An Introduction to Norwegian Wedding Traditions
I first began writing a blog post about wedding traditions in Norway back in May 2010, shortly before I attended my first Norwegian wedding. I researched so much about bachelor and bachelorette parties, traditions, statistics and such that I ended up overwhelming myself with the details and never finished writing the blog post. Now that I'm planning my own wedding (yes, wedding planning is why I've been too busy to blog for the last 10 months :D), I find myself looking again at Norwegian wedding customs and was excited again to write on this theme. To make the process easier I thought I might divide this topic into a series of blog posts, looking at a new aspect of weddings each time. So, here we go! (Pictured: Norwegian Crown Prince Haakon and his wife Crown Princess Mette-Marit on their wedding day in 2001.) …
In June (2010) I had the privilege of attending my first ever Norwegian wedding, to celebrate the nuptials of high school friends of my boyfriend. So that I might better understand the festivities (which would of course be taking place in Norwegian), I started researching wedding traditions and marriage trends in Norway. As well as enhancing my cultural learning, this would at least save my boyfriend from me constantly whispering to him, “Psst! What's going on now? Are they married yet? Who's that guy?”
First of all, some trends on marriage in Norway. Marriage is certainly not a prerequisite here to starting a family; it is not uncommon for long-term couples to not marry at all, and there is no social stigma attached to that decision. Unsurprisingly then it is also most normal for couples to be together for a long time before they marry, and from my observations it is quite uncommon for couples to marry earlier than 3-4 years together. In fact, the average age of a bride in Norway is 30, and the average age for a groom 32.5. (In Australia it is 28 for the bride and 30.6 for the groom.) The fact that Norwegians finish senior high school later than I am accustomed to (they finish at age 19) and that many young men then participate in military service after school, means proceeding life stages such as marriage and children are generally pushed back a few years than I am used to from Australia.
Hens, Stags and Moose
Part of my knowledge of Norwegian wedding traditions that certainly did not require research was bachelor and bachelorette parties; anyone walking through Oslo on a weekend in summer is bound to stumble across a hen/stag do in the making. Known as an 'utdrikningslag' (out-drinking party), the event is not so much the stripper-centric, dancing all night, cosmopolitans at sunset approach that I am used to in Australia. No, instead of giving the bride and groom a big evening out for their last night of freedom, the 'utdrikningslag' seems more an opportunity for humiliating or just generally scaring the crap out of them.
A key factor in the 'utdrikningslag' is that its victim – erm, I mean 'guest of honour' – does not know in advance when the event will be held. As such, the friends organising the do must involve the fiancé a little in the plans (and sometimes even the boss of the bride- or groom-to-be), and the bachelor/ette party is almost never held the weekend before the wedding as in Australia (because if that is the only available time left before the wedding to hold it, the surprise factor is gone).
The party usually begins with a surprise for the guest of honour to catch them off-guard… and I’m not talking about all your friends leaping out and squealing 'surprise!' while offering you gifts and cake, I’m talking about faked crimes and kidnappings. Two recent parties that I am aware of began with the bride taking the stag out of the house for a walk while his friends staged a stolen car and home break-in (with broken glass, ransacked cupboards and all), and the other kicked off with the groom taking the hen grocery shopping while a neighbour phoned asking her to rush back because the hen’s bike had been stolen.
The most extreme case I have heard of is the bride and stag strolling about in the city, while the stag's friends arranged for a teenager to steal the bride's handbag and run off with it. When the stag gave chivalrous pursuit and followed the thief down an alley, he was confronted with a gang of kids armed with flick knives and bats. Already frozen with shock, a sack was thrown over his head and he was dragged kicking and screaming into a car and driven away. It is only when he heard people in the car struggling to contain their laughter that he recognised the sound of his friends and realised what was happening.
Personally, I don't think I would be a keen for a pre-wedding celebration with my friends after opening ceremonies like those. 😛
Another key factor in a Norwegian 'utdrikninglsag' is that these events are overnight or whole-weekend festivities (instead of just an evening as I am used to), and are usually jam-packed with activities. The activities usually depend on how nasty your friends are willing to be. If your friends are nice, for hens the weekend might include a spa visit, each guest giving the bride a gift to symbolise a memory from their friendship, cocktails and dancing; for guys it might be fun activities like white-water rafting, paint-ball and sky-diving. However, if your friends decide to take the other direction your weekend will be filled with things like dressing up as Winnie the Pooh and handing out honey in main street, trying to recruit people to scientology in the street, wearing socks that have been soaking in herring juice and being forced to ask the prettiest sales assistance in a shoe store with help trying on shoes, etc.
Until Next Time
Explaining the ins and outs of hens/stags event took more time and space than I expected, so – as mentioned – stay tuned until next post, when we look at older Norwegian wedding traditions.