How to Elope

Last week I wrote about the many reasons couples may choose to elope. Elopement is no longer a secret or undesirable choice. In fact, there are many good reasons to get married without guests. So, if you’ve decided to elope, how exactly do you accomplish this?

Eloping at Harmony Gardens (photo: Garth Woods)

First and foremost: where ever you are going, find out the marriage license requirements. Remember in the U.S. it is each state that control marriage, so you need a license issued by the state in which the wedding is taking place. You don’t have to be a resident of that state, simply obtain the license there. This is even more important for same-sex couples, as only 19 states currently have marriage equality (and we do in PA).

These details are important, for example, here in Pennsylvania there is a three-day waiting period from the time the license is issued, until it can be used. This can be waived by petitioning the court, usually done for cases of military deployment. So before taking another step, learn what you need legally. Then, gather all your legal documents together before going there.

Many resorts specialize in this and can be very helpful, as well as a few good on-line sites for elopement, especially ‘wheretoelope.com.

Obviously you need someone to officiate your marriage. I perform elopements very often at my garden wedding site, or other locations, and I’m glad to help in any way. It can be a little daunting finding the right location for the ceremony and an officiant who will go there, but it can be done! There are the on-line resources, of course, and also most courts have a list of local officiants they can give you.

If you’re thinking you would just like to go somewhere beautiful, like a park, or by a river or waterfall, think it through. What will you do if it rains? If you are staying at a hotel, ask if you can use some space there. Will your officiant be put off by rain? I’ve officiated under an umbrella and in the snow, and I have a rain back-up plan at my place.

What’s your style? I have had elopements with brides in gorgeous wedding gowns. There is no reason why you can’t have the dress. In fact, you can have it all – the gown, the flowers, the rings, the romance and the ‘I do’s’ – just without the guests! Some couples think that elopement is the most romantic way to tie-the-knot. Imagine the couples massages, the honeymoon suite, all the extras you can splurge on, since you’re not paying for a big wedding.

A romantic moment at Harmony Gardens. (photo: Garth Woods)

On the other hand, with an elopement, anything goes – so anything from jeans to dress clothing is fine. You can forgo a lot: the fancy clothes, flowers, favors, invitations, the list goes on and on, but one thing you should consider having is a professional photographer. You may want to show your loved ones and future generations a photo of your wedding day! What a story you have created, but sure to have the photographic evidence to back it up.

Are you doing this in secret, or simply doing a ‘get away’ and getting married? If you are keeping the big news from family and friends, let them afterwards as soon as possible.  Call those closest to you. This is not a piece of news for email or text. Then, if you wish, plan a party, or send an announcement out – use those great photos!

Remember, just because you are eloping, doesn’t mean it’s not important. Be prepared to answers lots of questions and maybe even a few accusations after the fact. But if avoiding the drama, planning and expense of a big wedding is your goal, then go ahead and take the leap of faith that is marriage with the leap of elopement.

 

Thank you Garth Woods for the beautiful photos.


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A great way to announce your elopement! photo by me.

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Thinking of Eloping? Read this….

In the past eloping was defined as running away to get married, especially without parental consent. But in today’s world it can mean something very different. There are two parts to taking a closer look at elopement: One is the ‘why,’ and the second is ‘the how.’

There are indeed many reasons to elope. Today I’m writing about those reasons, and next week I’ll talk about how to accomplish it.

Eloping can be very romantic.

Eloping does imply secrecy, but there are times when a couple simply wants to get married without guests or fanfare. They may not be keeping it a secret. Good news for couples living here or coming to Pennsylvania: there are no witnesses required for your marriage license, and that makes it all the easier.

Some of the most common reasons couples chose to elope include the following:

Expediency. You need to get married quickly, for reasons such as military deployment or other practical issues, like heath insurance.

Avoiding family conflict is a big one! We all understand that family can be complicated, sometimes just too complicated, and eloping is a great way to simply avoid it. Which is directly connected to the next reason….

Stress! Planning a wedding can be a lot of work. Some couples may have neither the time nor inclination to do it. I have had more than one couple call off their formal wedding and ask to be married quietly in my garden. They simply couldn’t take one more minute of family drama! (and of course I complied.)

