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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Before You Do

Some tips for the newly engaged…

Holidays are a popular time for proposals. Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day all provide a perfect opportunity to surprise someone with a ring. Then the wedding planning begins, along with the confusion and stress. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way.

I often hear statements like: ‘we don’t know what a ceremony can be like, we’ve never done this before.’ And that is exactly why I’m writing this today.

Naturally most couples have little-to-no experience in planning a wedding, and why would they? Even if you were previously married, or participated in other weddings, it doesn’t make you an expert. That is why there are websites, blogs, columns, wedding planners and wedding coordinators. Sometimes it seems there is too much advice out there, and not all of it is good, up-to-date, or relevant.

I want to share some practical tips that I have personally gleaned from my years officiating, because mistakes can be avoided, and the way to avoid them is withinformation. So here goes!

Your guest list is crucial, don’t give in to pressure to invite more and more people. It can get out of control. There is nothing wrong with a smaller wedding, in fact, an intimate wedding can be all the more meaningful.

Beware of getting carried away in all aspects of wedding planning.

Pick a few dates and venues that interest you first. Once you nail that down move on to an officiant. Remember, you can’t get married without having someone to officiate.

If you’re using your own house of worship for your ceremony, take a close look at the time frame between ceremony and reception. Too much down time between the ceremony and the reception is a burden to your guests.

Now let’s get into a few little details, including some of my pet peeves…

I’ll start with an easy one - aisle runners. They really do not work well. Grass or uneven outdoor surfaces make the aisle runner bumpy and lumpy and difficult to traverse. They don’t work all that well indoors either. Those that roll out usually do not stick to the floor, they slide around, and generally cause trouble. Carefully check your floral contract to see if they have ‘thrown that in’ without you even realizing it. Instead use flower petals, or other ornamentations to define the aisle, or skip it all together.

Wedding Planner– if you can afford it, a good one is worth her weight in gold!

Candles outdoors. A unity candle ritual is really lovely, but please don’t try it outdoors. It is almost impossible to light candles outside, and even if you manage to get them lit, they may blow out with the slightest breeze. Bad symbolism! What about those hurricane lanterns you ask? Well, it may improve your chances of success, but it’s still not a sure thing. That’s why the sand ceremony was invented! There are many wonderful unity rituals that work great outdoors, but candles are not one of them.

Outdoor weddings, especially at home, are fantastic, but if you don’t have an adequate weather plan, the celebration of your dreams may become a nightmare. If you are thinking of a tent, please understand that you must pay the rental whether or not you use it, which is only fair from a business perspective. So rent that tent as insurance, or have another alternative that is truly satisfying. Yes, I know I sound like a broken record on this one.

Comfort. Men – you are better off buying a nice pair of dress shoes than renting shoes. When you own the shoes, you can break them in, get them good and comfy, and bonus: you wind up with a nice pair of shoes.

Women, you too should consider comfort and even practicality when choosing both your dress and shoes. I know, I know it’s all about the dress, but remember you’ll be actually wearing it for many hours.  Be sure it doesn’t weight a ton, keep you from eating, or worse yet, using the restroom. Likewise find shoes that are gorgeous that you can walk in and wear all night. Break them in at home and be sure the dress is hemmed with the corresponding shoes – so you can walk without your foot catching on the dress. If you must have a pair of sexy high heeled shoes, perhaps save them for the reception and have a more comfortable pair as well, especially if you are standing throughout the ceremony.

A beautiful shawl for the outdoor ceremony in spring or fall is always good to have handy. Comfort and beauty are not mutually exclusive.

And most importantly – try to keep the big picture in mind. You’re preparing for a wedding, sure, but more importantly, you’re preparing for a marriage. Stay true to your values and don’t lose your mind.

Very grateful to the amazing photographer Lisa Rhinehart. Check her out – she’s amazing!

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What Can Yoga Teach Us About Weddings?

