Weddings are Back… I Think

It’s good to see weddings returning, and let’s hope it can stay that way. Since the pandemic I’ve been officiating lots of elopements. Couples want, and sometimes need, to get married and it’s the safest way to do it given the circumstances. But finally, things are opening up a bit and I officiated my first larger wedding last week. But this regular or more traditional wedding, you know, the way it used to be, had only about ½ their original number of guests attend. 

Everyone – guests, staff and vendors, were wearing masks. I did notice a few guests not wearing them, but at least that was outdoors. I don’t stay for receptions, and theirs was indoors, so I’m wondering how that all went down.

Most venues are being flexible about guest count. Normally when you book a location there are minimum numbers required for different packages. In these uncertain times it’s hard to know what the situation will be when the wedding day finally rolls around. I am only aware of one negative story from a couple about a hotel (that shall remain nameless) treating them horribly when they tried to reschedule. The couple wound up booking elsewhere.

Elopements can be quite romantic (photo: Lois Heckman)

I understand that venues, along with many businesses, are losing money (I am too) – but kindness and flexibility need to take precedence. 

I’m profoundly sorry for anyone who lost a loved one to the virus and all who suffered with the sickness. I’m not going to lecture about masks or social distancing, and I don’t want to focus on all that that has gone wrong in our country. But clearly we’re in trouble, including the wedding business – why would we be any different? 

There are some good things that resulted from quarantine and our new reality. We see a lot of friends helping friends and neighbors helping neighbors, families spending more time together and there’s the beauty of working from home in your pajamas. 

I am happy to report than almost every single one of the engaged couples I am working with are handling their disappointing situations with grace. The uncertainty is the most difficult part. If we reschedule for THIS date, will we be safe? What about THAT date instead? When the future is in doubt, making plans is nearly impossible. Sometimes the rescheduling happened multiple times, moving a spring wedding to fall, and then changing it to next year!

There is no hierarchy of grief, mourning or sadness. Everyone is entitled to their feelings even if others have had worse things happen. Certainly, the death of a loved one doesn’t compare to your wedding being postponed – but you are still allowed to be upset about the disruption of something you planned and dreamed about for a long time. 

Through it all we are reminded of the importance of love, and a wedding celebration is certainly about love. As Gandhi said: “Where there is love, there is life.”

Photo credit: Mackey photo/video

Weddings are not only about commitment but about community. Without guests at a wedding you miss that human connection and the opportunity to stand before the people you love and declare your marriage to them and to the world. It is an important part of the ceremony. This is not to say you can’t have a meaningful elopement, and I have tried to make each and every one of them special. Elopement can also be extremely romantic. But when couples’ plan a wedding with guests they want the people they love to be a part of this milestone in their lives.

I often propose that marriage is the third most important rite of passage in life, right up there after birth and death. So, hang in there engaged people and families! We’ll get through this. Let love guide the way.

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

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Infusing A Social Message into Your Wedding

I’m going to write about weddings today, I promise, but first a little story.

Once, when I wrote a letter to the editor on a political issue, I got a comment telling me to stay in my lane. The person said I should stick to writing about weddings and shut up about other things. More recently most papers have disabled the comment sections – and for good reason! People have used it to make hateful and even threatening responses. It’s easy to do that when you have a fake ‘handle’ or identity that you can hide behind to spew your prejudice. AHH, the internet! It has given us the best and worst of humanity.

The idea is still prevalent that actors, athletes or other public figures shouldn’t have political voices. Just play ball and shut up. This is so wrong on so many levels. We are all individuals, and because we do one thing publicly doesn’t mean we don’t have views and even a lot of knowledge about other things. The Pocono Record publishes opinion pieces from many people, even those who might lack specific background, knowledge or training on their subject matter Kudos for that! We all have a voice. Ironically the person who told me to stay in my lane had no idea how many lanes I’ve been in over my lifetime!

So, yes, I’m allowed to have opinions and feeling on issues besides wedding. I even like to bring some of those views and some of my background in other fields to my work as a celebrant. But I am mindful this must be done with respect, listening to those I’m working with.

