One to Remember

Your special, lucky wedding date

There are many reasons an engaged couple chooses a specific date for their wedding. They might think of the time of year, the season they prefer, and zero in on a date. Then, when they have found the location, they might discover their chosen date is not available and accept another. It helps to be flexible with that. But sometimes one’s heart is set on a specific date, for any number of reasons.

Numbers themselves can be interesting. There are those ‘lucky number’ dates. In the past, I officiated on 1/6/16 and 1/7/17, and other especially interesting sounding numbers. Some of the quirky numbers this year would be: 1/8/18 (already past), but 8/1/18 sounds good, or 8/18/18 maybe. I just booked 10/10/2020. Yikes!

Seven is considered a lucky number, maybe because there are seven seas, seven heavens (or seventh heaven), seven continents, seven colors in a rainbow, seven days in a week, the seven wonders of the world, and so on.

In Chinese culture the numbers 68 and 9 are generally considered to be auspicious, while 4 and 7 are not, so there goes that seven. The Chinese believe double digits are extra lucky and number 8 has long been regarded as the luckiest number because it sounds like the word for ‘fortune,’ and so it will bring good fortune and prosperity.

In Jewish numerology, known as ‘gematria’- the number 18 stands for “life”, because the Hebrew letters that spell chai meaning ‘life’ or ‘living,’ add up to 18. You have probably heard the expression ‘L-Chaim’ as a toast, which means ‘to life!’  Thirty-six is important for a couple because 2×18=36, representing “two lives”.

Once I started looking into this more, I discovered, not surprisingly, that almost every culture or country has their own special numbers. A very interesting example is 666, which is supposed to symbolize ‘the beast’ or the Devil, so is unlucky in USA, UK, Brazil, or any predominately Christian country. But I was surprised to learn that in China, 666 can mean “everything going smoothly” and is often be seen in neon or on store signs. Perhaps like our ’10-4’ from the CB radio days.
Obviously, there are other and probably more important considerations besides numerology when choosing your date! You may consider it lucky to simply get the date you chose at the venue you chose. I’ve often heard from couples that they were surprised that their preferred location was booked up so far in advance.

Last minute weddings are fine, but you’d better be flexible. I’ve had a few on weekdays for that very reason. Speaking of off –peak, it’s true that many resorts and hotels have a slightly discounted price for Fridays and Sundays. I don’t see anything wrong with having your wedding then, and if it helps you be where you want to be, or helps your budget, all the better. Just remember to consider guests who are travelling to be with you when planning your schedule.

Most people do not choose a holiday weekend, but then again, some couples deliberately choose holidays. I married two military members who chose the 4th of July weekend, and we created a celebration that reflected not only their love for each other, but their love of country.

I’ve officiate weddings on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and included something to honor that. I made sure to recognize all the mothers (or fathers) who were attending. One wedding on Mother’s Day involved the bride giving a rose to every mom attending. That was beautiful.

Another good example of a holiday wedding is a Christmas time wedding, offering all kinds of opportunities for décor and other themed ideas.

Would you get married on your birthday, or your partners birthday? Probably not, you might get short changed with presents for the rest of your life. On the other hand, its one less date to remember. I’m kidding…. sort of.

What about someone else’s anniversary? Usually having your anniversary coincide with a parent or sibling’s anniversary isn’t the best idea, but I can imagine circumstances where it would work. If you have an especially excellent relationship and talk to the other couple first and they agree, why not? More appropriate perhaps, is a grandparents’ anniversary date.

Whatever date you choose, it will be YOUR date and one to remember.

 

     Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the use of your wonderful photography

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Sand Stories: Exploring a Modern Ritual

I find that I am often writing about ancient traditions, the deep roots of weddings, and the connections between culture, religions, and the way all this has evolved. But there are a few modern rituals as well, ones that not all that old at all. There is the wine box, with or without the exchange of letters, water rituals, and tree or plant rituals, and one of the most popular is the sand ceremony.

There is no consensus, but there are several explanations for the sand ceremony, which is, of course, the action of pouring sand together, represents joining of the two people. The many grains of sand are meant to symbolize all the thoughts, feelings and experiences you bring with you to the marriage. The couple pours their two containers of different colors of sand into one, and creates something bigger and more beautiful. I’m fond of adding that you do not give up your individuality in marriage. I’m not a fan of the ‘now we are one’ concept. You are still two people, but on the same path together, side by side.

It’s a great choice for a non-religious ceremony, and also resonates for people who love nature, the beach, the earth, science, or any number of connotations that can be readily seen in sand. As Rachel Carson wrote: In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.

