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Customs and Traditions of Hailuoto (Karlö), Finland


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People who lived in houses often owned clocks, but people who were of a lower class did not own clocks and used various devices for telling the time. Many owned homemade sundials. Some had marks on their window sills which gave them the time of noon at various times of the year. Others had a block of wood one meter high put up in the yard so it was very straight "like the housekeeper's churn handle" on which a rock was placed. Hours were marked on the rock and in the center was a spoke or hub which, as the day wore on, cast a shadow telling the family the time of day. People also told time by the stars. When a certain star arose, it would mean it was close to morning and another star indicated that evening was near.

Hailuoto is an island and fishing was important. There were many boats used for fishing and going to the mainland for supplies. There were few large boats and only one very large boat which was owned by a rich man. This boat also sailed to Sweden. Smaller boats or "Jahtaja" owned by the men of the island were very important, the largest of which could hold 800 barrels of tar (an important industry in Finland) or 800 barrels of salt. These boats had two masts, the smaller in the rear and the front of the boat was open with no decking.

The people were hospitable and drinks were always offered to the guest. Even the women were offered a drink. Silver cups were used in richer homes, but in most home the cups were made of wood. Many lower class men and women worked as indentured servants or apprentices who were furnished by the employer with a canvas shirt, pants and vest, boots and shoes for the men. If the man had clothing, he was offered other things such as a finer pair of shoes. Women received clothing, shoes, a head scarf, an apron, 2 towels, under-clothes and 3 to 5 pairs of woolen stockings.

Weddings were conducted in a strict manner according to custom. The normal age was 25 to 30 years at marriage. People usually married within the community. In 1914 the population of the island was 2,339; very mixed with many, or almost all, related in some way.

There were ways to get to know the intended, such as to attend plays, dances, and place of work. The men or boys were quite active in seeking their mates or "golden one". In the summers the girls slept in the grain houses and this was a favorite place for young men to go to visit them, chatting and showing off. When he decided which girl he would like to marry, he bought a gold ring with a stone in it to give to her. This ring MUST be gold! The ring cost 20 to 30 marks. In addition to the ring, he had to give her a silk scarf and a silver goblet.

Secretly she would receive gifts from others that she stored in her wedding chest which was homemade and hand-painted. She would fill the chest and take it with her to her new home. Bridal showers were given. Before this time, the young man would have chosen his "spokesman" whom he took to the home of the bride-to-be to get her parents' permission to marry. Sometimes during this visit the spokesman would be busy chatting about other things and forget to tell the bride's parents of the man's merits. Then the man would say "Speak, speak, you know what we are here for. Tell them that I am not a bum or a drunk, but will be totally committed to loving their daughter." On Sunday the intention to marry was broadcast to the congregation by the pastor. That evening a party was held at the bride's home with drinks and dancing for all. The next Sunday a party was held at the groom's home by his parents and the groom's mother gave the young woman some woolen cloth, while the groom's father gave her a small amount of money.

On the third Sunday the young people of the community held a party for the couple and there was much teasing of the prospective bride and groom, such as: "Now you will be stuck with this person; you are now bonded and there will be no more freedom for you!" After this the work of the bride-to-be really began because according to custom she had to make presents for all involved in the wedding. She made things such as a shirt for the groom's father, scarves and handker-chiefs for the mother-in-law; socks and handker-chiefs for the brothers-in-law; silk scarves and handker-chiefs for the sisters-in-law; and wool socks and handker-chiefs for the pastor and his wife as well as the spokesman and his wife. Many times she enlisted the held of her girl friends so that she could complete all of the handwork.

Wedding plans went on in the home of the groom where the wedding would be held on a Friday. Fresh bread was baked and the beer was brewed. Foods of all kinds were prepared, the floors were scrubbed, walls cleaned and the roof repaired. On the rear wall of the living room where the marriage would be held were large looking glasses. A few days before the wedding, the groom went to bring the young woman to his house to stay. All was done properly and she brought her wedding chest, her bedding, clothing and all that she owned. On the night before the wedding, good neighbors sent milk and butter to the place of the wedding which was held at noon on a Friday, or whenever the pastor arrived.

The bride was dressed in her own black dress, but on her head would be placed the beautiful shining brass wedding crown into which false flowers were woven and a cloth or veil added. White beads or pearls were placed on her neck and around her waist was tied a long sash, two inches wide, which trailed down her back. The groom was dressed in his best clothing and the couple sat together out of sight of the wedding guests. Meanwhile, in the center of the living room, on a special rug, the wedding chair was placed on which was a piece of silk cloth. When the pastor arrived, the spokesman went to get the couple. The bride was brought in first and her mother walked closely behind her so that nothing evil could happen to her (pagan custom), and behind them walked two or four bridesmaids. Then the groom was ushered in and a cloth scarf or canopy was held over their heads. This was placed over the chair on which they sat as close as possible so no curses could come between them. As soon as they were married the bridesmaids hurried to the place where the party was to be held, while the bride was introduced in a reception line.

In another area many tables were set up while a special table for the wedding party was set up in the back. The pastor and his wife sat at this table also. Food was offered with an appetizer being the first course; fish and potatoes were the second course; stewed meats and stewed fruits, such as prunes, were third course; and roast beef the fourth course; the last course was rice porridge with special wedding tarts. The fanciest and best tarts went to the table of the wedding party. In the middle of each table were bottles of drink which were drunk between each course. Each table held an empty wooden plate to accept offerings for the couple. Wooden plates and spoons were offered, but if the guests wanted forks and knives they had to bring their own.

Then the dancing would begin and violin music was favored. Often two groups of musicians were there and played polkas and waltzes. The waltz was danced close together, daintily on tip toe. There were many rules in the dancing, such as who danced first with the bride, usually the spokesman, then all her brothers-in-law. There was a circle in which the newlyweds danced in the middle. After much dancing, more food was offered. On the following day, Saturday, more food and dancing was repeated. But on this day the bride no longer wore the wedding crown. On Sunday more dancing was offered, but no food - just drinks. The best violinist at Hailuoto was a transient tailor. Early on Monday morning the everyday life of the bride began, who nearly always lived with the groom's parents, and she soon became a maid to them.

Excerpted from material supplied by SFHS member Bernice Korpi.

June Pelo

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