Marriage in Iceland – a bride’s reflection

As you may or may not know, Hrannar and I got married this summer. He proposed on New Years Eve and because I am the most impatient person in the world we were married about 6 months later. I’m just such a good worker ant that I cannot start something and not finish it. Like when I don’t sleep because I need to finish just one more row of whatever it is that I am knitting. Or when I have a day off and decide to watch one episode of something to treat myself and before I know it I’ve watched three seasons and I’m not even sure I liked the first episode. You.Finish.What.You.Start.

Anyway, our wedding wasn’t big or fancy so even though we didn’t set the date until 8 weeks before the big day everything came together beautifully and we couldn’t have been happier with everything. In the end, for us at least, it was just a good excuse to throw a party for our loved ones and celebrate each other.

At that point, we’d been together for over 8 years, lived together for 7+ of those years (with a child), so we kind of knew what we were getting ourselves into. We already had our future home and a Kitchen Aid (for some reason, Kitchen Aid is the go-to wedding gift in Iceland – I’ve heard friends joke about getting married just for the Kitchen Aid) so we didn’t even think about a wedding basics like a registry. Our friends demanded one in the end because apparently, it’s very difficult to buy us gifts, but we literally spent a couple of hours on it after midnight one night a few days before the wedding. I decided last minute (a couple of hours before the ceremony to be exact) to support a local cancer charity by buying one of those fundraiser bracelets as party favors for our guests but before that moment I hadn’t even thought about it.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that our wedding was not very traditional. There was no white dress, the ceremony took place in our garden while our neighbors that we’ve never met watched and we turned our living room into a dance floor with 20-dollar disco lights and a Spotify play list. There wasn’t even a priest (scandalous!) because we were married in a traditional Ásatrú ceremony with mead in a horn and everything.

In the process of planning this little soiree of ours, I did a lot of research. Both about weddings in Iceland in general (I was looking for traditional Icelandic elements to include) and then I looked for inspiration on Pinterest and wedding blogs and such. At one point, I got really overwhelmed and I felt our wedding would be a total failure if it didn’t have 300 guests and a 10-tier wedding cake but then I remembered where we are and maybe more importantly – who we are.

Icelanders tend to have a very relaxed attitude towards marriage. I don’t know a lot of women in Iceland that have been planning their weddings since they were little girls and I know even fewer whose sole purpose in life is to get married and start a family. I guess we’re kind of pragmatic people – marriage is not a fantasy but a legal contract, which is why people often don’t start thinking about marriage until they’ve had children and need to get their inheritance affairs in order.

I think this has a lot to do with the fact how little role the church plays in people’s life in Iceland. There’s no religious pressure whatsoever to get married and Icelanders are notoriously liberal when it comes to the affairs of the heart. There’s no stigma about having a child out of wedlock and if anything, you automatically start wondering whether people are part of some kind of religious cult if they get married really young and do things the “right” way.

I remember having a conversation in Israel about my marital status with a girl my age who couldn’t believe I had lived with my then boyfriend for all those years, with his child no less, without even thinking about getting married. To her this seemed unimaginable while to me her traditional views on marriage and families seemed almost alien. She almost fell off her chair when I told her I didn’t know if we’d ever get married but at that point we had never even discussed it. I should maybe send her a postcard and let her know that she can stop worrying about us now.

Some people call our views progressive while others see it as an abomination. My two cents? It’s just different. Not better or worse – just different.

Up until recently, Icelandic weddings were quite humble for a lack of a better word (although it appears that during the Viking age they were lavish multiday affairs). The families of the bride and groom would pitch in with making food and cakes and frugality was something to strive for. In many ways, I think it was kind of gauche to flaunt your wealth in Iceland, and it still is in some ways, and instead of impressing your friends with how much you spent you’d talk about how much you saved by being thrifty and inventive.

Things are changing now though. A few years ago, traditional church weddings were old-fashioned and big parties seemed strange whereas now it’s becoming more popular to go all in. I think a lot of it has to do with Pinterest and shows like Say Yes To The Dress – like many things in our culture our weddings are being Americanized to an extent but maybe the wedding traditions in Iceland weren’t so strong to begin with, given the relaxed attitudes and almost indifference.

In our circle of friends though, most have gone the more frugal “throw something on the BBQ for the family” way with their weddings. If not literally (like ours) then at least figuratively.

When people get engaged in Iceland the man doesn’t necessarily have a ring ready but the couple will go out and choose the rings together. Often there isn’t even a proposal, people just kind of decide that it’s time. The rings are usually simple gold bands, one for each, and then when the couple gets married they use the rings as wedding rings. The ring should be kept on the right hand until you marry and then you move it to the left hand (although not everyone agrees on this and people basically just keep their rings where they want). Nowadays, more couples choose to have one engagement ring for the one who’s being proposed to which is probably another American custom we’ve adopted.

One thing we haven’t adopted though is bridesmaids and groomsmen. Which is good for the environment I guess (didn’t you see 28 dresses? All those bridesmaid’s dresses that will never be worn again!).

