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Photo by: Raili Adoson

How to get married like a true Estonian

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Beautiful, warm, and sunny summer months are without a doubt the most popular time to get married in Estonia. Many couples have been planning their special day for the whole winter! The high season of weddings is just around the corner.

To celebrate this season of love we are giving you a glimpse to how Estonians tie the knot.

Engagement

Estonians are still quite traditional in their relationships. Usually it is the man who pops the question. The period between engagement and wedding is rather short, usually ranging from a couple of months to a year or two. Unlike in Finland, where it is popular for couples to get engaged without a plan to ever marry, Estonians think of engagement as the first step towards happily married life.

Once engaged, Estonians don’t throw a big party, they just announce it by telling those closest to them, or changing their relationship status on Facebook. For friends and family it is a sign that a wedding will be expected in the near future.

Though conventional, Estonians are also really practical. Some Estonians dream about getting married for their whole life, while other people might get married because of the legal status that marriage gives. There’s a wide range of different reasons why people get married in Estonia, and there are also many couples who never feel the need to tie the knot.

Stag and hen parties

Before the wedding the friends of the bride and groom organise stag and hen parties. The program of the party depends on the interests and personality of the bride and groom. The stag party is usually more action-packed, with sport, games and activities that make your adrenaline rush. Ladies like to take the bride to a spa or beauty salon and have their pictures taken by a professional photographer. The day is completed with good food and a night out. Read more about a bachelorette party the Estonian way.

Preparations for the big day

It has become more popular to hire a wedding planner to help with organising the wedding. Couples do this, in part, so that the special day represents who they are and what they value.

Individuality is more important as more wedding options have emerged for the couples to choose from. Planning an Estonian wedding today is much more than choosing a theme colour, it is a concept that mirrors the couple’s lifestyle, hobbies and traditions. The concept is present from the design of invitations to the venue, wedding cake, music and programme. 

Many people choose custom-made solutions. Handmade invitations and decorations are valued more than mass-produced off-the-self products.

There are also couples who don’t want the wedding day to be a big fuss, and want to have a small-scale wedding with a registration and a lunch. But whatever the choice, the day is something to savour. Individuality is the ruling trend in Estonian weddings.

Time and place of the wedding

The most popular season to get married is summer. It is regarded as the most beautiful of the seasons, people have more time to organise and participate in weddings, and, for practical Estonians, it is also easier to have the wedding on (hopefully) a sunny and warm summer day. Most popular months to get married are July and August. Most popular days are Fridays and Saturdays. Midsummer is not considered the best choice, as many Estonians have other plans for Midsummer.

A post shared by Priit Jaeger (@pulmaisapriit) on


In Estonia, there are a number of professions and organisations legally able to oversee weddings - the Office of National Statistics, local governments of the county centres, notaries, and ministers of religion (who have been authorised to contract a marriage). The ceremony can take place at any location the couple chooses, but as many Estonians are not members of any religion, getting married in a church happens relatively rarely. Unlike neighbours in countries such Sweden, most of Estonians have never experienced a church wedding.

The most typical venue to tie the knot is at the local Office of National Statistics (perekonnaseisuamet). The more romantic name for the building where the office is located is Õnnepalee (the Palace of Happiness). Luckily for the couples, the office doesn’t look like a traditional office building, it is an elegant and romantic building located just outside Tallinn city centre, at Pärnu mnt 67.


It's becoming incresingly popular to tie the knot at more informal locations that are more personal and show the couple's personalities. Couples can ask the official to come and do the registration at less conventional wedding venues. In Tallinn, popular wedding venues include the House of the Brotherhood of Black Heads, Tallinn Town Hall, and Tallinn Botanic Garden. Several restaurants also offer rooms for wedding parties and ceremonies. Outside Tallinn, the most popular locations for weddings are Estonia's majestic and beautiful manors.

The wedding photoshoot usually takes place before the registration. Nature is the number-one choice of the happy couples, posing under the trees, on a field, by a farmhouse, or on one of the many towering village swings that were once the centrepieces of rural life. In the city, popular photoshoot locations are the Old Town, especially Town Hall Square, Kadriorg Park, Rotermann Quarter, and by the sea.

The wedding parties used to last for several days, but now couples prefer to settle for one-day wedding parties, with the possibility to spend the day after the wedding with their closest friends and relatives.

A post shared by Triin Tähnas (@triintahnas) on

Let’s get the party started!

After the registration, guests get to congratulate the married couple and wish them a life time of happiness. It’s polite also to congratulate the parents and grandparents of the couple.

Usually the guests bring flowers. Roses are always a good choice, if it wasn’t mentioned in the invitation what kind of flowers the couple prefers. Other gifts are usually the kinds that fit into an envelope. Gift lists at department stores are not popular in Estonia.

Between registration and reception, the traditional pulmarong (wedding train or parade) takes place. All the guests drive behind the married couple, who ride in a special vehicle of their choice. Usually the vehicle is a limousine, a luxury car, or an older classic car, decorated with flowers and ribbons.


The Pulmarong moves from the registration to the reception venue together in line. The drivers in the parade and other people who meet them all honk their car horns. Passers-by wave and shout congratulations to the couple. During the wedding parade, the couple is presented with tasks to solve. Usually the tasks are related to having children and building a home and a future together. The couple may get to change a nappy, plant a tree, and visit a stork's nest. 

