A Tale of Two Weddings

Most often I write about diverse wedding ideas, traditions and customs; I rarely write about specific weddings. But today I have a tale of two weddings. And as so famously written in A Tale of Two Cities, it was just a little the best of times, and it was the worst of times. Let me explain.

Couple number one: I met with them only two weeks before the date they hoped to be married. A very cool couple who lived at the New Jersey shore and wanted to get married, no muss, no fuss, at the groom’s family’s home on a beautiful lake here in the Poconos. I’m available and totally up for it, even though it was December. Winter.

After speaking with them, I had a good sense of who they were. They had made very specific choices about their work so they could play. By that I mean they pursued surfing, fishing and shared an active, fun, and well thought-out life-style. They’d already been together for ten years and I couldn’t help but notice how much they smiled. How could I not love them?

An obvious ritual for these beach loving people would be a sand ceremony. Did I mention they also spend time in Costa Rica? So not a sand ceremony with colored sand from the craft store – they would use sand from the Jersey shore, sand from the beach at the Pocono home, and beach glass and drift seeds from beaches of Costa Rica.

Sand ritual with specific meaning.

December might have put a damper on the dream of being by the lake, but we got lucky. This December turned out to be exceptionally warm.  It was the best of times!

B&G by the lake - they love to fish.

Couple number two was not as lucky. Their story was also lovely. I’d met them during the summer months, and they were unique and thoughtful, and we really clicked. I was excited by the possibilities for their ceremony, but I was hesitant to agree to a January wedding because I always worry about travel.

They chose to have their ceremony and reception at a local winery that (at the time) didn’t seem so far away. Through our discussions we came upon the idea of making Sangria as a unity ritual. They chose the ingredients and I came up with a little description for each ingredient that they would use for the concoction.  It was to be made from passion, fun, the spices of life, bubbliness, sweetness and even a little bitterness, all mixed together, just as in marriage. Their daughter would add the final ingredient of fruit – which we saved as a surprise. I could hardly wait to see this unfold. But it turned out their wedding date was on the day of our recent blizzard. It was the worst of times that day.

We keep in close contact throughout the storm, and the couple tried so hard to make it happen, but in the end, they just had to cancel. It was impossible for anyone to make it to the venue.

This is what it looked like on their wedding day.

Happily it all came together quickly the following day – and less than 24 hours later I married them, sangria and all!

Every couple has their own story, their story of love, life, successes and failures, and commitment. Sometimes it’s fate, or luck, and sometimes, through intentional efforts, two people meet and fall in love. When it comes to weddings, how it all turns out on involves a bit of luck as well. How you deal with it is up to you. Whatever the circumstances, try not to panic, believe in your journey and remember the big picture.



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A Touch of German Tradition for Your Wedding

I really enjoy learning about different religious and cultural traditions, and regular readers of this column know that I often write about how to incorporate them into a wedding ceremony. Sometimes it’s just a little touch that makes the ceremony sing.

Recently, working with a couple who had strong ties to Germany, one actually a German citizen, and the other a 1st generation German-American. I offered up two dramatic German rituals for their consideration. I suspected neither would be the right for this low-key couple, but still, I felt I had to at least put the ideas on the table. They opted not to use them, but maybe one of you will. So here they are:

One is the German toasting cup, sometimes called the Nuernberg Bridal Cup, and the other is the tradition of sawing of the log.

The story of the cup is a romantic, fairytale-style story the gist of it is that a young noblewoman (a princess?) fell in love with a goldsmith whose station was far too low for her father’s approval. Her father offered up a challenge to all who would seek to marry his daughter. He challenges anyone to create cup that two people can drink from at the same time without spilling a drop. He’s sure the feat cannot be accomplished, and failure will land the man in jail. Needless to say love prevails as the goldsmith creates the cup – the Nuernberg Bridal Cup. That’s the short version and it’s pretty adorable. To use this in a wedding simply obtain one of these special cups (yes you can buy them, they are real) have the story told, and drink together from the cup!

