The FUNdamentals of Weddings

A wedding is such a joyous time, having elements that are fun or whimsical, even in the ceremony, can be appropriate – in the right proportion. While getting married is no joke, it is a time of happiness.  And it’s certainly not a competition; having the ‘best’ wedding in comparison to your friends and family should not be the goal. But having memorable elements can add so much, but only if they reflect something real about who you are.

I was thinking about some of the fun elements I’ve been a part of and want to share some of them today.

Entrances and exits are always an opportunity for something special. Instead of ‘just’ bubbles for the recessional get some bubble ‘guns’ for a bigger, better bubbly cloud to walk through. Likewise, confetti cannons for the end of the ceremony were a huge hit in a wedding I officiated. 

Another great exit was from a couple who married right by a lake. After I pronounced them, they paddled away, followed by their photographer in another  boat. They didn’t stay out too long, but it was just a cool way to ‘recess’ since they love boating and being on the lake was important to them.

Photo: Garth Woods

You can enter or exit in a golf cart or on horseback , in a carriage or on a motorcycle. I had a groom who was a firefighter who, yes he did – had his company bring a rig and the couple exited on the big red truck – but not before lots of photos.

Singing your vows – great for musicians! Or, along the same vein, how about a  short sing-along for the ceremony or reception. We sing in church and synagogue,  why not at a wedding? It won’t be easy figuring out the logistics, but it could be amazing. It’s clearly not for most people, but for that especially musical gathering it could work well.  I’ve incorporated something like this twice. One was for a wedding of a music teacher who enlisted her students as a sort of ‘Greek chorus’ within the ceremony. I created cues for them to follow – and they sang short segments of songs that related to the script. Another couple I worked with were part of the New York City theater scene, actors, and such, and I presented their ceremony in ‘acts.’ Act One – they meet, Act Two – falling in love, etc. You get the idea. And while speaking of music and theater – I have officiated on stage, in several theaters, and that can be very dramatic! 

Photo: Marco Caldron

I recently wrote about traditional clothing ideas, but instead of traditional, what about elements of a superhero (think: superman T-shirt under your shirt) or other references to your comic book or gamer side, such as the Star Trek communication device pinned onto your clothing. Speaking of nerdy things: a saber sword arch to walk through after being pronounced is a great homage to Star Wars. And more geeky ideas include quotes from your favorite sources, whether Game of Thrones, Lord of the Ringsor even Harry Potter.

For Dr. Who fans – have your rings in a miniature ‘TARDIS’ – if you don’t know what that is – this idea is not for you! 

And as a proponent of ritual, here are a few unusual ones I’ve worked with: putting together the final pieces of a puzzle as a unity symbol. Yes, the couple did that right within the ceremony.  I had a couple who made sangria together as a ritual act – it really meant something to them so why not? And twice I’ve been excited to be a part of the German tradition of sawing the log. Materials needed: two saw horses, a two-person saw, a log.

And one wedding the couple had their grandmothers as ‘flower girls,’ or in their case ‘flower women.’ 

Don’t forget about adorable cake toppers. 

Having your pets involved is tricky but always great, especially for photos.

Photo: Cassie Castella

Some of the funniest things I enjoy are stories. When I share an unusual or amusing tale about the couple (with their approval, of course) it elicits lots of loving laughter.

I’m sure there are countless ideas out there in the universe. The trick is to find or create one that really represents you. If it doesn’t, just skip it.

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A Dress from Many Places

Many Americans do not identify with one specific cultural background. I have heard clients say, ‘I’m a mutt,’ or ‘I’m like Heinz 57’ – meaning they are a mix, coming from many places. I tend to think that it’s fine to incorporate something for one piece of your cultural puzzle, as long as you know your family will be ok with it as well. Some backgrounds lend themselves more to ritual than others. Just be sure that by choosing to highlight one particular branch of the family background you’re not causing others to feel left out. 

Traditions can add so much to a wedding, deepening the experience. Some couples may not have given much thought to their heritage, but looking back on their childhood, they can recall special moments. Often it’s around food, or memories of family gatherings that could also include music, dancing or storytelling. There are so many lovely traditions that can be used in either the ceremony or at the reception. 

Readers of this space every Sunday will now be expecting the rest of this column to be about rituals and religious traditions. But not this time. Today I want to focus on weddingclothing, and the traditions that go along with that!

Around the world modern brides and grooms are forgoing traditional styles for their wedding and opting to wear western styles, by which I mean white gowns for women and suits or tuxedos for men. But I lean in the other direction. I encourage you to consider some of these old-school looks from around the world. Could you actually wear something so different? I think it would be amazingly lovely!

