Autumn Holidays are upon us – and ritual will abound

We are coming to the really big season of holidays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah. I want to talk about the autumn holidays today and I’ll get to the winter holidays another time.

Starting with Halloween, also known as All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve. The name itself comes from the All Saints Day celebration of the early Christian church, a day set aside for the solemn remembrance of martyrs. All Hallows Eve takes place on the evening before All Saints Day, beginning this time of remembrance. 

But Halloween’s origins go back even further – to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in). The Celtic people, who lived 2,000 years ago in the area that is now Ireland, the United Kingdom and northern France, celebrated their new year on November 1st. They were not Christians (yet). This day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter, a time of year that was often associated with death. Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred, and on this day the dead (ghosts) returned to earth. 

Obviously we have strayed quite far from those origins but trick-or-treating and wearing costumes goes back pretty far as well. By medieval times people masked and paraded in the streets and entered houses to dance or play dice on this date.

Halloween didn’t become an American holiday until the immigrants from the British Isles brought it here in the late nineteenth century.  The Halloween we know, while so different from its origins, still connects on many levels. After all, a ghost costume today is always good!  For young people the whole fright aspect that is so voraciously promoted can be about facing fears, a part of growing up… along with some good neighborly fun.

Graves are decorated for Day of the Dead

Another tradition, perhaps less well-known to some of us, is the Day (or Days) of the Dead, Dia de los Muertos, celebrated throughout Mexico, and by people of Mexican ancestry especially in the American Southwest. The Day of the Dead focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember loved ones who have died and help support their spiritual journey. The intriguing part for most of us not within that community is the celebrations that take place right on the graves of the departed. The iconic imagery that goes along with the celebration, which takes place from October 31 to November 2, is greatly loved and imitated.  While it might seem like Halloween in some ways – it is not. 

Traditional Day of the Dead rituals include creating altars to honor the dead, laying out food offerings, sharing anecdotes and stories (many are humorous that poke fun of the deceased) as well as cleaning and, most interesting, decorating and sharing a meal at gravesites. The key purpose of these activities is to make contact with the spirits of the dead, to let them know they are not forgotten. 

Fall theme for Day of the Dead graves

Then comes Thanksgiving, which is celebrated to honor the Pilgrims’ first feast. They were, I presume, giving thanks for simply surviving. The story is that the feast was held with the Indigenous people who were, perhaps naively, hospitable to the newly arrived Europeans. 

Like the Day of the Dead, sharing a Thanksgiving meal is a tradition that makes us feel a part of the generations that preceded us. Putting aside the historic misconceptions that have been promoted for many reasons – the re-writing of history and commercialism – the holiday still has much to offer. Thanksgiving is now a time for expressing gratitude about health, family and personal circumstances, and research tells us that when we engage in talking about our gratitude, it brings us a deeper sense of well-being. 

The Chef brings the food to the table!
Rhinehart Photography

All of these celebrations have all the important ingredients of ritual – a prescribed time and place; predictable elements that are repeated year after year, and meaning is conveyed through symbols and intergenerational gatherings like the ones we remember from our childhood. 

If we do our part, over our lifetime, we pass these shared rituals along to the next generation.  Day of the Dead and Thanksgiving intentionally remember those who have died by celebrating their lives and telling stories of how they contributed to our shared values, traditions and family lore. And both provide an opportunity to feel connected to something bigger that extends beyond the ritual, by connecting us with a deeper sense of gratitude for life. Halloween doesn’t hold that depth of meaning, but it still connects us in other ways.

Whatever holiday rituals you might practice in the coming months, I hope you enjoy them, remembering our past, and that our time on this planet is short, so we should make the most of it.



find me on facebook – Lois Heckman, Celebrant, and Instagram – Lois Heckman
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A Wedding Etiquette Update

I last wrote about wedding etiquette in 2007 – yes, I’ve been writing this column that long, and reading that old piece showed me how much things have changed since then. So today I’m going to update you with some ideas about what is appropriate and some things to consider.

I still believe that, while in our fast paced, modern world, etiquette might seem antiquate –  but good manners and knowing appropriate protocols never goes out of style. Understanding what to do, especially in unfamiliar situations, helps us all enjoy ourselves. When we are confident we avoid embarrassment.

