Vikings are one of the most interesting and alluring groups ever to live. Even after numerous books, movies and TV shows, we can’t get enough of these fearless seafaring warriors.
With a larger-than-life reputation and an alleged penchant for brutality, it’s easy to forget that the Vikings were only human — they felt pain, experienced joy and grieved losses. They even had wedding ceremonies filled with symbolic traditions that some people still choose to honor today.
If you’re curious about Viking wedding traditions and want to learn more, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll show you how to incorporate Viking traditions into your modern-day wedding!
What Was Wedding Preparation Like for the Vikings?
Since Viking weddings were often focused on forming strong alliances between families, a lot of preparation went into the wedding. All weddings were planned on Fridays since they were seen as “Freya’s Day.” Freya was the Norse goddess of love and childbirth, so the Vikings wanted her blessings on their union.
Wedding preparation was different for men and women and the traditions are very different from our modern ones. The groom prepared with the male members of his family and the bride prepared with the female members of her family.
Preparations for the Groom
Before the wedding, the groom would often have to break into the grave of a dead family member to retrieve his sword. While this may sound extreme, this ritual was meant to symbolize the groom’s journey into manhood. He encountered death and emerged a man, prepared for this next step.
Often, the groom’s family would perform an animal sacrifice to Thor, usually in the form of a goat. This sacrifice was meant to bring blessings to the new couple and their marriage. Onlookers would sprinkle this goat’s blood onto the couple as a symbol of good fortune.
Preparations for the Bride
Before the ceremony, the bride’s female family members would help her bathe to wash away her maidenhood. This tradition was almost a rite of passage, symbolizing that the young woman was ready to move from maidenhood into the next phase of her life.
But they wouldn’t just bathe the bride. These female friends and family members would also offer advice on how to have a happy and successful marriage. This is a great example of how the village came together for wedding celebrations!
The bride would also lose any old clothing or accessories since many were seen as unmarried status symbols. Typically, the bride would save those accessories and give them to her daughter later in life. It was not unusual for their accessories to become cherished family heirlooms over time.
What Were Viking Wedding Ceremonies Like?
While there is much speculation about what Viking wedding ceremonies entailed, we know that the ceremony consisted of both a ring exchange and a sword exchange. The ring exchange was similar to the one that we know today.
During the ceremony, the bride presented the groom with an ancestral sword and the groom did the same. The bride’s sword symbolized the coming together of their two families. The groom’s ancestral sword symbolized the same thing, but it also served as a new family heirloom that would be passed down to one of their sons.
What Did Vikings Wear to Their Wedding Ceremony?
While clothes are considered one of the most important parts of modern-day wedding ceremonies, Vikings were less concerned about clothing and more concerned with hair and headwear. Red was a very popular color at the time, so brides would commonly wear red dresses. However, blue, green and yellow were also popular colors.
Most unmarried Viking women would wear a kransen, an accessory worn like a band around the head. However, for the wedding ceremony, the bride would instead wear a bridal crown. Most of the time, the crown was a treasured family heirloom.
Often, the bride’s friends and female family members would braid wood, straw, flowers and crystals into the bride’s crown and hair. The Vikings believed that beautiful, long, ornate hair for the bride would bring good fortune to the marriage.
The bride’s kransen would be saved to give to a future daughter. These symbols of change and transformation for brides are not uncommon in modern-day wedding ceremonies either.
Viking wedding ceremonies were often officiated by a pagan priest or priestess, commonly known as a Gothi. The bride and groom’s families trusted this individual and they were responsible for the wedding and many of the ceremonial traditions.
The Gothi would often perform several calls on a hunting horn to mark the start of the ceremony. This tradition signaled the start of the wedding ceremony while also honoring the Viking’s warrior culture and heritage.
Viking Wedding Decorations
The Vikings revered nature, so they often didn’t put up ornate decorations to mark the occasion. They believed that having an outdoor wedding ceremony would invite the blessings of the Norse gods and goddesses and they didn’t want to sully any of that by messing with the way everything looked.
A Viking wedding ceremony might be in a wildflower meadow, on a cliff, by a lake or in a simple backyard. They believed nature was magical and mystical, so they always held their most precious ceremonies outside.
Thought to have started with the ancient Celts, handfasting ceremonies were popular for Viking weddings and are still performed today in some modern European wedding ceremonies.
During a handfasting ceremony, the bride and groom’s hands are tied together with a cord or cloth. In modern ceremonies, sometimes a scarf is used. Handfasting was important to the Vikings because it symbolized that both the bride and the groom entered the union by choice, not by force or pressure.
After a Viking wedding ceremony, all guests would head to the reception for food and drinks. In some cases, the bride and groom would opt for bride running. Traditionally, bride running required the bride and groom’s families to race straight from the ceremony to the mead hall.
Whichever family got there last would serve the winning family mead for the rest of the reception. While this could be a fun tradition to incorporate into a modern wedding, make sure your families know about it beforehand!
What Food and Drink Were Served at Viking Weddings?