I always adjust the description of any ritual to be sure it fits the couple, and have, from time to time, added words about the uses of sand – from making concrete and building a strong foundation, or making glass. I have referenced science, vacations, hobbies, or anything that draws the couple to the sand.

Here’s what I’ve gathered about this history of this very down-to-earth ritual. There is the Hawaiian story – whichmaintains that Hawaiian couples entering into a committed union, would scoop sand from the beach and combine their individual handfuls into a container as a symbol of their marriage. That is the essence of the sand ceremony, and placing it on beaches in Hawaii makes sense.

There is the California story, which draws from the hippie days of the 1960s, with couples marrying on the beaches and creating non-traditional ceremonies. Because, the good old ‘Unity Candle’ would absolutely not work in the wind by the ocean, and perhaps looking for something different, someone came up with this. Or maybe someone had seen in it Hawaii. And it is a great alternative to candles, by the way.

There are some who think there may be an ancient connection after all -  to pagan ceremonies or even Hebrew traditions. The Biblical Salt Covenant could actually be the inspiration for the Sand Ceremony – sand and salt both being granules that are mixed together. In Jewish culture, salt was used as a symbolic bond between husband and wife, and also used it in rituals of reconciliation and to celebrate adoption. Salt itself has a rich metaphoric usage.

I really love how the sand ceremony is perfect to symbolize the blending of families. You can have children pick their own colors, and everyone can participate in pouring ‘their’ sand into a large family vase – and see themselves as part of something bigger, yet still retaining their individuality. I’ve also used it with parents, pouring a foundation for their children who are getting married. There are lots of useful variations with the sand.

There are fancy sets you can buy, or you can use everyday objects. I’ve had couples use mason jars and couples have engraved crystal.

Whether this is new to you, or old hat, the Sand Ceremony works!

  

thank you GARTH WOODS for the beautiful photography   

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Wedding Wallflowers

8 Tips for Shy Brides or Grooms

I’ve spoken with many couples who were concerned about being the center of attention on their wedding day, for both the ceremony and the celebration. It’s a bit ironic, because the wedding is really all about the couple. But for shy, introverted people, it can be terrifying. Large social gatherings can be stressful for many people. It’s not unusual, and there is nothing wrong with being uncomfortable in the spotlight.

A wedding should not be an ordeal, but sometimes it is. Our culture puts so much pressure on people, with a very homogenous idea of how this should all look and feel. The best day of your life? The day you’ve been waiting for, forever? That’s a high bar indeed! Your wedding does not have to be like other weddings, whether friend’s weddings or in magazines, movies or television. It is unrealistic. It’s crazy.

I have a few suggestions for you, if this is sounds familiar.

1. The ‘first look’ phenomena will really help – seeing each other for the first time on the big day can be stressful. A first look, a private moment together (with or without photography) can help with the jitters.

2. Skip the ‘first dance’ completely. If you wish, replace it with something else, like an anniversary dance, or just have everyone join in. The couple in the spotlight dancing for the first time as married, blah blah blah – it is not necessary. Let your band or DJ know – and stick to it – don’t let them tell you otherwise. They work for you, not the other way around.

3. Speaking of music, you don’t have to throw a big dance party if it’s not your style. You might choose a duo or trio to play some quieter selections. This can be very sophisticated. A luncheon instead of a dinner tends to be more casual, too, which can also help.

4. Choose clothing that feels like you. Don’t get pressured into a big gown or tuxedo if you don’t feel comfortable in it. The same goes for hair and make-up. It’s not a glamor shoot.

5. Limit the guest list. A smaller wedding will be easier to deal with. What’s a smaller wedding? Good question! Under 100? Under 50?  Or even very, very small. Speaking of numbers, keep the attendants, (bridesmaids/groomsmen) to a minimum, too, or have none at all. Yes, it is totally ok NOT to have these specially selected people stand with you. The entire bridal-party situation can lead to lots of stressful interpersonal conflicts and anxieties. You really can get married without this.

6. The ’sweetheart’ table is the table just for the couple at the reception, the one where they sit by themselves. Perhaps it’s better to sit at a group table with closest family and friends, rather than be isolated. Come to think of it, this is a good choice for lots of couples. Being at your own table cuts you off and plays into the isolation, and you may wind up feeling alone at your own wedding. My intent here is to suggest things that will help you feel a part of your own weddingwithout the stress, not to have you run away from it…

7. …but you can have a designated retreat location for the two of you. If you get totally frazzled at your reception, take five or ten minutes and go to your special place and take a breath, then go back to it.

