Apr 14

Wife Carrying

Sonkajärvi, Finland

Most cultures recognize and celebrate the importance of marriage in a number of largely similar practices.  The long-standing customs of celebrating anniversaries and holidays designated for doting on spouses are traditions shared by many nations.  However, an extremely unique way for married couples to celebrate their unions was created by the Finns as recently as 1992.  It combines wedlock with a healthy dose of competition and plenty of beer.

Wife carrying (eukonkanto in Finnish) is strictly a couples’ sport.  Partners traverse a series of three obstacles over a 253.5 meter course; the distance seems to have been arbitrarily chosen.  Two of the obstacles are dry (often log barriers, bales of hay, or fences) while the third is wet (and consists of meter-deep water).  The track itself, originally composed of rock and now (for the purpose of safety) made of sand, further increases the difficulty of traversing the course.


The annual competition and many of its rules are certainly bizarre, perhaps a reflection of their largely undefined origins.  There are several theories about what inspired the first wife carrying competition; the most popular involves an infamous thief of the nineteenth century.  Herkko Rosvo-Ronkainen and his fellow bandits lived in the forests of Finland, emerging from the trees and raiding villages for supplies and, according to legend, wives.  This may be why competition rules do not require that male competitors carry their own wives; it is permissible to compete with a neighbor’s wife or one “[found] further afield” if desired.

While the sport appears most demanding of the men carrying their wives, it is equally difficult for female competitors.  A wife can be carried in any fashion, which has led to some unique approaches.  The most notable is the Estonian carry, named for the nationality of the competitors who first successfully employed it.  It requires the wife to hang upside down from her partner’s shoulders, a position that takes as much strength and endurance as the carriers’ task.  Furthermore, being carried over obstacles does not always go smoothly; competition rules require that wives wear helmets because of the frequency of drops and falls.


Two teams run the course at a time, making each heat of the competition more competitive in nature.  Couples are truly racing against the clock however, with the winning team determined simply by the time taken to complete the course.  Dropping one’s wife incurs a fifteen second penalty, a rule created to ensure that technique remains an important element of competing.  The Finland competition typically draws thirty to forty entrant couples each year, with many spectators drawn by the prospect of entertainment and abundance of beer.

The brewed beverage is a staple of the Wife Carrying competition, perhaps a toast to the drink of choice of the thieves who inspired its creation.  First prize, awarded to the fastest couple, is the wife’s weight in beer.  This makes competing an even more challenging balancing act for the wives (forgive the pun); they must be light to gain speed but as heavy as possible if they want to maximize the benefit of a victory.  Regardless of the outcome, however, all in attendance find good times and beer readily available.


Oct 13

die Wies’n

Munich, Germany

A festival first held in 1810 and known as die Wies’n among Germans (in reference to the fairgrounds that host the sixteen-day event), Oktoberfest is an annual celebration of Bavarian culture (Bavaria is one of sixteen German states; Munich is its capital).  Originally a gathering of Munich’s citizens, Oktoberfest has gained international notoriety for its unique, traditional dress and famous beers.

Oktoberfest began as a celebration of the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, who were married on the twelfth of October in 1810.  The future king and his bride invited the people of Munich to take part in the wedding festivities, which were held on grounds named Therese’s Meadow (Theresienwiese).  Initially, the festival was meant to be held only once.  However, horse races that marked the end of the celebration were so popular that it was brought back the following year.  Oktoberfest became an annual tradition, and Germans came to call it by a shortened version of the name first given to the fairgrounds.

Oktoberfest has undergone several changes since its inception.  It now starts during September and proceeds until the first Sunday of October, allowing participants to enjoy better weather and a longer festival.  While the horse races that began the tradition were held until 1960, they have since ceased.  During its early decades, both an agricultural show and a parade were added to the festival.  The former is still held every four years, and the latter, a tradition honoring the marriage that led to the first celebration, became a permanent feature of Oktoberfest in 1850.

The Oktoberfest parade - with all participants decked out in traditional costume - takes to the streets of Germany


Music and dancing have become popular elements of the festival, with numerous bands playing throughout the fairgrounds each year.  Food and drink are also vital components of Oktoberfest.  Bavarian dishes include numerous variations of sausage, cheeses, and sauerkraut.  With up to seven million liters of beer (equivalent to almost twenty million 12-ounce beers, for comparison) served annually, die Wies’n is likely best known for its brewed beverages.  Since Oktoberfest became an official event in its early years, the production of beer for the festival has been well-regulated.  Following centuries-old purity standards, the ingredients for all die Wies’n beers must meet strict requirements, and the final product must be at least six percent alcohol by volume.  Furthermore, beer for the festival must be brewed in the city of Munich.  As a result, only six breweries meet all of the requirements to produce Oktoberfest beer.



As Oktoberfest is a celebration of Bavarian history, many who attend choose to dress in traditional styles.  Men don leather shorts with suspenders, called lederhosen (leather breeches), while women wear the dirndl, a traditional dress.  Both of these styles were typical of peasants and members of the working class throughout Bavaria when die Wies’n was first held.  The clothing serves as a way to preserve the Bavarian customs that are entwined in Oktoberfest and remember its origins.

Die Wies’n has grown over more than two hundred years to become the world’s largest fair.  Enjoyed by visitors from around the globe, it is a unique celebration that encompasses both the past and present of Bavarian culture.  Oktoberfest plays a key role in not only the preservation of tradition, but also in its ongoing development.

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