Ever wonder why your bridesmaids can’t wear red? Or what it’s like to sit through 3hrs of speeches in a language you don’t understand? Well I did, and this is my story of understanding culture, finding love, and planning my own BIG FAT Swedish Wedding!
Let’s start from the beginning…
So how exactly did I get to this point? Many Swedish people travel, study, and work abroad. They are also some of the best english speakers in the world. This mixture of skills plus an openness towards new cultures, has ended up creating an up to 16% rate of mixed nationality marriages in Sweden !
In my hometown of Los Angeles there are thousands of Swedes living and blending in just like ‘angelenos, and thus through a pure twist of fate I was set on a path towards the land of IKEA and meatballs. While visiting Sweden, I met , fell in love with, and was promptly separated from, the man who turned out to be the love of my life. Many months of phone calls, and texting , and visa applications later, I found myself living in Sweden. Finally!
Now I don’t know if it was the siren call of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”, or the promise of an awesome party, but my Swede decided to pop the big question and here we are today. So how does one mix and match cultural norms to essentially pull of the most expensive party you’re ever going to throw?
Swedish & American Wedding Cultures
Sweden is one of the least marriage obsessed countries in the world, having a marriage rate of only 5.4 per thousand (compared to the American 6.9 per thousand) , with many people opting to co-habitat (almost 19% are sambo) or have children loooong before tying the knot. When they do get married, it is definitely less of the $35,000 minimum Kardashian level pageantry seen in typical American weddings, and more of a low-key family party.
Now you might imagine that despite some differences in culture, the type of clothes you wear to a wedding has to be about the same. Well you would be wrong. First off, don’t wear red! If you wear red to a Swedish wedding, it is assumed that you had a romantic relationship with the bride or groom. So you can imagine my surprise learning this AFTER I had picked all of my seven bridesmaid dresses in….RED!!
Surprisingly though, you can wear the Swedish national costume, which is considered the highest of formal attire.
Speaking of bridesmaids… that isn’t really a part of the Swedish wedding tradition either. The “Brudtärna” the bridesmaids, or “Marskalkar ” the groomsmen, number at the most one or two in Swedish wedding . Due to the fact that the Bride and Groom often walk down the aisle together anyway, the wedding attendants are kind of unnecessary. This is in stark contrast to the standard 5+ bridesmaids and groomsmen typical in an American ceremony. I mean we just have a lot of friends, what can you do!?
I would also add on a serious note, that I think the innate hierarchical nature of American culture, versus the more flat & equal Swedish culture, affects these traditions. While planning my own wedding, some of the Swedish participants felt like choosing the bridal party, was unfairly ranking your friends. This definitely does not follow Jänte law!
The Bride and Groom
As mentioned before, the bride and groom often walk down the aisle together in the Swedish custom. This was a shock to me! In America, it is considered bad luck for the groom to see the bride from the day before, to the moment she begins walking down the aisle.
It is also crucial for the father walk down the aisle, and to “give away” the bride. Now the feminist Swedes do NOT like that at all. I can understand why, but now-a-days we Americans don’t take that part too seriously. We feel like it is a very touching right of passage with a woman and the father figure in her life and often means very much to both parties.
Jumping The Broom
My family is not only American, but we are African-American. So there are some unique cultural things that I wanted to include in our ceremony. For example, we are going to jump the broom. Now this isn’t a figure of speech. At the end of our ceremony, when we turn to leave the alter, my new husband and I will actually hop over a broom!
This tradition dates back to the time of slavery in the United States. African slaves were treated as property, and not people. Thus we were denied to ability to participate in societal customs, like legally getting married. Your partner or children could be taken and sold at any time, and your feelings or relationships were obviously not a consideration.
Instead of being beaten down by this, slave communities created their own rights of passage and celebrations. When two people decided to get married, the community elders would officiate the ceremony publicly, and mark the marriage as official from the moment the couple jumped over a broom together.
The first time I ever attended a Swedish wedding, was when I had first arrived. I knew precious little of the language, and maybe didn’t have an understanding for how cold Swedish weather could be in October. So here I was off to a wedding on a small island off the east coast, for a weekend of wedding celebrations wearing a light jacket and ballerina slippers.
When my boyfriend said a country wedding, I was thinking more “glamping” and less actual camping. Needless to say, I was underdressed and I ruined my beige suede ballerinas on the first day. I won’t even get into the naked mixed gender sauna experience with 30 swedes I did not know. That will have to be a post for another day!
So now that we have set the scene, let’s get into my first experience with the Swedish reception. The dinner was almost 3.5hrs long, with that entire time filled up with speeches. Not from just the parents, or other relatives, from EVERYONE! In Sweden, being the egalitarian country it is, all guests at the wedding are allowed to make a kind speech to the wedding couple.
This can be amazing and heartfelt and funny, or it can just be very long. Depending on the skill of the Toastmasters to moderate. As a non-swedish speaker (with no wi-fi service) , I had nothing to do but stare at the wall the entiiiiirrrre 3.5hrs, not understanding a thing, lol!!
So this is fun! When ever the bride leaves the room, all the women in the room have to jump up and go kiss the groom. The same goes for the bride when the groom leaves the room. So layer on that red lipstick people!
The Garter & Bouquet
Last but not least, we have to talk about these two traditions. The bouquet toss is both a fun and horrible tradition coming from merry old England, and definitely not normal in Sweden. History tells us that back in the day, female guests would tear pieces of the brides gown, in order to have some one her good fortune. In an effort to appease the mobs, brides would instead throw the bouquet into a crowd of single women and run for cover. I’ve decided, in an effort to be more Swedish, to make my toss for all women and men who are unmarried. I look forward to seeing a good competition!!
The garter tradition is a tad bit more risqué than the bouquet but follows the same tradition for passing on luck to the guests. In this one , the groom goes under the brides dress and retrieves her garter (traditionally used to hold up socks), then tosses it to all the single men. This is almost always hilarious, as all the men run away from it. I am looking forward to seeing what the swedes think !
Bringing It All Together
Well now we are at the end of this long read. My partner and I have tried our best to mix and meld two very distinct but equally loving and festive wedding cultures. The big day is July 29th, 2017 in Lund, Sweden, and I will be sharing snaps of every step of the way on our own @KIstudents instagram account, and via the hashtag #thegreatgisbys.