On the beach with bridesmaids in saris.

A Chinese bride often wears red, the color symbolizing good luck, along with gold, a sign of prosperity. Plain white for a woman or black for a man just doesn’t cut it in China. I am a big fan of a wedding dress that isn’t white.

The bride wore blue. (Garth Woods Photography)

An Indian woman probably wears a sari every day, but for her wedding she’ll take it up a notch or ten. There are many specific types of saris, and whatever region or religion she comes from, there is a wide assortment to choose from. Colorful and elegant, silk crepe and georgette, the sari is one of my favorite garments of all time. Modern Indian brides will often change out of the sari and into western style clothing after the ceremony.

Photo: Bill Cardoni photography

Pakistan and other Southeast Asian countries also wear saris, and don’t forget about lots of jewelry – bracelets, necklaces, nose and toe rings and tikkas (the jeweled ornament hanging onto the forehead). Add henna to complete the look.

We think of men in Scotland wearing those fearsome kilts, but women can also incorporate the family tartan with a sash added to her dress. A good seamstress or tailor can make that work.

Korean brides have a very specific look, the ‘Hanbok’ – a gown of simple lines and vibrant colors, incorporating a long sleeve, short jacket with ribbons. I’ve never seen one in-person, but the photos are wonderful; however, once again, western style gowns are most popular now-a-days, and the traditional dress is worn after the ceremony (the reverse of the Indian tradition – traditional for ceremony, western dress after).

I’m personally familiar with the Norwegian traditions and the ‘Bunad’ is a general term for their folk costumes that reference 19thand 18thcentury clothing. In other words, the Norwegian people have recreated this old style in honor of their heritage. On their national holiday, The 17thof May, you will see many people wearing these outfits as they celebrate, enjoying parades and partying all day and night. A Norwegian bride might also choose to wear a wedding Bunad, and like western gowns, they can be quite expensive, especially adding the requisite jewelry, such as the ‘Huesølvet’ (literally: head silver) which is like a crown. 

In Nigeria, a country with 250 ethnic groups and over 500 languages, weddings vary widely, but Nigerian brides often wear brightly colored clothing and a head dress called a ‘Gele’ that is quite elaborate. However, not too far away in Ghana you will find Kente cloth used for both bridal dresses and groom outfits. I officiated for a bride from Somalia, who had her bridesmaids wear Kente cloth, while she chose a white dress.

I snapped this picture.

Kazakhstan is a country many Americans are not familiar with; it is between Asia and western Europe, and borders both Russia and China, making it quite interesting. In a traditional Kazakh wedding, brides typically wear a pointy headdress known as a ‘Saukele’ with a veil that cascades over her face. The Saukele is usually prepared before girls reach the age of marriage, and the dress is also extremely elaborate. (By the way –  don’t google ‘Kazakhstan brides’ because you will find mail-order brides, which is often human trafficking.)

Mexican traditions vary widely, but often you’ll find brightly colored cotton skirts and embroidered tops – a traditional Mexican look which may also be worn for the wedding. Dresses with a bohemian look are also evocative of Mexican style. Inspired by Frida Kahlo you might want a ‘huipil’ style – the tunic worn in many regions of Mexico and Guatemala. All of these lend themselves well for a summer wedding or in a warm location. For a more relaxed affair, such as a backyard or beach wedding Mexican style clothing for women and men fits perfectly.

Around the world you will see the classic white gown and the suit or tuxedo and is always in style. But consider how interesting it would be to honor your background with what you choose to wear. I know the ‘dress’ is something many women have dreamed of for a long time, but it’s not everyone.

Perhaps an ‘inspired by’ style of dress, like a hybrid, is something you might consider. Take the modern western gown and add something from a particular culture and: voila! The ‘cheongsam’ for example, the body-hugging Chinese style of dress can be quite contemporary, perfect for a bride, bridesmaids or guests.

And guys, there are plenty of traditional ensembles for you, too!

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The extraordinary importance of the wedding vow

Wedding vows are perhaps the most important element of any wedding ceremony, and certainly deserve close examination.

As you can imagine, after 15 years of officiating weddings, many, many weddings, I’ve heard a lot of vows spoken. Some funny, some surprising, some too long, some too short. How do you get the ‘goldilocks’ effect – just right?

The type of vows we’re most familiar with date back to The Book of Common Prayer  (England) which dates back to 1549, but it isn’t the first place that vows can be found. Like so many of our wedding customs, it can be traced all the way back to the Roman Empire when the bride’s father would deliver her to the groom, and the couple agreed (with a vow) that they would wed. Remember that a vow is a promise or agreement. Wealthier Romans would sign documents listing property rights to publicly declare that their union was legal.  This was the beginning of the official recording of marriages.