8. Giving a speech at your own wedding is not required. If you feel you must do it, write it ahead of time. Instead, visit each table and simply thank them for coming. That truly is enough. Your guests are coming to support you. They know you, and love you, so likely they understand you are shy. A simple ‘thank you for coming today’ is really just fine. Your guests will say lots of nice things – smile and nod your head.

Staying true to yourselves, and limiting stressful situations, will enhance your comfort level and even save money. You should have a wedding that works for you. And if you can’t, consider eloping! I’m always available.

  thanks to Lisa Rhinehart rhinehartphotography

 

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Rituals to Pledge Love – Learning about Shintoism

The longer I officiate weddings, the more I recognize and appreciate the commonalities, connections and universalities of the human experience. As the old saying goes: ‘you learn something new every day,’ to which I might add: I hope so.

I recently worked with a couple who followed a Buddhist spiritual path alongside Shintoism. These belief systems are the two major religions of Japan, are not incompatible in the least. In fact, they are very interconnected. So I was anxious to learn more and see what elements might be incorporated into their wedding ceremony.

Shintoism is a religion that may go back as long ago as 1,000 BCE and is still practiced today by at least five million people. The basic tenants are a belief in spirits known as ‘Kami’ that live in our natural world, in plants and animals, even mountains, rivers or rocks, and people here and gone. In other words, all of the world is sacred. All of these spirits are important but the most important kami is called Amaterasu, the sun goddess.

There is no strict doctrine or dogma in Shintoism, but there are teachings, grouped into scriptures that include (as do all religions) creation stories, and instructions for life. Much of this wisdom centers around respect for ancestors, the virtue of being sincere and doing good in the world.

A Shinto wedding incorporates some awesome elements, including a sakéritual, something I can readily relate to, having created many wine (or other beverage) sharing rituals. The saké, which is rice wine, is very traditionally Japanese – and here we see that deep intertwining of Japanese culture and Shinto ritual. The couple drinks the sacredsakéfrom the same glass to symbolism their promise. I am also a fan of having the couple drink from the same glass, because it clearly represents sharing your future. You are drinking together from the cup of life! You are promising to share all the sweetness and whatever bitterness it contains, which is what marriage is all about.

Some of the other rituals in Shinto wedding also feel familiar and appealing. The‘steps to pledge love’ I found extremely cool. This is simply when the couple walks together up the steps to the Shinto shrine, where the priest will marry them. A shrine maiden carries a red umbrella, also familiar in non-Shinto Japanese weddings. The color red in Japan is important, symbolizes life, and wards off evil spirits, plus it conveniently keeps the bride dry if it happens to rain. The umbrella is quite large but carried by man in non-Shinto weddings. But in either case they follow the bride in a wedding procession.

Another element is the purification ceremony, where the priest purifies the couple, cleansing them of the unconscious sins of daily life. I like this because it’s valuable to recognize that we don’t always do or think the right things, sometimes without even realizing it. Not surprising, many faiths incorporate ritual washings, too, including Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Islam, the Bahá’í Faith, Taoism, and even the Rastafari movement. I just recently worked with a Christian couple who washed either other’s feet as part of their wedding ceremony. It was beautifully humbling.

The ‘norito’ is the Shinto document declaring the couple’s marriage intent, and promising a happy lifetime. And again, most every culture and religion has something similar.

Brides usually wear a traditional kimono, in all-white, representing purity. And men, too, wear a traditional kimono with their family crest. Yes, men have kimonos.

Shinto shrines are quite beautiful and there are about 80,000 in Japan. They can be visited by tourists, and if you travel to Japan you don’t want to miss seeing at least one. These shrines are not to be confused with Buddhist temples. All entering the shrine must purify their hands and mouths at the water pavilion. At the altar, bow and clap your hands twice, then bow once to pray.

Previously knowing so little about Shintoism (how did I miss this in religious studies in college?) I am now inspired by their rituals and will be influenced by them in the future, no doubt.

 

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Eight ideas for Letting Go

How do you let go of the things that do not matter? This is a big question in life, but I am, however, just going to talk about it in relation to weddings.

All you really need to get married is a marriage license and someone to officiate the “I dos” and sign the license – not including, of course, a loving partner! Everything else is an extra. Those extras can keep adding up until the wedding becomes something larger than life.