When I create ceremonies for same-sex couples I always ask them if they would like some words about their right to marry, something denied for so long. Sometimes I will quote from the rulings that made it legal. That might even be connected to many other forms of discrimination. Of course not everyone wants to do this, but it can be a powerful statement in a ceremony, which is such an important time in one’s life.

Modern couples have many choices for their ceremony from the extremely religious to completely secular, and everything in between. No matter where you fall on that spectrum if you feel strongly about a social issue you can have your values infused into your wedding ceremony, or celebration.

Photo Credit: Lisa Rhinehart – Rhinehart Photography

Here are a few suggestions:

Make a statement in your ceremony. For example, have your officiant say that you celebrate your love in freedom and it is your wish that every person has freedom from bigotry, hate, and access to the opportunities you have had in your lives. Or ‘the couples asks that you honor them by standing up against hate.’

Infuse a ritual with symbolism of justice and freedom, or create a community vow where everyone pledges to do more to bring peace and justice to the world. A candle lighting ritual could include words about bringing more light and truth into the world. Add words of support of social justice to a sharing the peace ritual, or butterfly release with words that express how the butterflies carry your values of justice out into the world.

Photo Credit: Sabrina Schantzen

You might ask your guests to make a contribution to a cause you support. Put a note at each place setting at the reception with envelopes to mail or links to your particular issue.

Everyone has a voice. With the heightened awareness of the systemic racism in our society, now is the time to use yours! Take any opportunity you can to speak out, as well as listen and learn, and do something! Help us fulfill our American Dream for every citizen. Why not express that at your wedding?

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

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Weddings in the Time of Covid

I am happy to have a break from writing Pocono Wedding Talk – the COVID information that is provided by the Pocono Record is so much more important, and it seems frivolous to write about weddings, especially since they are mostly cancelled now anyway. But it’s been about a month since I wrote a column and I did think it worthwhile now to update you on what’s going on in the world of weddings through this unusual time in our lives.  And there are many situations to discuss.

First I want to tell you about one of ‘my’ couples – I’ll call them Abbie and Elliot (not their real names – but a real couple I assure you). They were planning to get married in late April – very soon now. I was all set to officiate their smaller gathering, about 35 guests, here in the Poconos. The couple, however, live in California, but their families are from this area so they planned to fly here and make it convenient for the folks. That’s all on hold now. Both work in health care and their own situation is scary enough. They told me moving the wedding a few months ahead won’t work for them because Abbie just found out she’s pregnant and won’t be able to fly. More than ever they want to get married before their baby arrives. To make things more complicated they don’t want to put their aging parents at any risk. Right now they are just letting it all go. I’ve returned their deposit and hope we can have a great wedding and baby welcoming ceremony together next year. Perhaps, they’ll elope in California, that would work for them They really want to make it official.

Large groups won’t work right now.
Ephemera Photographics

If a couple can get a date at their venue that works for most of their vendors, they are quite lucky. Some have to find a new photographer, or DJ, if their new chosen date is a conflict for the vendor. I’m glad to see most are putting their officiant first on that list; my clients are doing that and have told me I’m their first call. After all, you can’t get married without someone to marry you. And coordinating all of those vendors – again – definitely not fun; didn’t you already do this once? 

How far out should you choose a date, if you can get one? No one knows when the stay-home orders will be lifted, and more importantly, when it will actually be safe to gather in larger groups. The safest option is to re-schedule for next year, maybe even for the same month and day, if possible. Many of the weddings I was booked for this spring have rescheduled for this fall. I sure hope things are ok by then. But safety is the most important thing.

Like most small businesses, the shut-down has been very difficult for wedding vendors, most who are self-employed, like DJs, musicians, florists, caterers, wedding planners, dress shops, tux rentals, and officiants like myself. Almost all of us do not hold salaried positions. Our incomes will return when the weddings return, but sadly, some will really struggle through this. 

All wedding vendors are impacted. Here’s photographer Aimee Blasko.