The Nuernberg Bridal Cup

Sawing a log with a two-person saw is an old German tradition, usually done outdoors right after the wedding ceremony, but I’ve incorporated it right into the actual ceremony on occasion. Talk about drama! It’s a very literal ritual, one where we readily see how two people must cooperate to cut that log, just as cooperation is needed in marriage. It’s really fun, too!

Sawing the log - so fun!

A few other notable German customs include:

- The bride carries lengths of white ribbon with her bouquet, and after the ceremony is over, the guests tie them to their car.

- Germans wear wedding rings on the right hand – the groom and the bride often choose identical rings (wedding “bands” – not diamonds).

- At the wedding reception lots of games are played, speeches are held (the first normally from the father of the bride), songs are sung, and so on, much like the Norwegian wedding I wrote about recently.

- First dance for the newlyweds? A waltz, of course!


I forgot to mention the accordion!

Sometimes just a little touch of tradition is all that is needed – perhaps a quote by a famous author or philosopher, a wine sharing, using German wine. These small but meaningful details can bring just the right amount of cultural reference.

Thomas à Kempis, German monk and mystic wrote: Love feels no burden, regards not labors, strives toward more than it attains, argues not of impossibility, since it believes that it may and can do all things. Therefore it avails for all things, and fulfils and accomplishes much where one not a lover falls and lies helpless.

And a German Proverb says that: love sees roses without thorns.

And of course the Austrian-Bohemian born poet, Rainer Maria Rilke famed for his rich, lyrical style and considered one of the greatest poets of the German language wrote:

Marriage is in many ways a simplification of life, and it naturally combines the strengths and wills of two young people so that, together, they seem to reach farther into the future than they did before. Above all, marriage is a new task and a new seriousness – a new demand on the strength and generosity of each partner, and a great new danger for both.

The point of marriage is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his solitude, and thus each shows the other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living sidebyside can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them a possibility of always seeing each other as a while and before an immense sky.

Here in Pennsylvania we have a large population who call themselves Pennsylvania Dutch (my husband’s family among them). This is in fact people of German decent. The word in German for German is Deutsch which sounds like Dutch a little (more than a little, actually) and hence the likely origin of the term.

Different cultures and traditions have varying amounts of ritual to draw from, but all cultures and traditions have something – you just have to look for it. I’ll toast to that!


Thank you Kathryn Croskey for the lovely photos!

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Love Locks and other Rituals of Engagement

I was sad to read that Paris recently broke up with its ‘love locks.’ City workers removed the railings loaded with locks on the Pont des Arts Bridge. For years, visitors had been attaching locks with sentimental messages in symbolic acts of affection and often as an engagement ritual. They would seal the deal by throwing key into the Seine. I guess it was just too much weight to carry, literally and metaphorically perhaps?

Carting away the love locks!

But on my recent visit to Lisbon I discovered couples have begun this tradition there. From a gorgeous spot in the old neighborhood of the Alfama (at São Miguel) I spotted a few locks attached to the railing at the overlook.

A few locks I spotted in Lisbon


This got me thinking about engagement traditions in general, where they come from and what they mean. I was especially curious about the bended knee idea. The origins of this one are a bit sketchy but it’s roots clearly go all the way back to the medieval times of knights and royalty and all of that master and mistresses stuff. It also bears hints of religious ritual, think: kneeling in prayer. So from some combination of kneeling to be knighted, bowing in surrender or servitude and as a gesture of humility and respect, the tradition evolved.

Like so many of customs, engagement rituals often started within a cultural context that makes little sense today. But the repetition of any act, as a prescribed procedure or practice – the very definition of ritual – makes us feel a part of something bigger than ourselves and helps infuse meaning. That’s why I love it.

Sealing the deal in Paris.

