Life (and weddings) do not always go as planned.

Did you miss me? When I opened the paper Sunday morning there was no Pocono Wedding Talk  and I was stunned. After over a dozen years of writing this column something happened last week. I forgot to submit one. Blame it on the Thanksgiving holiday week, which no doubt threw off my routine, blame it on my aging brain, or best of all, I’ll try not to focus on blame. But it did get me thinking about how mistakes will happen. 

Yes, things don’t always go as planned in many aspects of life, and that is certainly true for weddings. 

Although not all of us have attended weddings recently (or ever) – evaluating your experiences can be a good way to help you avoid mistakes. Couples may recall what they loved about weddings they’ve attended, or what they did not love about them. Did it feel boring? Did things move too slowly? Was the music too loud? Was the food fantastic? Was the DJ rockin’? Was the Celebrant awesome?

Once you think about those pros and cons, you can become pro-active to try to ensure that your celebration is the success you want it to be.

Here comes the cake (don’t drop it)
Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for your amazing photography!

Notice I say successful, not perfect.

There is a mass medial idealization of weddings, summed up in an expression I see often that says: Best Day Ever. That’s setting the bar really high. Should we even aspire to this?

If you have an expectation of perfection you will likely fall short. Just acknowledging that is a good start; know and accept that every little thing may not go your way.  But if you relax and ‘go with the flow,’ you will have a wonderful experience. No one intends be become the ‘bridezilla’ – but some detail can trigger a nervous bride (or groom).

Traffic tie-ups, bad weather and so many little things are not in our control. However, it is reasonable to want the big things to go right! That would include the ceremony and special moments such as toasts and big-ticket items such as food at the reception. 

A little rain won’t dampen your spirits.
Rhinehart Photography

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but once, and only once, I was late for a wedding. I have officiated nearly 1,000 at this point, just for perspective. But here’s the important part:  the wedding party and the entire group of guests handled it beautifully. They sang songs together as they waited for me to arrive. What an amazing way to deal with the situation. They were all laughing and singing, and when I entered, they let out a big cheer, as I walked straight up to the altar and we began! I hope it never happens again, because I may not be as lucky as that.

Here are a few common concerns you should be prepared for:

Have a good back-up plan for weather conditions if you are planning an outdoor ceremony or reception. 

Speak frankly with anyone expected to make a toast and even offer help. Let them know if some stories might embarrass you, or what they can focus on. 

Be careful about alcohol consumption which, when starting too early in the celebration, can cause many things to go wrong.

A guest list spinning out of control is another problem confronting many couples. Use tact in explaining to family that weddings are expensive; simply say that as much as you’d love to have so-and-so, your budget simply doesn’t permit. 

Your perfect dress, its wants to be worn comfortably!
Rhinehart Photography

Women, please try on your dress again before the wedding, with your shoes, and actually walk around in it. Many women discover too late that the dress is simply too long or the shoes too uncomfortable. While you can’t change the dress, you can hem it!

For the DIY folks – problems I have encountered include big beautiful floral arrangements that do not have a base heavy enough to support them. I’ve seen them blow over during outdoor ceremonies. (I once had groomsmen quickly gather rocks and put them into the flowerpots to stabilize them.) I’ve also seen arches and arbors fall over when not secured properly. 

But most importantly, give yourself the room to feel many things. There is an unrealistic expectation not only about the dream wedding, but what it will feel like. You think it will be the happiest day of your life, but it’s possible that it may turn out to be the most tiring day of your life. It is not unusual to have doubts, sadness, fear, and many mixed emotions on your wedding day, or leading up to it.  Being nervous is very normal. I often remind couples that if they weren’t nervous, I’d be worried about them. You are nervous because it is important. 

So, while you may wish to work out all the details of your celebration, do not ignore your feelings. A wedding celebration is more than food, dancing, flowers and a big party. It is an important milestone in your life, so give it the emotional space it deserves. 

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

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Modern Ideas for Bachelor and Bachelorette Parties

Bachelor and bachelorette parties used to signify the last fling before the restrictions of marriage. To me this is an antiquated idea. The premise was that after the wedding you wouldn’t be having any fun so better get that in now. For men it was celebrating their last days of ‘freedom.’ Women did not want to be left out of the fun, so girlfriends started planning a parallel style party with the name ‘bachelorette’ attached. 