For weddings, we definitely want to know what’s expected. Historically, the couple and their respective families used to have very specific roles to play. Today it is perfectly ok to stray from those, more so than ever.

A great toast is always appropriate.
Rhinehart Photography

Quick story: recently at a very nice, upscale wedding venue, as we were about to walk down the aisle, a car pulled up and two elderly people got out. They were dressed extremely casually, looked around and saw everyone dressed up, and became embarrassed and attempted to leave. Their friends and relatives tried to put them at ease and insisted they stay. They did attend the ceremony but slipped out before the reception. The moral to this story is make it very clear on your invitation the style of dress you are expecting. Don’t think you are being snobby doing this, you are actually doing your guests a favor.

An important topic is always money, who pays for what. Couples today often pay for their own weddings, when it used to be the bride’s family’s responsibility. It is wise to do what is financially prudent for all involved. You can find lists breaking down those responsibilities  – who pays for what (bride’s side/groom’s side) – but thanks in part to same-sex couples, those rules can be completely tossed aside if you so choose. Much of what you find regarding etiquette is strongly tied to gender roles, which I find a bit ridiculous.

Here are few other topics to consider.

The plus-one. This is pretty simple. If a couple has been together for a while, of course they are both invited. And yes, a single person may bring a date, but a single person should not feel obligated to do so. Make it clear on the invitation that a guest is welcome but certainly not required.

Please respect the RSVP. I continually hear that people are not responding to the invitation. You are making it very hard on the couple. They need to know how much food to order along with other key decisions.

Show up on time. Don’t be that person rushing into the ceremony at the last second or standing in the back because you were late. And don’t leave before the couple cuts the cake.

Don’t leave before they cut the cake!
Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for your gorgeous photos!

Social Media – do not take photos at the ceremony, unless you are asked to do so. And do not post your photos of someone else’s wedding on social media without their permission, especially before they post their own photos or the professional photos. It’s ok to post photos of yourselves at the wedding, however, because obviously you look fabulous!

One old but still important rule of etiquette involves the thank you note. I’m the first to go to my email whenever possible, but for a wedding gift you really should write a personal thank you, and in a timely fashion! Not a printed note. Handwritten. Include in it:  thanking the person for attending (if they did), mention the gift specifically, possibly how you will use or enjoy the gift, and reference any other specifics, such as a toast, or tidbit from the wedding. Three weeks post celebration is the perfect timing, but even six to eight weeks is still within reason. Please do not mess this one up – of all the etiquette rules to be broken, this is not one of them.


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Clichés – for better or for worse

We are all familiar with clichés – defined as an overused expression that, while making a point, often gets so stale as to lose its power. One I like is ‘ignorance is bliss,’ which seems to resonate more and more for me today. I really don’t like the message of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ I believe it can make you damaged too. I know people say it with the best intention, but I find it somewhat thoughtless – but hey, ignorance is bliss. How about ‘love is blind?’ – well that certainly can be true.

I’m getting to the wedding connection in a minute, because there are two clichés that I find myself over-using.  

Many of us have found ourselves in a situation where we are unfamiliar with the customs or rituals. At a wedding ceremony if the culture, language or religion is outside of our experience, it can be awkward. Am I supposed to kneel now? Sing? Respond? What do those words mean?

Garth Woods photo

One of my goals in creating ceremonies, is to be sure everyone is comfortable and completely understands what is going on. 

So when the topic of a wedding rehearsal arises, I find myself saying: ‘It’s not rocket science.’  Couples working with me may not need a rehearsal for a number of reasons.  When I write a ceremony, I write all the cues into the script; they are indicated there to show the couple what will happen, but I also actually say them. For example: ‘Please face each other and join hands.’ Furthermore, if you are getting married at a resort with a coordinator there, she or he will be conducting that rehearsal. That’s part of their job.  There are a few good reasons to have a rehearsal such as making it a time for families to meet one another ahead of the big day. Or if just walking through the space helps calm the nerves, that’s reason enough. So yeah, it’s NOT rocket science, it’s not really complicated, but it can still be a good idea. 