While most men no longer ask a woman’s father for permission to marry his daughter, men today may see this more as a heads-up and a good male bonding opportunity. Likewise in western culture we do not subscribe to the tradition of the dowry. The dowry shows how little women were valued in ancient times, and still today in many places. The idea that a family would pay another family to get rid of their daughter is deplorable. Like she wasn’t valuable enough on her own? It never made any sense to me that the father paid money to the man to marry his daughter. If anything, shouldn’t it be the other way around?

We are familiar the age-old tradition of the rings, the circle with no end, and the outward sign of commitment. It’s roots are in Roman and Greek traditions when jewels were the ultimate symbol. Sometimes I think they still are.

Here are few other interesting engagement rituals:

Welsh and Pennsylvania Dutch couples give each other handcrafted gifts for their future home. Things such as cake and butter molds, and carved spoons covered with symbols and statements of love.

In Wales, a young man would carve a wooden spoon for his betrothed to wear as a locket around her neck, signifying engagement (the origin of the term spooning?).

Love these love spoons.

In Europe and later in America, the bride’s family began preparing for her marriage when she is born. They collected, embroidered, and crafted items to store in a striking piece of furniture, called a marriage chest. This is still done today, often called ‘a hope chest’, which is used to store gifts and purchases before the wedding, and later in the couple’s home.

If you are planning an engagement I hope it will be memorable, but it doesn’t have to be a production, and epic event, as long as it’s from the heart. Maybe go out and put a lock somewhere on a bridge.


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Portuguese wedding traditions – old and new

I’m heading to Lisbon so I thought I’d research Portuguese wedding traditions. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

First of all I am very heartened to hear that there’s currently a resurgence of ancient wedding customs, as more and more couples choose to have a ceremony that is reflective of their own personal future and the culture and heritage of their past. Many feel the same here in the USA.

Most weddings are held in the church, which in Portugal means the Roman Catholic Church, but still there are unique touches that are distinctly their own.

To celebrate their Portuguese heritage, traditional regional flags were hung on clothes lines for decoration

For example the groom and the bridal party wait at the church while the bride walks through the village and is seen and admired along the way. Love this!

Towards the end of the ceremony the priest covers the couple with his own stole, symbolizing their unity and that the church will protect them. For the ceremony the traditional bride wears a white Chinese-style tunic covered with colorful jewels. The groom wears a dark suit, white shirt, and a stylish dark top hat. At the conclusion of the ceremony, as the bride and groom place their wedding bands on each other’s hand.

Photo: Brancoprata.com

In northern Portugal brides used to wear black for the wedding, somehow this symbolized fidelity to her future husband. However a lot of gold jewelry added sparkle. Speaking of style, embroidery is popular in Portugal and having lace or embroidered fabrics for table wear at the reception or given as gifts is a must.

Example of the embroidery

For centuries community has always played an important role. And today that is still true – with neighbors and friends lending a hand. And when the couple leaves the church they are pelted with confetti, rice, candies or flowers.

There are some Portuguese superstitions that are fun to learn about, here are a few:

Don’t marry someone whose name starts with the same letter as yours.

Marry on the day of the week your partner was born, or on their birthday.

It’s good luck if you find a spider on your wedding clothes.

On the night of the wedding, the first one to fall asleep will be the first one to die.

Good to know about Portugal: same sex marriage is legal, in fact they were one of the first in all of Europe!

Here’s an odd fact: Anglican churches in Lisbon, Estoril, Oporto and the Algarve and the Scottish church in Lisbon are not licensed for marriages (it’s a Roman Catholic Country) but all civil marriages are legal.

The weather is great! Portugal is beautiful! And everything sounds romantic in Portuguese!



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Making the most of a wedding program booklet

Weddings can be stressful – there’s no doubt about it. A wedding program or booklet can be just one more task to add to that stress. But it is NOT essential to have one. This is a topic I’ve written and spoken about often, but bears repeating: the program Booklet – if you really want one – make the most of it.

