Reede, 07 August 2020 19:00
Estonian Life No. 31 2020 - Vincent Teetsov
As Canada has passed through phases of the pandemic and gradually eases lockdown restrictions, the wedding plans of many have been put into question. Some couples have chosen to cancel their ceremonies and receptions, others have postponed their dates, and in some cases, celebrations have been paired down in size.
In light of this unique phenomenon and moment in time, what are some traditions that define a traditional Estonian pulm
(wedding)? Even without the proposals on horseback and silver dowries of days gone by, there are quite a few differences from the western European and English traditions that are commonly associated with weddings in Canada.
It all starts with the walk down the aisle. If following tradition, an Estonian wedding couple will walk together down the aisle, or the bride may walk alone, rather than being escorted by her father.
Once the ceremony is complete, the pulmaisa
gets to work. The pulmaisa is not merely a master of ceremonies: they are a commissioner of games. A jokester. An executive peoloom
And so begins the pulmarong
, a jubilant procession of the bridal party and guests from the location of the ceremony to the location of the party. At one point, this would have featured horse-drawn carriages. Now there are cars.
Along the way, traps, games, and other stops will be put in the way of the pulmarong, where the bride and groom must complete challenges. If they are merely stopped, some kind of vodka or other spirit can be given to pass through, like a toll, so the couple ought to be prepared. Following the pulmaisa's lead, some variant of rock throwing could take place. The bride would write her maiden name on a rock and throw it in a river, symbolizing the changing of her name or the cleansing of sins. The groom may be required to take an axe and chop a log in half. The more blunt and unwieldy the axe, the better. The challenges vary, putting various domestic skills to the test. On a more quaint note, couples sometimes plant an oak tree together, as a symbol of their marriage's strength and growth.
When the clock strikes midnight at the reception, the groom puts on a hat and the bride puts on a flower crown. The couple then takes off and presents the headpieces to the couple who are presumed to be the next bride and groom. Finally, they married couple are in the clear!
Of course, depending on where you go in Estonia, and depending on what era a wedding took place, traditions like these are not definitive and could change quite a bit. For instance, a wedding on the island of Kihnu may position the pruutpaar
(the bridge and groom) on the receiving end of intricate rituals undertaken by the wedding guests.
In some weddings, the covering of the bride's face was important, to protect her from evil beings and spirits. In Võrumaa, the pruutpaar may be sprinkled with grains, which has been compared to the Celtic tradition of throwing rice. Interestingly enough, that tradition was also started to distract jealous evil spirits.
Estonia being a nation and people of songs, singing would accompany these rites. Songs encapsulated the ideas and poetic descriptions of these traditions. Like other weddings, dancing would take place, too.
The end of a more extensive three to four day Estonian wedding celebration would be evident based on a dwindling supply of meat for guests to eat, and capped off with the serving of a cabbage dish, such as kapsasupp
(“cabbage soup”). After partying and imbibing for 72 hours or more, that soup would be well deserved.
In a playful way, these traditions are like the “push off” of a rowboat from the shore into the water. The beginning of a journey. The suitability of both the bride and groom are tested, and the couple's unity are imparted with a certain levity and humour, to make a marriage long and happy.
Written by Vincent Teetsov