An important topic for any couple tying the knot is their wedding vows. There is often confusion about this as well.  Is the ‘I do’ the vow? It isn’t, in my opinion, but it can suffice. Saying a vow, making a promise, is central to your marriage ritual. This is where I go to another tired cliché, ‘You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.’ By this I mean that while most of the ceremony will be very unique and personalized, don’t feel obligated to write a vow like no other. This is the time when you are making a promise to your partner, and very important promise. But – it’s not your life story. Many great vows have already been written (the wheel created for you) and it is perfectly ok to use them. I provide my clients will lots of samples, but it’s certainly easy enough to find vows anywhere.

Vows are never a cliché
Photo: Garth Woods

The classic form is something like: I, ___, take you, ___, to be my husband/wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.

Which begs the question: is that a cliché? And my response is NO – because it is not a shortcut, it is not trite, and it is not lacking in depth. It has not lost its power. And neither has a wedding – it is a time-honored tradition signifying an important milestone in life. Love is never out of style.

As a celebrant, and a supposedly creative type, I am always striving to come up with a ceremony that truly reflects the couples’ personalities and style, and here I am resorting to these formulaic expressions. In my defense, it is a convenient short-cut. There’s a lot to explore with a celebrant style wedding, and I’m so into it, I can take a while explaining all the options. But better safe than sorry, I’m bringing it all to the table, and while it might be an uphill battle, if you play your cards righthang in thereeverything’s gonna turn out just fine! No problem. Absolutely.


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Why Elope?

Making the Case for Getting Married on Your Own Terms

Over the years I have officiated many elopements. And I return to this subject often because it is so important. There are so many reasons a couple choses to elope and let me review a few of them.

First I want to remind us that elopement used to mean sneaking away to get married without the parents knowing. It was secretive and hurried. It didn’t have the best connotation. But not so today! 

A couple elopes at Harmony Gardens
Photo: Garth Woods

One frequent and good reason to elope is to avoid conflict. Family can be complicated. I recall one couple who had planned a nice backyard wedding at their home for their families and friends. It was a second marriage for both, and each one had several children. One day I received a call from them, asking if they could just come to my garden, just the two of them, and get married. Of course, you know I did just that. The drama had just become too much! Later, they told me, they would have some sort of party to celebrate – but eliminating the wedding formalities – the ‘who would stand where,’ the ‘who would have the rings’ and ‘who would walk with whom,’ and so much more… it was a relief to let all that go. Sometimes adding ‘wedding’ to ‘party’ makes people go crazy. Elopement does alleviate a lot of stress.

Another important reason to elope is the expense. If you cannot afford a lavish wedding you probably shouldn’t have one. Starting a marriage in debt isn’t the best idea. Or maybe you can afford it, but you choose to use that money for something else – like the honeymoon trip of a lifetime, or a down payment on a home.

An elopement can be a romantic adventure and honeymoon rolled into one. I have friends who eloped in Mexico and had a blast. 

Another private elopement at my garden.
Photo: Garth Woods

I have my own little ceremony garden (Harmony Gardens) here in the Poconos, and lots of couples come to elope here. I provide them with ideas for places to stay and things to do, and they can create a mini-get-away. I’ve also had couples who just wanted to keep it really simple, and I officiate a lovely little low-key ceremony, sign the marriage license, and off they go! Nothing fancy, but still meaningful. That’s the beauty of it – doing it on your own terms. 

When you elope, you also get to do so in your own style. Some women choose to wear a wedding gown, but others do not. You can be as casual or formal as you wish. There is no reason why you can’t have all the glamour: the dress, the flowers, the rings – just without the guests! Some of the couples I’ve married stay at one of the several beautiful local resorts – places where other couples have large weddings. Instead, the ‘elopers’ enjoy the same amenities, from the hot-tubs and spa treatments, to gorgeous rooms and lovely meals, just keeping it all for themselves. 

On the other hand, something fun, funky or casual is fine as well. Elope wearing jeans if you want to. Just keeping it simple is another real motivation for elopement, especially if you are more laid-back, or even shy. If you don’t enjoy people making a fuss over you or being the center of attention, a wedding can certainly create anxiety. 

Planned elopements sometimes evolve into small weddings. This is not unusual. I get calls from couples who wonder if it would be ok to have a few people attend after all. You know the answer is yes! Somehow they realize they just don’t feel right depriving their parents or other important people the opportunity to be a part of this important milestone. Or the family finds out.