For couples stressed out, please know that it’s ok to be sad. A wedding is something most have looked forward to for a long, long time. Couples I’m speaking with are doing everything they can, with a sense of acceptance and even with grace. They seem to have it in perspective, understanding that they will get married (eventually) and that the health of our families, friends, communities and this world is a bigger issue and the greater good. I haven’t had anyone freaking out, most people do have this in perspective, and that gives me great hope.

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

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As of 3/17 we’re taking a break – the Pocono Record will be using the space to accommodate the USA Today Network “Nation’s Health” section.

Scroll back and visit the hundreds of blogs I’ve written over the years, or search for a topic that interests you.

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Everything’s Canceled, What Do We Do?

Talk about wedding stress! This is not a crisis over a dress or flowers. The Coronavirus has caused the cancellation of countless events. What if it’s your wedding? For that matter what if another emergency came up that puts your special event into question. What do you do? How would you handle that?

It is a confusing and very emotional situation. 

So, should you cancel? If the wedding is a large gathering and happening within the next week or so, the short answer is yes. As the country and indeed the world is trying to contain this virus from spreading, it’s not wise to have large gatherings of people. Follow guidelines issued by your local community or state officials. They are keeping track of cases in your area.  

That doesn’t mean you still can’t get married. Paring the event down to those closest to you, if you know they haven’t been exposed (at best guess) and just including those who are deemed healthy and the least at risk is one viable alternative. If someone at risk is a parent or other close person, that could be a deal breaker. The couple themselves may have been exposed, and while most people don’t get sick or die from it, they could transmit it to someone else.

Clearly,  this is a very difficult decision. And the decision may not even be in your hands. It is not only up to the couple, but the venue, musicians, officiant, DJ, photographer, florist, caterer…any and all the people involved who may want to decline.  And of course, you can elope! (hey, give me a call!)

This speaks to a larger issue as well. And that is facing adversity as a couple. When you plan a wedding, you should also really be planning a marriage. I’m sure many discussions have already taken place about who you are and where you want to go. But facing problems, if you haven’t already, can be a real test.

You won’t be surprised as I reference a ritual now. Using water as a symbol is one of my favorites. I perform many variations of water rituals for ceremonies. I love the idea that water cuts a new path as it flows around any obstacles it meets. 

Keep it small and outdoors.

In other words, learning to deal with the ebb and flow of life is essential to a healthy marriage. If you wedding is in jeopardy due to things beyond your control, let that begin with this moment.

Yes, you will be extremely disappointed and put out in many ways, but, like every obstacle in life, how you deal with it is what matters. Go ahead and be angry, sad, and work through all of that – but come out like the water at the other end of the rocks…. keep flowing. Be mindful of the big picture and have faith in your relationship. Many have faced worse – in times of war, for example. 

Couples and families can take this opportunity to talk about what matters the most,  reaffirming their love and commitment. Challenge yourselves and one another to deal with a crisis you can’t control with grace and dignity, as much as possible. No one is perfect but let’s try to be kind, compassionate and patient.

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

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It’s All About the Numbers

If you believe in this sort of thing, the number seven is a very spiritual number. It is associated with intuition, mysticism, inner wisdom, and seeking truth. Numerology is a belief in the mystical relationship between a number and coinciding events or characteristics. It often involves taking the numerical value of letters in words or names and associates that number with different ideas or qualities. Numerology can have a paranormal or astrological association and even given divine connotations. 

Two really wonderful rituals involve the number seven: The Steven Steps, and the Seven Blessings. However, I would not attribute these to numerology, but I especially love that both use the number seven. 

The Seven Steps, or Saptha Padhi, is an important ritual in a Hindu marriage ceremony. For this sacred rite of passage, the couple walks around a fire or flame, seven times. The flame honors the fire god, Agni. You may be familiar with the idea that fire is one of the four elements: earth, air, water and fire, but in the Hindu traditions fire is one of the five elements, along with space (or void), water, air (or wind), and earth, the five combine to form the ‘perceived material existence’ – or simply, the material world. 

There is a lot of history and depth to the significance of Indian gods, whether Hindu, Buddhist, or Jain, and it’s extremely complicated. For my purpose today, I’ll just say Agni is important and fire is a strong symbol.