In our case, Hrannar didn’t have a ring so we went ring shopping together after the proposal. He wanted me to have a diamond so that’s’ what we went for. I love my ring, it’s beautiful and probably my favorite possession, but when I showed it to some American and Canadian couples I met out on the town one night, I could see pity in their eyes. OK, maybe I imagined the pity but they were at least not impressed.  They were also not impressed with the story of how he proposed but I think it was lacking in fireworks (figuratively – it was actually new years eve and the sky was full of fireworks) and dramatic flair. Apart from the fact that I chose this ring because it was exactly what I was looking for and perfect for me in every way, we also didn’t want to spend a fortune on a ring when we have a mortgage to pay. I will admit that when it comes to these things Hrannar is the romantic one and I was the one who kept talking about the mortgage.

When we got married we opted for the more traditional gold wedding bands which we wear on the ring finger on the left hand. Basically, Hrannar is in love with our jeweler and just did whatever she told us to do and apparently I was fine with that. I then wear my engagement ring on top of that but mostly because I never wear jewelry and it just felt silly having rings on the ring finger on both hands. I know, my life is super interesting and I’m constantly tackling the universe’s big questions!

In Icelandic, the words for husband and wife, eiginmaður and eiginkona, are not used very much. You would mostly use those word if you want to emphasize the fact that you’re married or when you’re jokingly or lovingly talking about your spouse on special occasions or such. We don’t really define our relationship status with words and normally we just talk about maðurinn minn or konan mín (my man and my woman). I hardly ever hear anyone use the words for fiancé and fiancée either (unnusti and unnusta) but maybe I just don’t have fancy enough friends. Because of this, if you want to know the extent of someone relationship you will simply have to ask.

We do have words for boyfriend and girlfriend, kærasti and kærasta (the translation would be something like my dearest) but it’s kind of juvenile and after a certain age, especially if you’ve lived together for years and have kids together and such, it just feels a bit silly. But it all depends on the person of course. Hrannar and I both agreed that one of the strangest things to get used to after our wedding was when we had to use those words in English. It just seemed much bigger and more real when I had to start talking about him as my husband.

When I was looking at all those wedding blogs and endless wedding-related pins on Pinterest I also noticed that at least in the US they often have rehearsal dinners before the wedding and wedding brunches after it. This is not something we do in Iceland. The night before our wedding our apartment was full of some of our closest people helping us decorate, cleaning and making food and such. After the wedding, Hrannar’s family came over and helped us clean and we opened the gifts with them too.

It’s not common either that the couple will leave for a honeymoon right away but often the couple has booked a hotel room for the night to enjoy after the wedding. We didn’t do that because it felt strange to us to leave our apartment in the middle of the night to sleep somewhere else but I remember my hairdresser telling me in the week before the wedding that the single thing he regretted about his wedding was paying for that hotel room. If I was doing it all again I probably would have booked us an appointment at the spa or something the day after but I definitely wouldn’t have wanted to go to a big brunch or wake up in a hotel I needed to check out of at 11 am.

Honeymoons, in general, are not a big thing in Iceland but I think it’s becoming more common. We just took a much needed holiday and called it a honeymoon to give ourselves the permission to splurge a little more than we’d normally do. It was nice, every time I wanted something I could always say I mean, we’re on our honeymoon!

I wouldn’t say Icelandic people are cold or unromantic, we just display our affection in a more subtle way. Therefore I think it makes sense that our weddings and wedding traditions are usually not that elaborate. Although religion doesn’t play a big part in our everyday lives the fact we’re Lutheran (in name at least) may have influenced those traditions more than I realize though.The wedding industry is always growing bigger year by year and it honestly was a struggle to not get sucked into thinking we needed a photo booth, craft cocktail bartender and a 10 piece band.

I think wherever you are and whatever the traditions are in your home, the most important thing I learned through from all of this is to just stay true to yourself and your significant other and not let anyone tell you what you should think, feel or need. The most important thing is that you and your loved one are comfortable with everything and that includes the idea of marriage and the legal implications. And the budget (practical, remember).

We had the best day and it makes me feel even better to know that we spent a little on the wedding, a little bit more on our honeymoon but most on the mortgage.

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20 thoughts on “Marriage in Iceland – a bride’s reflection”

  1. Jackie says:

    Congratulations to the both of you!
    Thank you for sharing your story. The journey between two lovers is a personal one. You are right to commit a live-in partnership first before anything else. In most cases you will only find out whether you are meant to be once you have tried to live and build a life together.
    I have witnessed couples fall apart over irreconcilable differences because they couldn’t live with each other, or were better off living on their own.
    In my case I met my boyfriend in Barcelona last summer. We went on vacation to Iceland and have decided to be exclusive to each other. It’s too soon to tell whether we are meant to be as we live long distance but we do try to have our finances in order so that we can see each other more often and longer.
    Any ways , wishing your little family a happy and healthy journey ahead!

  2. Francesca Hagadus says:

    Congratulations to both of you, and best wishes for continued happiness! Iceland holds a special place in my heart–and you helped make it so.