It’s still an elopement even when you bring your baby along!
Photo: Garth Woods

An example that comes to mind: two brides who, intending to be secretive, let it slip and when their friends found out they were getting married they jokingly threatened to hide in the woods to watch the ceremony, if they couldn’t officially be there. The couple relented and with eight guests, everything turned out great.

I encourage everyone to find the appropriate way to tie-the-knot. It’s your wedding and your marriage and your life. You need not force yourself into something that simply isn’t for you, and eloping could be the right choice for you.


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‘Rockin’ the Boat’

Dance the Night Away – Dance Traditions From Around the World.

I’ve been watching a charming series on Netflix, Derry Girls, which takes place in Derry (Londonderry) Northern Ireland, and is set in the 1990’s. During a scene involving a wedding, the DJ plays the song Rock the Boatand everyone immediately rushes to the dance floor. They all  sit down on the floor (including the bride in her gown) and begin waving their arms around and rocking as if in a boat. Well, this was hysterical.

I have come to learn that is this also a real thing!

Irish viewers were well familiar with this, but the rest of us had no clue. I’ve also come to learn there is another song that everyone participates in, something called Oops Upside Your Head, a funky tune from 1979, by The Gap Band. It seems you get on the floor for this one, too.

This got me thinking about how there are many wedding dance traditions around the world, although no others that I know of require sitting on the floor. I’m not going to review the father-daughter dance or the couple sharing their first dance. I’m talking about when everyone dances! 

Group Dancing – always fun in so many ways.
Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the use of your beautiful photography.

Traditional Jewish wedding dances include the famous Horah, when everyone dances together in circleto the traditional song Hava Nagila. And although I promised not to talk about the couple’s dance, I simply must mention the famous chair dance which happens right in the middle of the group Horah. The crowd lifts up the newlyweds on chairs, and the dancing continues around them. I’m always worried they will drop them.

For an Italian family, you might see everyone dancing the tarantella. The dancers link arms in a circle and basically spin each other around! It is extremely lively and involves a fast tempo and much flirting and teasing.

Up on the chairs!

You may have heard of the Money Dance – which comes from Poland. I was surprised to learn that this only dates back to the early 1990’s.  Guests pay to dance briefly with the bride or groom. The money goes into a purse, or apron pocket, carried precisely for this purpose. A great way to raise money for the Honeymoon.

The Dabke Danceis a folk dance popular in several Arab countries. It’s a line dance and literally means ‘stamping of the feet.’ 

And a lively dance called Bhangra comes from the Punjab region of South-east Asia. Many styles of songs can be played, and people will yell out different phrases such as hoik hoi hoi, balle balle, chak deoroy hoi. This energic dance brings everyone to their feet.

The money is flying for the Money Dance!

If there’s one thing you can always count on at a Greek wedding, it’s dancing. And then, more dancing. “Zorbas” (or, formally, Sirtaki) isn’t a traditional Greek wedding dance song, but it’s one of the most famous Greek pop songs, thanks to its appearance in the 1964 blockbuster movie Zorba the Greek. But there are many, many traditional dances that aredone at weddings, including the Money Dance.

Of course, here in the States there are many group dances – everything from the Chicken Dance to the Macarena, the Electric Slide, even the Hokey Pokey. There is the Cha Cha Slide, Achy Breaky Heart for country fans, and the younger crowd might know The Harlem Shake, or the Wobble.  YMCA still can get the gang up, along with some old school rock like The Twist, Shout and Rocky Horror Show’s Time Warp.

Everybody raise your hands!!

Back to the Irish! Besides the group frenzy of Rock the Boatand Oops, there are the more traditional dances, such as the Ceili,which is best performed with a traditional band. It’s a step-dance style, and there can be a ‘caller’ calling out the steps. There is a very similar thing in Scotland, not surprisingly.

Some of these dances are named after locations in Ireland such as the Walls of Limerick, Haymer’s Jig,  Kerry Set and the Seige of Ennisand even some waltz tunes include names such as Galway Shawlor Take MeHome to Mayo. A lot of couples choose songs to reflect their family’s heritage or ancestral home.