In my celebrant practice, when a couple is writing their own vows I always request that each partner let me review them ahead of time – this is especially important when they are keeping them secret from each other. I want to be sure that there is a sense of equality between them and that one person doesn’t leave the ceremony feeling bad because they felt their vows weren’t good enough. When I explain this, most couples are very relieved. It can be harrowing to arrive at that important moment and be embarrassed in some way.

Some of the most interesting vows I’ve witnessed include a groom who had a guitar hidden at the altar, pulled it out, and SANG his vows to his bride! Another couple created vows as a back-and-forth style, like a jazz improvisation, trading solos so to speak. I had a couple who spoke their vows in unison. Bi-lingual vows always add something important.  Each partner can find the best way to incorporate different languages into their vows. But most often simply reading a heartfelt promise or more frequently, handling the situation with the classic ‘repeat after me.’

Another beautiful photo by Rhinehart Photography

It is perfectly ok to choose from vows that are already written, and I always provide lots of examples, from simple and classic to more involved.  Some have an eastern philosophical  influence, or a Celtic vibe. I have examples that would work better for couples with children. There are many circumstances that might inspire a specific point of view. There are plenty of examples easy to find on line. There is no need to reinvent this wheel.

When you think about what a vow actually is, choosing a classic one becomes easier. A vow is NOT your life story, it is NOT anecdotal, it is NOT a joke, it is your promise.A little fun in your vow is fine, just remember that a little goes a long way in this context.

We have all heard the phrase ‘for better or worse,’ and the most traditional vows include the phrases ‘in sickness and in health’ and maybe ‘til death do us part.’ I prefer ‘forever more’ but whatever you choose, you are promising to stick together until the end.

Most people are familiar with the phrase ‘to have and to hold’ and probably have not really thought about it too deeply. This is a holdover from a time when marriage meant possession of the bride, but in our modern times it simply has taken on the meaning of joining together. It might be outdated, but don’t sweat it. The ‘love, honor, and obey’ however, has really been (or should be) left on the trash heap of history. The obey part, that is!

The groom sings his vow

When we speak of traditional vows there really are lots of variations, especially within different religions. If you are leaving it up to your clergy person you will get different results from different faith leaders. Even within Christian denominations you will find variations. Protestant vows are the most familiar to most of us, with small differences between Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, and the Catholic vows are also similar.

Jewish wedding vows can be very similar but often add: ‘hallowed by the faith of Israel’ or the Rabbi might say: ‘according to the traditions of the people of Israel in love and in respect’. Another popular phrase in Jewish weddings will reference Song of Solomon ‘I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.’ That is my favorite psalm.

The vow should follow the questions that elicit the ‘I do’ response. For this part of the wedding ceremony I prefer  the phrase: ‘do you welcome’ rather than ‘do you take’ this person as your spouse.

Looking at aHindu wedding vowas the bride and groom walk around a flame honoring Agni, the Hindu fire god, they recite the following:

Let us take the first step to provide for our household a nourishing and pure diet, avoiding those foods injurious to healthy living.

Let us take the second step to develop physical, mental, and spiritual powers.

Let us take the third step to increase our wealth by righteous means and proper use.

Let us take the fourth step to acquire knowledge, happiness, and harmony by mutual love and trust.

Let us take the fifth step so that we are blessed with strong, virtuous, and heroic children.

Let us take the sixth step for self-restraint and longevity.

Finally, let us take the seventh step and be true companions and remain lifelong partners by this wedlock.

I think it’s fine to borrow from other cultures, inspired by ideas that are not your tradition. Cultural appropriation is one thing, inspiration and respect another. I promise.

 

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Making it work – new spins on old traditions

Last week I wrote about some of the not-so-pleasant origins of familiar wedding rituals, the bouquet and garter toss and cake smashing. Today I want to propose some ways to reinvent and renew customs that can sometimes feel outdated, awkward or even inappropriate. Like family, weddings can be complicated. When a particular tradition doesn’t work for you, you can toss it out, or you can update it! Here are a few new spins on old traditions.

Dance traditions at the reception. First, the father-daughter dance. This is lovely, but what if you are estranged from your father? Maybe have a step-father was more of a father to you than your biological one. Sometimes there is no one for a special dance, and sometimes more than one. There are many circumstances in which the entire tradition can feel wrong. If this doesn’t fit your family, consider replacing it with a ‘parents’ dance – invite all the parents of the couple onto the dance floor and take turns with everyone. Or just invite specifically, by name, those special people who influenced your lives – it can be anyone who is special to you.