I am not advocating you skip customs or traditions that mean something to you, but just reminding people that there are a few things you can trim from the ‘to-do’ list, and trim down the stress. Letting go is easier said than done, but here are a few suggestions of things you could let go of,if you wish.

Eliminating some of these non-essentials can save you time, money and aggravation! Here are some wedding extras that could be skipped:

1. Wedding Program – if you are just listing the ‘order of service’ you are wasting time and paper. This type of program only encourages people to check off items as the ceremony progresses and leaves nothing for a surprise. Let the ceremony unfold naturally.

2. Favors – Have you ever received a favor at a wedding that meant anything to you, that you used, saved, or enjoyed? No? Me neither.

3. Bouquets for mothers – Don’t know where this idea came from, but why are moms now carrying bouquets? Corsages are more than enough – and please be aware that many dresses do not take well to pinning something to them. Do you like those wrist corsages? No. Me neither.

4. Fancy ring box – not needed. Enough said.

5. A dinner menu on the table – definitely not needed.

6. Robes for bridesmaids – nice and quite the indulgence….but…although this is a very nice as a gift for your ‘girls’, don’t have them embroidered with your name and/or wedding date, or even ‘bridesmaid,’ if you expect the women to use them in the future.

7. Chair decorations – are not necessary and can even make the room too fussy. You can save some time and money skipping this one. Unless the chairs are beat-up and need covers, then by all means cover them. You may just want to decorate the newlywed’s chairs instead.

8. And here is a really radical idea – do not have attendants, you know – bridesmaids and groomsmen. I know people totally expect this, but it really isn’t necessary. Explain to your friends and family you don’t want to have to choose between them all, who will be the ‘best’ man or woman, and who gets to stand with you. And think about how keeping it simple makes a statement – that the wedding is about the two of you. Eliminating attendants isn’t for most people, but is does eliminate a lot of stress and saves money, too.

I don’t want to come off as negative, but I do want to remind you that although any of these things can be WONDERFUL to include, you certainly do not needthem. If your wedding planning is getting out of hand, ask yourself what you can let go of, and then do it. Take a breath and remember why you’re getting married. Then pop the champagne! Don’t let go of that!

 

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Mazel Tov!

A Look at Jewish Wedding Rituals and Some Modern Updates

Today I’m going to share a brief explanation of some popular, and some lesser known wedding rituals in the Jewish tradition. Additionally, I also explain how I might reinterpret them for modern couples, whether culturally Jewish (but non-practicing), same-sex couples, and interfaith couples.

Perhaps the best known and most beloved Jewish wedding tradition is the ‘Breaking the Glass’which done at the end of the ceremony. This custom, and that is exactly what it is, it is not a religious rite, has many explanations. No one seems to know the exact origin but a minor religious connection is that it is said to represent the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the most holy place in all of Jewish history. With that explanation, I might add that without one’s history your life is not complete.

I like the idea that it represents the fragility of life and love, and that it reminds us that we need to care for each other. Breaking the glass into pieces can signify that marriage should be as difficult to break apart as it would be to put back the pieces of broken glass. Some say the number of pieces represent the number of years you’ll be married. I also prefer the idea that when you break the glass, it you cannot undo that act, and so should it be in marriage. There are several other stories about this custom, but the best part of stepping on the glass (which is wrapped in a cloth) is when everyone shouts ‘Mazel Tov,’ meaning good luck, after the feat is accomplished (pun intended).

To modernize this tradition some couples are breaking the glass together, and it doesn’t just have to be a man who does the stomping, I have had brides also do it. Breaking the Glass is a great way to end a ceremony!

The chuppah (there are many alternate spellings, as this is a transliteration from Hebrew) is another well-known element of a Jewish wedding. The chuppah is the canopy that the couple, and often their parents, stand under for the ceremony. It represents the home, and the protection and safety that should reside within your home. It is held up by four poles, and sometimes people actually hold those, even walking it in. Dramatic indeed. It can be difficult to hold the chuppah through the entire ceremony, though, so be sure the poles are long enough to put on the ground and still be able to stand underneath. Most often it is set up ahead of time at the altar area. There are no specific requirements other than that it covers you, or you stand under it, and couples can create their own chuppah, as elaborately or simple as they wish. I’ve seen some really beautiful chuppahs! Some couples use an existing arbor at a venue to represent the chuppah, and that’s ok, too.