Scottish wedding receptions kick off with the bride and groom dancing a traditional reel. The bride’s second dance is reserved for the person of the highest rank amongst the guests and by the third dance, the newlywed couple are typically joined by all their guests. Next come all those dances like the Ceilidance, only in Scotland they spell it Ceilidh.Sword Danceis usually performed as the last dance and guests then gather in a circle and sing the traditional song Auld Lang Syne.

I can’t wait to talk to my next Irish-American bride or groom and ask if they will have Rock the Boat at their reception!

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You’re doing WHAT for your wedding?

Last week I wrote about the sixties and how that era ushered in more self-expression, which, in turn affected weddings. I often write about doing things a little differently, how your wedding can be uniquely you. But what does the mean exactly? Beyond, say, unique signage or cool guest books, interesting décor… can you imagine a completely different approach? Here are two great examples from couples I worked with, who, while not reinventing the wheel, certainly broke the mold. 

First, while meeting with a couple and discussing the ceremony I would create for them, they shared their vision of what the entire day would look like – exactly how they saw it and planned it.

We all do this, all the time. We fantasize about an upcoming trip or some future event, and its especially enticing to envision one of the most important days in your life – your wedding. But often that vision is based on what we’ve seen, or how we’re told it ‘should’ be. It’s difficult to reimagine something when there are no alternatives to inspire you. It’s a rare person who can think differently.

But this couple had no trouble breaking the rules! They truly were able to prioritize what mattered to them and how that impacted the entire day.

They chose a beautiful hotel with the ceremony to take place on an outdoor deck overlooking a stream (with an appropriate indoor back up plan of course). The small group of family and friends will then go from the ceremony to another gorgeous space – set up with one long table for all. They will be served what they characterized as ‘small plates.’

Lovely little taste. Photo: Rhinehart Photography

Small plates refers to the trend of serving many tasty dishes resembling appetizers. You can taste a variety of food and still not over-eat. It’s a bit like tapas. In fact, I think it is tapas. The food selections would be off the venue’s menu, because they loved it and felt they wanted what the chef does best – the regular dishes made there, rather than a specially prepared meal for the masses. I understand their reasoning, but this is only possible with a small group of guests. If you are having 100 or 200 or more guests your venue has to prepare a limited catered menu.

Neither the couple nor their family wanted to have dancing. It just doesn’t suit them – they’d rather sit around and talk. Older family members or anyone tuckered out will be able to adjourn to their rooms at the hotel, and others might hang out at the hotel  bar. 

They chose not to have music, and they are even skipping flowers. They set a budget and put their money into the high-end menu and venue with limited guests. I was very impressed with their ability to make these choices, and I know it will be fantastic. Personally, I can’t imagine a celebration without music – but that’s me. The whole point is they knew what theywanted.

On the other end of the spectrum is the couple who are very focused on the music and dancing, because it is a musical family. Their Latin roots combined with family members of musical abilities, they knew their day would be full of jam sessions and joy. And that is exactly how it should be for them. They are a fun-loving out-going couple with friends and family who want nothing more than to play and dance the night away. So they are hiring one of their favorite bands, well known to the community who will get their party started. Throughout the evening family and friends will be sitting in with the band – guest singers, players, lots of speeches and toasts and special dances. A wedding festival on the highest order. I’m so happy for them and glad to get to know them and be a part of it.

Dance the night away if its your thing! Sure looks fun.
Thanks to Lisa Rhinehart once again for her awesome photography.

Some other good examples of extremely non-traditional weddings I’ve been a part of include one at a campground with all the guests camping out, a few by waterfalls, a ceremony in the snow, a picnic wedding, and a surprise wedding – just to name a few. Just to be completely clear – the wedding is not a surprise to the couple, only the guests! 

My point is that you really don’t have to follow the conventional form for a wedding, unless that is what you want. Certainly, doing it in the classic style is wonderful – there is much to love about sometime traditional – it makes us feel comfortable and connects us in many ways. Whatever direction you go in, for both ceremony and reception, take some time to think through what makes you happy. Even wedding venues that have packages for you will be surprisingly flexible. You just have to ask.  

As they say: you be you!


find me on facebook – Lois Heckman, Celebrant, and Instagram – Lois Heckman

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Thanks again to photographer Lisa Rhinehart for the use of her stunning photographs.