There is also lot of focus on that ‘first dance’as a married couple. Some couples even take dance lessons to pull if off. But that first dance doesn’t have to be a spectacle. Try to enjoy it, and ask the DJ or band leader to invite everyone onto the dance floor after just a few minutes, if you feel you need to keep any awkwardness down to a minimum. A minute or two can feel like an eternity when all eyes are on you.

And then there’s the anniversary dance. This is when the DJ or bandleader calls all the married couples onto the floor and then starts winnowing it down to the couple married the longest. Why not reverse this? Start by calling those married longest onto the floor, and adding in more and more. Leaving the floor feels negative, joining people on the floor is positive. Still, it may cause divorced, widowed and single folks to feel left out. If you think it might make someone feel sad, skip this one completely.

Cutting the cakeand feeding it to each other is a time-honored tradition with lots of actual history behind it. It symbolizes your commitment to nourish one another. Most people love this, but not everyone, especially the feeding part when it turns into cake smashing. As I noted last week, this can be cute or awful. If you plan to feed each other cake, talk it over in advance and decide if how you want to do it, although some partners will smash the cake, even if they said they would not. Only you can decide if this is fun, funny, traditional or embarrassing. A really good spin would be to replace it by serving the cake to your guests. Not a cake fan? Serve different types of desserts and avoid the entire dilemma completely!

The traditional toastis great, but who do you ask to give the toast? The good news is you can also ask several people to offer toasts. But remind them to keep it short.  Toasts are not the same as the speeches. Give them a bit of direction ahead of time. For speeches, consider asking different people to speak to different topics, such as your childhood, your future, your interests, and their role in your journey, that way they won’t be repeating what someone else has said. I’ve heard many a speech that started with – ‘as so-and-so just said…’ It feels bad to have your planned speech become meaningless since someone already told those very same stories and stole your thunder. A couple can turn the tables and surprise their guests by toasting or speaking about them. If you have lots of tables of guests – toast each table!

If you are doing the garter or bouquet toss, remember to ask anyone who wishes to participate to come forward and tell them catching the bouquet or garter is good luck. Or consider having a piñata or toss stuffed animals. It’s especially nice if there are children attending (be sure each child gets one). Instead gift the bouquet to a special person. You can give out lottery tickets and launch them into the crowd, or have small bouquets made up with nice quotes and hand them out to all the women.

These are just a few ideas to update traditions. You can create your own special moments – with a choreographed kiss at the end of the ceremony, or a dance down the aisle, depart on horses or golf cart. There are countless twists on wedding traditions.

When you customize traditions to fit your own style and your family and friends, it’s sure to be a hit and remembered for years to come.

 

thank you Lisa Rhinehart for your beautiful photography!

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How Do You Feel About These Traditions?

In weddings, as in many things in life, everyone wants to decide what does or doesn’t fit their style and point of view. I was once taken to task for suggesting the garter toss felt weird to me. Some women will still love to do this – it can be fun, sexy, traditional or even silly. It’s up to you. But it’s good to take a look at different rituals and traditions to confirm your feelings about them.  If they don’t feel right, just don’t do them!

Along with my own qualms about the garter toss, are the bouquet toss and cake smashing. How the heck did these traditions come about? Let’s take a look.

Playing nice while cutting the cake.

Historically did you know that wedding guests and on-lookers outside a church would tear off pieces of the bride’s dress for good luck? Yes, this was a thing way back when, and it’s even worse than that. After the bride and groom said, “I do,” they were to go immediately into a nearby room and ‘close the deal’ and consummate the marriage.  This was known as ‘bedding,’ and took place in the 15thcentury in England and many places in Europe. Obviously, to be sure it was official, there would need to be witnesses, which led to hordes of wedding guests crowding around the bed, pushing and shoving to get a good view of the deed. Sometimes the guests helped get the process going by grabbing at the bride as she walked by, hoping to get their hands on a lucky piece of the dress.

The ’bedding’ custom did eventually become more symbolic, sometimes the couple were put in bed, offered food and wine, and then, thankfully, left alone. So over time, as couples continued to object, the bride was allowed to toss her bouquet, replacing a torn piece of her dress. Throwing the flowers so guests could run after it also gave her a chance to make a getaway. And it turned out, people like catching the flowers! So here we are.

