Funeral Sweetmeats in Finland: c. 1870s

Two Finnish funeral sweets or hautajaiskaramellin. Finnish National Museum

Abo rivals Helsingfors in this particular, and the famous Fazers of Helsingfors could not have had a more lavish display of tempting goods than I saw at Wiberg’s. The original shop I remember well. It belonged to the old Abo that is so rapidly disappearing. It was a one-storied wooden house, with the shop window set so high that the tallest man could not obtain a glimpse of the goods displayed in it. A flight of steps led the prospective customer to the shop, which was a modest room of small dimensions, with a counter at the further end on which were set out cakes and sweetmeats of a quality to which, with all the plate-glass windows and parquet floors of to-day, the present shopkeeper has not been quite able to attain.

The old shop belonged to Widow Wiberg, and she and her shop were as well known as the cathedral by the inhabitants of Abo. She was the quaintest, dearest old lady it is possible to imagine, and welcomed every customer with a delightful curtsey. I remember as a youngster she never failed to add one sweet overweight, and always offered me a sweetmeat from one of her piled-up dishes. To refuse the old lady would have offended her beyond reparation. This was not a special favour towards myself, but equally bestowed on all her customers.

After her death the old shop was pulled down and the present one built in its place. The passing of Widow Wiberg’s shop was missed by many. The old-world sweetmeats for weddings and funerals that  were such a feature of her establishment are still manufactured by her successor. The funeral sweetmeats give me a shudder. Somehow the idea of eating a sweetmeat wrapped up in black crepe and tied with black ribbon never appealed to me. But tastes differ, and there was never a funeral of any distinction in Abo or neighbourhood that did not have a goodly supply of Widow Wiberg’s sombre sweetmeats; a curious custom that is still de rigueur.

Another custom that has only recently died out, and perhaps still exists in some parts of the country for all I know, was to hand to each mourner on leaving the house of the dead, a goodly-sized loaf of rich currant bread, shaped in the form of a wreath. They were called funeral loaves, and sometimes the quantity required was so great, if it happened to be a town funeral, that they were sent from the bakeries in big farm waggons, borrowed for the occasion.

This habit of distributing good things at funerals was keenly appreciated in the nurseries of a bygone generation of children, and I remember being told by Baron Max Aminoff, the former chief of police in Abo, that the excitement of his early days was scanning the newspapers to see if any funerals of importance might be in store for lucky children who possessed a papa who could bring them back pockets filled with divers delicacies they would never obtain in the ordinary course of events.

A Summer Tour in Finland “Paul Waineman” London, Methuen & Co, 1908: p. 273-74

Compare with Swedish begravingskaramell in this Nourishing Death blog article.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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