Naturally there are variations of this ritual. In India, being such a big country, you will find different versions, from region to region, with slightly different wording, but the idea and intent remains the same.

This ritual is so important that with the completion of the seventh step the couple is legally married.

The words for each step describe the promises the couple makes to each other: 

  1. Let us take the first step to provide for our household a nourishing and pure diet, avoiding those foods injurious to healthy living.
  2. Let us take the second step to develop physical, mental and spiritual powers.
  3. Let us take the third step to increase our wealth by righteous means and proper use.
  4. Let us take the fourth step to acquire knowledge, happiness and harmony by mutual love and trust.
  5. Let us take the fifth step so that we are blessed with strong, virtuous and heroic children.
  6. Let us take the sixth step for self-restraint and longevity.
  7. Finally, let us take the seventh step and be true companions and remain lifelong partners by this wedlock.

The Seven Blessings in the Jewish wedding praise God; they are about the creation of the world, the creation of humankind, the unity of loving people and the joy of marriage. Many contemporary Jewish weddings do not include this ritual, but personally, I love it! And there are many modern variations, I’ve even created some myself. I often ask the couple to pick seven people to come forward to read each one. Here’s a nice variation:

1. Love 

May you be blessed with love. May your admiration, appreciation and understanding of each other foster a love that is passionate, tranquil and real.  May this love between you be strong and enduring and bring peace into your lives.

 2. A loving home 

May you be blessed with a loving home filled with warmth, humor and compassion.  May you create a family together that honors traditions old and new.  May you teach your children to have equal respect for themselves and others and instill in them the value of learning and tikkun olam (making the world a better place – an important Jewish value).

3. Humor and play 

May you be best friends and work together to build a relationship of substance and quality. May your sense of humor and playful spirit continue to enliven your relationship.  May you respect each other’s individual personality and perspective and give each other room to grow in fulfilling your dreams.

4. Wisdom 

May you be blessed with wisdom. May you continually learn from one another and from the world. Together, may you grow, deepening your knowledge and understanding of each other and of your journey through life.

5. Health 

May you be blessed with health. May life bring you wholeness of mind, body and spirit. May you keep each other well-balanced and grounded, and live long that you may share many happy years together.

6. Art, beauty, creativity

May your life be blessed with the art and beauty of this world. May your creative aspirations and experiences find expression, inspire you and bring you joy and fulfilment.  May you find happiness together in adventures big and small, and something to celebrate each day of your lives.

7. Community 

May you be blessed with community. May you always be blessed with the awareness that you are an essential part of a circle of family and friends. May there always be within this group love, trust, support and laughter, and may there be many future occasions for rejoicing in their company.

Chinese traditions often include numerology, especially in identifying lucky numbers, but numerology can be found in many religions and cultures, including Christianity. In Jewish culture ‘Gematria’ is an alphanumeric method of assigning a numerical value to a name, word or phrase based on its letters. Eighteen is considered a spiritual number and many Jews give gifts of money in multiples of 18.

Numerology is clearly not science, and usually inhabits the far-ranging edges of traditions, in other words, it’s not mainstream.

But these two beautiful rituals, for Hindus and Jews, are not ‘far out’ at all, and they add depth to the wedding ceremony, connecting the past to the present and moving the couple into their future together. Fourteen lovely ideals, all showing the universality of love and commitment.

Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the use of your beautiful photography!

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

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Unplug it on National Day of Unplugging (and Other Important Times)

Some topics are worthy of revisiting. This is one of them. And before you assume this is about weddings – it is about so much more.

It seems like everyone is connected to a device today, usually a smart phone. I realize that I, too, waste way too much time on the internet. It’s a real problem for children and adults alike.

That is why it is so important that we make an extra effort to disconnect at important times in life. Weddings are just one of them. 

As a guest you should be paying attention to the ceremony, not taking photos, tweeting or updating your facebook page. The ceremony is an important and even sacred time in the lives of the couple. It is not only distracting but downright rude to be fooling with your phone. There is a time and a place for everything. You will have lots of time for those selfies at the reception.