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Woodstock Weddings

How the festival and the summer of love continues to influence weddings.

There’s been a lot of attention to the Woodstock Music festival on its 50thanniversary. As a baby boomer myself, although I wasn’t at Woodstock (I was hitch-hiking around Europe – how’s that for a hippie move?) I was a part of the era, for sure.

It got me thinking about weddings 50 years ago, and what they looked like. After the austerity of World War II, the 1950’s ushered in bigger, fancier weddings. Then came the counter-culture movement of the 60’s which, naturally, also influenced weddings in small and big ways.

A sixties inspired look, and I think they look awesome! (photo provided by me)

The entire idea of marriage was being challenged as norms where changing, and many young people did not want to marry, seeing it as subjugation. The 60’s counterculture was challenging the roles of both women and marriage. But in the end, while fashions come and go, marriage remains. And that is because it has evolved and come to represent the best parts of a committed relationship. Marriage no longer oppresses, at least not in our country and culture (presently). But I digress –  that’s not what today’s column is about. It’s about those who didchose to marry in those tumultuous times. 

And let’s remember that not everyone was part of the counterculture movement, and whether hippies or squares, brides still remained the focus on the big day. Naturally, they were choosing new styles. Fashion was evolving fast. Brides found styles like cotton, peasant-dresses suited their new tastes, or mini-skirted dresses, and tossed aside gowns and veils. Even traditional couples couldn’t help but be influenced by the styles of the era with wedding gowns sporting empire waists, shorter hemlines, and pill box hats, instead of ruffles and trains.

Typical sixties bride!

Jane Fonda, who was married in 1965 wore a sleeveless high-waist sheath dress. John Lennon married Yoko Ono, who wore a mini-dress with knee-length socks and sneakers on their wedding day.

Bridesmaids didn’t have quite as difficult a time, and you would recognize their dresses as something you might even see today. A man could be married in a Mexican shirt, the Guayabera, or a wear a shirt and vest, or even stick with the more traditional a suit. Just don’t be ‘the man.’

Today we still see the influence of the fashion of the sixties, but in a more refined reinvention. What some call ‘boho’ style, meaning bohemian, is straight out of the sixties, and flower crowns harken to the era as well.

Beach and backyard weddings were born out of spirit of those rebellious times. Couples were thinking more and more about how to express their own style. The aforementionedflower garlands were requisite,giving the bride a much sought-after waif-like, nature-girl look. The lyric, ‘if you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair’ – certainly rang true. In my book, anything involving flowers is always good.

Even Barbie got into the act.

The ceremony needed to express the vibe of peace and love, and nature often played a big part. Couples began saying their own vows and creating new rituals, and the Sand Ceremony on the beaches of California was born. Music, of course, was an important element, and you were lucky in the 60’s if you had a friend who played guitar (who didn’t?) and could perform a Beatles song or two. Most couples still married in the church (or synagogue or other house of worship) but if you knew the right reverend, he  (only occasionally she) could would marry you outdoors, and you could have truly counter-culture wedding. 

Parents could be quite upset by this, just as they were with many of the changes that were occurring in society. I can assure you that many did not attend their son or daughters’ wedding because it did not conform to the norms of the day. I remember my own mother arguing with my sister about the length of her mini wedding dress.

The wedding reception extravaganza hadn’t kicked in yet, so it wasn’t uncommon to have a party at home or dinner at a restaurant. 

While some of this may seem frivolous, remember the counterculture helped end the war in Vietnam and played a role in ushering in civil rights and women’s rights. The sixties were an amazing time and I’m glad I was there. It ushered in the idea of self-expression as a central part of our lives. Although, in some ways, we all conformed to the new ideas and styles, so perhaps it was merely rebellion rather than expression. I guess that depended on who you were, and that is still true today. As I always advocate, when planning your wedding, be true to yourself.


find me on facebook – Lois Heckman, Celebrant, and Instagram – Lois Heckman

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‘Pup’tial Bliss

Dogs and Weddings – Two Wonderful Things.

If you’re a dog person and you’re planning a wedding, I’ll bet you’ve thought about having your pup or pups involved. So many dog-loving couples think about their fur baby walking down the aisle. But can it happen? Maybe. Before you take that leap there are several obstacles to consider. Read on!