Just the two of them!

Finances! You might prefer to spend the money on something else, like a down payment for a house, or a trip. You may not want you or your family to go into debt for one big day. Or you simply cannot afford a lavish wedding and prefer not to settle for something more modest. The average U.S. wedding, according to Reuters, costs more than $27,000, which is the price of a small car. If you’ve dreamed of a romantic getaway, the money you save from the wedding could be used for a trip to Tahiti.

Style. Perhaps you are just a shy couple who would rather not be the center of attention. There may also be cultural and/or religious differences that you don’t know how to negotiate.

Be casual if you wish!

Is it selfish to elope? Perhaps you could see it that way, but it’s still your decision, and for some couples it is really the best decision. While weddings are about families joining together, the time may not be right. For couples who have been married before, they may feel the need to shy away from the entire wedding extravaganza. But, remember, by eloping you may be depriving your family of an important milestone, and you may incur the wrath of grandma for years to come.

There are many ways you can break the big news to the family and have a celebration at a later date, and maybe soothe grandma’s feelings, too. A party after an elopement can be a lot more relaxed that the wedding reception. Today an elopement can be a very good decision. Stay tuned.

Thank you Garth Woods for the beautiful photos.


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What Can We Learn from Celebrity Weddings?

Is there anything to be learned from celebrity weddings for us common folks? Up until now I’d say no. Of course how would I know since I’ve never read about them, wrote about them, or cared about them. Until now. You’d have to live in a cave to not have heard about Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt getting married. How does this famous couple’s nuptials stack up to the rest of us?

Like many couples today, they waited a long time to marry, nine years. Like many couples with children, whether from previous marriages or theirs together, the kids were the motivation. For families tying the knot – it truly means a lot, because clearly marriage represents a promise of safety and security, and this is something children need.

There were some interesting elements in the Brangelina wedding. The famous couple had said many years ago that they wouldn’t marry until same-sex couples also had equal rights. And while there are still only 19 states with marriage equality, the tide has turned and the time had finally come for them. You can bring your world-view into your wedding in many ways, but Brad and Angie didn’t make any political statements; it was a statement of their commitment to each other and their family.

So how did they involve their children? The same way most people do. The older children escorted their mother down the aisle, the younger girls tossed petals and the younger boys were the ring bearers.  But it was the dress that told the story, and it was especially creative and beautiful how Jolie had the children’s drawings embroidered onto her designer gown. The point, Jolie explained, was to involve the kids because “that represents the way we live our life together.” Ok, probably only the rich could pull off that trick!

I don’t know if there was more involvement with their children, but I always recommend doing something symbolic with kids. It doesn’t require a seamstress sewing artwork onto your dress. Instead, you can pour sand, give them a keepsake gift, say vows to them, weave ribbons, join hands, or any number of ways to let them know how much the wedding is about them as well as the two of you. Gee, I wish they’d hired me to officiate!

Mature couples often feel less constrained by tradition. This doesn’t mean it’s not meaningful, but perhaps more focused on the important elements of their lives.

The couple also kept their guest list very small, and we can safely assume they could afford any size wedding they wished, but wanted to keep it intimate. Small weddings can be really wonderful, whatever your budget. Again, this is true of many couples today.

I read that Brad Pitt wore a suit out of his own closet. Take note men! But then again, his closet probably holds quite a few appropriate suits.

Will I be writing about more celebrity weddings? Probably not, but I never know where I might find inspiration in the world of weddings.


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Ceremony tips. .. are a few of my favorite things…

I do love ‘raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,’ but when it comes ceremonies here are a few of my favorites things.

Work those bubbles, or petals, or whatever. If you’re going to have them at the end of your ceremony, make sure everyone is ready to go immediately after the kiss! The newlyweds should be showered in them as they recess for a beautiful feeling and a beautiful photo.

Parents get into the art of the bubbles.

Beyond the bubbles – get people involved! Have your guests say and ‘I do,’ before you do! Have them give voice to their support with a community or support vow.

Honor children. If there are kids involved, especially coming together from previous marriages, express to them how important they are. Make it clear that no one is trying to replace another parent. Love is infinite. There is more than enough to go around.