Today, I write in honor of the famous Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, who taught so many about mindfulness. His teachings are very accessible, you can find out lots about him, even on Facebook. As of this writing he is quietly awaiting his death in Vietnam.


I’m no yogi, that’s for sure, but I’ve been thinking about yoga and weddings. Don’t worry, I’m not advocating twisting up like a pretzel at the altar, so keep reading! Yoga is a term that embraces many things. It includes religion, philosophy and physical, mental and spiritual practices. It’s a tradition that comes from ancient India; it is over 5,000 years old and has spread around the world in many forms. So with all of that history there is a lot to draw upon.

The most popular form of yoga here in the United States is Hatha yoga – the kind where you do a series of exercises and postures (including some twisting) with attention to breathing. But for my purpose today I’m thinking of how yoga practice helps with what is sometimes called ‘mindfulness,’ or living in the present moment, a concept shared with Buddhist thought.

When we are anxious or excited our thinking can become clouded. Most of us can recall a stressful event when our minds went blank, if only for a moment. Concentration is difficult when we are nervous, and weddings certainly bring out a lot of nervous excitement. Even though you are happy, you are in a state that is similar to fear. Adrenaline will do that. You may even be experiencing some fear, if only because everyone is looking at you!

Many couples report they don’t remember much of their wedding. They say it flew by in a blur. In my practice as an officiant, ‘my’ couples have the opportunity to review their ceremony script, including editing parts, if needed. This helps them understand and appreciate its meaning when the time comes. In other words – they can be more in the moment. Mindfullness.

For those who’d like to take the yoga influence a bit further, consider incorporating a meditative moment, or other yoga inspired aspect to your ceremony. I have included a group “Om” at a ceremony, a breathing ritual in one, and a chant at another. I’ve read poems inspired by yoga and have included variations of the explanation of the popular word ‘namaste.’

I honor the place in you,

Where the entire universe resides,

I honor the place in you,

of love, of light, of peace.

I honor the place within you, where

If you are in that place in you,

And I am in that place in me,

There is only one of us.

That’s a pretty cool thing to express about joining together in marriage.

You don’t have to practice yoga to benefit from the concepts it offers. A little pre-wedding deep breathing can help. Consider having some quiet music as you prepare, or try a meditation or mantra. You can invent your own.

A mantra is a word, phrase or sound that you repeat over and over, like a hymn. It is calming – and that is something you need on your wedding day. Create a personal mantra for yourself, whatever that means for you – not necessarily based on any ideology. Creating a mantra with your partner could be wonderful as well, and to know that you are both thinking of the same phrase before you meet at the altar is uniting in itself. It could be something like: Today is the day I join with my love.   

Your wedding is one of the most important moments in your life, and you want to drink it in and enjoy it because it will be over all too soon. So be in the moment, or try because I know it is easier said than done!

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Take me with you!

Destination: Abroad

I just returned from a vacation in Spain and was so excited to see ‘love locks’ on a bridge in Seville. I’ve reported spotting them in many places on trips over the years. It’s become a habit to look for them, and I seem to find them everywhere!

I’ve also written about wedding traditions in various countries, how do the locals do it? But what if an American couple wants to get married abroad?

I recently spoke with a couple thinking about just that, but they changed their minds when they researched it a bit. I understand both the appeal and the change of heart. If you are dreaming of a destination wedding abroad, it can be a reality, as long as you do your homework. Lots and lots of homework!

While imagining yourself on a tropical beach, in an ancient castle, or the tree-tops of a rainforest, you will definitely need to get practical with the planning process. Every country has their own legal requirements, but the good news is, if done correctly, it will be recognized when you return to the United States.

Once you know what country you’re considering, contact the office of Attorney General in your state to be sure that it will indeed be recognized here. Then you can proceed with your exploration of the that country’s requirements.

Some very exotic places to get married make it relatively easy to tie-the-knot, but are quite far away: Mauritius, the Seychelles or Thailand for example.