To state the obvious: first and foremost is the well-being of your dog. Is the task a good fit for your (certainly perfect) pet? A jumping dog, a nervous dog, a senior dog probably won’t work well, especially if you expect a little interaction with your guests. You need a well-trained, socialized dog to participate in your wedding.

I love this photo from Rhinehart Photography!

And before you fall further in love with the idea, check with your venue to see if dogs are allowed on the property. Be prepared to ask and answer a few questions.  Will your dog will be allowed to stay with you – if there is on-site accommodations? Think about your time frame – will you have to leave her alone for too long when you go to your reception?  And to facilitate this dream it is very helpful to have a designated handler for the dog.

The most popular task for a dog is the walk down the aisle, often as a ring bearer or flower dog, or just walk on in and be awesome. Here’s how it works: obviously, someone has to escort the pooch down the aisle – a flower girl or ring bearer, Jr Bridesmaid or Jr Groomsmen are great choices, but really anyone can fill the bill.  Then, have your pup whisked away to the dog friendly pre-arranged location (or back home) after a nice walk and a cool drink of water, of course! 

Another wonderful photo of the dog with the happy couple!
Rhinehart Photography.

Having your dog stay throughout the ceremony could take the focus off of you! He had his moment, now it’s your turn. If you do you want him to hang around for some post-ceremony photos, have him exit the ceremony site until it’s time for the photos or social interaction. Either way, your pup will probably have to leave before the reception. This is why the dog handler shouldnotbe a guest, but someone specifically designated and paid to do this important job. Yes, hiring someone gives it importance and accountability – so please consider that.

Including your dog in your photos is worthwhile. Engagement photos, wedding photos, or save-the dates, are all great opportunities for dogs to be their most adorable. The photos also provide a lifetime of memories.

Can’t get enough of this dog and her people!
Rhinehart Photography

If you can’t arrange to have your dog with you at your wedding, consider including a few words about her in the ceremony, in the program book, or at the reception. How about using photos of your pup incorporated into your table markers? (Side note: this is, in fact, probably the only way you could involve cats.) Take your pet’s photo, add a graphic, such as the table numbers, frame it, and place on the tables.Voilà!

How about a big cardboard cutout of your dog for photos or as photo-booth material?

You don’t have to dress up your dog,  but some people do love that. Maybe just a special collar. You certainly want a freshly bathed and groomed dog for the big day. Schedule a spa day for your four legged friends as well as your two legged ones.

If you think this is all ridiculous, you’re probably not a dog person. And please give me a hand (or paw?) for not including all those silly dog puns! It was a ruff, ruff effort. And it wasn’t too much of a fluff piece, was it? I gave you’re the real poop! Vow wow wow! It was pawsitively off the leash!


find me on facebook – Lois Heckman, Celebrant, and Instagram – Lois Heckman

Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the use of your gorgeous photography! @rhinehartphotography

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Six things you need to know about weddings – Number 3 will amaze you

Did that headline grab you? It’s called click-bate. And while I do have things to share with you about weddings, I don’t want to trick you into reading. Too much of what passes for information is merely a means to make money, one way or another.

A little rain won’t spoil things! Rhinehart Photography

But the catchy title does beg the question: what are the important things to know about a wedding? Is it the cost of flowers? Or is it the meaning of a milestone in life? People easily get lost on this path and while planning a fantastic party, don’t lose sight of who you are and where you are going. Try, I know it’s difficult, try not to get pulled into too much on-line craziness.

With a wealth of information at our fingertips how do we discern the good advice from the bad? The useful from the mundane?  An overall problem with internet wedding sites is the one-size-fits-all approach.  And I have noticed that most of the wedding advice is aimed at women, leaving out  half the population! 

Some of the worst wedding advice on-line has to do with budgets. Everyone’s budget is different, and you should not expectto spend a certain amount, but rather, determine what you can afford or are willing to spend. Costs also vary in different areas.

Be yourself!
photo: Rhinehart Photography

So, what the heck, I’m going to weigh in, too, and give you those six things after all. Here goes!


