Thursday, July 2, 2015

Swedish Wedding Customs

Today in Sweden, a wedding is marked by a number of endearing traditions. Swedes are known for their reserved approach to life and their gender-neutral, egalitarian ways. While a wedding could be an optimal place to demonstrate gender neutrality, a Swedish wedding will debunk any myths that Swedes do not know how to let loose and have a good time.

In fact, a Brollop, as a wedding is called in Sweden, is filled with rich traditions of fun.{1} The gaiety (and gender neutrality) is first seen in the moments just before the bride and groom step over the threshold to walk down the aisle. Just as in every part of the world, Sweden boasts a wide variety of personalities. Thus, you might see a number of things take place in this pivotal moment.

You might see the couple work hard to time their steps perfectly, so that both of their feet touch the other side of the threshold simultaneously. You might see the groom step back and graciously allow his bride to step over first. Or you might see the bride give way to the groom.

Or you might see a scuffle, where bride and groom elbow and jostle each other in a race to see whose toes touch down on the carpet first. No matter what you see, it's imperative to understand that all the Swedes in the room will know from that first moment of touchdown just who is in charge of the family these two will go on to create.

If this matter is not firmly established before the couple reaches the altar, there is one last opportunity for the one who would be head of the household to assert their dominance. This moment comes near the end of what will otherwise be a minimalist approach to the modern European wedding ceremony. When the priest says, "Will you?' the bride and groom may hold a contest to see who can say "Ja" (the Swedish version of "I do") the loudest. The winner of said contest will take their proper place as head of household regardless of gender.

After the matter is settled, the ceremony will continue. Promises will be made, love will be declared, and a kiss will be enjoyed by all. Then, the couple will depart to greet their guests at the reception beneath a canopy of flowers.{1} Once again, the frivolity and fun of the otherwise reserved Swedish culture is allowed to leak into every aspect of the reception. While guests are seated at tables arranged in a horseshoe, the toastmaster will invite the bride and groom to take their place at the head table, located at the top of the U made by the tables.

At a particularly rousing wedding, as a guest you might find yourself seated next to a perfect stranger. Your only point of reference for conversation will be a piece of paper introducing you to your table mates. This piece of paper will include points of interest and intrigue about each person, as noted by the bride and groom. This is your opportunity to meet and enjoy the company of new people, and perhaps walk away with brand new friends.

As the banquet begins, the toastmaster will invite those who wish (anyone who wishes) to make a speech. It is his job to ensure that the events move smoothly, even with an unexpected (and usually large) number of speech makers waiting their turn. It is also his job to corral those tipsy, long-winded revelers and keep things moving as the night (and drinking) progresses.

It is also his job to initiate the wedding games. In America, we're used to playing party games at the bridal shower, and we're used to the various pranks and stunts pulled at the bachelor party. But these are enjoyed only by a select few. The closest thing to a game at an American wedding might be the cake-smashing moment, or the bouquet and garter toss. Swedish brides and grooms play no such games at their weddings.{2}

In Sweden, the egalitarian country that it is, they believe the games and pranks ought to be enjoyed by all. So, the toastmaster will invite the bride to join him at the front of the room. He will proceed to blindfold her and lead her to a chair. Then, he will parade a group of four men before her. Each man will lift his trouser leg and allow her to run her hands up his shin and calf. It is her task to identify her new husband by the simple act of feeling his leg.

If you were a Swedish bride, would you practice beforehand? I know I would. I might even talk my fiance into hiding some kind of sign for me to find with my fingers. I would hate to get this wrong on my wedding day. But that's just me.

Once the bride has discovered her tactile skills, the toastmaster will invite the groom to remain up front. The toastmaster will present to him his bride and three other lovely young women from the crowd. "Can you tell your bride by the feel of her lips against yours?" he might ask the groom.

"Of course I can!" the groom may boast, as he submits to the blindfold.

The toastmaster will explain to the guests that each of these young women, including his bride, will lean forward and kiss him gently on the lips without touching him with any other part of her body. It will be up to him to decipher which of these four pairs of lips belongs to his new wife.

What he may (or may not) know is that traditionally the toastmaster will call for a substitution after the blindfold is in place. With all the stealth they can muster, three clean-shaven gentlemen will step in for the counterfeit brides. And he must allow all four to kiss him and make his guess before removing the blindfold.

Can you see how fun this Swedish wedding would be?

The next game is truly played by all and can go on throughout the whole evening. It, too, is a kissing game. Only this time the rule is that if the bride takes leave of the room, all the women in the room are free to mob the groom and kiss his cheeks. And if the groom leaves the room, all the men are free to sneak a kiss (again, on the cheek) from the bride.{3}

There remains one final game, and here is where the toastmaster must remain on his guard, and therefore must refrain from playing along. This game is traditionally called Snapsvisor.{4} To play along all you need is a list of song lyrics, which should be provided at your table, and a good stash of vodka.{5}

Take a drink, then sing a song. Take another drink, and sing another song. Encourage your table mates to join you. Get up and carry the vodka and song lyrics around with you and encourage others to sing along. As the night rolls on, you can imagine how fun this tradition can become. And how much the toastmaster must step lively and stay on his toes.

So, now you're prepared to fully enjoy the next Swedish wedding you attend. Perhaps it will be your own!?!

If you happen to be on your way to Sweden as a guest to a wedding, there is one more tradition you will want to take note of before you choose your outfit. Whether you're a man or a woman, I advise you to leave your red shirt, your red necktie, or your red dress hanging in your closet at home. In Sweden, when a guest wears red to the party, it means you've had a (no longer) illicit affair with the groom.{6}

If the bride chooses to wear red, well then that is all the more fun. But don't let it be you choosing the color of scarlet!

~Angela Magnotti Andrews


  1. Ingebretsen's. "Swedish Wedding Traditions." Accessed June 15, 2015.
  2. Meg, "Swedish Wedding: "Svenst Brollop," Something Swedish Blog, August 1, 2012.
  3. World Wedding Traditions. "Swedish Wedding Traditions," posted December 2, 2013.
  4. Ingebretsen's. "Swedish Wedding Traditions." Accessed June 15, 2015.
  5. "Swedish Wedding Traditions: Customs and Culture," Your Living City, May 6, 2011.
  6. Meg, "Swedish Wedding: "Svenst Brollop," Something Swedish Blog, August 1, 2012.

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