Should we marry in Ireland or Finland, my home country or his?

‘I always imagined that my big day would at least be somewhere in Leinster’

Everyone keeps saying that once we figure out the venue and the date, everything else will fall into place. They’re probably right, and no doubt it’ll be one of the most exciting decisions of our lives, but trying to get over that first hurdle has brought with it a whole heap of emotions that we hadn’t banked on.

He's from a small Swedish-speaking town in Finland, a town with colourful wooden houses and a sense of community that's rare to find these days. The town hall and local library are buildings that wouldn't look out of place in a Sylvanian Families playset, it's idyllic and very much a place I feel at peace.

I come from Ashbourne in Co Meath, the kind of place where political matters might occasionally give rise to the term “blow-ins”, but when it comes down to it, the community always bands together - regardless of where anyone is from. Like many of the “blow-ins”, Ashbourne was where my parents had their wedding reception, before settling there permanently a short time later. With no particular affinity to my local church, Ashbourne was most likely never going to be “the” location for my own wedding. But I always imagined that my big day would at least be somewhere in Leinster - a manor house perhaps? There’s no shortage of venues in the area to choose from.

We got engaged on a beach in Thailand last November, a trip that we'd used to break up the long Finnish winter. We've been based in Finland for the last number of years, but after Thailand, we chose to spend our first Christmas together as an engaged couple in Ireland.

Sense of dread

As soon as the congratulations from friends and relatives started to roll in, the question of “have you set a date yet?” followed swiftly behind. The sense of dread that accompanied that seemingly simple question served as a stark reminder that after that initial “yes” had been uttered on that picturesque beach in Thailand, the decisions to follow weren’t going to be as easily made.

For us, settling on a date isn’t the difficult part. We’re planning a small enough affair so “if the right venue comes up, we’ll go with that” has become our go-to line over the last few months. Summer wedding? Winter wedding? Questions that tend to answer themselves once you’ve chosen your venue are hardly on our radar at the moment. As a couple from two different countries, there’s one big question that has been stopping us from taking that first step towards our dream day and ultimately, it’s been the question of - where?

While not getting married in our home countries isn’t an awful thought for either of us, it does come with consequences in terms of who out of our family and friends might be able to travel and who might not. In choosing one country over the other, are you choosing one set of family and friends over the other? Already being based away from one of our homes, these feelings aren’t new to us - but it is an entirely unexpected set of emotions to be associating with what’s meant to be the best day of our lives.

After a few early discussions involving pros, cons and who might be able to make it and who might not, it became more and more clear to us that a “traditional” wedding (in the eyes of either of our cultures) just wasn’t going to work. One big day, in one place, with certain people missing wouldn’t make either of us happy and forcing it to would only feel like the most unnatural thing in world.

While we’re definitely not planning on having two completely separate weddings, the idea of celebrating us rather than the day a legal document is signed has made it easier for us to break down exactly what it is that we want and how to do it. If it ends up being a small party in Finland and an intimate meal in Ireland or vice versa, it’ll be two very special days of celebrating with everybody dear to us. At the end of the day, that’s all we could ever want. As an added bonus, what bride wouldn’t be thrilled about having two separate occasions to wear her dress to?

Avoiding rabbit holes

Wedding celebrations can be whatever you want them to be, and thankfully, this is something that has become clear to us sooner rather than later. While other bride-to-bes can be found joining multiple Facebook groups to ask questions like “if I have less bridesmaids than my fiancé has groomsmen, will it look ridiculous at the altar?” or, “should we hire a balloon artist to entertain the four children attending our wedding?” - myself and Patrick are very much keeping our plans firmly in our own lane.

We’d like to think that neither of us would ever worry about these types of things anyway, but seeing how flustered other couples become once they fall into the trap of planning their day to suit other people, has made us determined to avoid that particular rabbit hole. Finnish and Irish weddings differ in more than a few ways, so we’re lucky in that our celebrations were always going to have an “alternative” feel for a portion of people anyway.

In the age of social media and influencer culture, it’s easy to become enamoured by the “Pinterest perfection” that is “Frog Prince” weddings. Most brides have envisioned their dream day for a lot longer than this culture existed, and yet, as if overnight, the bar of “perfection” for these brides has been raised far beyond its original post. As a couple from two different countries though, the way in which your two cultures merge can be an organic and somewhat unpredictable process, meaning that no real set of expectations exist for you at all.

The only thing that’s set in stone is the fact that you’ve chosen to spend the rest of your lives together, and that’s something that can be celebrated in whatever manner you choose. While this should be the case for every engaged couple planning a wedding, it definitely feels easier to deviate from “the norm” and completely ignore what others are doing when there’s no real precedent to follow.

For now though, we’re just going to enjoy our time as an engaged couple, attending the fairs and visiting the venues. The heavy decisions can always wait for another while. As we keep telling everyone though, “if the right venue comes up, we’ll go with that”.

Tell us: How do wedding traditions differ around the world?