If you have the time and inclination, a wedding program can be a nice addition. It can also serve multiple functions, and it does not have to take up a lot of your time and energy. You can create it yourself or give the information to a designer, or printer to put on the finishing touches.

Fabulous Booklet by one of 'my' couples!


Here’s what I think you shouldn’t do: list the order of the service. I discourage this approach because it merely encourages people to anticipate what is happening next in your ceremony, possibly even distracting them from what is happening in the present moment. Processional: check. Opening Remarks: check. First reading: check. Your guests will follow along, and mentally check off the elements as they happen. What is the value of this?


Another great program handout.

Instead, approach the booklet as a chance to expand, rather than outline.  Your printed program can add to the experience for your guests. While your guests are waiting for the ceremony to begin, they may even enjoy reading it. Imagine that?

Here are some suggestions to help you create something special.

The bridal party – explain who they are, your relationship with them, some little cool details. People travel far to attend weddings. You can show your appreciation of their time and effort by making mention of it.

Yet another great example.

Use photos  – of yourself, your family and friends. Even your pet, who unfortunately, was unable to attend, but sends best wishes!

The look – the program can be made to look like a theater playbill, a menu, it can be in different shapes or colors.

Explain any rituals that are being performed during the ceremony. Give historical, cultural or religious background on it, and share why it is being used. This is true for religious or secular ceremonies. Remember not everyone is versed in your traditions and will appreciate learning about them.

Readings, poems, lyrics – just as with rituals, explain why you have chosen them for your ceremony, especially if there is particular story to accompany it. Or, include a poem, song lyric, or other writing that you could not fit into the ceremony.  But I discourage including text that someone will be reading.

Give music credits – details on what songs or selections were played.

Who's who in the wedding.

If your ceremony is in a unique location – explain why you chose it.

Anecdotes, such as how you first met, the proposal, or any story you feel you guests would enjoy, are fun to read, but don’t duplicated what’s included in the ceremony or the DJ may be doing.

Honor departed family members with a tribute to them by using a meaningful quote with their name – explaining that they are missed today.

For multilingual families, have translations of the entire ceremony or selected readings.

If children are involved in your wedding have them create the cover or write something special. They might help by assembling or distributing the booklet. Don’t forget to credit children for any role they play in the wedding, and thank them for their support of the marriage. They will appreciate the sentiment, and love seeing their names in print.

Thank you – list and thank all the people who helped you make your wedding day special.

Don't forget the Thank You!

If you have the time and energy, I hope you can make your program booklet special, but if you are stressed, too busy, or simply cannot take on one more task – don’t do it! While your guests may be delighted to find a program booklet full of surprises, truly, no one will be disappointed that there is no program book at all.

Be true to yourself, and give yourself a break. I hope your wedding planning is fun and not a burden.



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Memorable moments from 2015

As the year comes to a close I want to thank each and every couple and family that choose me to officiate their weddings (and sometimes funerals). It is a responsibility and honor I take very seriously. It’s customary at this time of year to take a look back. I hope that the ceremony I created for every couple was meaningful and memorable, and was the highlight of their year. To be honest, I can’t remember the details of every single ceremony I officiate, and I’ll just use my age as a good excuse! But what makes one memorable for me? It varies of course – from an unusual couple, perhaps their venue, or a special ritual – any number of things might stay with me. Here are a few that stand out in my admittedly less-than-perfect memory.

Back in March I officiated for two cool guys who had a 1920s themed wedding at Bank Street Annex. You could not want a better blending of theme and location. The venue is a converted old bank in Easton, PA. It was rebuilt in 1929 in the art deco style, including 40-foot ceilings in the main area. Along with the wedding party, most of the guests dressed the part, and the total effect was stunning. Of course I think I did a great job on the ceremony, too!

The jazz era at Bank Street Annex

In April I recall a lovely wedding at Friedman Farms, in Dallas, PA, that included a bread, salt and wine ritual, blending Eastern European cultures and the couple’s love of wine. Friedman Farms is an extremely large barn venue that is really quite something to behold!