1. Best Day Ever.  It is truly a wonderful day when you marry your best friend. But you’re setting the bar a little high perhaps in calling it the ‘best day ever.’ I understand this is just hyperbole and now a popular phrase … But what if it’s not?  Could you deal with a few disappointments? What if something goes wrong? Will you be devastated by that? Just remember to keep some perspective and go with flow. Keep the bar at a reasonable height!

2. The Perfect Look. Many women get extremely caught up in the beauty tips, dieting, hair and make-up, not to mention the dress… this is all fine but don’t forget to look like yourself and be yourself. As I like to say, don’t do the ‘up-do’ if it’s not you!

3. It’s YOUR day.Unless you’re eloping, no, not really. A wedding is an event that brings in the whole family and community. You declare your intention before them (and if you are religious before God). That is kind of the point of having them there. So remember, this is not only about you. Don’t make it into a big egotistical show.

4. Don’t worry about trends. Its ok to see what’s going on around us, and even fun and inspiring, but don’t feel pressure to follow the latest ideas especially if you prefer something else.

I love how natural the bride looks!
Rhinehart Photography

5. Every detail will be perfect. See #1 and #2 – and  to that I will add that DIY doesn’t always save you money, and don’t freak out if it rains.

6. Traditions should be followed.Traditions, customs, rituals and rules can be meaningful, if they work for you. I’ve written about this a million times. Don’t feel bad about not wanting to include something that doesn’t makes sense to you. Remember, traditions evolve, so lean forward! 

If you read to the end I guess this click-bate thing isn’t so bad after all!


find me on facebook – Lois Heckman, Celebrant, and Instagram – Lois Heckman
and Instagram – Lois Heckman

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The open-ended Beauty of Spirituality

Spiritual. This is how many people describe their beliefs. But what exactly does this mean? Literally, spiritual means ‘relating to things of the human spirit rather than material or physical things.’ But in a more religious context it can mean a wide range of ideas.

What does it mean to be spiritual?

For some it means they embrace the idea that there is more to life than what we see, while rejecting the dogma of organized religion. They feel a connection to something beyond themselves they may call the Divine, the Universe, the Sacred, God, or it might even remain nameless. 

Spirituality can be a very open-ended concept and therefore it is not incompatible with religion or belief in God. 

In the latest Gallup poll of Americans from 2018 reports:

48.5% Protestant

22.7% Catholic

2.1 % Jewish

1.8% Mormon

0.8% Muslim   

2.9% Other non-Christian

21.3% No religious identity

Other polling sources come out with similar results. If you think everyone is honest when responding to polls, I have a nice bridge to sell you. These are how people self-report and I think many people are afraid to say they are not religious.

Additionally, Gallup did not offer the category ‘spiritual’ as an option. If they had, my guess is the numbers would have looked very different. 

I have met with many couples who want to connect to their faith traditions, but in ways that are more compatible with a 21stcentury view of the world which includes science and our evolving ideas and knowledge. Think about Galileo and the Church in 1600s for a great example of what happens when dogma trumps progress. 

So how does one honor spiritual ideas and values in a wedding ceremony? There are as many ways to express it as there are different paths of spirituality itself.

Sometimes I simply make a statement of fact, saying that the couple share a sense of spirituality, and perhaps try to describe it, if possible. For example, ‘they find peace and meaning in nature.’

Other times we include specific poems, excerpts or quotes from various sources, that reflect their worldview. There is wisdom everywhere, and it doesn’t take long to find it. 

Some of my favorites sources are in poetry and literature, along with classics such as Rumi, Kahlil Gibran, Celtic writings, Lau Tzu, and Buddha; but it is the couple themselves who will direct me to the right inspiration. The texts of Hinduism (the Vedas), and of course the Torah and the Bible all contain beautiful and meaningful words. There are scientists such as Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Carl Sagan, and naturalists such as John Muir, who have written eloquently about our place in the universe.  

Beyond words, there are rituals that connect us to earth, air, water, fire, nature, culture, ethnicity, history, art and family. The possibilities are endless, and it’s always challenging and exciting to explore how we humans view our place in the world. 

To me, being spiritual means putting great value on love and goodness in the world. What could be more beautiful than that?

Another beautiful photo from Lisa Rhinehart


find me on facebook – Lois Heckman, Celebrant, and Instagram – Lois Heckman

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