Vikings are famous for feasting, especially when marking special occasions. While not much is known about what Vikings ate during their feasts, we know that the families often chose the food they served.
Most of the time, these meals included meat and fish. Seafood makes sense, considering that the Vikings were seafaring and renowned for their sailing abilities. Even if the food was scarce, the village would all band together to celebrate a marriage union.
We also know that mead played a huge role after the wedding ceremony. In fact, the bride and the groom were legally required to get drunk and both would drink from the same cup. This tradition is known as the “loving cup,” and it symbolizes the union of the bride and groom.
Since the wedding celebration usually lasted for at least a week, it was crucial to account for the weather and ensure that there would be enough food for the festivities.
As we already mentioned, Viking wedding ceremonies were always held on Fridays to honor the Norse goddess, Freya. But she wasn’t the only deity involved in Viking wedding traditions.
Thor was also a huge part of Viking wedding ceremonies. It was customary for the bride to ask Thor to bless the wedding and for her to have a hammer on her lap. The hammer represented Thor’s Hammer, Mjolnir and having it on the bride’s lap during the ceremony was said to make stronger children.
To appeal to the Norse gods and goddesses, Viking wedding ceremonies often involved various animal sacrifices, which were not uncommon during that time. They would sacrifice a goat for Thor, an adult female pig for Freya and a horse or boar for Freyr.
Freya was the goddess of love, fertility, battle and death, while Freyr was the god of peace, fertility, rain and sunshine. The Vikings believed that making these sacrifices would bring blessings to the marriage.
However, it was not the responsibility of the bride and the groom to perform these sacrifices. Typically, it would be the Gothi, the person responsible for the wedding. Since wedding celebrations were such a large and important event, it wasn’t uncommon for village members to be involved.
Incorporating Viking Traditions into a Modern Wedding Ceremony
Many people are fascinated by Viking culture. Whether you have always been drawn to the customs or have Scandinavian blood, you may want to incorporate some Viking customs into your wedding ceremony. And while several traditions aren’t done anymore, there are still ways to bring some Norse magic to your special day.
In many western cultures, it’s common for the bride to wear a veil to her wedding, which her father or husband lifts as a symbol of her transition into womanhood. However, in Viking traditions, all brides would wear a beautiful, ornate crown that symbolized her maturation.
Instead of a veil, consider wearing a traditional bridal crown that you can save and pass down to your daughter. If you want to be authentic, you should also consider weaving straw, wood and flowers into your hair. To the Vikings, hair was much more important than clothing and was highly symbolic.
Bridal Crown available on JJ’s House for $32
Viking wedding ceremonies included the bride and groom exchanging both rings and swords. The swords were often passed down through families and the exchange symbolized the new union between the bride and groom.
However, if you’d like to honor this tradition at your own wedding with a modern twist, consider exchanging precious family heirlooms. It’s a great way to incorporate the same symbolism into your ceremony without worrying that someone might get hurt.
Traditionally, bride running was a Viking wedding custom in which the bride and groom’s families would race to the reception hall. The losing family would have to serve the winning family food and drink for the rest of the evening.
While many of your family members will likely not be ready or willing to run on your special day, consider incorporating another less-tiring competition. Perhaps do a slower three-legged race or play a quick game of Kubb, a traditional Viking yard game.
Another great way to incorporate Viking traditions into your wedding ceremony is to honor the tradition of Norse mythology and symbolism. During the wedding ceremony, it was common for the bride to hold a hammer on her lap. This represented Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir and was thought to bring good fortune to the new couple.
Instead of holding a full-sized hammer, consider having the bride wear a Mjolnir necklace or bracelet. It’s a great way to honor the tradition without having to sit down with a distracting hammer on your lap during the ceremony!
Mjolnir necklace available for $42 on Forged in Valhalla
One of the best ways to honor Viking customs at your wedding is to have similar food and drink — and lots of it. While we aren’t entirely sure what Vikings would serve at wedding ceremonies, we know that it was mostly bread, porridge, pork and fish.
They would also serve berries and nuts that were in season. For your special day, consider serving lots of bread, pork and fish, with lots of in-season fruits and nuts — apples, raspberries, plums, hazelnuts and walnuts.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Viking wedding without mead. Unlike beer, mead is made with honey and water. Serving it was a legal requirement at Viking weddings.
Despite beliefs about their brutality, the Vikings were real people with intricate, elaborate traditions and customs, especially regarding their wedding ceremonies. If you consider incorporating some of these traditions into your modern-day ceremony, you’re sure to have a truly unforgettable day.
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As a multi-passionate creative and a self-proclaimed frequent flyer of weddings, Kiara combines her love for the wedding industry and experience as a professional wedding photographer with her writing abilities to share tips, tricks, and helpful information with couples. She is the owner of Switech Studios a popular wedding photography business. With tons of insider information from behind her camera lens on how to have the best wedding possible, Kiara’s in-depth knowledge is sure to put you on the road to wedding planning success.