I love great guests! Each group of wedding guests is a bit different, and from time to time I get a group that laughs, cheers, claps and is thoroughly involved in the ceremony in obvious ways. Boy, do I love that! When the ceremony is not in a house of worship, it’s perfectly ok to applaud after a reading. For the couple, getting that love back from their guests feels great. Don’t hold back. Express your love!

Have the family involved!

Celebrating culture! Bring your heritage into your big day, through rituals, dress, music, décor, or any way your wish! It adds beauty and connects your to the past while moving into the future.

Honor family heritage!

Comfort! A comfortable bride is a happy bride. I love seeing women in dresses that look and feel comfortable. A 15-pound gown isn’t the most fun thing to wear all night, nor is a tightly synched bodice. You can look amazing and still be comfortable in a flowing dress with straps to hold it up. Lace weighs less than beading. Heels don’t have to be 5 inches high to be beautiful and sexy.

It's not strapless and its not beaded, but it is gorgeous!

Be yourself. Don’t do the ‘up-do’ if it’s not you! Notice how lots of men are pairing sneakers with their wedding attire? Why can’t women also be more comfortable and true to their own style? It is possible to look amazing and still not completely break from your personal look.

Of course I also like ‘girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes, silver white winters that melt into springs, these are a few of my favorite things,’ too!

 

Thank you Lisa Rhinehart  for your gorgeous photos!

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Tips for Grooms…

 

The groom and his guys.

Ask any man what was the most stressful day of his life, and a good many of them will tell you it was their wedding day.  Consider what faced them:  family pressures, silk and chiffon, emotional roller coasters before, during and after the Big Day, not to mention publicly declaring one’s love in front of hundreds of friends and relatives!

Well, it doesn’t have to be that way. Many men tell me they enjoyed the process more than they expected, but only when they understood their role and got involved. Here are some suggestions that will help ease the stress and make the wedding day more meaningful for men.

Get involved with the ceremony preparation:  It’s easy to get caught up in the details surrounding the wedding itself, but the words that will be spoken on your wedding day will take you across a threshold of life.  Be a part of the process – in selecting readings, music and rituals.  When you’ve spent time making the ceremony personally meaningful, you’ll be less likely to feel like an outsider at your own wedding.

Rely on your attendants (aka: groomsmen):  Select people who will pitch in when necessary and who have been with you during other stressful occasions, so that you know that they will help you keep your cool.

The men supporting one another.

Take pressure off your partner:  A bride may think she is a superwoman, planning every last detail, but she will certainly appreciate your interest and your help.  Ask her to give you tasks and perform them well, like arranging for activities for out-of-town guests, booking hotels and cars, coordinating airport runs, and giving directions to the officiant, photographer and other wedding professionals.

Ask for help:  On the day of the wedding, designate someone in your family or wedding party to handle stressors surrounding the wedding: family, guests, wedding professionals, parking, etc., so that you can stay above the fray.

Relaxed and enjoying the big day.

Speak from the heart:  If you are writing your own vows, simply write your promise in your own words. Practice your vows in front of a friend before reading them at the wedding (yes, reading, not memorizing!)  To calm your nerves on the day of the wedding, focus only on the one you love, and let the guests melt away as you pledge your love. Don’t forget to have your officiant be sure both your vows and your partners have a sense of equality. And remember, there is no obligation to write vows, there are many wonderful tried-and-true classic vows to choose from.

Know what’s going on:  Take the time to familiarize yourself with all the preparations and details of the Big Day so that you can answer any questions that arise, and they will! In other words, know all the who, what, where and whens. I think you know they why and how.

Don’t worry about the “perfect wedding”:  There’s no such thing.  Most guests won’t even notice “mistakes”, and even if they do, often such gaffes add charm, humor, and authenticity to the event.

More great guys!

Be present in the moment.  Look at your partner during the vows.  Listen carefully to your readers.  Reflect on the meaning of the symbols you have chosen to include in your ceremony, whether wine, candles, flowers or rings.  Remember this moment in time.

If you’ve come to the end of the column and you’re not the groom, just go ahead and print or email it to him. Grooms, if you’ve read this – congratulations and have a great time at your wedding!