But there’s a bigger picture to consider. It has been shown that  constant connection can wreak havoc not only on your physical well-being, but on your mental health. One of the greatest benefits of unplugging from your phone is that it helps you relax and mentally get away from it all.

The first Friday in March is National Day of Unplugging. This holiday consists of a 24 hour period from sundown to sundown, to unplug, unwind, relax and do things other than using today’s technology, electronics, and social media. This year it will be March 6-7 – sundown to sundown. #nationaldayofunplugging

Can you handle 24 hours without digital connections? Think of it as a detox. Who’s in?

But back to weddings….I’ve written before about the importance guests refraining from photography during the wedding ceremony. Unless you have been asked by the couple to take pictures – don’t! Let the pros do their job, and you do yours, which is to be their gracious guest. This has become a bigger issue by the minute.

Only a few short years ago I would see one or two people snapping pictures, but now it feels as if everyone is poised with their phone – at the ready – at the ceremony is about to begin. As they sit and wait for the ceremony to begin, they pass the time scrolling on their phones. Then, when the processional begins, they would rather try to take pictures of it, than take in what happening right in front of their eyes. I’ve even seen people holding up iPads. 

When I walk in to begin any ceremony, I do not want my first words to be an admonishment. Scolding the guests is not a great way to begin. However – I do it anyway. I must. I try to do it nicely, politely, and with a smile when I ask everyone to put aside their distracting thoughts along with their cell phones to be ‘truly present.’ 

Here are a few other ideas to encourage guests to turn off their phones and pay attention.

– Include a notice in your program (if you are doing one). Wording might be something like: Welcome to our wedding – please be present in the moment and turn off your cell phones, cameras and other devices.  Or do this with a graphic: the old ‘circle with a line through it’ over a camera or phone image. You can remind guests that you will happily share your photos later. 

– Make some signs to place at the entrance of the ceremony site stating the same. Don’t forget to include this on your wedding website, if you have one.

– If you have a DJ for the ceremony have he or she announce it before the start of the ceremony.

– Have your ushers repeat the mantra as they escort people. In a friendly way of course!

– And have your officiant make the announcement. 

There are many ways to approach this and most people are well aware of this issue, they just need a little reminding. You may want to point out that the love, support and complete attention is a gift to the couple. You can make your statement funny, spiritual, emotional, spiritual, or just straight-forward – but please do it!

Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the use of your beautiful photography!

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

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Weddings: Is There Anything New?

I’ve been writing Pocono Wedding Talk since 2006. It amazes me that I haven’t revisited certain topics more often. As times change, I sometimes see the need to update my views and pass that on to the reader. If I’ve written about something more than once it’s because I believe we all need reminding of the important stuff. I try focus on what I consider ‘the important stuff’ and to me that means the meaning of weddings and ceremony. Something deeper than a party. But I like to have fun, too, so from time to time I write about wedding gowns or color schemes or food or flowers.

Sometimes I regret naming the column Wedding Talk because I include information that stretches that boundary. A shout-out to my editor here – for embracing that! When I do focus on ceremony and ritual, it’s good to remember that  these ideas often apply to other milestones in life. I have shared ideas for Thanksgiving and other holidays and written about various religious and cultural traditions. But mostly I try to stay on the wedding topic.  Which brings me to this.

Today I’m proposing what I hope are fresh takes, some new spins on wedding traditions. The origin of the common proverb ‘There’s nothing new under the sun’ is Ecclesiastes, and that just shows how long people have understood this, so, forgive me if some of these are NOT new to you; but I hope I’m presenting something that feels fresh and will resonate for someone planning for the ‘big day.’

If your location allows, consider setting up seating for the ceremony in different ways. You don’t need to have two sets of chairs with one center aisle. For a large wedding you could break it into three aisles, still using the center aisle for the final processional entrance and use the other two for parents or attendants to enter. One advantage for this set up is you don’t have to decide which set of parents enter first – they can enter at the same time. Ditto for those ‘bridesmaids’ and ‘groomsmen’ (and I’ll get to them in a bit). Just make sure the outside chair groupings are not too far from the altar area to see what’s happening.