Now that's a barn wedding!

For an interfaith wedding on Lake Wallenpaupack at Ehrhardt’s Resort, the breeze from the lake and the religious rituals came together for a perfect ceremony on a summer day.

Speaking of lakes, there was the wedding on the beach at Lake Naomi that was laid-back and fun. I always think of beach weddings as being at the ocean, but there are plenty of beaches here in PA on our lakes. Sand in your toes is a good thing.

Perhaps the most memorable of all was the wedding in the storm of the year. Officiating for friends is always special and I have known this groom all his life, being a long-time friend of the family. I fell in love with his laid-back amazing bride, too! They found a farm-style venue and had made fabulous plans for bonfires, music, and outdoor fun and games when a huge storm hit. This is where attitude (and rain plan) is everything. It could have been a disaster, but because they were so relaxed about it, it turned out great! Perspective is everything.

This beautiful ceremony actually took place during a storm.

A fall wedding late on a Friday night was magical as the light faded at Woodsgate, at the Stroudsmoor Country Inn. The groom was a professional actor from NYC so I knew had to deliver with my performance! I created some special rituals for them that combined and modernized two Jewish traditions – the Seven Steps and Seven Blessing.  I told their love story in the form of a three-act play! It was a ‘Bravo!’ moment for sure.

At Mountain Springs Lake Resort we blended several religious rituals again, from a family with several different traditions. Their beautiful arbor there works perfectly as a Chuppah! I love interfaith weddings.

I officiated a wedding at a private residence that was like something out of a movie! Honestly, I’ve never been to a house quite like this one. The couple was interested in Eastern philosophies and spiritual practices. We worked with the theme of a circle, and at one point the couple walked around their guests, encircling them with their love and appreciation while I read a special poem that reflected the meaning. I created another ritual we called a Namaste moment. Namaste is something you hear a lot but many don’t know what it actually means. It is a Sanskrit word meaning: ‘I bow to the divine within you, which is the divine within me.’  I had them bow to one another, touch their palms together, and focus on breathing, as in yoga. This was done just before taking their vows. The purpose, in part, was to slow down the moment, and really breathe it all in. I was very pleased of this ritualistic adaptation I created, and more importantly, so were they.

At a private estate.

I had several military couples this year, but I especially remember one where both partners were retired Command Sergeant Majors.

At my own little outdoor ceremony site, Harmony Gardens, I created a beer-themed wedding that was a bit hit. You may have read about it in a previous blog. Sharing beer with good friends was uniquely meaningful, and certainly very ‘them!’

These are just a few of the many wonderful memories from 2015. I am already well into working with couples for 2016 but its good to stop and look back. I hope you, too, will remember what you’ve accomplished this year and I wish you all a Happy and Healthy New Year!


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Imagining a Christmas Wedding

It’s Christmas time and I couldn’t resist writing about Christmas weddings. There are many pros and a few cons to having a wedding around the holidays

People love Christmas for so many reasons: there is of course the religious meaning of the celebrating the birth of Christ, but it is also a time to share special moments with family and friends. Perhaps it’s the love of giving, especially gifts for children, and the magic and wonder of Santa Claus. Any or all of these are great reasons to love Christmas and can add great meaning to a wedding. A Christmas wedding can be a way to express the spirit of the season and the gift of love.

A Christmas wedding cake to remember!

But when you chose to have a wedding at Christmas you might be asking your guests to give up time spent with their family at home and to sacrifice their own traditions. This can be distressing for some, but others might enjoy it as a change of pace.

A good guideline for making it a worthwhile experience is guest participation. People prepare and do a lot for their families at Christmas time. Can you provide some interactive experiences for them at the wedding? Bonfires and caroling would be perfect. Imagine spending a weekend attending a wedding at a resort that has incredible décor, and provides sleigh rides and other winter activities for everyone! Is it sounding good now? It is to me!