The garter toss is directly related to this unpleasant tale. When the bride was on her way to the ‘wedding chamber’ along with attempting to tear at her dress, the cry would go out: ‘get her garter!’ and if the bride was prepared she’d have it already loose and toss it, rather than risk having it ripped off. Hence, the garter toss.

Another sometimes uncomfortable tradition is to have the guy that caught the garter put it on the leg of the woman who caught the bouquet. You can imagine how that could become a very cringe-worthy moment, for so many reasons!

A fun yet respectful spin on sharing cake.

If you want to toss either a bouquet and/or a garter I suggest you ask everyone to gather around and declare that its good luck to catch it – and call it a day. Asking only single men or single women and proclaiming they’ll be next to marry is rather embarrassing and most people don’t want to participate. Dividing people up is never something I like to see, not to mention you are making assumptions about people’s sexual orientation. But if you are inclusive, this stale tradition could be made fun again!

Smashing cake is not always appreciated either, apart from the aggressive factor,  it can ruin hair, make-up and clothing, but if you think it’s fun – go for it – just make sure both partners completely agree on this. And don’t pull one of those white lies – telling your partner you won’t do it and then going ahead and smashing cake in her face. That is a terrible way to start your married life – basically with a lie. So please, folks,  be honest about this one. Of course, this also has roots as far back as ancient Rome, when the bride would conclude the festivities by having a barley cake smashed upon her head. This dubious tradition was done to symbolize male dominance and encourage fertility. No shock there. The crumbs that fell were quickly scooped up ostensibly for good luck. Once actual wedding cakes came on the scene (Victorian England) this evolved into a lovely ritual of the couple simply cutting the wedding cake together and sharing it. Now that is playing nice. The origins of the cake smashing seem clear and it’s sometimes said that it represents a comedic way to show male dominance. Then women started smashing back and that’s where we’re at today. Some people see it as silly, and fun and others think its demeaning. What do you think?

Tune in next week for some alternative ideas to refresh some of these tired old traditions!

thank you Lisa Rhinehart for your beautiful photography!

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The beauty of Taoism

With so much wisdom around the world, its challenging to sift through it all and find great quotes, inspiration, and readings for weddings. But hey, that’s my job, and I often find words that resonate in Taoism (or Daoism – both are correct). About 20 million people practice this religion, really more of a philosophy, that originates in 6thcentury China. Many Westerners know it for its iconic yin-yang symbol.

Taoism is loosely called ‘the Way’ and Yin and Yang are the elements that help define it. This is the principle that all things are inseparable and connected, even if they seem opposites, they are really complementary. The yin is the dark swirl and the yang, the light swirl. There are countless qualities, objects and concepts assigned to each.

”]Taoism guides you to accept yourself and accept that nature is ever changing and yet always the same. It’s a ‘go with the flow’ viewpoint that teaches people to live true to themselves and to aid others. If this feels familiar perhaps that is because all religions and philosophies strive to help us mere humans cope with the trials we encounter on our path in life. And like other religions, Taoism has many sacred texts.

Lao Tzu – known as the author of the Tao Te Ching, the “bible” of Taoism – has some awesome stuff. Here’s an example:

Whatever is planted deeply is not easily uprooted.

Whatever is embraced sincerely does not crave escape.

Ever since we lost our intuition as our main guide in life,

these virtues have had to be consciously cultivated to survive.

Cultivate them in yourself and they will be genuine.

Cultivate them in your family and they will surely flourish.

Cultivate them in your community and they will be long lasting.

Cultivate them in your country and they will be widely propagated.

Cultivate them in the world and they will certainly become universal.

In this way you will know others by what you do yourself.

You will know families by what you contribute as a family.

You will know the world by what you do as a planetary citizen.

How do we know all this?

Because we know that each part is the whole,

and the whole is in each part.

”]Lao Tzu also gets credit for the famous saying ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’

Weddings in the Taoist tradition do not have many required elements and can vary widely. Basically, the couple agrees to mutual obligations, witnesses should be present, and a proclamation is made. Taoists are often Chinese and so may include a Chinese Tea Ceremony, or other cultural elements.

There are Taoist temples, monasteries and priests, rituals and ceremonies, and a host of gods and goddesses for believers to worship. I was happy to learn that women have played a fairly important role as shamans. Taoist do not worship God in the way Abrahamic religions do. It’s more about the universe and wisdom, and Laozi (or Lao Tzu) sure had a lot to say about it.

Side note: modern historians are not sure Lao Tzu even existed and think that the Tao Te Chingis more likely a compilation of writings. But we’ll leave that to the scholars.

