Here we are again, it’s that time of year when chocolate hearts rule the world and florists try to convince men that their love is better expressed by the dozen. Of course it’s a good time for marriage proposals as well. “And he did it on Valentine’s day!” will be said over and over by the soon-to-be-bride who flaunts her ring to anyone who will listen.
Love, however, didn’t always keep company with chocolate hearts and overpriced roses. In fact, for a long time love seemed more comfortable with a military regiment than cupid and his bow. Take a look at these examples of courtship in the early 19th century and see what you think.
Once upon a time in Norway a man would have a “try before you buy” option. Once he had decided on a bride, he would take her back to the family farm where she would help the women with the household chores for a year or so. If she seemed like a hard worker and was able to make nice with everyone, then they would proceed with the marriage. If the couple lived by the fjords, the procession might happen on the water. At least she didn’t have to worry about tripping down the aisle.
In Russia courting might be done at the yearly Easter week marriage fair. The women would fancy themselves up and the men would come round for a look-see. The more well-to-do men were given the honors of first pick. When he found a girl he liked he would ask her for her parents address. If the maid thought he would be a good pick, she would give it. Otherwise she probably did what modern women do when they go to a bar, make it up.
Other parts of Russia held their engagements on Christmas Eve. All the marriageable girls would sit in a room covered in veils. One by one the men would be let in and allowed to bow before one of the veiled ladies. The mistress of the house would then lift the covering, and the couple were officially engaged. Of course, the man knew who would be under the veil, and if he got it wrong, well he might not make it out alive.
Back when Austria-Hungary was a thing a bride would actually be sold. After all, the girl’s parents were losing one of their household helpers, why shouldn’t there be compensation? The matter was left in the hands of a man known as a broker. Once a price was fixed the bridegroom and his family would come up with a fake excuse to visit the girl’s house. The lovestruck young man would then ask the lady for her hand, knowing full well she was going to say yes. In some places the man would bring the woman not flowers, but a cow. On the day of the wedding the cow would be decorated, making the prettiest bridesmaid you’ve ever seen.
In the Zermatt Valley of Switzerland, girls were married off in more of a silent auction. If a girl’s parents were impressed with her suitor and willing to make the match, he was quietly offered a piece of the family’s cheese. In other parts of Switzerland the man put a log outside his beloved’s door. If she accepted him, she took the log inside. Another option was to offer the woman a glass of wine, from which she would drink if she was willing to become his wife. However if they somehow spilled the wine, or broke the glass it would be a terrible omen. Spilling of the wine was such a big deal that if a couple were unhappy, people would say they “spilt the wine between them.”
Not everything was without romance, take Karelia, Finland, for instance. Every village there would have a festival day similar to the ones in Russia. If a lady got the attention of one of the men, he would later pay a visit to her house with some of his relatives. It wasn’t flowers the fella came waltzing into town with however, it was guns. The shooting would start once they were close enough to announce their presence, then again when they were near the lucky girl’s house.
Once the families were together, the bargaining began. When dad decided the deal was good, he would go and light a candle by the family’s icon. If the girl thought the guy was the one handsome hunk, she would keep the candle lit. However, if he reminded her of Uncle Elmer whose voice was like a foghorn and had hair growing out his ears, she blew it out. Nice try, but bye-bye.
So there you have it! Five very unique ways in which girls in the early 1900’s might have gotten engaged. With choices like being auctioned off or working free and think we can agree that some things about the good old days weren’t quite that good. Chocolate hearts and overpriced roses will suit me just fine.
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