The gingerbread house at Skytop

All things Christmas, from the secular to religious, can be integrated into your wedding. Whether it’s just for the day or for a destination wedding, here are some simple ideas that are sure to please:

Greet your guests with mulled wine and spiced hot cider.

Plan your reception in family style – one long table, and offer classic Christmas fare.  Make it feel like one big family affair, because that’s what a wedding is anyway – the joining of families.

Amazing Christmas table - photo by Lori Carriere

Cookie decorating for children of all ages would be fun, then serve the cookies of course, and have some extras to go.

A unique tree ornament makes a great favor (wrapped like a Christmas present), or use ornaments for your seating instructions by tying the escort card to the decoration and hanging it from a string of lights.

Music, music, music! Whether band or DJ – some Christmas music is a must! There are many holiday songs with love themes. And of course lots and lots of lights.

Arrange for an appearance from Santa, or if he’s not available, how about Mrs. Claus, or even some elves?

Wouldn’t it be magical to see snowflakes fall as you seal your promise with a kiss? Set up artificial snow above the altar with a pull cord – it could be done! Or maybe just have everyone toss white confetti – that might be easier.

A sleigh ride at Pocono Manor!

For the ceremony, there are many appropriate scriptural passages or you can include readings and references from many other sources of inspiration, ones that shine light on the power of love and the magic of the season.

Children’s books can provide inspiration, they often teach important lessons in life. I especially love the Velveteen Rabbit excerpt about how love is what makes us real.

Most importantly when you plan a wedding at Christmas you are planning not only for one of the biggest milestones in your own life, but a special experience for your guests. That’s a lot of pressure. But with a few special touches you can have something so memorable, everyone will forget if they missed Santa’s visit at home, because the spirit of Father Christmas will be with them in abundance at your wedding.

A bonfire adds to the warmth. Photo by Lisa Rhinehart.



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Trend Spotting 2016

Every year writers and commentator types like to look back at what’s happened and forward to the coming year. I especially enjoy humorist Dave Barry’s annual wacky holiday gift guide. I am no Dave Barry, and the trends I’m about to share may not be funny, but maybe, just maybe, they will be fun and even useful.

Pantone Color of the Year

First I must address the ‘color of the year’, as decreed by Pantone, the company known worldwide for its system of colors. This year’s choice: Rose Quartz and Serenity. Cleary that is not one color, and they explained it in this pretentious way: Joined together, Rose Quartz and Serenity demonstrate an inherent balance between a warmer embracing rose tone and the cooler tranquil blue, reflecting connection and wellness as well as a soothing sense of order and peace.’  Ok then! Hereafter I shall refer to these colors as ‘pink’ and ‘blue.’ It reminds me of TIME magazine choosing a group of people (2014: Ebola fighters) for Person of the Year. Couldn’t you just pick one? ‘Person’, ‘color’ – these are the singular form of the noun.

If you think pink is a little bit sentimental or cornball, know that most skin tones look great in pink! It is a flattering color, if a little princess-y. Done right, it can be amazing. I have learned to truly love pink. A few years ago they were pitching pink wedding gowns. I don’t know what happened to that – they were gorgeous.

Men look good in pink, too. I love a pink tie or pink shirt. It says ‘I’m secure in my manhood.’ Again, remember most skin tones look great in pink. How about a pink tux? It could be good. Pink tuxes are not just for 1970’s proms anymore.

A pink tux could definitely rock!

As for the blue – please refer to the above thoughts on pink. So moving on…

I couldn’t be happier to see lots of new bridal gowns that aren’t strapless. While strapless gowns are gorgeous, not every woman can make that work. We’re finally seeing some really fabulous dresses that do not require an exacting amount of cleavage. Some of these new designs have plunging necklines, others have very high necklines that somehow still look incredibly sexy. With straps you can even go backless. Don’t forget about lace sleeves! How about a crop top two-piece gown? Very cool. You won’t be missing out on the drama.