I love Europe, but European destinations differ in their requirements. France, for example, has a 3-month residency requirement, but it can be bypassed through obtaining permission from a local church. No easy task. Most other countries in Europe, have no residency requirement at all. Some have laws requiring a translator along with the always required documents such as passports, visas, birth certificates, divorce papers if relevant, and some even require that the copies have be issued within the last three months. England requires that either the bride or the groom be in the country for at least 15 days before the ceremony, but a recent rule change makes it so at least you don’t have to get married in the district where you fulfilled your residency requirement.

Mexico is another great destination, but it can also be a bit complicated with health certificates required in some cities, or sending translated documents to government offices in advance.

The Caribbean is great for U.S. couples. Most of the islands have only a 24-hour waiting period and you can find the exactly requirement for all 32 nations of the Caribbean on the Caribbean Tourism Organization website.

Costa Rica is another good choice. They have no waiting period at all, and very few legal requirements – but you need to hire a lawyer there who will make sure you have all the necessary documents, paperwork and fees. Because their economy is based on tourism, there are many specialists to help guide you through the process. They’ll connect you to that lawyer!

If you are eloping, fine, no problem. But please remember inviting guests to travel to be with you may be a financial burden to them, whether you realize it or not. Be aware of this before embarking on a destination wedding, even one within the country.

Maybe you are marrying someone from another country. International marriages, sometimes called transnational marriages, between people from different countries is a complex issue. A U.S. citizen is free to marry a foreign national or non-citizen immigrant, but you’ll want to take a close look these days when considering immigration when your new spouse is moving to the U.S. permanently. But that is a topic for a lawyer, not me!

One final reminder – we have beaches and even castles (well, grand mansions) right here in America.  As to having your wedding abroad – it can be exciting and a wonderful experience, but it may also be a lot of paperwork. Perhaps your efforts would be better spent on a honeymoon in the destination of your dreams. Elope here in the Poconos (or in your hometown, or anywhere in the U.S.) and then go see the sights. But if you do go abroad for your wedding, can you take me with you, please?

thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the continued use of your  beautiful photography!

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Do you really need a wedding program or booklet?

About every year or so I tweak and repost this column. Why? Because almost everyone planning a wedding eventually comes to this question: should I have a ceremony program?

As the big day approaches, I sometimes hear from ‘my’ couples, asking for the ‘order of service.’ I immediately know why. They are creating a program and want to include an outline of what will take place.

from one of 'my' couples! awesome wedding program!

This is a common practice, and in a religious ceremony it can help people get ready to find the page for the next scriptural passage or hymn. That’s ok – to a point. But a program for your ceremony it isn’t always necessary or even desirable. Do I really need to read ‘lighting of candles’ to know that the candles are being lit?

When you think about it, the ‘order of service’ simply encourages people to anticipate what is happening next, distracting them from what is happening in the present. It becomes a checklist to be completed. I believe it is more enjoyable to allow the words and actions to unfold.

Instead, why not approach the booklet as a chance to expand and enhance the ceremony experience for your guests, rather than distract them?

If you have the time and inclination, a wedding program can provide ‘added value.’ For more creative couples it can even become quite the art project!  And it can serve multiple functions.

Here are some suggestions to add content and value to a program:

When listing the wedding party – explain who they are, your relationship with them, or even where they live. People travel far to attend weddings. You can show your appreciation of their time and effort by making mention of it.

A who's who.

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

Get creative – the program can be made to look like a theater playbill, a menu, a newspaper, a fan, a passport, a map, a chalkboard, anything goes!

Explain rituals that are being performed. Give historical, cultural or religious background, and 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.Give music credits – details on what songs or selections were played and what they mean to you.

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

Readings, poems, lyrics – just as with rituals – explain whyyou are using them in 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 don’t include the work itself if someone is reading it.

Honor family members with a tribute to them by using a meaningful quote with their name – especially poignant for those who couldn’t attend or those deceased.