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Lao Tzu: “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

 

 

 

 

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The Complex Story of ‘Who Pays for the Wedding’

Recently a friend asked me why, traditionally, the bride’s family paid for the wedding, knowing that in our modern world there are any number of ways that can go. I have worked with many couples who were paying for their own wedding, which I is pretty common these days. Historically, however, the bride’s family paid for the wedding, and I’m old enough to remember when that was a pretty clear rule, yes, even in my own lifetime.

Why? Because until modern times (and still in many places in the world) women were (and are) simply chattel – that is: property, and girl child was considered a burden on the family. Girls could not contribute in labor or produce wealth for the family.  From this arose the dowry– a payment to take the girl off the family’s hands. Marry her off. At its worst, dowries are linked to child brides. Sometimes the girl was used by her husband’s family as a domestic worker, adding insult to injury. Through this history we can draw a straight line – from the bride’s family paying the dowry, to the bride’s family paying for the wedding. In medieval Europe a large dowry enhanced the parent’s chances of making a good match for their daughter.  But sometimes it wasn’t completely heartless.

But we should not make too many assumptions, because although there are many places and examples of women simply viewed in this way, there is also some research indicating that the dowry protected women, giving them value, so they would be treated better. The dowry would even sometimes be returned to the wife if there was ill treatment by her husband and his family.

This poses an obvious age-old question: why is that women were seen as vulnerable, in need of protection? A lot of it is simply biology – women get pregnant, women bear children, and women raise children. This was risky business, and still is today for many women, in fact, our maternal mortality rate is rising here in the United States

Recently a friend asked my why, traditionally, the bride’s family paid for the wedding, knowing that in our modern world there are any number of ways that can go. I have worked with many couples who were paying for their own wedding, which I is pretty common these days. Historically, however, the bride’s family paid for the wedding, and I’m old enough to remember when that was a pretty clear rule, yes, even in my own lifetime.\

Why? Because until modern times (and still in many places in the world) women were (and are) simply chattel – that is: property, and girl child was considered a burden on the family. Girls could not contribute in labor or produce wealth for the family.  From this arose the dowry– a payment to take the girl off the family’s hands. Marry her off. At its worst, dowries are linked to child brides. Sometimes the girl was used by her husband’s family as a domestic worker, adding insult to injury. Through this history we can draw a straight line – from the bride’s family paying the dowry, to the bride’s family paying for the wedding. In medieval Europe a large dowry enhanced the parent’s chances of making a good match for their daughter.  But sometimes it wasn’t completely heartless.

But we should not make too many assumptions, because although there are many places and examples of women simply viewed in this way, there is also some research indicating that the dowry protected women, giving them value, so they would be treated better. The dowry would even sometimes be returned to the wife if there was ill treatment by her husband and his family.

This poses an obvious age-old question: why is that women were seen as vulnerable, in need of protection? A lot of it is simply biology – women get pregnant, women bear children, and women raise children. This was risky business, and still is today for many women, in fact, our maternal mortality rate is rising here in the United States!

The dowry continued in Western culture until around the dawn of the Industrial Age. It is featured prominently in the novels of Jane Austen.

After the dowry faded away, women still had a trousseau, which consisted of the bride’s dress and accouterments for the wedding, in addition to household linens, and other belongings collected for her marriage.  She was still bringing something, not a dowry, but something with her to the marriage. When these possessions were put into a trunk – we have a hope chest. A hope chest or a trousseau can be quite charming and does not have to be seen as a payment but rather as a sentimental and loving collection of items. A girl’s hope chest today can include many things, but especially items handed down from the family.

And now for a curve ball. There is another payment, we don’t hear about as much, and that is the bride-price, or sometimes referred to asbridewealth– which is the money, or other valuables, paid by the groom to the bride’s family. The exact opposite of the dowry. French anthropologist Philippe Rospabé, reports that the payment does not entail the purchase of a woman, as was thought in the early twentieth century. Instead, it is a symbolic gesture acknowledging the husband’s debt to the wife’s parents.  Is buying an expensive diamond ring really all that different?

Placing a monetary value on women sounds terrible today but given context maybe it’s not all that bad. As I’ve noted before, the Jewish tradition of a ketubah, a marriage contract, also served to protect the women’s rights. It substituted for the bride price, that a young man might have had trouble raising. He would have to pay that bride price back to the family if the wife had legitimate grounds for divorce. She was protected, he was penalized.

So, the dowry and the bride-price are two different things, but amazingly, both were attempts to improve the success of the marriage, if only in a very dated and limited way. I’m no historian, but a little research reveals a lot of complex history, but it all comes down to labor versus wealth.

The next time you hear that the bride’s family pays for the wedding, you’ll understand there is a long, long history that got us here.

