A peasant wedding on Aero:
This is a description of how a wedding was celebrated in the 19th century on Ærø. The wedding took place and was celebrated at Bregninge parsonage on September 27, 1829.
The bridegroom was Christen Jensen, born in 1797, son of Jens Jensen and his wife, Ellen Hansdatter, of Vesteraas in Voderup, matrikel [property tax registration] no. 1. His bride was Johanne Pedersdatter, daughter of P. H. Holgersen of Skelhaven.
Hanne (Johanne) was a servant at the parsonage, where she had an annual fixed salary of 10 daler. In addition she annually got a pregnant sheep and a portion of unhackled flax. In her free time she spun the sheep's wool as well as the flax and tow and made her clothing and knitting yarn. The lambs were sold when the minister began to complain that they were roaming too far away from their tethered mother and frolicking in the seed corn.
Hanne's position at the parsonage was that of a maid and weaving-woman. As a maidservant it could happen during the summer, when guests were lodging at the hospitable parsonage or when the Bishop and his family visited Ærø every third year, that a shiny daler might come her way as a tip. This, in connection with the other rewards, meant that care had to be taken in such a position, and the maid who could manage to do so was held in high regard by her contemporaries of both sexes. In addition to having collected a good chest-full of linen and bedding by dint of her hard work and cleverness, it was rumored that Hanne had also laid money aside, lending them to a brother. The young men of the village thought well of this neat, nicely-built young woman, and when on Sundays she showed up at dances in her fine, home-made, multi-gathered skirt, striped waist, and white linen sleeves, more often than not in white-scoured wooden clogs with brass decorations - for shoes were used only on solemn occasions - she was never off the dance floor and danced the molevit and the schottische in this uncomfortable footwear with a certain amount of grace.
"If you become a peasant's wife, your wedding will be held in the parsonage and you can hold it for free because you have served me faithfully," the minister had once said. "Yes," answered Hanne, "but will it be a real wedding then?"
"Of course," responded the minister, and thus the matter was settled. I had better explain in more detail what the parsonage maid meant when she put so much emphasis on "a real wedding" and briefly give a description of wedding customs on Ærø as they were back then.
When the banns were read from the pulpit for a couple, who circumstances or of their own free will had determined to live with each other in matrimony, the inviter would be sent out into the parish to invite everyone to the bride's house before the service for a little brandy. A round, or two if circumstances allowed it, would be drunk, and then the bridal couple would be accompanied to the church and a coin or two offered in honor of the young people and for the benefit of the minister and parish clerk. Everyone who could possibly come to church on that day was at the bride's house before church.
In the outermost room the bridegroom would stand in a corner constantly busy receiving the proffered handshakes and congratulations. In the innermost room the dressed-up bride stood extending her hand to those congratulating her and saying, "Please sit down." People sat on benches in every room with meat, cheese, bread, beer and brandy on groaning tables. When a person had enjoyed enough of this largess one yielded one's place to other guests, and thus the invitation was complied with. For the party after church, when one was held, the invitation was given by the bride, who said in a low voice, "Please look in when we return from church."
It was not long before the owner of a half-farm in the neighboring parish received a "yes" from the parsonage maid, and thus the promise had to be redeemed. The news flew like a lightening bolt through three parishes that there was going to be a real wedding at the parsonage. Everyone was to come for brandy, and maybe one would be lucky enough to be invited to "look in" after church.
During the week before the Sunday on which the wedding was to take place the parsonage was busy with the requisite preparations. The minister's wife, otherwise a clever housewife and quite experienced in arranging parties and taking care of her guests in agreeable ways, had to yield completely to those familiar with the local customs who knew how "a real wedding" was to be held.
First of all the inviter had to be selected. There were many who wanted this post, for everywhere there would be a little refreshment, but not everyone could recite with the requisite dignity the long litany that had to be learned by heart. In each house there would be jokers aplenty who, by means of disruptive questions, would try to rattle the important person and get him to forget something while reciting the invitation spiel, thus occasioning predictions of some misfortune or another on the important day.
The inviter arrived in the parsonage kitchen, because first and foremost every single person in the bride's household was invited. This inviter was a small fat man in a long, wide brown rustic coat, matching trousers, blue woolen stockings, and shoes with buckles. On his head he wore a green plush cap with a silk tassel; a border of grey cat-skin decorated its lining. In his hand he held a long staff with a white bone knob. This he placed in front of him with his hands on the knob, and in this position announced - without any hitches - the very long formula. When he was finished he took off his cap, dried the sweat from his brow and prepared to go to the next place. But, heavens no, he could not be allowed to leave just like that. One of the girls would say, "Please, come in and sit," and, after having been served whatever the household could provide, a short formula was said by way of farewell; thus the beginning was made and the wedding determined.
There were not so few considerations to be taken when the issue of the music and who should perform it came up for discussion. There were plenty of musicians in the parish who could play for ordinary dances, but they didn't know how to play as an ensemble and besides, no one could play for country weddings without coming to terms with the region's concessionary music corps, the so-called "musicians of Gråstensmark," whose music was certainly the "most wild."