You may have heard about or even attended a raunchy bachelor or bachelorette party, and pop culture has done a lot to promote the image of what these parties should be. But truth be told, most people are embarrassed by it. They often involve over-the-top sexualized activities, rely on stereotypes, and involve way too much on drinking to create the ‘fun.’ 

Instead, what if you thought of this party as an opportunity to get together with friends and talk about love, marriage and the upcoming changes in life; a chance to enjoy the company of old friends in a relaxed atmosphere before the formalities of the wedding day arrive.

If you are looking for some ways to create a more personal, stylish or sophisticated party, here are some suggestions. Bending the rules further, perhaps both partners (the engaged couple) can attend together, or you can go old school and have them separate. Remember these events do not have to be segregated by gender. They can be, but they don’t have to be; and friends of a groom may include some women and friends of a bride may include men. Just do what’s right for you!

Lisa Rhinehart can make a photo of a drink look gorgeous!
Thanks to her for all the photography she contributes to my blog.

I’m not saying not to drink if that is something you enjoy, but I am saying that drinking should not be the main focus or purpose. With that in mind you could still have a champagne brunch, with the perfect menu, held at a hotel or resort. You may want to include the choice of a spa treatment or round of golf. But who would pay for something that expensive? Well, if you can’t afford to spring for your crew, have these as options available on site with pricing shown on the invite, but of course, you must pay for the engaged woman or man you are honoring.

For more ideas involving alcohol – how about an ‘imported beers of the world’ themed get together. Splurge on some really great brews, you can even include the matching beer glass. Or conduct it as a beer tasting. A Mexican or other international flavored menu would be great, whatever you feel pairs nicely with beer. Ditto for a wine tasting! And again, for whiskey.

A night at the casino is fun. Get a room at the hotel for the initial get together including a cocktails and snacks, then schedule an hour in the casino, followed by a show! You can set limits on the gambling and drinking by constraining the time line.

Celebrant!!!! Lisa Rhinehart Photography!

How about a cruise around Manhattan, a day trip to the Jersey Shore or a trip to the Hudson Valley? Hire a limo or bus.

Lead a group of friends to an undisclosed location (along the river, on top of a mountain) where the caterer meets you and a sumptuous meal is served. Be sure to include lounge chairs! This would be so marvelously mysterious.

Are you up for a round of paintball or a rafting trip? Be sure to order some custom T-shirts or caps to commemorate the event.

Even a friendly game can be a celebration opportunity.
Rhinehart Photography

Like many things involving weddings, these events have become more extravagant and expensive over the years. But they don’t have to be. You can organize a baseball game or go bowling. A party can take place at home, without the expense of a hotel or resort.

Here are a few dos and don’ts to keep in mind:

  • Do set a budget, and a time limit, when the event begins and ends. It should not be open-ended. 
  • Do have a designated driver. 
  • Do ask the couple for input into the invite list.
  • Do make sure everyone invited to the party is also invited to the wedding.

And…

  • Don’t plan it for the night before the wedding.
  • Don’t play drinking games. 
  • And most importantly don’t do anything you’d be embarrassed to have your future spouse know about!

Oh yes, one more thing: do have a blast!

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Thanksgiving Rituals

Consider these ideas to enhance your holiday experience

Holidays are tricky. Not everyone has that wonderful family gathering we’re shown on tv and in the movies. If you’re lucky enough to share the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday with a group of family and friends I have a few suggestions for you. It is called, after all, Thanksgiving, so it is an opportunity to help children learn about gratitude. And we all need reminders now and then.

This is the kickoff of a celebratory season which might include Hanukkah, Winter Solstice and most often Christmas. With so much emphasis on consumerism, this could be the perfect time to take a breath, slow down, and dig deep.

Science even shows that feeling grateful promotes healthy and happier people. 

Decorate the table or placemats!

Here are a few ways to include gratitude in your Thanksgiving celebration.

One of the easiest and obvious is having everyone talk about what they feel grateful for in their lives. Start the meal going around the table giving each person a turn to speak.  Need I add – without interruption?

Have everyone say something nice about the person sitting to their left (or right, or whatever, just make sure everyone is recognized).

Lead up to Thanksgiving Day by having everyone think of something they are grateful for throughout the week, jotting it down, and reading it at the dinner celebration.