More choices!

Crop top gown - love it!

Everyone knows that cocktail hour is the best part of the wedding, and a new trend is to make the entire evening one big cocktail party. Why didn’t someone think of this sooner?

Another food trend is skipping the cake and doing elaborate dessert bars. Works for me!

Unusual venues continue to be popular. You’d do well to have a great wedding coordinator to make it work – but how about a wedding at a Christmas tree farm, an art gallery, museum, zoo, on a cliff, by a river or on a river for that matter?

For décor the experts are saying that metallic will be popular, as well lots and lots of lighting to make them shine. Think shimmering silver, cooper, and gold tones to add glamour and glitz. But if that’s not your style, rustic continues to be popular and is always charming.



Photographers are taking advantage of new technologies by using drones or Go-Pros for creative shots sure to be fabulous!

Go ahead and have your very own wedding hashtag, but still, please turn off those cameras and cell phones for the ceremony (are you sick of hearing me say that yet?) #LoisHeckmanCelebrant.

While its fun to follow the latest trends, remember the classics always work (by definition I think). New ideas offer us choices; they are not meant to dictate.

Today’s couples want their wedding to be a reflection of their personalities. Adding personal touches that show your interests and taste is a way to do that. Don’t choose something just because it’s hot this year, choose the colors, décor, venue, flowers, food, music, style, vibe, and flavors that feel like you! Be comfortable, whether its in pink, blue, or black and white.


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Exploring Three Far-Flung Traditions

Here in the Poconos I don’t have many opportunities to officiate for people from distant locations and cultures. Yes, occasionally, but not often. But being deeply interested in weddings throughout history and around the world, I thought I’d investigate a few I have yet to encounter. So here are three traditions I have not worked with, but would love to in the future.


Most Vietnamese follow Confucianism, Taoism or Buddhism. There are some Catholics as well, but regardless of the faith tradition, many customs are shared. And like traditions everywhere, they are evolving. Symbols often used include umbrellas, lacquered gift boxes, the color red, the couple’s initials, doves, and lanterns.

It is customary in a Vietnamese wedding for the mother-in-law to give the bride pink chalk, symbolizing a rosy future for the couple. I could certainly incorporate that! A Buddhist monk or fortuneteller usually determines the date and time of the ceremony. Respect is paid to the ancestors (although probably stylistically different, I also advocate doing this) and the bride and groom serve tea to their parents as a sign of respect and thanks. The tea ceremony is important in China as well, and I have incorporated variations of the tea ceremony for Chinese-Americans.

For the elaborate Vietnamese banquet the bride wears three different outfits. I think many women here would love that opportunity! One is a modern western wedding gown, one a traditional dress called an áo dài, which I think is totally gorgeous, and the third a western-style dress. Brides here is the States sometimes change into another dress for the reception, but three?

The beautiful dress called an áo dài

Similarly I officiated for a Pennsylvania bride and groom from India, and they wore western clothing for the ceremony and changed into traditional Sari (for the bride) and  Dhoti (for the groom) for the reception. Those outfits were stunning as well.


I’ve yet to see a traditional Armenian bride wearing a red silk gown and elaborate headpiece shaped like wings and covered with feathers, but the photos are amazing! During the ceremony, the godparents act as witnesses. The godfather escorts the bride to the altar (not her father) and must bring the most expensive gift he can afford. The godparents must accept responsibility for the couple. The role of godparents is important in many cultures and can be included in any wedding, especially in the ceremony.

Red is the color for Armenian brides.

At the conclusion of the Armenian ceremony, the bridesmaids and groomsmen line up and hold flowers up in the air forming an arch through which the bride and groom may enter the reception.  You can be sure I’ll be suggesting this one to couples. A pair of doves, symbolizing love and happiness, is released and guests throw coins at the newlyweds. Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as its state religion, dating back to AD 300. Almost all wedding take place in the Armenian Church, which is similar to the Russian Orthodox Church, but there are some Catholics in Armenia and even a small Jewish community.