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Adults Only

Inviting or not inviting children to your wedding

Last week I wrote about the wedding guest list and how to deal with excluding people, adults you may not want to invite for a variety of reasons. Today let’s talk about the kids!

I’ve often written about including children in the wedding, if the couple marrying has children. In my view, it’s really important to include your own children in your ceremony – it’s a big day for them as well. They are more than witnesses to this moment, they are a part of it, and should be included in meaningful ways.

But for couples without children, how do they decide if their wedding should include kids as guests, or should they have an adults-only affair?

Both choices are fine, there is no right or wrong way to do this. Here are some pros and cons to consider.

(Rhinehart Photography)

Yes to children at wedding 

  • You love the idea of flower girls and ring bearers and always imaged that would be a part of your big day
  • Your best friends have kids and you kind of like them, too.
  • The children are close family members
  • They are old enough to behave and are probably excited to be there

If you are leaning towards a kid-friendly wedding, ask yourself: can you provide some child care, maybe get a babysitter at your venue.? If you are at a hotel, the little ones can be put to bed before the night is over – if parents feel safe leaving them in their room and returning to the party. Parents can check on their children frequently – but for some it will be a deal-breaker. It depends on their age, of course.

Can you provide activities for children to enjoy? At a bare minimum even crayons and paper at the reception would help, but you can go all out on this as well with games, toys and activities.

Older children can play other roles, such as handing out programs, escorting people to their seats, and taking care of younger children.

If you plan well, a child-friendly reception can be fun and memorable! And if you plan well, you can even get little ones through the ceremony without a fuss.

The lollipop trick didn't work (Rhinehart Photography)

No to inviting the children 

  • If you are having a formal dinner reception, a black-tie affair, or something very fancy, it is totally appropriate not to invite children. For a more relaxed style affair, a luncheon for example, it may seem a bit harsh to not include your nieces, nephews, or friend’s children.
  • Your friends and relatives with kids would love a night or weekend out without the kids. Talk to them about it and find out.
  • You’re just not that into kids at this time in your life.
  • You are having a late-night affair, too late for children to stay up.

What ages are we talking about anyway? What about teenagers? Are they old enough to be included, and will they enjoy the festivities? Be sensitive to the feelings of teens, they don’t like being thought of as children. You can create your own age limit of sixteen or even twelve or thirteen and draw a line that helps ease your guilt. 

I’ve seen little kids crying and being disruptive during the ceremony and I’ve seen them be angels. You never know for sure how young children will react, they may feel very stressed being in a new situation.

If there will be little ones at your ceremony or reception, there are a few things you can do to mitigate potential problems. I suggest giving lollipops (if ok with parents of course) which will keep talking and  squawking at bay. Small toys or stuffed animals might help occupy a young child. I sometimes make a brief announcement to assure parents that its perfectly ok to get up and walk out with your child if need be. We will all understand and don’t want anyone to feel stuck or embarrassed. What a relief to hear that for the parents who may feeling uneasy or embarrassed. No one needs to feel bad – kids will be kids. But will they be the kids at your wedding?

How cute is this? (Rhinehart Photography)

 

thank you Lisa Rhinehart for your beautiful photography!

 

 

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To invite or not to invite – that is the question.

Taking the Guess Out of the Guest List

One of the trickiest decisions in wedding planning is the guest list. Almost every couple I speak with expresses that they want the people they love the most to share their special day.

But how do you handle it when there is someone you don’t want to be there yet, superficially, seems a natural for an invite. This could apply to a friend or co-worker but is the most difficult when it’s a family member. Then there is the question of whether or not to have children attend, but I’ll save that for another day!

Who will fill these seats?

First let’s think about the reasons you may not want someone at your wedding. It could be a past grievance, or the person in question may have a drug or alcohol problem that you feel would be disruptive. Maybe they are a loud and divisive person and you feel no love for them, or to a lesser extent – you just don’t feel close to them. Your parents say yes, but your gut says no.

There is also the real possibility that the person abused you. I know it’s hard to bring up this sensitive topic – but child sexual assault survivors may not have disclosed to their family. If the abusive person (sometimes a beloved uncle, or other close relative) seems like a natural for the guest list (given no one knows about this) you have every right NOT to invite him. Just be aware that this could force you to disclose, even if you don’t want to do that. I clearly believe any molester or abuser should NEVER be invited. Survivors, please seek counselling on this. From here on I’m not speaking about perpetrators, but just family disagreements or the other issues I mentioned.