Remember to thank others… focus the week on extra nice comments showing appreciation for anyone in your life, people at check-out counters, wait staff and those closer to you as well. Talk about how that worked out for you at dinner. For children – help them write thank you letters to people in their world such as local fire companies, deployed military, the ‘lunch lady,’ the janitor, a special teacher  or crossing-guard, I’m sure can come up with something together.It’s a good habit to cultivate!

Continuing to involve children, make sure they have a role in the meal. Have them serve dessert for example. Kids benefit from helping.

Service! Volunteer time and especially find out what local programs actually need and create a project to fulfill that need, such as collecting winter coats,  pet food for animal shelter, or gift cards for the domestic violence shelter. Volunteer to help serve meals to those in need.

Service to others helps those who serve.

Create a special holiday tablecloth by using permanent marks and have everyone write messages of thanks on the cloth. Use this every year, adding more and more positive messages. It will be fun to see the development over the years. Or create placements.

Every celebration deserves a toast.
(Rhinehart Photography)

Invite someone new to share this day with you. A neighbor, friend or relative who may have no place to go on this holiday will be grateful, and you will be enriched for having done so. Make amends with an estranged family member or friend by inviting them.

And finally, don’t forget a toast. Clink your glasses together in appreciation of the moment.

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

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Love at Any Age

Love can come at any age. Do we ‘find’ love, or does love find us? Rumi, the Sufi Mystic who lived in the 13thcentury wrote something that is still rings true: ‘Your task is not to seek for love, but to seek and find all the barrier within yourself that you have built against it.’

After a divorce or death of a spouse, or even if you have never been married, at a certain point in life, to begin a new journey is a bit scary. But when it happens it is worthy of celebration. You must set aside those barriers and be open to new things, new experiences, as Rumi advises, and know that you deserve to be loved and that you have love to give.

A beautiful couple
(photo: Garth Woods)

At the risk of sounding like a TV talk-show pseudo-psychologist, I do really believe this, because I have seen it often. I have heard many stories from couples who found love later in life. Later in life is a relative term of course. A couple I officiated for just a few weeks ago identified as finding love later in life – but they were young enough to be my children. Didn’t seem all that late to me. But I have also officiated for couples in and around their 60s.

One stumbling block for second (or third) marriage is the words we use, language carries baggage. ‘Second marriage’ may not sound good to you, especially  if it is the first one for the partner. You can just say ‘marriage,’ because if you’re getting married, that’s what it is. I’m not a fan of the term ‘remarriage.’ 

When we vow to stay together until the end, and that doesn’t happen, it can feel like failure. But there are so many good reasons to end a relationship, and often it is the right and brave thing to do.

So, if you have found love again, should you celebrate wildly? Yes, why not? It is totally worthy of celebration – but, you may not want to have the kind of wedding a couple in their twenties might plan. And if there are children involved, you have to consider their needs and their feelings as well.

A wonderful couple eloping at Harmony Gardens
(Garth Woods photography)

Louis de Bernières wrote in his book Captain Corelli’s Mandolin:
Love is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being “in love” which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.

I find this quote to be so very true and important. Older couples understand this, especially if in their first marriage that temporary madness burned away there was nothing left.

As we age we can become jaded. We might also become more set in our ways, and that makes it hard to open our hearts and homes to another person. And if we’re looking for the perfect partner we’re bound to be disappointed, but if we find the person who makes our life better, more joyful, then we’re on the right track. When you’re young you don’t know what’s ahead, when you’ve lived through disappointments and even tragedies, you might be more guarded.

And now for some science!

Recent research aimed to identify and examine elements of relationship success as described by younger and older adults. The top-five most highly rated elements of successful romantic relationships for the older adults were Honesty, Communication, Companionship, Respect, and Positive Attitude, whereas as the top-five most highly rated elements of romantic relationship success for younger adults were Love, Communication, Trust, Attraction and Compatibility.  Not so different but different enough.

Love is also chemistry, because it releases dopamine – that wonderful chemical in your body that makes everything just ‘more!’ It increases emotions and sexual desire.

And finally, not everyone needs to be partnered up. There is a lot of social pressure to have a mate. I wish that was not the case. Going to weddings and seeing all your friends getting married can be downright depressing if you haven’t found that special someone. There are many benefits to being single, but there is also no doubt that falling in love is exhilarating and that married people live longer.

Love at Any AgeJoseph Campbell wrote: Successful marriage is leading innovative lives together, being open, non-programmed. It’s a free fall: how you handle each new thing as it comes along. As a drop of oil on the sea, you must float, using intellect and compassion to ride the waves…. What I see in marriage, then, is a real identification with that other person as your responsibility, and as the one whom you love. 

