At times while doing genealogy research, I've
noticed that young couples married at a very young age and wondered
if there was an error in the dates. Recently I read that the minimum
marriage age was set in the Ecclesiastic Law of 1686. It was 14 for
boys and 13 for girls in the 16th century. In 1721 it was raised to
21 and 15 respectively, but the sons of peasants were permitted to marry
at age 18 and this was effective until 1922. Since 1911 girls have been
allowed to marry at age 17. Girls under the age of 20 weren't considered
mature enough for marriage, but by age 25 a girl was looked upon as
an old maid.
The opportunities for young people to get acquainted were limited.
The busiest times were between Easter and Midsummer, and between Michaelmas
and Christmas. There were also various church holidays and festivals.
Village young people also met during their work and at evening socials.
When bicycles came along, young people had more opportunities to meet.
"Bundling" or gadding about at night was known throughout
the country. These escapades were also known in most of northern and
central Europe and the Baltic countries.
Young people needed the consent of their parents before they could
marry. If they married against their parents' wishes, they could not
expect a dowry or inheritance. After 1864 a 21-year-old could marry
anyone without consent.
A formal proposal of marriage was preceeded by a discreet inquiry to
ensure it would not meet rejection. The proposal was usually made in
the evening and unknown to an outsider, except in Karelia where it was
a village affair with lots of festivity. The suitor was accompanied
by a spokesman; in western Finland this was an older person and a family
friend. In Karelia it was the suitor's father or a relative. The farm
owners in southwest Finland hired a professional spokesman. The spokesman
presented the case in a traditional custom known throughout Scandinavia
and Europe. When the girl made her appearance, a bottle of spirits and
gifts were handed over. In Karelia, gifts were money, a ring, scarf,
etc. Receiving gifts didn't mean a binding acceptance, because the gifts
could be returned if the suit was rejected. If the answer was favorable,
the girl and her parents visited the suitor's home. The future daughter-in-law
might also stay for a week and help with the household work.
Betrothal gifts were money, goods, clothes, etc. and in the 17th century
it could be silver goblets. Rings weren't used until the 18th century
in western Finland, and not until the early 19th century in eastern
Finland. Later the young people traveled into town together to buy rings
and a silken scarf. In most cases the betrothal period was six months.
According to the ecclesiastic order of 1571 the banns had to be published
before a betrothal. The betrothal was made in the presence of a pastor.
In western Finland a party was held on the first day the banns were
published. In eastern Finland it was customary to hold both betrothal
and banns parties.
Under the Ecclesiastic Law of 1686 a betrothal was legally binding
and could be broken off only by consent of the Church. The guilty party
then might have to pay a fine and a guilty suitor had to return the
gifts. In western Finland when banns were published (from the 18th century
on), the bridal couple was given a small silver stick and a crutch to
express that the couple had been "cast" from the pulpit and
had in the process "broken their legs".
According to an tradition, a betrothed woman in Finland was called
a maiden or bride; in Karelia she was also "something to be given
away." Upon marriage she became a young wife. These terms were
used until the birth of the first child. Among the landless rural people,
the betrothal consisted of a journey to town or market to buy wedding
rings. Then they visited the parsonage to take out banns. In the 1880s
the town people began announcing betrothals in the newspapers.
It used to be the custom after the banns were read for the first time
for the bride and an older woman to visit her relatives and neighbors.
The purpose was to collect gifts, usually linen, wool, cloth, and money.
Then she was assisted by other girls to make gifts to be given to the
bridegroom's relatives and guests during the marriage feast. As early
as the 17th century attempts were made to restrict the visits for gifts
to the bride's home parish. In the 19th century the parish began to
prohibit this practice. It was already going out of use in western Finland
and was observed only by the servants and landless. In eastern Finland
the custom was still followed to the 1930s.
In western Finland the wedding house was decorated with triumphal arches,
maypole and flags. The walls of the feast room were covered with white
drapes, woven fabrics and mirrors, garlands and wreaths. The Swedish
Finns and some Finns in southern Ostrobothnia suspended a bridal canopy
from the ceiling. This was done when the couple was married in the bride's
It was still customary in the 19th century for the bride, and sometimes
the groom, to take a sauna bath in the evening before the marriage day.
In the southwest the bride bathed with other girls, but sometimes with
the groom. In parts of Karelia similar customs were followed with laments
and leave-taking ceremonies.
From the 17th century weddings were usually held in October, November
and December. But in Åland the most popular month was January. In 1821
summer weddings became popular. In 1955-1971 the most popular wedding
months were June, July, August and December. Peasant weddings usually
lasted 2-3 days. It was an old tradition that weddings should begin
while the moon was waxing, and in the western regions preferably on
a Tuesday or Thursday.
In eastern Finland marriages of old consisted of two parts: a leaving
party at the bride's home and the wedding feast in the bridegroom's
home. This custom continued up to the 20th century. In western Finland
and northern Ostrobothnia the actual marriage ceremony took place in
either home. In southern and northern Ostrobothnia it was the custom
to drive from the bride's home to the parsonage or church, returning
to the wedding house after the ceremony. In central Ostrobothnia, the
marriage and wedding feast were held in the bridgegroom's house.
