Mia – June 18, 2018
I was so excited to dip into my mailbox this week and find the creamy, over-sized envelope that proclaimed a wedding soon to come.
After spending my post-college decade attending dozens of weddings of sorority sisters, friends, colleagues and members of my large extended family, these joyful celebrations have been too few and far between. So when I learned that my youngest cousin Emma will marry the love of her life Andrew later this summer, I was thrilled.
I also was glad to hear that Emma is looking for ways to bring a little bit of Denmark into her special day, as I did when I married John almost 13 years ago. My mother has already recruited my daughter Astrid and me to help create a traditional aeresport, or gate of honor for Emma. This is an arch of branches and flowers that is placed around the front door of the bride’s home. My aunts did this for my wedding, and I will never forget passing beneath those fragrant and beautiful boughs of Sweet Autumn clematis and red roses as I left for the church. We aren’t yet sure which blooms and branches we’ll use for Emma’s arch, but they’ll definitely be Danish red and white.
It was fun sharing this Danish wedding memory with Astrid, and she immediately asked to see the photos. I brought out our album and suggested that we bring it to The Danish Home on our visit with Farfar today. I figured that he would have some stories that would interest even the boys, who see weddings mainly as boring occasions that require annoying jackets and ties.
In a happy coincidence, it turns out that residents at The Danish Home discussed their own wedding stories this afternoon with staff and one another. Farfar told us that everyone at The Danish Home was married in a Lutheran Church, himself included, and that the wedding ring is worn on the right hand in Denmark. He shared his own memories of the long-ago day he married his late wife Sigrid and was only too happy to recall them again with us.
One custom that enlivened both their wedding and ours was the addition of songs to the traditional wedding speeches. The songs, set to familiar tunes, are written by guests who bring along sheet music so everyone can join in. Jake and Alex liked this idea as much as Astrid, and the three of them are already working on a wedding song to the tune of “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” while I hold my breath.
Flipping through the album pages, Astrid was captured by a group of photos. “Why are all these women trying to kiss Dad?” she asked, pointing to a photo in which he was besieged by a crowd of female guests. Farfar knew immediately what was going on, but my poor husband had been caught flat-footed when every Danish-American woman in the vicinity ran up to plant kisses on him as soon as I went to freshen up. I got the same treatment from our tradition-savvy male guests when he left the reception room for a moment. That kissing tradition is a hallmark of Danish weddings, Farfar told Astrid.
The group kisses, however, were nothing compared to what Astrid found in the next photos. “What are they doing with those scissors?” This got her brothers’ attention. Scissors? At a wedding reception?
Ah yes, the sock tradition, said Farfar. In Denmark, grooms get their sock toes snipped by the men in the bridal party—a quaint tradition that is either intended to keep him from chasing other women or to give his new wife her first opportunity to display her darning skills.
In Denmark, the scissors used on the groom’s socks are then turned to the bride’s veil, which is shredded by guests because, as a now-happily married woman, she’ll never need to wear it again. Farfar told us Sigrid’s veil was duly destroyed at their wedding, but that was one tradition I drew the line at during my reception.
“If you think wielding scissors at the bridal couple is strange, you’ll love what Danes do to single men and women on their 25th birthday,” Farfar said. “They pelt them with cinnamon, and if they’re still single when they turn 30, they get doused with pepper.
“This is one reason Sigrid and I got married two days before my 25th birthday,” he said with a wink.
The cinnamon tradition has its roots in the 16th century when itinerant spice merchants or pebersvends—“pepper guys”—were traveling so much that they failed to find brides. The term now describes single men (unmarried women are known as pebermø or “pepper maidens”), and the tradition is just for fun—unless you’re the one being covered in cinnamon or pepper.
“This is making me hungry,” Jake said. Astrid suggested he take a look at my wedding cake photos for good measure. John and I had the typical American layer cake, but we also served a traditional Danish wedding cake, kransekage, for a groom’s cake. It’s a column of almond paste rings made up of individual cookies, which was a perfect addition to our frosting-heavy wedding cake.
I’m hoping Emma decides to include a kransekage at her reception because it isn’t often I get to enjoy this tasty cake. She is having an outdoor reception, which is very popular right now and so beautiful. As far as I’m concerned, every event is better when it’s held outside.
“Then I hope you’re planning to attend The Danish Home Summerfest this Saturday,” Farfar said. “There will be lots of games for the kids and lots of food for all of us. And no one needs to wear a wedding suit.”