The ‘circling ceremony’ is an ancient custom in which the bride walks around, or circles, the groom seven times. It may or may not coordinate to the ‘seven blessings’ (another tradition). It is said to demonstrate that the groom is the center of her life, or that she is the keeper of the home. There are some more egalitarian interpretations of this, and I have also created my own modern re-interpretations of this as well. For example, the groom may circle the bride, then the bride circles the groom. For same-sex couples you could the same thing.  I have written text that defines (or redefines) this ritual act as symbolizing that the bride will protect her husband, and have an equal role in the home, just as he agrees to protect her.

The seven blessings are part of a religious Jewish ceremony, and it’s a nice touch to have friends or relatives read them. They are part of a worship service, exalting God, but I have also adapted them in modern ways. So rather than saying, for example: ‘Blessed are you God, who create life,’ I might say ‘May you be blessed with generosity and giving with each other.’ And then six more variations!

The Ketubah is the marriage contract with ancient roots as well. Historically it spelled out the rights of the woman in the marriage, which I always take to be quite progressive for ancient times. Today many couples choose a Ketubah for symbolism and beauty. Many are works of art, and there are even inter-faith Katubahs. This tradition is one that adapts to modern times rather well, because it is already based in giving women rights.

There are other customs and traditions, but those are my favorites. Wine sharing and blessings can be included, and it is traditional for the couple’s parents escort them in. The veiling ceremony is when the groom sees the bride for the first time. The groom looks at his bride, they share a brief moment, and then he covers her with her veil. I’m not a fan of this one. I do like when the groom wraps his prayer shawl around the bride’s shoulders as a symbol of unity.

If not getting married in synagogue, a couple can still incorporate one or more of these rituals. These beautiful and rich traditions add depth to any ceremony when one or both of the partners identify with Jewish heritage.

     Thank you Lisa Rhinehart

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An Untraditional Royal Wedding!

You’ve probably heard the news – there’s going to be a Royal Wedding! I’ve never been a follower or fan of the whole British Royalty thing – but I do love weddings, and there are a few observations about the upcoming marriage of His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales (aka: Prince Harry) and Meghan Markle.

Meghan & Harry

We know modern weddings can be expensive, but the cost of their celebration is estimated at $45 million; but, to be fair, a lot of that goes to security.  In most ways, it will be a very royal affair, with fancy hats, ridiculously gorgeous flowers, and I’m sure the wedding dress will be amazing as well. With a backdrop of Windsor Castle how could this anything but a fairy-tale wedding? They will have a traditional wedding breakfast after the morning ceremony, though. Not quite American style, that’s for sure, but it won’t be breakfast as we think of it.

Yes, it will certainly be elaborate, but in a few ways the couple has made real breaks from tradition, and I applaud them for it. After all, the soon to be Princess is a modern and American woman. Ms Markle is already unusual for what Brits are used to in Royal couplings. But being charming, smart, and beautiful, she has won them over, or at least most of them. There are always some haters, we’ve come to expect that today, unfortunately.

By any other standard their wedding would never be considered low-key, but by royal standards it will indeed.  Some of the modern changes include Ms. Markle having her mother escort her down the aisle. We simple commoners may find this quite normal, but it certainly is a break from royal traditions – and if royalty is about anything at all, it’s about tradition.

Kate & William on the balcony

The couple is also prioritizing friends and family over guests with titles and dignitaries, however it is expected that there will be many celebrities attending. Given that Ms. Markle is an actress this is not surprising.

They have chosen a smaller chapel than previous royal weddings.  It will be held in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. I’m sure it’s a dump! They are also forgoing the ‘balcony kiss’ for the public, as well as ditching the carriage processional though London.

Remember, Queen Victoria started so much of how we think about modern weddings, and I’ve referenced her many times in this column. She, too, wanted it simple, but that was not going to happen. Victoria, whose name is even given to the era, is the one who gave us the white wedding gown, which she wore with gorgeous accessories such as jewelry and gloves. She wore a wreath of myrtle and orange blossoms on her head, however, I have not seen that recently. She popularized the wedding cake, and had 12 bridesmaids.

The Wedding of Queen Victoria

Many of us are old enough to remember Prince Charles marrying Diana Spencer at St Paul’s Cathedral. Her dress, was, in my opinion, hideous, although I may not have thought so at the time. Some fashions do not quite pass the test of time. But 750 million people watched the ceremony on TV and 600,000 people filled the streets of London to get a glimpse of the couple. I guess that tells us just how popular Royal Weddings can be. Then followed Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, Prince Edward and who even remembers her name, Prince Charles famously marrying Camilla Parker-Bowles, which was scandalous indeed. Prince William married Catherine Middleton, in 2011, yet another commoner!