According to ancient tradition, the first part of the wedding was held
at the bride's home. The relatives of the bride and groom gathered in
separate groups. The groom's party set out for the bride's home in the
evening. Two of them went ahead as peace-seekers. When the groom's party
arrived, their spokesman proclaimed his mission. The groom then had
to seek out the bride, who didn't immediately appear. After a joint
meal they went to the groom's home where the wedding festivities began
that same night. This custom was best preserved in eastern Finland and
The leaving ceremoney involved several rituals. The bride was handed
over with the shaking of hands, gifts, the dressing of the bride's hair
and the donning of the married woman's headdress. Thus the bride was
a married woman. These customs are observed in Russian Karelia.
The main parts of the wedding were the marriage ceremony, the wedding
feast and the wedding dance. The marriage took place in the wedding
room, in the center of which stood two stools on a rya rug. During the
ceremony the bridesmaids and pages (2-4 pairs) held a red (or white)
canopy over the heads of the couple.
Brides in the 18th and 19th centuries were married in their local costumes.
In the 19th century they began to wear dark dresses, usually black.
White wedding dresses began to appear in the early decades of the 20th
century. From the time of the middle ages the brides wore a silver crown.
Then in western Finland in the 18th century they used a high spangled
crown. In the final decades of the 19th century the high crown went
out of use and brides wore a myrtle wreath and long white veil. The
small metal crown with a veil reappeared in the 20th century.
After the ceremony the guests were served wine and a toast was drunk
to the couple. At larger weddings the meal was prepared by professional
cooks and served by waitresses. Up to the 20th century the guests sat
at long tables.
The bridal couple, attendants and pastor sat at the head table. At the
turn of the century it became the custom to provide a buffet with little
tables for the guests to sit at. The meal lasted from 4-8 hours. There
were numerous courses and the meal ended with coffee. In the 18th century
during the feast, a collection was taken for the parish poor.
Then the dancing began. The bride and groom were first to take the
floor. Then the male guests danced with the bride. In Ostrobothnia the
bride was given money after the dance, and the giver was served spirits.
Then the bride took off her crown (in western Finland) or her veil (in
Wedding guests in Tjöck 1902. Photo Ina
The trip to the groom's house consisted of a procession headed by the
bridal pair, followed by the spokesman and bridal attendants, folk musicians
and wedding guests. In olden days the bride's head and upper body were
covered by a veil. The bride brought her chest full of presents for
the groom's relatives. In some places it was the custom after the arrival
to lift the bride onto a cushion or mat and carry her into the house.
If you have access to the Internet, you can see a wedding procession
in Tjöck at http://sydaby.eget.net/swe/brollop.htm
The site is written in Swedish but it has some marvelous pictures of
the bridal procession, the traditional bridal clothing, the bride is
wearing the high crown headdress, and there are some views of the decorated
The wedding in Tjöck was of Pia Teir and Kjell Erlands. There are
also some photos of the wedding between Gunilla Malm and Anders Söderlund
in 1992. There's also another interesting web site about museums in
Swedish-speaking Ostrobothnia at: http://museum.svof.fi/index.htm. It's
full of interesting photos.
Wedding procession in Tjöck 1992. Photo Olle Haavisto
The reception was followed by a meal and dancing. On the first evening
the bridal couple was brought to the bridal bed. This custom wasn't
widespread in western Finland and went out of use. Instead, the couple
departed while the dancing continued. They were usually taken to one
of the buildings on the property where people slept during the summer
The next morning the bride's headdress and dress were changed. A married
woman had to keep her head covered, as demanded by the Bible. This custom
went out of fashion in western Finland and the old costumes and headdresses
were abandoned. (My maternal grandmother always wore a white cap, even
after she emigrated to America.) In southeast Finland it was customary
to put a small boy in the young wife's lap on the second day, and she
was told "to make one of her own".
Throughout Finland on the second day it was customary for the young
wife to distribute presents to her husband, his parents and relatives;
her mother-in-law received the most. This custom continued in eastern
Finland. In western Finland the presents were given to the groom and
his family before the wedding, or when the banns were published. In
Ostrobothnia the gifts were given after the wedding. They usually consisted
of clothing such as smocks, stockings, gloves, handkerchiefs, etc.
At the end of the wedding feast on the third day, the young couple
and guests drove to church. In Åland this was usually on Sunday. In
southern Ostrobothnia the sauna was heated at the end of the wedding
for all the guests. One of the items for the final meal in the Swedish-speaking
areas of Ostrobothnia was blood sausage. In southeastern Finland it
was pea soup
The provincial laws of the Sweden mentioned the old tradition of a
husband's morning gift to his wife. This custom was known in western
Finland, but unknown in eastern Finland. The gifts were usually clothes,
animals, money, meadows, etc.
The differences between wedding traditions in eastern and western Finland
were due to the ways and times the church marriage ceremony was adapted
to the local custom. Western Finland was influenced by Swedish-Germanic
tradition. In eastern Finland, especially Karelia, a Russian influence
In eastern Finland the wedding was a family celebration, while in western
Finland it was an occasion when the families of the bridegroom and bride
were able to show their status to the rest of the village community.
This latter tradition survives most strongly in the traditional grand
wedding found in Ostrobothnia.
Many of the old traditions have been preserved, even though church
weddings were not fashionable during the 1960s and 1970s when a civil
wedding was typical among the young. Couples who lived together in civic
matrimony for years now consecrate their union in church with the arrival
of their child. Even though marriage has lost its social and judicial
significance, church weddings have acquired a new revival.