 

Thank you Lisa Rhinehart  for your gorgeous photos!

 

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Same-Sex Weddings Aren’t All That Different

Now that marriage equality has come to Pennsylvania, I am getting many inquiries from same-sex couples. It’s an exciting time.

What a great couple!

Massachusetts Chief Justice Margaret Marshall wrote in 2004 that: “Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support…. It is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family.

Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, marriage is an esteemed institution and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.”

This is exactly why anyone wants to get married, and I’m proud to stand up for equality and be a small part of social change that brings more love into the world. If you have any doubt on this issue I advocate that you always choose to be on the side of love.

So …now that I’m done pontificating: if you’re wondering about how to approach some of the details of same sex marriages – here are a few ideas and pointers, for couples and for guests.

Processional: If they are on-board have the parents escort each partner in. Or have the couple enter together. This is especially great for couples who have been together a long time. Another processional option is to have each partner walk in from a different direction. Again, I’ve also done this with straight couples, bringing up the obvious point that same-sex weddings are not really significantly different than opposite-sex weddings.

Attendants (bridesmaids/groomsmen) – have both men and women standing on either side. In fact, it is no longer required that only men stand with a groom and only woman stand with a bride. For everyone I advocate that you just have the people you want standing with you.

Notice how they organized the attendants!

Ceremony Language: When I’m not pronouncing the couple as ‘husband and wife,’ I’ve settled on ‘good and truly married,’ at least for the moment. This could change, but for now I like this so much I’m using it for straight couples sometimes.

Addressing the issue of same-sex marriage: I always discuss this with the couple –  it can be very meaningful to make a statement about the difficulties, barriers and discrimination that same-sex couples have faced, and the joy and hope for our future with the progress we have made as a society. It takes bravery for a gay or lesbian couple to stand in front of their family and friends and publicly declare their marriage commitment, when there are still so many people who do not accept it.

Guests: Your support means a lot to the couple, but don’t bring up comparisons to heterosexual couple’s weddings. Don’t expect an over-the-top affair, or otherwise stereotype. Keep your expectations down to earth. Go with the flow.

Wedding cards for same-sex couples are readily available these days. The couple will appreciate that you took the time to find the right one!

Guests – please use the couple’s preferred terminology. Not every woman getting married is, or wants to be called, a bride; not every man thinks of himself as a groom. Let the couple guide you in your use of words, and if you’re not sure, ask, or just use their names. And please continue to follow this guideline after the wedding. Not every married woman is a wife. Not every married man is a husband — if someone always refers to her “partner,” do not say, “How’s your wife?” If you find it impossible to respect language preferences, consider living in a cave or uninhabited island.

With the growing acceptance of LGBT rights and same-sex marriage, we open ourselves up to new ways of thinking, and we all learn and grow. Many of the ideas for the minority, that is in this case, for same-sex couples, will influence the majority of people in creative, egalitarian and meaningful ways.

 

Thank you to Susie Forrester for the beautiful photos!

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FIRST LOOK

The ‘first look’ is a photo or series of photos capturing the moment when the groom sees his bride for the first time (in her gown before the wedding). It can be amazing, wonderful, and heartfelt. It can also serve a useful purpose. And conversely it can be corny, phony, and overly staged.

Waiting for the 'first look'

I love the idea of getting the photos of the couple, family and bridal party done before the ceremony. Everyone looks their best, and it frees up the couple to go directly to the cocktail hour or party. I have occasionally seen photographers take couples away after the ceremony for far too long. Guests are left waiting to greet them, and honestly, its really awkward standing around until the newlyweds to arrive. It’s anti-climatic.

So if you are taking photos before your ceremony, a first look certainly makes a lot of sense.

Photographer extraordinaire Lisa Rhinehart concurs, when she says: “First looks are great because they allow the couple to enjoy cocktail hour with their family and friends and allows them to have the candid, creative photos that mean so much to them – it’s the best of both worlds!  The day flows smoothly, building up to the ceremony, then once the vows are done, it’s time to relax.”

He sees her!