So, for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, tune in on May 19thunless you plan to attend. After all, she is American and so are we, I’m sure we’ll be welcomed, although I heard the President is not.

   

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Let’s go to Brazil

I recently officiated for a bride from Brazil and it led me to explore the wedding traditions of that vibrant country.

When we think about Brazil from our perspective here in the U.S. we often think of the excitement and their world-famous Carnival or Ipanema beach.But there is more to Brazil than that.

Brazil is the largest country in South and Latin America, with over 208 million people, making it the fifth-largest county by area and the sixth-largest by population. Although the rest of South and Latin America speak Spanish, Brazilians speak Portuguese.

Their wedding ceremonies are most often in the church, as most of the country practices Roman Catholicism, having the largest number of Catholics in the world. So, the ceremony is something many Americans would be familiar with.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Brazil since May 2013, and clearly those weddings will not be held in the church.  So, what other options are there? In Brazil, notaries can officiate marriages, so many people are becoming notaries and officiating weddings in many of the amazing locations around this beautiful country.

 It is the custom in Brazil for both brides and grooms to wear engagement rings. And as often the case here, couples usually do not see each other before the ceremony. The groom arrives at the church first and the bride is expected be a little late, to add to the drama, no doubt.

Bridesmaids each wear a different color, instead of matching colors, and the brighter, the better. Now, there’s that Brazilian flare! We’ve been mixing it up here lately, too. I love the idea of dresses that don’t exactly match but somehow work together.

photo: Vanessa Abbud

No Brazilian wedding celebration would be complete, without the great music of this country, which is famous for samba and bossa nova.
bem casadosis a delicious sweet treat (which looks a lot like a macaron) and is often given as a favor at Brazilian weddings, probably because the name translates to “good marriage.”

In keeping with the Brazilian spirit, a wedding is an elaborate and festive occasion, and gold shoes are popular for the bride. There is lots of pre-wedding pampering going on for the women.

The night before the wedding the groom’s tie is cut up in pieces and those pieces are auctioned off at the reception. This is the job of the best man, and the money is meant on help with the couple’s honeymoon.

Extra cash is also raised with that gold shoe belonging to the bride. She puts it in the center of the dance floor and guests drop money in, as a form of well-wishes, that the couple’s financial future but prosperous.

One old tradition is the ‘donkey taming.’ This entails a groom doing just that: taming a donkey. This shows he is trustworthy and responsible. I hope it doesn’t represent taming his bride, but historically that could be the case. Today it is done in fun, and donkeys are sometimes incorporated in weddings, where they can carry flowers, escort the bride, or other photo opportunities.  Please have your donkeys dressed up. Donkeys are adorable, but apparently ubiquitous in Brazil, so much so that they are sometimes considered a problem.

For the wedding I recently created, to honor the bride’s Brazilian heritage, the couple each read their vows in Portuguese and in English.

From white-sand beaches, rainforests and rhythm-filled metropolises, with its legendary biodiversity, Brazil would be an amazing place to visit, and have a wedding. Please take me with you!

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Kilts, Bridescake and Cheese

Ancient and Unusual Scottish Wedding Traditions

While every culture has its traditions and it’s fun to explore them, the Celtic wedding customs are especially appealing to me. Breaking down the term Celtic – it generally refers to the languages and respective cultures of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, and Brittany.

I have already written about many Celtic traditions, especially for Irish and Scottish weddings, and last year when I took a trip to Edinburgh (highly recommended, by the way) I did some research and wrote a column on it. I’ve shared information about handfasting, bells, the oak branch, the Claddagh ring, good luck horseshoes, Irish music, Irish blessings,and other cool traditions that are still actively used.

But recently, I learned more about some of very unique ancientScottish marriage customs, most of them left in the ash heap of history. I’m going to share some of these almost forgotten traditions, at least as I have learned about them. Why? Because they’re intriguing, and entertaining.

To begin, I found this: in Gaelic it’s called therèiteach, and it is something we see in almost every culture – an agreement between the couple. When it was done in Scotland it would take place a few weeks before the ceremony, at the home of the bride’s father. Now here’s the crazy part we might not imagine doing today: Friends of the bride and groom would be there, and a series of ‘false brides’ would be brought in to be presented to the groom. Hilarity ensued, especially because they always included a married or elderly women.