Another gorgeous example/

South Africa

There are many distinct regions and traditions in this country, each with its own culture and customs. But despite the many variations I was able to glean a few commonalities – all of which sound intriguing.

Not surprisingly in urban areas wedding are much more westernized, and many follow Christianity so the ceremony is something most of us would be completely familiar with.

For more rural, tribal weddings, bridesmaids and other relatives, but not her parents attend the ceremony. Why? To spare them from the sorrow of seeing their daughter join a new family. The wedding date should fall on the night where there is a bright moon, which brings good luck.


South African traditions vary widely.

Symbols used in South African weddings include wheat, wine, salt and pepper, honey, a broom and a spear, among many others. And much like the meaning of the unity candle, there is a great custom in which the parents of the bride and groom carry a flame from their own fireplaces to lay in the hearth of the newlyweds to symbolize their union and new home.

Alcohol may be used because it is a “gift to the gods” and not just for drinking but to sprinkle in thanks. South Africans also use the literal ‘tying the knot’ ritual, which is well known to us here for its’ Celtic or Irish roots. I love how different cultures come up with similar ideas.

All around the world people find so many different ways to unite in marriage. The nuisances and specifics make it interesting, but above all else, its just because two people fell in love.


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Creating Rituals for the Holidays

The holiday season is upon us. From special foods, to the kids waking up on Christmas morning, and of course worship services – all imprint on our hearts, minds and memories through ritual. What do you remember most from your childhood holiday traditions?

The rituals I create for weddings help deepen the experience, so they feel the meaning both in the moment and in their memories in the years to come. It’s not all that different in every day life. Rituals create change. It’s a language of its own.

But the holiday season is not always happy time, although the media would have us think otherwise. Some people are alone, lonely, or even suffering during this time of year. When you don’t have the money to provide the ‘perfect holiday’ for your children, it can be painful. Or if your family is far away, or you are estranged from them, it can bring sadness and even depression. And the seasonal pressures can amplify those feelings.

What do I have to say about all of this? You won’t be surprised to hear my thoughts on it involve ritual. I say: create your own rituals. But this must be done consciously and it takes some planning. Let me give you a few ideas I came up with…

Create a list of personal goals and write each one on a separate piece of paper, or card of some kind. Do it now, and date them to be opened each morning throughout that Christmas to New Years time frame. Set a card on the table each night and when you have your breakfast each morning open the card to yourself.


Find an inspirational reading, light a candle each night, and read a short passage for yourself.

Learn to cook something new. Perfect it and cook it every year for the holiday.

Write letters, to yourself, family, friends, and especially meaningful consider writing to our military people overseas. Check out Operation Gratitude for more on that!

If this doesn’t resonate for you, here’s a more no-nonsense ideas. Clean out your closets and donate clothing you haven’t worn. The rule of thumb is that if you haven’t worn it in 3 years, you probably should give it away. Make this your holiday undertaking every year!

Contact local shelters, halfway houses, or other programs you hold in regard and volunteer (and bring those clothes there, too)

Buy gifts for children in need. There are a lot of ways to do this, but always check first to see what is needed. Don’t assume! Here in the Poconos I recommend Women’s Resources and PATH (Pocono Area Transitional Housing). The post office has a program to read and respond to letters to Santa and you can buy the kids the toys they actually ask for.  There’s no middle person – it’s called micro-philanthropy, direct from you to the child.

The Internet is both a blessing and a curse. Use it to create something good for yourself or for the greater good. Find buddies to support you. Find people you can support. Start an online group or event. Come up with a ritual for everyone to do at the very same time in their different locations and then report back about the experience. Crowd sourcing isn’t only for monetary ends it can be for anything at all. Find the missing pieces in your holiday simply by asking others how they cope. You may be surprised at the world of love out there.

Thank you Susie Forrester for permission to use your beautiful 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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