeth H. Pleck. Cinderella Dreams. The
Allure of the Lavish Wedding. Berkeley: University of California
- Paasonen, Susanna. Nyt! Ja ikuisesti - rewind: Häät
mediaspektaakkelina. Saarijärvi: Gummerus Kirjapaino Oy, 1999.
- Perho, Anna. "Tahdon! Ainakin isot juhlat!" Helsinki: City 8/2005.
- Pleck, Elizabeth. Celebrating the Family: Ethnicity, Consumer Culture,
and Family Rituals. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000.
- Random House. "The Maven's Word of the Day 26/02/2001". 2001.
- Requirements Respecting Marriages in Ontario.
Consulted on January 19th, 2006.
- Saaritsa, Sini. "Vauvajuhlassa suihkutetaan äitiä". Ellit: lapset ja
vanhemmus. Helsinki: Sonera Plaza, 25 November 2004.
- State of California, Department of Health Services. "California Marriage License, Registration and Ceremony
- Wisconsin (Milwaukee) Country Clerk Marriage License
information. Consulted on November 29th, 2005.
About the Author
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