Other people have the right to stop the wedding parade and demand vodka or champagne before they allow the party to continue. Estonians like to play along, and drivers of bigger vehicles love to stop the wedding parade. It also brings good fortune for the couple.

One of the key traditions of Estonian wedding is when the bride gives up her maiden name. This can happen during the wedding parade or later on in the evening, however there is also a burgeoning trend for the bride, or both of the couple, to take double-barrelled surnames. Should the bride wish to take the traditional path, there are several clever, beautiful and emotional ways for the bride to give up her maiden name. The maiden name can be tied to a balloon and send up to the sky, or it can be sunk into the sea. Some have chosen to shoot it up into the sky with fireworks, or write it into a big cookie and eat it together with the guests.
  

Wedding professions

Once everyone has reached the wedding reception, Estonian weddings quite quickly turn into a big feast with good food, drinks, music, dancing and games!


Before starting with the festive wedding dinner, the pulmaisa, who is sort of like a host of the wedding party, starts the evening with a speech and gives guests wedding 'professions' (pulmaametid) together with the married couple. Some professsions are traditional, while others can be added as the married couple wishes. The wedding professions are humorous way to involve attendees in the ceremony, and give them a role at the wedding party. As a mark of a profession the person gets a necklace or a rosette that states his or her profession.

A popular wedding profession that can be found at almost any Estonian wedding is the toast master (toostimeister). It is the toast master’s obligation to propose a toast from time to time during the wedding party. Other professions can be the man who takes care of the women at the party (naisterõõm) keeping them company if needed, the songbird (laululind), who initiates songs that people can sing along with, the kummardaja, who stands up and takes a bow every time people applaud, the fire god (tulejumal), who makes sure the fire and all the candles are burning, and the bride’s guard (pruudivalvur), who makes sure no-one steals the bride away.

There most likely will be a person whose task is to shout “kibe!” (bitter) from time to time. When someone shouts “kibe!” at the wedding, the married couple has to kiss.

Food and drinks

Dinner is served at the wedding reception. The food can be whatever the couple has wished for. As the night is long, different kind of food stations and buffets featuring sweets are very popular. The food stations may include different treats, such as cheese, doughnuts, and pastries, and guests can pick up sweet and savoury snacks when they wish.

A post shared by Levier (@leviercakery) on


The drinks include non-alcoholic beverages, wine, beer, and vodka shots. Lately it has become popular to brew your own beer for the wedding or to design and print new labels for the vodka bottles to match the wedding theme.

Although the food and candy buffets are a new trend in Estonian weddings, the number-one showstopper is still the wedding cake. The wedding cake is served later in the night with coffee or tea. During the cutting of the cake, the traditional game takes place, where the bride and groom stamp their foot to find out who is the decision-maker in their household. The wedding cake is also designed to reflects the taste and personalities of the bride and groom.

A post shared by kristiina (@kristiinasauvali) on

Traditions and games

At the wedding, not all guests know each other, so usually there will be a game to introduce everyone. This game can take place together with the giving out of the wedding professions, or other games. It depends on the couple how much games will take place during the party.

There will definitely be a group photo, during which all the guests get to pose together with the couple. Pictures with family and friends are taken, and also a photo with all the wedding guests, together with the married couple. Some weddings have photographers stay all night long taking pictures of guests. Another option is to have a photo booth with silly accessories to make things more fun.

One of the most anticipated moments is the first dance as husband and wife. In Estonia it’s most likely a waltz, but in can also be another type of dance the couple opts for. After the first dance, everyone is welcome to join the dancefloor. A good band is one of the most important parts of a successful wedding party. Hits from different decades will keep the dancefloor full the whole night.

A post shared by Gerry (@gerrysulp) on


When the official part of the wedding party is about the end, the next bride and groom are decided. The traditional Estonian way to mark the ones who will be next to marry is called the game of the bridal wreath (pruudipärja mahamängimine). In this game the guests form a circle and the married couple stands inside the circle. People start to sing a specific song about the bridal wreath. When the song is about to end, the bride places the wreath on an unmarried female guest and the groom places a hat on the head of an unmarried male guest. These people will be the next ones to marry. Usually the chosen ones are already together, but it is to give them a slight push to get married.

Not all couples prefer this method, so throwing the bridal bouquet and bride’s garter has also become part of Estonian weddings.

Once the next bride and groom have been chosen, it is their task to kiss, if someone calls “kibe!”.




A post shared by Gerry (@gerrysulp) on

Honeymoon

When and where Estonian couples head for their honeymoon depends on their situation and wishes. Some people go to work the next Monday, some might take a holiday after the wedding.

Most commonly the honeymoon takes place a few weeks or months after the wedding, at the end of summer or in the autumn, or even the next summer. 

Newlyweds head to city breaks or remote exclusive islands. Estonians like to travel the world and there isn’t actually one specific destination where everyone heads. Some couples prefer to stay close to home and have their honeymoon in Estonia.

As with the weddings themselves, the honeymoon depends entirely on what the couple wants.

See our related blog posts