Obviously I agree. But let me add that on the flip side, it puts a lot of pressure on the groom to make a big deal out of seeing his bride. It is in no way a truly candid moment. However, if it’s done in a low-key way, without raising expectations too high, without too much staging, it can be quite beautiful.

... and they embrace!

If you are thinking of having the ‘first look’ photo, please speak with your photographer. Remind her or him that you would like them to keep some distance. Unless you are an actor or model, and used to being the focus of a camera, it is difficult to have it aiming at you and still have an authentic moment.  Think it through and have a good discussion with your photographer. The best photographers will put you at ease and not get in too close.

Some couples would rather see one another for the first time on their weddings day when the bride walks down the aisle. It’s an old tradition and it has its charm for sure! Your photographer will surely capture this moment, and you might say that it’s the original first look. If this is something you’ve always dreamed, if this is for you, don’t let anyone tell you differently. If the couple is not seeing one another before the ceremony, there are still some photos that can still be taken ahead of time. But, as Lisa says, with the right photographer (and she certainly is one) and the right attitude, you can have it all – that special, intimate moment and a photo to capture it.

 

Thank you Lisa Rhinehart  for letting me use so many of your gorgeous photos!

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Many Choices for Theme Weddings

There are many ways to have a wedding that reflects your style, taste and values. If you have been thinking about a theme wedding, put it at the top of your agenda – because if you choose a theme, it will influence many of the choices that will follow.

A nautical themed wedding.

 

What is a theme wedding? It’s almost anything you want it to be. The ideas are endless. Interests, from music, sports, romance, movies, travel, Las Vegas, Mexican Fiesta, Roaring Twenties, to more conceptual themes involving cultural background, life-style, or philosophy – all can create a theme wedding that will set your celebration apart. Focusing on the seasons, nature, or a holiday, are more examples. Having a theme can create a memorable experience for you and your guests.

The theme can be expressed in the décor, invitations, food, and even attire; and, as a Celebrant, I have often woven themes into my ceremonies. It has inspired metaphor, poetry, songs and quotations. Not only words, but rituals, and even the location itself can reflect the theme. I have incorporated homemade wine from the family’s tradition of winemaking, performed a sand ceremony on the beach, and officiated in a barn for a western themed wedding, read about zombies, and choreographed a couple to recess under the crossed swords of their groomsmen, just to name a few.

The wedding on the dock.

Here are some theme ideas that may inspire you -

Have each table at the reception represent something meaningful to you, such as: the dog rescue table, the clean air table, the Renaissance table, the Civil War table, or various sports teams, artists, musicians, movies, tv shows or writers. Place some information on the tables regarding your theme or themes. The Mozart table, the Beatles table, the Wild West table – anything goes! This will also help generate conversation for your guests.

Select ideas from your cultural heritage and create information cards with fun facts, special toasts, or symbols placed in the center of the table, with a coordinating centerpiece, of course! Assign a time for each group from every table to stand up and offer a toast – with a tie-in to their table’s theme, of course!

 

... and the details to go with it.

A theme of thanks, or giving, offers an opportunity to share on your special day. Make a donation to a charity instead of giving favors. Encourage your guests to do the same. Create a small card, perhaps with a ribbon (some causes are symbolized by these ribbons, such as the pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness) and include the address and contact information so people can get involved with the cause after the wedding.

Romance and love are always appropriate. Arrive at the reception in a horse-drawn carriage. Have a harpist, string quartet or even opera for music. Use lots of candles and chocolate hearts. Name your tables after famous romantic couples.

The ideas are endless. Have a brainstorming session with your fiancé and friends. With a bit of imagination you may invent a theme wedding of your own that is sure to please.

Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for sharing your beautiful work with Pocono Wedding Talk.

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Little Tips for your Big Day

They say that in the ‘art of marriage,’ the little things are the big things. I wonder if that true for the art of a weddings? Sometimes couples get too caught up in the tiny details and miss the big picture. But there are a few little things I’ve picked up along the way – some little tips for your ceremony that may be helpful.

For men: keep the boutonnieres on the smaller side. A big boutonniere often won’t ‘stay put,’ they tend to fall to the side.