An alternative idea is to set up chairs in a spiral shape, leading to the center where to couple stands. Makes for an awesome processional.

My favorite set-up is the horseshoe or semi-circle shape. The downside is that it has no center aisle, so the processional enters from the sides. Or keep the curve shape but still allow for an aisle. It’s really nice either way; very cozy.

And of course, it’s always good to remember to pick a seat, not a side.

In our modern world there is no reason you have to have just women standing with a bride or just men standing with a groom. I like to call the folks standing up with the couple: attendants (not attendees). A bride, for example, might like her brother or other male friend to be her best person. You get the idea. Gender roles are much more fluid these days and I call that freedom.

Feed your guests hors d’oeuvres  first – before the ceremony. To me this makes complete sense.  They are content and happily digesting during your vows and then your dinner follows. This gives guests something right to do away. I can never eat a full meal after eating all of those yummy hors d’oeuvres. 

If you don’t have a little boy for a ring bearer, you know you CAN have a little girl carry the rings.  There is no law against this! You can also have flower WOMEN if you want petals tossed on the aisle and there aren’t any young ones to do this. How about kids dressed as superheroes bringing in flowers, rings and signage? Have some fun with the adorable tradition of involving kids in the processional.

Women: wear sneakers or flats under your wedding dress, especially if its floor length, because it won’t show anyway. May as well be comfortable! And if you’re walking down the aisle on grass, this is especially important. If you must have heels, make them chunky or platforms, so you don’t sink into the ground.

Not a cake fan? (I’m not) – why not have an ice cream cake?  You can provide a custom sundae bar for dessert instead, or just serve ice cream. Or have a dessert table, with lots of choices!

I’ve seen the horse and carriage entrance, and a bride on horseback, but don’t forget about motorcycles, vintage cars, bicycles, tricycles, tandem bikes, skateboard, scooters or even Segways. If not for the bride or groom, maybe for the attendants?  It will be memorable. Not sure I trust hover boards yet.

Finally, the most important idea is one that is timeless, and that is to be yourself. I hope everyone participating in a wedding or attending a wedding feels comfortable and relaxed. Getting dressed up should be fun not stifling. 

Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the use of your beautiful photography!

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

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Under My Umbrella

How to incorporate this every-day item into your wedding ceremony

I want to talk about umbrellas, because they actually have many interesting cultural connections and surprising ritual uses. We know umbrellas shelter us from the wind, rain or even the sunshine, so they are ripe for symbolic representation.

A cool French tradition involves the newlywed couple and close family dancing under a giant decorated umbrella or parasol as guests throw paper ribbons over the top. This represents congratulations and wishes of good luck and love for them. It also shows the coming together of the two families under one roof.

Similarly, the ‘umbrella dance’ is the first dance for a German couple. At the entrance to the reception, guests sign a white umbrella with colorful markers. When it’s time for the dance, the umbrella is presented, and the newlyweds hold it over their heads during a waltz while guests throw confetti at them. 

The red umbrella is a strong symbol in Japanese weddings. Red signifies life and wards off evil, so the umbrella keeps the bride not only dry, but safe. A very large umbrella is carried by a man who follows the bride to the wedding. A similar tradition is popular in China as well, where it shields the bride, so birds do not see her, and frankly, poop on her. Rice is scattered on the umbrella to distract the birds so they will not harm her as the wedding processes to the groom’s home.

An umbrella clearly symbolizing protection. What I am proposing is using it for that exact symbol. You can do this in many ways. For example, a couple might sit under an umbrella while the officiant or other person, a close family member, or best man or woman, sprinkles petals, or confetti over them as they huddle underneath, protected from life’s storms. Wording to go with these umbrella rituals can be simple, because its meaning is obvious, so it is not hard to create your own version of this. Or conversely you could be showering them with love and good wishes.

Remember to check with your venue or location to be sure that leaving those papers or petals behind on the ground is ok. Biodegradable confetti is available, but will someone have to sweep it up? Check, please. 