For multicultural or multilingual families, have translations of some or the entire ceremony.

If children are involved in the wedding party, they can create the cover or write something special. They might also 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.

A big thank you!

If you do decide to create program booklet, I hope you’ll make it 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 full of surprises, truly, no one will be disappointed that there is none at all.

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Spanish Wedding Traditions

As a wedding officiant my busy time is spring, summer and fall, so I take a vacation in winter. As you read this, I’m in Spain, and naturally I wanted to do some research on Spanish weddings.

The region I’m visiting is Andalucía and some call it’s the ‘real’ Spain because the traditions are so deep. They are known, among other things, for bullfighting (which I will skip) and flamenco music and dance. And the tradition for marriage it is most often Catholic.  Naturally there are many customs besides the church service itself, and a civil ceremony is available. It’s good to know that same-sex marriage has been legal in Spain since July 2005.

One of the most popular rituals is the 13 Coins, or Arras, which I’ve written about, and performed many times. Basically, it is simply the exchange of the coins, symbolizing commitment to one another. I can give it many interpretations and it is also done in church.

The 13 Coins from a wedding I officiated.

Here are a few other customs and traditions I’ve discovered so far:

In modern Spain brides usually wear white dresses, but in earlier times a black lace or silk dress was popular. But not matter what color her dress, a bride will wear a lace mantilla – a beautiful veil, secured with combs, to complete her look. In Andalusia, some brides wear flamenco style dresses!

There’s an old tradition in which the bride embroiders the groom’s wedding shirt. I’m thinking modern women have lost the art of embroidering, and it does feel very old school, but it’s still a lovely idea.

Ceremonies take place later in in day in Spain, because the evening meal is served later. Also in consideration that it is a cooler part of the day, so expect a 6pm ceremony time.

Photo from 1922 of traditional Spanish Bride

Speaking of weather – spring is the most popular time for wedding in Spain. Orange blossoms are in bloom and they are chosen – like so many deep-rooted traditions – because they symbolize fertility. The wonderful fragrance of orange blossoms reminds everyone of joy and happiness. I know there is an abundance of orange blossom perfume, and I hope to pick some up as a souvenir.

Family is important and it is not uncommon for a Spanish wedding to have 200 to 300 or more guests. There are no bridesmaids or groomsmen however, but a tradition of corsages for the bride’s girlfriends says that a girl who loses her corsage during the ceremony will be the next to marry. How she losses it is anyone’s guess, but no questions asked.

As the father of the bride escorts her, so too, does the groom’s mother escort him. I love this and highly recommend it. The groom and his mom enter first, and he will wait at the altar, as is typical here as well.

If you’re attending a wedding in Spain, a gift of money is always appreciated. Be sure to dress to impress. A Spanish wedding is full out fancy.The traditional dance named ‘seguidillas manchegas’ is danced by the couple and the guests. It is also common practice to have a live band perform at the wedding. Expect firecrackers, flower petals and rice to be tossed but no wedding speeches.

Interesting fact: wedding rings are worn on the right hand.

Every country and culture have their own ‘take’ on weddings, and even several variations within any tradition. But in the end they share more similarities.

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Wedding Trends for 2019

At the turn of the calendar I join ranks with columnists and bloggers everywhere in writing about what happened last year and what is expected to happen in the coming year. So here goes – from the superficial to the important -  wedding trends to look for in 2019.

I’m reading a lot about wedding dresses and while all the styles we know and love are still around, ballgowns, A-lines, mermaid and sheath, look for some subtle but welcome changes. You will find there are more long sleeves and boat necks (thank you Meghan Markle). Expect to see some patterns rather than lace, and straighter cleaner lines. A more practical dress is definitely on the rise, and I’ve been preaching this for years. There is the return of the tiara. One of my personal favorites you don’t see too much is the tea-length dress, especially charming with sleeves and boat neck.