In the city there was a city musician who certainly could play for balls and knew the modern dances danced by fine folks, but not the old dance music of the countryside, and if he was engaged, one still had to come to terms with the Gråsten musicians, so the only proper thing to do was to hire the "music boys," and the inviter was of course sent to them, since they required an official invitation. One must not think that this honorable group of musicians was comprised of youths, as the designation "music boys" might suggest; no, they were older men, local and by the standards of the day prosperous agriculturalists, which best could be seen by their hard, horny fists and the forgivable weight that was laid on their bows when the stringed instruments were picked up. They were, if one wants to call them that, a privileged group, who had paid to the county authorities the required fee in order to become a member. It is said that this institution evolved from the time when Ærø was divided up among God knows how many Slesvig-Holsten-Pløn-Gottorp, and the like - duchies to which taxes had to be paid. The home base of this music corps was Gråstensmark, and there the necessary new musical talents were added as the old were worn out.
Now back to the preparations, the necessary labors in the kitchen and brewery.
"If only the wind would rise a bit, so that the rye could be sieved and the white bread made in good time. If only the beer would ferment," said the worried maids. The weather was so strangely humid in September that year. "If only not too many fine people come and dance us off the floor," was another lament heard among the female staff. The farmhands were kept busy for several days whitewashing the out-buildings of the old parsonage that faced the road. The poles were nicely painted with a reddish-brown paint that consisted of a mixture of milk and calf's blood. The entrance gateway was also painted. Tuffs of grass that had long been allowed to grow up without disturbance between the cobblestones were pulled up and thrown away. The manure pile was neatly formed into a square and patted down, even though the following week it was to be taken out to the fields for the rye-seed. It went without saying that stables, cow- and sheep-sheds, and the pigsty were made as presentable as possible, so there was activity in all quarters.
The farmhands who had served with the bride laid dastardly plans while going about this work to ensure that the bridegroom would not get the first bridal kiss, but this had to be whispered about very softly, for no one was to know how this was to be effected. A terrible defeat was experienced by the farm's poultry, and a smallholder who knew how to slaughter veal was employed to kill several lambs, which were delivered for the occasion by agreement with the farmers who had to pay cattle-tithes before St. Michael's Day, because the soup had to be made with chicken and lamb meat on the actual day, as was the local custom. A long list was presented to the grocer, on which rice, raisins, almonds, rum, brandy, and beans and sugar featured most importantly. The salt barrels were checked, smoked hams and salted smoked sausage were brought down from the tie beams above the kitchen, some 60 pounds of summer butter was found, and after all of this was assembled there was cooking and baking on the Saturday before the wedding by experienced women called in from the village. Improvised tables were placed in all the rooms, and benches were fetched from the school or wherever else they could be found. Here was where the guests were to be received before church, here was where the congratulatory toast was to be drunk, where the brandy in its tall "Free Mason's glasses" and beer in wooden pitchers, with the inviter as maitre d' with several assistants would welcome each person. By the morning of the bridal day everything was ready to dress the bride.
The groom would appear at the proper time, so therefore everyone had to get up early and put the final touches to the preparations. The bridal crown, which was only to be worn by a bride who never previously had been married, or who had not earlier been noted in the church books as the mother of a child, was in former times rented from the county authorities. It was a very precious crown with golden dangles and a cap embellished with glass beads that was placed on the crown of the head. The bride's front hair was combed back to it and fastened so tightly that all her facial features had an upwards slant. The rest of her dress was a black stuff waist and skirt, edged everywhere with a black satin ribbon. The neckline and bodice were covered with several small brightly-colored silk scarves in elaborate folds. A silk apron finished this venerable costume. The bridesmaids who had dressed the bride by custom wore similar dresses. Only their small square caps, decorated with red silk ribbons in a very intricate manner and with a long bow hanging down over their backs [were different]. At the first ringing of the church bells the bride was in her place surrounded by her bridesmaids in one room, the groom similarly in another; they were not to see each other before in church. Now the guests arrived in surprising numbers. In the short time after the first bells were rung great amounts of the afore-mentioned foods and beverages were consumed. The inviter then announced in a loud voice that the service was beginning, after which the bridegroom with his attendants went one way, the bride with her bridesmaids another, to the church, where they placed themselves together in the middle so they could be seen by all.
The marriage ceremony is over. Now tit for tat, something must be offered. The venerable clerk starts singing Kingo's offering hymn and the groom walks forward with his offering to the minister in his right hand, that for the clerk in his left. He slowly follows his attendants behind the altar, placing each of his offerings to minister and clerk. Likewise, the bride comes with her attendants. Up to this point there has been a respectable silence in the church, the offering hymn has been given its due, but when the bride is finished with her offering procession and places herself by her chair with folded hands, then there is a tumult in the pulpit and the pews. Out on the floor comes everyone who wants to honor the bridal couple by making an offering to the minister and clerk. On the altar and the offering board of the clerk's chair is placed one coin after another; rarely is anyone so round-handed as to put in a Lubeck skilling; if a skilling was laid down for the minister, a coin was usually taken up out of the pile intended for the clerk. During this long offering procession the bride and bridegroom stand, nodding to each passerby, because this was an honor being shown to them. The service is then over.
