But I am getting ahead of myself – back to the ceremony. The striking difference for me was the simplicity. The groom, his mother and best man are seated at the front of the church. When all the guests are seated (and in typical Norwegian fashion, it is usually right on time), the church doors close. A few moments later the maid of honor walks quietly down the aisle and takes her seat. No music, no flowers, no fuss. Then the bride makes her entrance in the exact way American’s do: She is radiant in white, holding a beautiful fresh flower bouquet, ushered by her father and walking to bright organ music. She and her father take their seats across from the groom and his mother. There is a congregational hymn, a scripture, a song, a short homily, the exchange of rings, the kiss and then the groom and father switch sides and the wedded couple is together. There may be another song or congregational hymn and then they walk out to an organ processional. Each guest greets the couple on their way out of the church. And thanks to the long reception – this isn’t the only opportunity to talk to the bride and groom, there is ample time for several encounters.
At the reception guests are served a three-course meal paired with wines or non-alcoholic drinks for each course. This includes a dessert! An entertaining toastmaster, who smoothly runs the program, hosts the evening. The program always includes multiple speeches and music, but can entail games (and yes, breaks!). The most unique aspect of the reception is the tradition that family members write lyrics about the bride and groom to Old Norwegian folk tunes. They distribute the songs to the guests and the entire wedding party sings them together. It is a completely foreign concept to me, but experiencing it is absolutely beautiful and well, wholesome. Later in the evening the cakes are served. That’s right, cakes. At the first wedding I counted eight separate cakes in addition to the professional wedding cake and the traditional Norwegian crown cake. I didn’t bother at the second wedding. Let’s just say it is something of a cake potluck – different colors, flavors, sizes and shapes. The reception usually lasts into the early morning hours. The latest one went to 1:30 am, but I’m told that if there is a lot of drinking the party can last until 4:30 am or later.
I came away from the weddings tired (most definitely) and also refreshed. I got the sense that the "stuff" of the wedding wasn't as important as the people at the wedding were. The focus was entirely different than what I had ever experienced as an American. It was meaningful, intimate, simple and yet, ever so elegant.