In one of my favorite places, New Orleans, umbrellas are used in ‘second line’ parades as an artistic expression for the person carrying it as they dance their way down the street.

Historically umbrellas were once a sign of social status, with only the most upper class having their very own umbrella that perfectly matched their delicate outfits. Maybe that’s why when we see umbrellas used symbolically they are often decorated and become very fancy indeed, harking back to an earlier time.

Finally, umbrella rituals work very well for baby showers, bridal showers, or other occasions. Invite guests to take a handful of rice, confetti, petals, or better yet, notes with messages on them, and sprinkle them over the designated honoree, showering good things upon the person. Creating little notes that say specific wishes really brings it to life. Why, these special events are already called a ‘shower’ so you may was well make it so?  The honoree is showered with gifts, so let her or him also be showered with wishes and love. Works, right?

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

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Exploring Some African and African American Wedding Traditions

I’ve written about and performed the well-known and beloved African American wedding ritual of ‘jumping the broom.’ Just to recap, it comes from the time when slaves, who were not allowed to marry, created their own rituals. It is a debate among scholars as to whether the custom was brought from Africa or created here, but either way, it is a beautiful and meaningful way to mark crossing this important milestone in life. Sweeping out the old and welcoming in the new, think of how jumping across the broom literally shows crossing a line, and symbolically shows stepping into the couple’s new life together.

But there are many African traditions to explore as well. Some of these lesser-known customs from various countries and regions may be inspiring to you.

A ritual that I can readily relate to comes from the Yoruba tradition. The Yoruba are an ethnic group that live in western African, mostly Nigeria, and total about 44 million people! They have their unique religious beliefs that include the idea of becoming one in spirit with the divine creator, a belief in destiny, and being a well-balanced, positive person. At least this is my simple understanding of it, I’m sure its way more complicated than that. Some Yoruba have become Muslim, Christian or fused other religions into their belief systems. 

The ritual I want to present from this tradition is Tasting the Four Elements. In this ceremony sour (lemon), hot (cayenne pepper), sweet (honey) and bitter (vinegar) are used. These elements are tasted to remind the couple of their promise to stick together through all that life brings. To express your promise to your partner in this particular way is interesting and meaningful, and definitely something anyone might incorporate if it appeals to them. Just remember to give a shout-out to the African tradition from which it came. Any time I can use food or beverages as symbols, I’m happy! There are wedding rituals all around the world that involve food or beverages, using bread, Sake, tea ceremonies, wine and more.

Another African American custom is that of crossing tall wooden sticks. This one also dates to slavery, but just isn’t as well-known as jumping the broom. The stick represents the power and life force within trees and with that the couple is expressing their desire for a strong and grounded start to their life together. I have done many rituals involving nature: tree plantings, jumping over branches and including many references to nature, especially trees and the ‘mighty oak.’ This is another wonderful spin on that symbolism. To make it even better, if possible, choose branches from each of the family homes, or from a place that is meaningful to the couple. Trees, flowers, water, any element from nature woven into a ceremony is perfect for nature loving couples.

I recently learned that ‘tying the knot’ a well-known and loved ritual from the Irish tradition, is also used in some African tribes. It doesn’t surprise me to see similarities in such disparate places. After all, couples getting married have been striving to show through ritual and symbols what it a wedding means since, well….as long as people have been doing this!  For the African spin on tying the knot, use Kente cloth or a string with cowrie shells which symbolize fertility and prosperity. Cowry shells were an important part of the trade networks of Africa, South Asia and East Asia, and strings of them equaled specific sums of money. 

In the 18th century this was the currency of choice along trade routes of West Africa and remained so all the way into the 20th century! Today the shells and strings of shells are more often historic relics or works of art, created to serve as a reminder of culture heritage. 

Kente cloth is deeply intertwined with the history of Ghana. The colorful textile is still loved and worn by Africans and African Americans, and immediately recognizable and connects to African roots.

There are many other traditions to explore and I intend to keep doing just that. It’s a big world out there and history is long. Let’s hope we all keep learning, growing and respecting each other.

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