For décor and flowers expect bright colors to return, including turquoise, emerald, purple and burgundy – replacing the copper and rose gold that were here for a second. Pantone, that self-appointed color trend company, points to purples being popular, but Living Coral has been chosen as its 2019 color of the year. Hint: it’s orange.

A big question: will rustic barn weddings continue to be popular, along with the burlap, wildflowers and mason jar look? Yes, but there is nothing preventing you from having a barn wedding and skipping the burlap.

Creative food buffets will continue their trending upward, along with those custom cocktails named for the happy couple. I’m especially glad to hear that we can expect to see more healthy choices served at weddings.

Photo: Rhinehart Photography

And the environmentally conscious wedding has finally become mainstream. I’ve been advocating this for years! Choose linen napkins over paper and ditch the plastic. Recycle and repurpose your stuff. I was thrilled to hear one of ‘my’ brides tell me they are taking their wedding flowers to a local nursing home after the party. Donating to charities instead giving favors has become more familiar and accepted now.

The ‘first look’ is falling out of favor, with a return to the excitement of seeing one another for the first time that day when you walk down the aisle. As with most everything wedding, it is truly the couples’ choice – both are special moments on your wedding day.

Providing late night snacks for guests, even breakfast, is great for those who party long and late.

Photo: Dearly Beloved Photography

Rarely do I hear about ceremony trends, but I definitely see people tiring of the Sand Ceremony. If you’ve seen it at a friend’s wedding, you probably want something different for yours. But I stand by this trusty ritual, especially when there are younger children involved in the marriage. It truly is perfect for blending families, with clear symbolism that young ones can understand.

I am also hearing from couples that focusing on their story is most important. They still want some cultural references, rituals and traditions, but most of all they want the ceremony to be about their journey. We’re going heart-felt and honest.

And speaking of the ceremony, more couple are choosing to have a friend or family member officiate their ceremony. I understand the inclination.  I’ve written about it before and  probably will again) – you choose professionals for everything else, why would you have an amateur for this very important moment in your life? As you navigate the myriad of choices for your wedding celebration, please put your officiate at the top of the list.

Remember a great ceremony will kick off your big day, whatever colors or clothing you choose, with lots of love and happiness, and that is never out of style.

 

 

 

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Ringing in the New Year

As I look back on my 14thyear as a celebrant I am struck by how it continues to be such a fulfilling experience. I’ve had many diverse work experiences in my life, from music to social services, as well as politics – hey I’m old!  But being a part of the happiest day in someone’s life is right at the top!

Friends and readers of this column often ask me how I come up with different topics every week. I honestly don’t know, but the subjects I covered this year ranged from humanism, rain on your wedding (a perennial favorite), ancient roots of modern weddings, how traditions evolve, and modern problems such as social media, family issues, cultural customs, to name a few.

My focus has expanded a bit, and the column has become more personal and a reflection of my own experiences, and I hope you’ve enjoyed that. I am always encouraging couples to think about how their journey and their own worldview can be reflected in the ceremony. Being honest is important for a meaningful ceremony, just as being honest in this space is important for me. Since my area of expertise is the ceremony, I do try (mostly) to stick to that, but I have sure learned a lot about the other aspects of weddings.

Celtic rituals and customs still remain some of my favorites. From rituals to readings, it is a well-deserved reputation that the Irish are poetic people. They have not forgotten their pagan roots, either. Even the most religious Irish person often feels comfortable with rituals such as a ‘handfasting’ that harkens to ancient times.

Celtic jumping the branch (Garth Woods Photography)

Another inspiring ceremony for me to create is one that is multicultural, interfaith, or both. I’m so happy to be able to provide something meaningful for those couples. And for any cultural or religious background, if I don’t know about it, I am excited to research and learn. That is certainly a part of keeps me engaged (no pun intended).