Another odd custom was to have afriend of the groom ask for the bride’s hand in marriage on his behalf. Here’s the twist for this one: the bride would be referred to, not by name, but as something else. This ‘something else’ often related to the bride’s family’s trade, so, for example, if she was from a farm family, she might be referred to as a lamb. The groom’s friend would promise the groom would take good care of the lamb.  This would all be done in a very good-natured way, apparently. Not meant to dehumanize the woman, I presume, just lighthearted word play.  At least I hope so.

The foot washing tradition is something we see in many different cultures. The ancient Scottish take on this was to have fiends of the bride wash her feet in a tender and symbolic act of cleansing. Treatment of the groom, however, was a little different. His feet were covered in soot and feathers. Soot represented hearth and home and was thought to be lucky. Over time, this tradition evolved to include other substances, such as boot polish, tar, molasses, eggs and flour. Then, it got really out of hand and no longer were just the feet blackened. The groom (and sometimes the bride) would be covered from head to foot in all sorts of messy substances. This is still done sometimes – but probably best not on the wedding day.

Another old custom is what was called the ‘bridescake.’ Today we recognize it as simple the wedding cake. But this cake was made by the bride’s mother and was usually just a scone or shortbread. Here’s the fun part: part of the cake was broken over the bride’s head, signifying, as so many ancient rituals did, fruitfulness or fertility. I would love to do something like this in a wedding, but I don’t think any brides want to be covered in cake before the reception. We could, however, hold up an umbrella.

And finally, the old Scottish ‘cheese prank.’ This involves putting some preferably strong- smelling cheese between towels or fabric and placing in the wedding bed for good luck. Why is sleeping on cheese good luck? I have no idea.

Some of these traditions were done up to the 1920s which is why there is some good documentation. However, I don’t believe most of these still take place, except the ‘blackening’ thing. Maybe we’ll see a revival of some of these customs, who knows?

All cultures provide food and drink to celebrate marriage and in rural Scotland celebrations were held at home, with friends and neighbors preparing for weeks for this wedding feast. It’s good to know that some good things never change, and I’ll drink to that!

 

   

 

 

 

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When Actions Speak Louder…

I write a lot about customs and rituals; why am I always going on about this? What does it even mean, and why is it important?

Rituals are actions and words that are performed repeatedly and represent something specific. Something as simple as walking down the aisle at a wedding is a ritual. Symbols are the physical representation of ideas and thoughts. And both, either separate or together, move us beyond words. Symbols and rituals have been a part of all cultures for as long as… well, culture has existed. The Roman Catholic Church has amazing, old and mesmerizing rituals, and a lot of people tell me that is one reason they attend church.

Many rituals are tied directly to location, that is, countries, regions, and language, and others tied more to religion, where they have always played a huge role.  Rituals add a sort of magic, they allow the imagination to soar and connect us in ways mere words do not. In themselves, rituals and symbols do not hold power, it’s how they are used by us humans. They clearly have been used for better and for worse.

For weddings, as in the afore mentioned walk down the aisle, ritual is very important. That is because it connects us to the past while also creating a bridge into the future, which is exactly what needs to be done for an important milestone in life.

And while rituals can come from your background, whether faith tradition, culture, or your spirituality, how you see life and the greater world around us, rituals can also come have roots in your interests or passions. That is something quite different from the traditional, prescribed way of doing things. Ritual that is modern, quirky, and outside of the norm, can still be a ritual.

Take Water for example

Water has great meaning in religion, from baptism and holy water, to the sacred Ganges River in India, water is an ancient symbol. But it could also mean a lot to you if you love to be by the water, fish, or enjoy water sports. You may be concerned about the environment and the importance of access to clean water. I know many people find peace simply sitting by water, whether a river, lake, stream or ocean. I know I do.

If your wedding is taking place by the water – what an amazing opportunity to talk about that symbolism, even without necessarily doing any ritualistic action. I have, however, used a near-by body of water, by tossing pebbles into it after the ceremony, representing wishes, or blessing, or sending prayers into the universe, noting our place in nature and the world.

I also love using water as a symbol in a ritual, in fact, anything that relates to nature always appeals to me. But when I create a wedding, it isn’t about me. (Just needed to be sure to say that!) So, if the couple relates to water, we’ll explore it. How? It could something like sharing a drink of water, watering a plant or tree, pouring water back and forth, anointing, almost anything can be turned into a meaningful ritual given the right symbolism. It has to fit.

Water can be used for washing feet, in an ancient tradition that symbolizes being humble, serving another, and of course, purity. In Christianity, it specifically represents of the love Christ showed for his disciples when he washed their feet. I found it especially moving when Pope Frances washed the feet on immigrants, including Muslims, Hindus, Catholic and Coptic Christians.

