Strange and strange

A wedding with a difference took place at Kerava parish hall yesterday: an Eritrean Orthodox wedding. I saw them making preparations, which involved among other things the installation of two thrones for the happy couple to sit on. Later on I heard rather strange music – rythmic chanting. I also saw that most of the local Eritrean 80-strong community were present. They had booked the hall for 14 hours, and were disappointed to hear that it could not be booked for longer.

Later I went through my mind what I thought was strange about this wedding. It was of course perfectly normal to them, whereas Finnish wedding traditions might seem strange to them. They certainly seemed strange to me, the first time I went to a Finnish wedding. The ”kidnapping” of the bride struck me as most unusual. And I wondered why on earth the menfolk went to the car park, despite the rain, to drink from their hip flasks, when there was wine, beer and punch on offer indoors. To many cultures the low profile kept by the parents woould be surprising – in many cultures a key aspect of any marriage is the union of two kins (suvut), not just the future of a young couple.

A strange feature of Finnish christenings is that normally the child’s name is kept secret until the baptism itself, so friends and relatives cannot refer to the baby by name until then. I recently baptised a child of two immigrants (of Thai origin) and the guests told me they had known the child’s name since his birth (naturally, I thought.)

A strange feature of a Finnish funeral is how few people are invited. Normally only those relatives and close friends who have received a formal invitaion are present. In many cultures a funeral is an event for just about anyone who knew the deceased – neighbours, distant friends, nurses and carers, former colleagues, fellow parishioners. It is also unusual how long the gap between the death and the funeral is.    

I recommend you readers take a fresh look at life in Finland – almost everything about life here is strange to people from other cultures. And a good thing, too. It would be a very dull world if everything was the same everywhere. I hope to goodness we don’t lose these unusual traditions. Vive la difference!

Christopher Montgomery

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