Speaking of flowers, also keep the bouquets small to medium – it makes them easier to carry and hold. Trust me, they can get heavy. If you want to splurge, make it on the flowers themselves not the size of the bouquet. And of course fresh flowers for centerpieces are fantastic, so go ahead and go big on that if you want!

The perfect size bouquet.

Men should consider buying a great suit rather than renting a tux. Unless your wedding is extremely formal, a suit is perfect. You’ll have it for other occasions as well and in that way it’s a good investment. For outdoor, less formal summer weddings, it’s ok to skip the jacket, and just go with suspenders, tie, and/or vest to give it some pazazz. Don’t forget the trendy cool socks.

Cool socks help complete the look.

Vows – if you are writing them yourself, try to keep them under 200 words, or less. Don’t write a book, it will feel like an eternity. Don’t write your entire love story, instead remember to write your promise. If you are choosing more standard vows, you don’t have to say the exact same vow to one another. Instead pick different ones that have the same tone and intent.

When doing a ritual – do it big! Pouring sand? Chose a large vase and fill it up! Using candles? Use lots of them.

Skip the aisle runner, especially outdoors. They can really trip you up sometimes. If you want to decorate the aisle, use petals instead.

Involve your bridal party to show them how much they mean to you by having them surround you in a circle while you exchange rings.

Hire a great photographer and ask everyone to put away their phones and cameras for the ceremony.

If you are giving out bubbles or petals, have your officiant remind everyone to get them ready before the pronouncement. Without a heads-up you won’t be walking down the aisle through them for a beautiful and photogenic moment.

Remind everyone to be sure to get the right effect.

Wedding planning can be overwhelming. The biggest tip of all is don’t sweat the small stuff and your wedding day will be a big success.

 

Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the wonderful photos

  

 

 

 

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Do’s and Don’ts for Interfaith Weddings

In the 1950s, 20 percent of marriages in the U.S. were interfaith unions. By the first decade of the 21st century, the rate increased to 45 percent*. So, with so many traditions, customs, beliefs and heritages being blended like never before, it is crucial (and sometimes tricky) to honor and celebrate all that we bring to the altar without compromising the beliefs of the couple or their families.

Interfaith ceremonies are among my very favorites to create.  Perhaps it is because they offer the opportunity to incorporate so many diverse and wonderful elements. And on a personal level, I truly ‘get it.’ The key is to balance those elements, as well as provide clarity. You must understand the meaning, history and use of any religious or cultural ritual, and of course, be respectful, when performing it.

Here I am quite a few years ago, officiating a Catholic/Buddhist wedding

Here are a few do’s and don’ts when saying “I do” in an interfaith wedding.

DO

  • Have family members from each side read a blessing, prayer or perhaps a literary work or poem from their tradition.
  • Offer readings or rituals in the original language and provide translations
  • Personalize religious traditions to reflect your blended family, such as creating and signing an interfaith marriage certificate.
  • Perform one ritual from each religion, for example ‘Sharing the Sign of Peace,’ and ‘Breaking the Glass.’
  • Create your own blessing or prayer reflecting your blended union and read it to your guests.
  • Illustrate each family’s support by having both sets of parents walk their children down the aisle.

Some of the details we included.

 

DON’T

  • Step on toes:  respect each family’s ties to their own religious traditions and tactfully and carefully explain how rituals from both heritages will be included.
  • Forget to explain the different religious rituals being used, sometimes the officiant can do this or include it in a program booklet.
  •  Try to satisfy everyone:  remember, the wedding ceremony is ultimately a reflection of you and your spouse.  Be gentle but firm when saying “no” to your families’ requests when necessary.
  • Try to do too much:  you can’t replicate the entire wedding ceremony of each tradition; your guests will be bored and your wedding ceremony will lose some of its intensity.  Careful editing of the ceremony elements is key.

And finally, don’t give up!  If you and your fiancé truly want an interfaith wedding, don’t throw in the towel because the challenge of multiple traditions and family pressures become overwhelming.  You can have it both ways and start your own traditions on the first day of your new life together.

It does take some work, but you can create a wedding, and a family together, by being mindful, respectful, and finding all of the common ground our diverse traditions share.

 

*Til Faith Do Us Part, Naomi Schaefer Riley

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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. Follow her on Pinterest, ... Read Full
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