With their attendants the bridal couple went over to the parsonage. Outside the entrance the musicians stood playing a fanfare on some old cavalry trumpets as the invited guests arrived. In the parlor and adjacent rooms tables were laid and the soup was borne in in red tureens loaded with chicken and lamb meat, rice porridge with raisins colored yellow with saffron. There were plates for everyone, but each person had to bring a knife and spoon from home in his/her pocket.
Everyone sat quietly at their place, then the inviter stepped forward again and said a table grace, whereafter the musicians blew their trumpets, which was the signal for a furious attack upon the steaming soup-tureens. A heavy silence and much activity characterized the beginning of the meal. Basins were emptied and new ones carried in. Then the brandy bottles were passed around, which loosened tongues and somewhat hushed conversations began. After one's initial appetite had been sated, spoons and forks were laid down, pipes were lit, and some topic of mutual interest was introduced. Then the pipe was put back in one's back pocket, and the spoons and knives once more saw action. Thus a couple of hours passed in the enjoyment of the pleasures of the table. When there was no more reaching out toward the platters and the brandy glasses were placed in front of full lips only for the sake of good manners and then passed on to the inviter just as full, then the meal ended and the inviter again stepped forward and said a leaving grace, after which a single trumpet peal announced the end of the meal. People now went outside to check the weather or stretch their legs a bit after sitting so long. Meanwhile the inviter and his helpers were quite occupied indoors clearing the dining room and converting it into a room for dancing.
Chairs were placed for the musicians in a suitable location. No music stands were needed, since the music was played by ear. The clarinet and violin were the instruments and from the empty room could be heard the strains of an old familiar minuet played quite irreproachably. The bridal couple and groomsmen, each accompanied by a close female relative, walked in to dance the first dance. The minuet is one of the stately dances and one would not believe that these island-dwellers could put anything resembling grace in their movements. Nevertheless, the dancing of this bridal minuet by three couples, with the bridal couple in the middle, attracted much attention on the part of all the "fine" people present.
One minuet follows another. Every young or old man had to dance one with the bride, and even if the poor dance was soon finished - for it could not be long - it was dark by now. Suddenly there was a peculiar restlessness among the young men and women. Candles were lit and now the dance would really begin, but the bride was gone. In a small chamber one found her sitting surrounded by girls and women. The girls with the red silk ribbons in their caps removed the bridal crown and one of the matrons stood ready with a cap of black ribbons, the headgear of a married woman, which she neatly placed on the young wife's crown. The bridegroom sat silently watching all of this, close enough that he recognizably was a hindrance for the proper placement of the wifely headgear, for he is to have the first kiss, the wifely kiss. But this was not to happen without a fight; suddenly, the door was torn open and in stormed the young men, all eager to steal this from the newly-wedded husband. Low cries were heard and one saw how the matrons rather roughly grabbed hold of those who came too close to the bride, with their mouths -- suitably dried off with the back of their hands -- puckered for a kiss. The light was extinguished, and finally the poor wife was pulled out of the onslaught by her husband into another room to straighten up her askew headgear. The bridegroom got his kiss, but he was not so certain about his victory in the matter, for it seemed to him that his wife's mouth was not as dry as it should have been.
The dance began anew. The young wife with her black ribbons was led by her bridesmaids up to the parlor where a slow waltz commenced. No one dared approach the bride, for this waltz she was to have with her husband. This dance was succeeded by a schottische. A farm lad who had recently returned home from military service had learned a Hamburg or Rheinlander at his garrison and was looked upon with admiration. The fine folks swung around in a Viennese waltz, but it was clear that neither the musicians nor the majority of the guests cared much for this type of dance, whereas the minuet, the contrasejre and reel, with a slow waltz stuck in once in a while, put some life into any incipient dullness. Coffee with biscuits and sweet wine with "sister cakes" were brought around late in the evening, and as a finale a glass of punch was finally offered in order to toast the bridal couple as a parting gesture. This last custom took a long time and required many preparations. Then one wagon after another rolled out of the farmyard, with the closest neighbors on foot and the last to leave the bridal house, where the bridal couple remained.
The next morning Hanne could be seen with no change other than her black cap instead of that with red ribbons, busily cleaning up after all the 'disruption' like any housemaid. "But where is your husband?" the minister's wife asked.
"Oh, he went home this morning to check on the cattle; he'll come again this afternoon when we've finished cleaning up," was her laconic reply. Toward evening the new husband fetched his young wife in a wagon, on which traces of newly carted manure could be seen on the side panels. Hanne's chest was placed on it, and now she could leave the house which had been a dear home to her for many years. The leave-taking was a bitter one. She could not finish. Finally, her husband came in and said, "Come on now," took her by the arm and pulled her out to the wagon. And thus this wedding ended.
All of the preceding description is due to an old man. He has here reproduced an interesting ethnological description from a bye-gone time. If anyone knows who wrote this description, please send me an email.
Translated by Michele McNabb of Iowa, USA.
Copyright by Ib Christensen, Feb. 2000