If there is one over-riding theme or purpose to this column it would be to encourage couples to think about the meaning of this milestone. While caught up in the planning and the many decisions concerning the ‘big day’ – don’t lose sight of the big picture. You’re planning a wedding, sure, but I also hope you are planning a marriage. I feel there is too much pressure and unrealistic expectations about weddings, and much of it is media driven.

The ceremony represents this important milestone, and is marked by ritual, some of them quite ancient. If you struggle to understand just how important ritual can be, I wrote this on Thanksgiving Day. Think of the rituals involved, the food, of course, and even if it’s watching the game on tv, it can be comforting to know what will happen. That’s ritual. It helps seal a memory in your heart.

The same is true for Christmas, Hanukkah or any seasonal celebration.  A great example of that is the hanging of stockings. This age-old ritual can be traced all the way back to the noble man Nicholas in 280 AD.  Picture how stockings (socks) were and hung by a fire to dry overnight. In fact, they still can be in many places, it’s simply an obvious way to dry wet clothing! When Nicholas, a rich man and a follower of Jesus (hence the Christmas connection), heard of a poor family in need, he visited their home in the dark of night. The stockings provided a great place for him to anonymously put a bag of gold.

The new year is another milestone we humans like to celebrate. Marking the date on the calendar varies – the Chinese calendar counts it as 4717 and celebrates in Febrary, and the Hebrew calendar marks this year as 5779. But whatever the date – celebrating the new year is something that helps us to let go of the old and welcome new opportunities. It is inherently unsettling to not know the future and the celebration of New Year’s Eve and Day helps us plan and cope with those feeling.

I hope my ‘wedding talk’ enhances your experience of weddings as a guest, family member and of course, couples who are tying the knot. And I hope you have a healthy and happy new year!

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Considering a Christmas Wedding

People frequently ask me if I have a wedding to officiate on Christmas. Not this year, but yes, I have done a few. There are many reasons NOT to have a wedding on such a big holiday.  There are some positives as well – let’s review them!

People love Christmas for many reasons: there is of course the religious meaning of the celebrating the birth of Christ, and it is also a time to share special moments with family and friends. Perhaps it’s a love of giving, especially gifts for children, along with the magic and wonder of Santa Claus. Any of these are traditions are the very same reasons to love a Christmas wedding. It can be a way to express not only the couples’ love for one another, but to share the spirit of the season.

Remember, however, when you chose to have a wedding at Christmas, you might be asking your guests to give up time they would rather spend at home with their immediate families. Are they willing to sacrifice their own traditions to be with you? As so often in life, the answer is ‘it depends.’ It might be distressing for some, yet others might enjoy it as a change of pace. If you are considering a Christmas wedding – run the idea by the most important people on your guests list, immediately family and best friends, and ask for their feedback. If it’s a ‘done deal’ they really can’t be honest, so be sure to check it out before committing to this date for your wedding.

If it’s a ‘go’ here are some suggestions.

A good guideline for making it a worthwhile experience is guest participation. People prepare and do so much 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 or provides sleigh rides and other winter activities for everyone! Is it sounding good now? It is to me!

All things Christmas, from the secular to religious, can be integrated into your wedding. Here are some more ideas:

Greet your guests with mulled wine, spiced hot cider or hot chocolate.

Plan your reception 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.

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

Don’t forget a gift exchange! 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, maybe even hang them from a string of lights.

Music, music, music! Whether a band or DJ – some Christmas music is a must! There are many holiday songs with love themes.

And of course, lights, 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?

For the more extravagant couple – 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 happen! Or maybe just have everyone toss white confetti – that might be easier.

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 Rabbitexcerpt 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 very memorable. Everyone will forget that they missed Santa’s visit at home, because the spirit of Father Christmas will be with them in abundance at your wedding.

thank you Lisa Rhinehart for your beautiful photography!

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Vendors or ‘Friendors’ ?

There is a growing trend in weddings of having a friend provide a service that would normally require hiring a professional. There are many reasons this happens and many pros and cons. I’ve been involved with almost 1,000 weddings at this point, and I possess powers of observation, so I thought it time to comment.

