Wedding parties are a great way to observe and learn about the culture of a country. From the multiple-day long weddings of India, to the all-you-can-eat banquets of Portugal, or the more spontaneous ceremonies of Las Vegas, they are all a show of local habits, social behaviours, and family relations in that particular place. Sweden is no exception.
I have been to four Swedish weddings. All different and all similar at the same time. They were all different because in each of them the couples wanted different kinds of events. Freedom of choice is a great thing, especially when one actually uses it. I have been to over 15 weddings in my home country and I have the feeling that I have been attending the same event over and over again. During 20 years! I do not feel that way about Swedish weddings. Although different, the events here still have enough traditions to tie them together and make them Swedish.
Lets start with the differences
1. Church, officiated or private
The traditional way would be having the actual wedding ceremony in a church, but nowadays the most common is probably to have an official from the City Hall doing the ceremony. The third option is to have a more cosy and private ceremony. A couple can get married in the City Hall and later on have an unofficial ceremony performed by a friend. The first is longer, the second is very short and the third can take as long as the couple wants. I have witnessed them all.
It is usually written on the invitations and it can vary. Men get away with a black suit and tie in most cases, while women have to be more careful. In case of doubt ask the bride or groom for details.
3. Fine dining or homemade banquet
A nice dinner is the usual, whether it is in a restaurant or in a hotel. I have experienced dinners with different levels of fanciness but the food, often a three-course-meal and a wedding cake, has always been very good. I have also been invited to a wedding where each guest was assigned a dish or an ingredient to bring. It was all put together in a giant, delicious and multi-cultural buffet.
A wedding guest should bring a wedding gift with a card unless told not to. Sometimes the couple prefers a monetary contribution to the honeymoon or no gift at all (for instance, if you have to travel very far for the wedding). Again it should be written in the invitation. If it’s not, it’s up to you.
Moving on to the similarities
The activities of the day are usually scheduled and the guest are handed or shown a program. One might even get a goody bag with accessories to use during that day (e.g. candy, rice, soap bubbles, etc.).
These are very important people in a Swedish wedding. They are selected by the bride and groom. Their job is to make sure the schedule is followed, to announce the speeches, to amuse and entertain the guests with jokes in between and to organise and fit in surprises that the couple does not know about.
3. Dinner seating
Tradition says that couples, married or sambos, should be seated away from each other during dinner, in order to socialise with other couples in the same situation. The rule doesn’t apply for couples about to get married. If you are new in Sweden or don’t speak Swedish, this might seem a bit weird and difficult. It’s ok if you ask the person next to your partner to exchange seats with you, but it’s also fun to meet and socialise with new people. Not all events follow this rule.
4. The empty chairs
During dinner you might wonder why there are two empty chairs across the bride and groom. Typically, the newlyweds sit with their families and the chairs are an opportunity for other guests to sit for a few minutes, keep them company and have a little chat with them.
It is common to have speeches during dinner. They are usually held by elements of the family or special friends, and most are planned in advance. The number of speeches can vary a lot from 5 to 25!
6. What’s with all the kissing?
If there’s a line of single ladies on the way to kiss the groom on the cheek, it means that the bride went to the restroom. The same happens when the groom goes to the toilet and the bride gets kissed by all the single gentlemen. I find this tradition one of the most funny.
The bride and the groom often play games while the guests happily cheer. They might have to answer questions about each other, or find the other among other guests while blindfolded and based on the tip of the nose or the shape of the calves. Quizzes about the wedding couple are also common and a great way to learn about their love story.
Not free! In a lot of countries the wedding package includes all-you-can-drink for everybody. In Sweden you will probably get champagne before the meal, and a glass of wine for every course at dinner, but if you want to drink more afterwards bring your wallet.
Of course the list could go on and again it depends a lot on where in Sweden and who is involved in the wedding. I enjoy not knowing what’s going to happen and being surprised. Above all, no matter how the day goes, the important part is to celebrate love.
What’s your opinion about Swedish weddings? Did you have similar or different experiences?