I think that’s probably how you say “A Danish wedding” in Danish. And it was to attend such an event which was my main reason for my trip. And not just any old nuptials, gentle reader, but a family wedding – for BigBruv was tying the knot for a second time.
The day before was spent running around the town with BigBruv getting last minute things ready. In among hiring disco lights, setting them up, helping lay tables, purchasing the bride’s choice of kitchenware as a wedding gift (for her kitchen – not the venue’s), I was also required to make a “sangskole”. (I have no idea if this is the correct spelling so I shall describe it later in this account.)**
When the Big Day dawned, we all got ready for the celebrations. LilSis, three of her four girls, Northern Star, Big Lad, BigBruv and I were all managing to ablute and dress without too much stress in BigBruv’s one-bedroom flat. I thought BigBruv’s nerves coped amazingly with 6 women all flying around!
In all the activity of the previous day, I had completely forgotten that BigBruv had asked me to be one of the official witnesses at the wedding ceremony. We entered the room in the Town Hall and I was just looking round for somewhere to sit when I was shown to the front of the room to a grand wooden chair facing the rest of the guests. The registrar asked me something in Danish – which I didn’t understand – and to which BigBruv answered on my behalf – Nej. She handed me a piece of paper in English which was allegedly the order of service. It may have been a version of what was going on (and was pretty much as one would expect) but it wasn’t a word-for-word translation. How could I tell? Well, it seemed from the piece of paper that the Bridal Couple would say their names but in fact the only word in the whole ceremony that they were required to say was “Ja”. With one paw mark from me and one from the Bride’s father and the whole thing was done! I was a bit surprised that I was allowed to witness the ceremony given that I hadn’t understood a word and they could have been discussing the price of bacon in Copenhagen for all I knew!
Another thing that surprised me was that some of the guests were *very* casually dressed. I knew from previous experience (ahem – BigBruv’s first wedding!) that the Danes don’t do the hats and high heels in quite the same way as some British weddings but a few of the guests looked as if they were on their way to the beach in shorts and sandals and rather ancient T shirts….
The Bride had apparently always said that if she ever got married she wanted to drive round town in a rickshaw eating (a particular type of) sausage. Her parents arranged a rickshaw, to the back of which were tied old cans, and the newly-weds were driven along a red carpet – which happened to be out for a town festival taking place that weekend – to the photographic studio.
The Family was invited to the Bride’s parents’ house (a beautiful old building in the centre of town) for lunch. When the Couple arrived, more of the guests arrived too, and we had champagne and cake.
One of the guests was wearing a kilt. Mindful of my Munich phrasebook, I enquired after his clan, and discovered that the wearer was a Danish Scot (or a Scottish Dane, depending on which way you look at it). His name was Jens, which means “soldier” and he was well named for he was a soldier and had recently served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He kept us entertained with stories…one of which might take some believing but he said that the British Army had the best food of all the armies in the field!
The Bride’s mother had been an au-pair girl in Scotland many years ago and said she was finding our Midland/Southern accents hard to follow (everyone, but everyone, spoke perfect English). For a laugh, I put on my Scottish accent – I’ve been told it’s very Morningside – and to great hilarity, she said she could understand me better! But I couldn’t keep it up for ever nor did I want to…I didn’t want the Danish Scot to think I was mocking his family.
We then made our way to the evening reception.
One of the customs at a Danish wedding is to sing songs. These can be about the Happy Couple, various events etc. They are sung to a familiar tune and personalised for the event in question. Before I set off on my little adventure to Skagen and Læsø, BigBruv had asked me to compose a song in English for the guests to sing. This request gave me plenty to think about. He also mentioned that his Bride had said she didn’t want people to sing at her wedding! I felt a bit stuck between a rock and a hard place…
BigBruv assured me that it would be ok and that everyone would know the tune to “My Bonnie lies over the ocean”. Another problem was that I had only met his new Bride on one previous occasion which, although pleasant, hadn’t provided much in the way of material for witty lyrics as we had been at the stage of making polite conversation (I had also been in the process of losing my voice at the time which was also not conducive to long conversations…). True to form, I procrastinated about getting down to composing my nuptial oeuvre until I could put it off no longer. I got out my pencil while sitting on the ferry from Læsø back to the mainland. I suppose the sight of the briny waters provided a certain amount of inspiration – that – and my acquired ability to work to tight deadlines produced a reasonably good effort which included mention of the Bride and Groom and their ready-made family in the form of Northern Star, Big Lad and the Bride’s daughter (for whom I have yet to think up a name). The most impressive bit as far as I was concerned was that I managed to get the lines to scan and rhyme. I think the greatest coup was to include the word “Denmark” which was sung in the chorus at the point one would normally sing “Bring back [my bonnie to me]”.(For any who do not know the song, it gets repeated several times…) I think I probably managed to score a few Brownie points there – which made up for deficiencies in other areas.
At the reception, the MC, who was the Bride’s Brother, conducted proceedings and called upon me to present my song. I produced the sangskole (I wish I knew how to spell this word…)** which in this case was a cardboard Viking ship, complete with shields hanging over the sides, flying an English flag* – I think this was to symbolise the union of the two nations within this marriage… it was BigBruv’s idea, so it might have been his way of asserting his patriotism. I had to walk around the (thankfully) small reception room with the boat aloft so that everyone could have a good look at it. In the boat were two copies of my oeuvre for the bridal couple. Further copies were distributed by Northern Star and Bride’s Daughter to the rest of the guests. The pianist struck up and to my amazement everyone started singing in perfect English – even to the extent of pronouncing everyone’s names the English way. (Had they not, some of the lines wouldn’t have scanned or rhymed.)
Other customs are as follows:
If either of the bridal couple leaves the room for any reason, the members of the opposite sex take the opportunity to run up to Top Table to kiss the “abandoned” wife/husband. The sit-down eating part of the reception lasted five hours, so you can imagine, people were running up and down kissing one or other of the Happy Couple pretty frequently!
Occasionally, someone will tap their knife against a glass. Others join in and the Happy Couple has to stand on their chairs and kiss. (Not easy for the one wearing a long gown and high-heeled shoes!). This can happen more or less any number of times.
Speeches are given. The Groom (in this case a bi-lingual speech….That’s my Bruv!), the Bride’s Father, and then the floor is open to anyone. On this occasion, no one felt the need.
The traditional first waltz is taken by the Happy Couple. The guests stand in a circle around them clapping in time with the music and gradually they move closer to the dancers – and ever closer – until the couple is waltzing in the tiniest space possible.
The Groom is then grabbed by the other men and tipped upside down. His shoes are removed and the toes of his socks are cut off. I was given two explanations for this. One was that originally just a small hole was made and the bride was required to show her darning skills; the second was that it was to symbolise that the marriage might face hard times.
After dancing the small hours away, LilSis, her daughters and I made our way back to the flat to have a few hours’ beauty sleep before making our way to the airport the next morning and flying home after a very happy occasion.
*For my foreign readers: an English flag is a red cross on a white background. The Danish flag is the opposite – a white cross on a red background.
** Edit – sometime later – I have just looked through my tiny pocket Danish dictionary at all the words beginning with “sk”. I think perhaps the word I’m looking for is actually “sangskjuler” which is along the lines of “a cover” – which would sort of fit the context. I’ll report back if I discover more…..