To that I will add: at any age.

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

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The essentials of choosing an officiant and other tidbits

If you are getting married in a house of worship, you probably don’t need to read this. But, what the heck, read it anyway. Today I want to talk about choosing an officiant for your wedding. 

Just for complete clarity – an officiant presides over (officiates) a ceremony. They can be religious or not. ‘Celebrant’ is just another term for that. After all, a priest ‘celebrates’ mass. I prefer ‘Celebrant’ because I am a graduate of the Celebrant Foundation and Institute as well as a Humanist Celebrant through the Humanist Society…. and I just like the way it sounds. The use of the word ‘celebrant’ was popularized in Australia before landing here in the States. But more importantly, a celebrant should be ethically trained to create and carry out a completely personalized ceremony.

A wedding is a huge milestone in life and deserves to be properly honored. A professional officiant, whether religious or secular (or somewhere in between) should have the knowledge to make sure the ceremony appropriately reflects the importance of the moment. This doesn’t mean it has to be long, but a ceremony should recognize and honor your journey. 

To discover the right person, you will need to interview them, just as  I hope they are interviewing you. You will want to know if their values and world view aligns closely enough with yours, and if they are listening to you.

The heart and soul of any wedding is the ceremony.
Photo Lisa Rhinehart, Rhinehart Photography

What is their training and experience? What do they bring to the table? What do you want or need to have included? Many couples don’t really know where to begin. After all, most have not been married before, or  even if they were, they may not have had any input into their previous ceremony. They may not realize that in today’s world, you can, indeed, have it your way.

Unity rituals are worth discussing. They’re not for everyone, but many couples will come to the meeting with an idea in mind, such as candle lighting. See what the officiant has to say about this. If your ceremony is outdoors, and the officiant doesn’t at least address the difficulty with candles outdoors, you may have an inexperienced officiant. Candles outside don’t work very well. That’s why they invented the Sand Ceremony.

There are countless rituals reflecting culture, religion, traditions or interests – but a ritual really should speak to you.  It should truly resonate. If an officiant is telling you to do this or that and it just doesn’t feel right for you – trust yourself and speak up. Then see how they handle that! Remember, the entire ceremony is ritualistic – you don’t need to add more ritual actions if they are not a good fit.

When speaking with a potential officiant you should honestly include your backgrounds, both religious and cultural, if they are important, because these are things that can be included or excluded in the ceremony. I have come across ministers who say they can do an interfaith wedding, but in the end, they lean heavily on their own denomination to the detriment of the other. Inter-faith couples – be very careful here. 

Secular couples often have a hard time expressing themselves. There is still a lot of prejudice against non-religious people. Many people identify as ‘spiritual’ but not ‘religious.’ Let the officiant know just what that means to you, then determine if they actually understand. 

If you are getting married at a wedding venue, they will most likely have a list of vendors for you, including officiants. Check out  more than one – so you have some base line. The internet is how many couples find me and is great for finding everything you need for your wedding.

With all this in mind, please don’t ask a friend or family member to officiate if they have no background to inform them or are not experienced in writing and presenting. One of the many problems I’ve heard of when the ‘friend’ officiates is treating it like a joke. They get nervous and mess up and may not even be legal to sign your marriage license. I won’t dwell too much on the negatives of this, although, as a professional celebrant, it is one of my biggest pet peeves. Not because they are taking ‘work’ from me, but because couples are not getting the ceremony they deserve!

I couldn’t resist putting a photo of me as well.
Photo by Bri Johnson

One frequent question I get is how long will the ceremony be? When I hear they want something ‘short and sweet’ it is usually because they have never seen and probably can’t imagine a great ceremony. I don’t always know exactly how long each ceremony will be, because it depends on what we’ve decided to include, but I do think you always want that ‘Goldilocks’ length – no too short, not too long, just right – which is about a ½ hour. When you’re in church or synagogue there is also a worship service as part of the ceremony, and that adds a lot of time, but if you are getting married outside the house of worship, you might still have prayer, but it’s not the same thing.  

The fee for an officiant varies widely, especially depending on location. But if you are thinking it should be cheap, think again. You may be paying more for flowers than the person who marries you. Does that make sense? You’re not paying for the ½ hour of the ceremony – but the training, experience, and time put into creating that ceremony before presenting it. If the words that are said are important to you, and you want to take the time to properly acknowledge your guests and your own journey, hire someone who has a deep understanding of the meaning of this milestone.