If a friend IS a professional, that is not what I’m talking about. I have officiated for many friends for no fee, as a gift to them. But having a friend conduct your wedding service when they have never done so before is a whole other ball of wax. It could conceivably go very well, but you need to explore the legality. The ceremony is the time when you are actually getting married, and the officiant must be legal to sign your license. Does that on-line, click of a button, make the person legal? That varies from state to state. Some states offer a one-day license to purchase. Pennsylvania does not.  I’m not a lawyer and it is inappropriate for me to advise you on this.  You must research and decide yourself. The information can be found in the statues of each state. Go right to the source, the laws of every state are available on line or call your local clerk’s office, registrar or whoever handles that where you are getting married (not where you live).

An amazing photo of amazing flowers.

More on officiating in a minute – but there are many other areas where a friend might offer to help out. I understand the inclination to save money, and the personal connection that feels good. Turning down a friend might offend them, just as asking them might burden them unduly. The most common services where this happens are photography, flowers, cakes, hair and make-up, and even catering.

A wonderful amateur photographer or even someone seriously into photography who has never photographed a wedding could miss some of the most important moments. Experience matters – that is why you look long and hard at examples of a person’s work. Happily, I have not seen this very often – a friend instead of a professional photographer – for this very, very crucial part of your wedding. Photos are forever, or at least we hope so. I get so much pleasure out of seeing my parents wedding pictures. I feel photography for your wedding is one of the most important aspects of your big day.

Does your friend have any backup in case of a cake mishap?

More and more often I see amateur DJs and musicians.  Sure, you have a laptop loaded with songs, but there’s a bit more to it, and it can go terribly wrong. The most common mistake is missing cues (think: processional and recessional). Do they understand how to introduce people? If you are looking for a ‘let’s get this party started’ kind of vibe, you really should have a pro. If you just want some background music playing, ok, that’s fine Alexa.

There is nothing inherently wrong with using a friend, it’s when it goes wrong that it matters. What kind of back-up equipment and resources does said friend have? A spare camera? A bakery to call to bring something to replace the cake that fell on the floor? Another PA system for music should the one they brought break down? A spare microphone?

Does your friend understand the traditions?

Back to the ceremony, because this is the area people are most often using friends. Sure, you can get all kinds of great scripts off the internet, but does your friend know how to express the words, project and communication or when amplification is needed? They may know you, but do they know about your heritage, faith traditions and families? Can they guide the couple through their vows and exchange of rings? Some common mistakes amateurs make include forgetting to cue the guests to stand and sit, dropping rings, bungling words, getting carried away, going off-script and saying something inappropriate, and rushing through the service due to nervousness.

Because there is no tangible aspect to officiating – as with food or photos – people have the wrong impression about what it takes to do this. For us professionals, it is training and legality, and for me, it is very important to have a deep understanding of religions, cultures, traditions, along with symbolism and ritual, and with that comes the experience to guide you towards the choices that will make your ceremony meaningful. There’s more to it than that, but for the purposes of this column I’ll just leave it there.

Who can get the party started?

I do not mean to promote me, but warn you.Think carefully before you ask or accept the offer of a friend to provide services for your wedding. Think about your budget and what you might trim if needed to be sure you can hire great pros for the most essential aspects of your wedding. For example, can you drop the favors and put that money into the officiant or photography column, skip the spa service and get a great cake from a reputable bakery? Other extra costs that can be skipped include chair covers, menus and even programs – yes programs – you actually don’t need them. People are making all kinds of signage these days! Not necessary. Instead of favors give out little boxes for taking home cake, and if you have a photobooth that can serve as your favor.

There is no definitive answer to this but something well worth thinking about. I hope your choices work out beautifully.

thank you Lisa Rhinehart for your beautiful photography!  A great example of the power of professional photos – it doesn’t get any better than Rhinehart 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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