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Old Norwegian traditions

Christian funeral traditions have changed greatly in the course of only a few generations.

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Burial formerly had strong ties to customs that went back many hundred years. Let's look at a few examples from Østfold.

"Likferd" (the journey of the corpse) was the usual word for burial in Østfold. The body of the deceased went on its last journey together with friends and relations - from home to the church or the churchyard.

Before the dead person left the house, he was to be "laid out" somewhere where friends and family would say farewell. In 1955, a person from Rakkestad wrote that:

"When one of the people from the house died, a couple of women from the neighborhood were called in, and a makeshift table was made with two sawhorses. A bedding was made with straw or feathers. A psalm book was placed on the breast of the corpse. Then it was covered with a sheet. Then it was carried out to the barn, or another appropriate room in one of the outbuildings. Some let it stay in the wash house, where it might have been washed"

In connection with likferd, there was most often held "fønnekveld", where neighbors were invited for food and drink. When Kristian Andersen Sikkeland died at Slettevold, Varteig, in 1923, dinner was served for 200 guests. The menu consisted of fish pudding with shrimp sauce, roast, red wine and dessert.

The dead person was to be "sung out" of the house:

"First a psalm was sung, then a believer held a short speech. Afterwards, another psalm was sung. Many people used this occasion to see the face of the corpse for the last time. Then the top of the casket was put on, and either nailed or screwed shut. The carpenter who had made the casket normally did this. Finally, the wreaths were laid out - maybe accompanied by some words from the giver. Some wreaths were fastened to the top of the casket with nails, so that they wouldn't fall off during transport. But family members took those that there wasn't space for on the casket to the church. But actually, it wasn't as usual to have wreaths in the old days as it is now".

– from Amundsen "Alle like, både fattig og rike? : død og begravelse i Østfold-tradisjonen". 1990:26

Flowers weren't common. The most common way of showing respect during the funeral was to spread fir branches along the route. If it was a young person that had died, the tops of firtrees were broken to symbolize a broken life. An archway was often made of fir branches and plant-chains with the first letters of the dead persons name on it.

Until the twentieth century, it was normal for the dead to lay buried with their head toward the west and their face towards the east, so that it would be possible to see the sunrise and resurrection on the day of judgement. For quite a long time, little weight was placed on this tradition, but today, east-west burial is in the process of coming back.

Published Mar. 24, 2020 12:13 PM - Last modified Dec. 14, 2020 9:01 AM