Assuming you did some real soul-searching and you feel strongly about it, is there any wiggle room? Maybe it’s an opportunity to mend some fences? Maybe it is a compromise, especially for your parents. Can you live with it? If you simply can’t, what do you do?

The choice can be made even more complex if parents are paying for the wedding. A long and honest conversation must be had, and that in itself is hard. You may be creating a new family drama, one that goes on for years. But if you feel strongly about this, you have to find your way through it.

If you find you have to explain to the uninvited why they are not invited – try to not exaggerate. Don’t say you’re having a very small wedding, if you are not, because it will come back to bite you. Oh, they’ll hear about it! Simply tell them it was a difficult decision, and you’re sorry that it upset them. Most likely you won’t have to speak with them directly, but your parents or other family members will hear about it… maybe forever!

For friends you have fallen out of touch with, such as college friends, sorority or fraternity people, former co-workers, and even some who invited you to their weddings, it is a bit easier. If you start hearing from people who are, for example, suddenly commenting on your engagement pictures on Facebook or reaching out to you, they may be fishing for an invite. For this situation the answer is – keep it real. Just explain that the wedding list is getting out of hand, and your budget won’t allow for invites other than the very closest relatives and friends. If they truly value the relationship, they will take it well, and if you value the relationship, try to make an effort to catch up in other ways in the future.

Waiting for the guests (photo by Lois)

I don’t advocate going overboard with the excuses. Remember that sometimes less is more. Again, just express that you’re sorry and understand it may have surprised them or hurt their feelings. It’s always a good idea to validate feelings. Tell them it was a hard decision. Be as compassionate and gracious as possible, but in the end, don’t let family talk you into inviting people you truly don’t want at your celebration.

Think forward five or ten years from now. Will you regret not having them at your wedding? Will it matter? This will also help guide you.

If you are talking about your wedding at work, you may find that suddenly your boss or coworkers are dropping hints about being invited. This one is easy. You are under no obligation what-so-ever to invite them.

One final thought: you may be thinking people are hurt because they are not invited, but they may be relieved! Maybe just as you don’t want them there, they may not want to be there. You could be doing them a favor.

This is why people elope!

thank you Lisa Rhinehart for your beautiful photography!

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The ‘Adventure’ of Love

The Power of Myth and the Meaning of Ceremony

As I have noted many times, the variations of wedding ceremonies, regardless of time and place, share strong common threads.

Joseph Campbell, known for his study of mythology, comparative religion and just his great understanding of life, is best known for defining the ‘hero’s journey.’ This concept permeates many aspects of our lives, from Star Wars movies (George Lucas was inspired by Campbell) to weddings. The power of myth, the hero’s journey, and the role of symbols – all inform my understanding of ceremony.

Speaking of myth in this context does not mean an absence of reality, but refers to ancient tales that share the themes of setting out on a journey, overcoming challenges and returning home with greater clarity. This goes all the way back to ancient Greece. Think: Homer’s Odyssey.  In the context of weddings, the ‘call to adventure,’ the beginning of the journey, is the call of love.

Campbell actually also wrote about love and marriage along with his exploration of the meaning of ritual and its place in our consciousness. I agree that rituals give deeper meaning to ceremony. It doesn’t have to be a specific ‘unity’ rituals such as the use of candles, handfasting, jumping the broom, breaking the glass or any other cultural or religious customs. Do not underestimate the importance of the wedding ceremony. Marking this moment in time, in a way that connects you to the past while moving into the future, is one of life’s most momentous occasions.

photo: Big Stock

A wedding ceremony is certainly an age-old, time-tested ritual. We take comfort in this ritual; this event puts our intention out in the world for all to see. Even an elopement carries much of the same power. The entire ceremony, from processional to recessional is ritualist in itself. Think of how each partner enters the ceremony space separately but leaves together. That is a power thing.

Campbell famously said: ‘Follow your bliss.’ And love challenges us to do just that. He continues ‘If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.’

Many couples have expressed this idea to me, although not in those exact words, but shared that they feel they are meant to be together and look forward to their future, wherever it leads them.

But we all know that marriage is not a bed of roses. Challenges will come, so will sadness and struggle. Overcoming obstacles is part of the journey. Campbell is very clear that once a couple discovers that love is not perfect, they have a choice. And choosing to stay together is the whole point.  To stay together and make marriage work you need compassion, not perfection.

Nikki Giovanni wrote: ‘We love because it’s the only true adventure’ – just ask any couple that has been together for decades!  And each partner, regardless of gender, is a hero. To quote Campbell again: ‘by participating in a ritual occasion you are in a magical field, a field that is putting you in touch with your own great depth.’

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