Karelian Weddings

My son is getting married the day after tomorrow. Our family is in the midst of excitement, of joy and of butterflies in the stomach. How delighted I am to see two people who deserve happiness to find it with each other.

I am fascinated by different traditions and customs from across the world. Maybe it is because I have lived most of my life in the conjunction of two cultures. Both Finland, my birth country, as well as Australia, my adopted country, have very modern wedding customs. Yet if you dig a little deeper you can find some captivating historical nuptial rituals even in my own distant ancestral roots.

Karelians are an ethnic group who are native to the Northern European historical region of Karelia, which today is split between Finland and Russia. Karelians are known to be lively, happy, and musical people. My paternal grandparents were both Karelian. This is the reason I am most interested in their history.

I find the Karelian historical wedding traditions extremely compelling. ⁠During the wedding, the bride moved from her father’s house into the house of her groom’s. This “moving” included various ceremonies.

When a man had set his hopes on a young woman, he visited her father’s house, together with a spokesperson, to make a marriage proposal. The dowry was negotiated, and gifts were given both to the bride as well as her family. If all this was successful, the betrothed then needed to prepare her own gifts for the groom’s relatives as well as anything she might need to take with her to her new home.

Before the wedding, the bride’s family organised a send-off during which there was a lot of crying. A weeping song artist or a professional crier was hired, who helped set the mood with her melancholic songs about the bride moving from the “comfort of her father’s house, with an atmosphere of affection and warmth”, to that of an “unknown and cold stranger’s house”. Often the bride was made to weep until exhaustion.

Finally, in the course of the evening, before the wedding, the bride had a bridal sauna with her female friends.⁠

The morning of the wedding included many ceremonies at the bride’s home, like placing a headpiece on the bride’s head, after which the bride was escorted to the groom’s home. Each house had their own wedding guests. The groom’s house then had a so-called arrival party for the bride.⁠

The wedding celebrations ended a few weeks later when the bride left back to her father’s house to pick up her dowry and seek advice. Soon everyday life started, and the young bride had to learn how to live under the strict guidance and rules of her new mother-in-law. She was allowed to go visit her childhood home once a year, often in early autumn, to have a rest.

In two days’ time I will have a new daughter-in-law. She won’t be moving into my home or have to live under my rules or strict guidance. No dowry has been negotiated. We haven’t hired a professional crier or a weeping song artist. Many back-in-the-day wedding traditions are now outdated. The only thing that remains constant is change.

The change that is about to take place in our family is a positive one. I welcome my daughter-in-law into our family with open arms. I have already learned to love and cherish her.

But just between you and I, there is one Karelian wedding tradition I wish we still had and that is the tradition of a bridal sauna.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Hanna says:

    Dear Jaana,
    So nice to hear you have so wonderfull time with your family.
    Gongratulations for your son and his bride ❤️
    Rgds Hanna

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Hanna! Yes, such a happy family celebration! Makes me very happy!!


  2. Kathy Fryer says:

    My father was just 7 when he evacuated his home in Karelia in mid December. The story he told me of that journey inland was not a pleasant one. He told me many things about my heritage but marriages and the traditions around them I never thought to ask about. Interesting reading.


    1. I’m glad you found it interesting reading Kathy. I am sorry your father had to experience such a terrible journey of evacuation. My grandmother was born and grew up in Karelia too, the part of Karelia that no longer belongs to Finland. But her family moved to Lappeenranta before everyone was forced to evacuate. Still my grandmother told me a lot about her childhood and teenage years there and has written pages and pages of memories of her life there too. My intention is to still translate her stories, little by little, into English.


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