In Judaism, it is customary for mourners to wash their hands upon leaving the cemetery as a symbol of spiritual cleansing. And in Islam ritual cleansing with water is done to the hands, mouth, nostrils, arms, head and feet and is an important part of ritual purity before prayer. In all these traditions, water is a beautiful symbol of humility, devotion and caring.

Water or wine, ancient or modern, religious or secular, ritual is the language of ceremony.

     Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the use of your wonderful photography

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The Evolution of the Processional

The processional: the first big moment of the wedding. It’s dramatic, with all eyes on that walk down the aisle.  There are some standards and rules that are easy to find in, for example, the Catholic Church, or other traditional services and settings. And, no matter what the traditional order of entrance, we’re most used to seeing the groom waiting at the altar for his bride to make her big entrance. But what if it’s two brides or two grooms?

One of the biggest and very positive effects gay weddings are having on straight weddings, is allowing us to think differently about the processional.

At this point in time, is there really any difference at all between a straight couple or a gay couples’ wedding?  I’m fond of saying there is no difference, but that isn’t entirely true.

There are a few nuisances to consider, and the processional is one of them.

In the end, everyone has the choice to create a different style processional, if they so desire. If you are not within the confines of a specific tradition, which maydictate exactly how that will go (and be sure ask about it if you’d like something different)the processional can be changed up in exciting new ways. With modern weddings, we have the opportunity to bend or break the rules. Don’t panic. You’ll still be married even if your processional is a bit different.

I understand that, for most people, the bride’s entrance is a moment she, and maybe her entire family, has been waiting for a lifetime. A father escorting his daughter down the aisle might his dream as well as hers, and a beautiful moment for sure. But it is not always an option. Sometimes there is no father in the picture, or for many reasons, it just may not work.

I have learned that when we break from traditions, for good reasons, we can enhance our experience, whether straight or gay.  Creating something that reflects who we are, and being authentic, is worth the time and thought.

There are a couple of ways to approach this.  Let’s break it down.

Photo credit: Garth Woods

The couple enters together. This is one of my favorite ways for any couple to enter. And it works well, not only for same-sex couples, but for anyone, and especially for an older couple who may have had a more traditional experience the first time around. It clearly symbolizes equality, and partnership, and if there are children involved, walking in with the kids is also great. As they enter, I might say, ‘please stand to greet the happy couple’, or ‘please welcome our brides’ (or grooms).

Two aisles– Instead of a center aisle, each partner can enter along the sides and meet at front,  or have two aisles created if space permits. Coming up next year and I have couple at a fancy resort, who worked out entering the ceremony space not just along the sides of the chairs, but from completely different locations, utilizing the entrances available at the venue. It is going to be very effective and dramatic. If escorted by a parent or parents, everyone meets and the front, with hugs and kisses all around and then the parents can take their seats.

Separately, down one aisle. Many people and many places are not happy if there is no center aisle, or can’t imagine creating two aisles. But if both partners are entering down the center aisle, it becomes tricky when deciding who enters first. Someone has to go first. I’m often relieved when the couple already has a clear idea about that, but if not, it has to be decided. Flip a coin maybe?

I have had a few same sex couples who chose to have one partner wait at the front and the other enter, perhaps feeling it is the traditional way to do it, and there is nothing wrong with that, either.

As to the rest of the processional – the attendants, aka: ‘bridal party’ – the good news is many young couples today are mixing it up. The people standing with you need not be dependent on their gender, but rather their relationship to you.  And how they enter can be interesting. aaI like alternating each attendant, as they enter, and having them peel off, left and right, each going to stand by ‘their’ person. They can also enter in pairs, and there’s nothing wrong with two men or two women entering as a ‘pair.’  If they enter separately they might then recess as couples. When there is an uneven number, have a best person walk alone, or space permitting, three people can walk out together. Attendants can also escort single parents, grandparents, or anyone who needs help, seat them, and then stand at the front.

The processional can be as innovative as you want it to be, and it will start the ceremony and the big day with a refreshing outlook.

 

     Thank you Lisa Rhinehart   and Garth Woods,  for the use of your wonderful photography

 

 

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    Lois Heckman

    Lois Heckman is a certified Life-Cycle Celebrant who officiates at weddings, funerals, and other ceremonies in the Poconos and beyond. She has performed hundreds of ceremonies and brings a wealth of knowledge to her work. Visit her website: ... Read Full
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