  3. Barbara says:

    I think your wedding was wonderful, and I appreciate your including us in it by way of your blog post. I wish more American couples would understand that a good party with friends and family doesn’t have to cost the same as a down-payment on a house. I guess at least some Americans are pragmatic. Marriages used to take place because the bride was pregnant. Now it’s the need to put a spouse on one’s company health insurance.

  4. Toni says:

    I love that!!

  5. Matthew Paluch says:

    wow thanks for sharing this!

  6. Kelly says:

    As an American with Scandanavian heritage this was so interesting to read about – thank you for sharing! Maybe because of that heritage I lean more toward simple and meaningful than “Pinterest” style. 🙂 Not every American wedding is like a TV show; those are the exception, not the rule. I think your wedding and commitment to each other sounds lovely. I want to know more about the traditional Scandinavian elements part like the horn, so I’ll have to look that up!

  7. Jennifer Jensen says:

    What a wonderful account of your wedding, and Icelandic wedding sentiments! Thanks!

  8. Susan Singer says:

    I really enjoyed reading the description of your wedding. Thank you for sharing it. My husband and I also had a very simple, inexpensive, mostly informal wedding here in the states so I could relate completely to what you wrote. We are Quaker which helped with the simplicity part. Our celebration was a potluck (though some people didn’t realize it so we ran out of food, but at least not out of love!)

    Best wishes to you and your family!

  9. lindsay Bradley says:

    I loved your essay. I think people in Canada and the US are so silly spending thousands upon thousands of dollars on weddings and all of the fluff that goes with them. They go into debt for a one day affair that often ends shortly after in divorce. I agree that each to their own but I think a lot of people should cut back on the extravagant weddings and put their money toward the mortgage…

  10. Patti W. says:

    Congratulations! I think your wedding was perfect! The love is what matters and not the money that is spent to impress people! I love that you had the mead in a horn at the ceremony! That would be my husbands idea of a perfect wedding! My husband and I will be in Iceland in two weeks and have booked your walking tour. We we see you soon! Thanks for all of your great advise!

  11. Tracey says:

    Congratulations to you both! I love your blogs … had a wonderful trip to Iceland and will return in the future, maybe experience spring time even though I love snow!

  12. Laura H. says:

    We are so happy for you, and wishing you many years of great happiness and good health. Thank you for sharing so many interesting approaches and Icelandic ways of doing things. Making it special for the two of you was wise. Enjoy that KitchenAid!

  13. Ryan H says:

    I love the Scandinavian take on marriage and relationships. So down to earth. Marriage shouldn’t be rushed into like it is so often in America. Why do you think our divorce rate is so high? For all the focus on marriage, we ironically seem to have no respect for it.

    There is so much striving for perfection in American weddings, and it’s so unrealistic. It’s just not necessary. Yours looks so lovely! I think we are getting to be a little bit more like you, but sad to think you all might be getting a little bit more like us.

  14. Heather Reid says:

    Congratulations! Having met both of you on a walking tour a few years back, I believe that you and Hrannar had a perfect wedding. In the US it appears that many engaged couples are not as practical as you and some are in competition with others to have the most expensive (and then in their eyes, “perfect”) wedding. However all the weddings I have been to lately correspond with the couple’s economic standing and reflect the true love that exists between them. I have even viewed on FB many couples who incorporate the beauty of nature and use their natural surroundings to enhance their wedding environment. Maybe you have started a new trend! My best wishes to the both of you for a continued beautiful relationship..

  15. Kat E says:

    Congrats! You and Hrannar were helping us with our Iceland trip (our honeymoon…15 years after the wedding, which was also small, nontraditional, and included meadhorns) while you were planning. Glad to hear it went well.

  16. Nate says:

    Thank you! Beautiful post, very informative for me, someone very interested in the day-to-day lives of this place I am visiting. I suppose weddings are a good place to start and yours sounded beautiful.

  17. Aileen says:

    Congratulations! Your wedding sounds really lovely and special. I wish Americans had such a pragmatic attitude to weddings. I might encourage both my daughters to read this post! 🙂 Thanks for sharing your day with us.

  18. Kathy T says:

    Thank you so much for sharing the story of your wedding. It sounds like it was a simply lovely event full of meaning and happiness. I wish you and your family well and continued success with your business and blog. Every time I see a post in my email I smile and can’t wait to read it. I had to wait a few days to read this one, but it was worth the wait. Congratulations!!

  19. Stefani says:

    Hello! First of all congratulations on your wedding and wishing you all the best.
    I found your blog few days ago and I cant stop reading it. I am from Croatia and my boyfriend and I are probably gonna make a huge step and move to Iceland in a few months. So I started doing my research and trying to get as much informations as possible so I find your blog so helpful and Im listening to your podcast of learning Icelandic,it is beautiful language and I would love to learn some basic words and phrases before my arrival. So,thank you for writing and everything and keep up the good work. Greetings from Croatia ❤

    1. mm Auður - I Heart Reykjavík says:

      Glad you’re finding it helpful – I hope your move goes smoothly 🙂

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