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

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Your Place in the World

I’d like to revisit a topic I wrote about many years ago, because once again I am seeing disturbing images of the damage we humans do to our environment. We may feel like we can’t change the world, but we can make good decisions about what we, personally, do.

Call it ‘green,’ call it ‘environmental,’ call it ‘eco’-friendly,’ or call it common sense, there is still a lot of buzz about how all this applies to weddings and any celebration, really. I hope people will continue to remain conscious of reducing, reusing and recycling. Eco-friendly isn’t a fad, its way to implement practices that will lead to healthier living for the planet and its inhabitants. An eco-friendly wedding is a way to express those values and make a difference. There are many ways to ‘green’ your wedding. 

First the bad news. Being responsible isn’t just choosing environmentally friendly materials its also being aware of what not to do. I recently read about how balloon releases have deadly consequences on the environment. I must admit that years ago I hadn’t thought about it, but once aware, you will not want to use balloons. Here’s the deal: balloons fall back to the earth and animals can ingest them and die from the balloon blocking their digestive tracts. There are some balloons made of biodegradable material, but still, before they do break down, well, there they are, and can cause damage. Likewise, ribbons or strings tied to the balloons can last years and become entangled in any animal that comes in contact with it. At a minimum they just create more trash, but the image of a bird hanging to death on a balloon string should be enough to convince you.

This is hard to look at but important to do so.

I’d also been briefly enamored of sky lanterns, until I l began to understand that they, too, return to earth as litter. Again, beware even those marketed as ‘biodegradable’ or ‘earth- friendly.’  Sky lanterns are made with treated paper, wires and/or a bamboo ring. They can travel for miles and will come down as dangerous litter. Not surprising – sky lanterns have caused fires. These flaming aerial devices have also caused serious burns to humans and have killed animals that eat the litter or become entangled in their fallen remains. Entire countries have banned the use of sky lanterns.

Who doesn’t love sparklers? Sorry to be a downer, but when checking out sparklers I learned that they contain heavy metals that are harmful to the environment. Plus there is some risk of injury. Geez? Is there nothing we can use? 

Here’s the good news: Alternatives to balloons and sky lanterns include the trusty old bubbles (pick up those plastic bottles, though, and recycle them) lighting candles, and using flowers and petals. Confetti cannons are cool, and I don’t see much of a down side to them.

Other eco-friendly tips include the following:

For gifts and centerpieces use potted herbs, cactus, or other interesting plants instead of cut flowers for centerpieces with the added bonus of having guests take the home.

Have the ceremony and reception at the same location, reducing travel, gas, and cost.

Let the bridesmaids pick their own dresses, ones they will be able to wear again. 

Forget disposables such as cameras that get tossed and all the plastic flatware and glasses. Instead use real china, flatware, cloth napkins and glasses – it looks so much better anyway!

Choose consumable favors such as jam, jelly, maple syrup, candy, free-trade coffee, handmade soaps, or anything folks will actually use. Buy them locally! Or donate to a charity instead of favors. 

A great gift or ‘favor’
Photo by Lisa Rhinehart

Paperless invites are beginning to be more acceptable. If you must mail an invite, include a website with lots of details, to cut-down on the paper.

Offer group transportation – it will not only cut down on gas and pollution, it will allow your guests to enjoy a drink or two without worry!

Lots of bloggers talk about vintage clothes – but I know it is difficult. You can make that happen, but it takes lots of patience. An easier eco-route for dresses is to borrow or buy used (or should I say: pre-worn). There are many wonderful sources of beautiful used wedding gowns. Think about it – it was worn only once, then dry cleaned and is most likely exactly like new! You save tons of money. After the wedding you can donate your dress to a number of charity organizations, or resell it. 

Some nursing homes and hospitals accept flowers from weddings to distribute to their residents. 

Everything you buy or rent comes from somewhere – so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Does this venue recycle? Where was this made, did it ship from a distance, or even worse – was it made by children or slave labor?

Is it going to change the world? Well, it would if everyone took part, but as things stand now – no, it won’t.  But it’s powerful to bring a consciousness to your wedding and remember you are part of something larger. Your ‘big day’ is about you, of course, but it’s also about your place in the world.

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

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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.


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

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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.


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

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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.


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

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