Your Guests Will Thank You

More bliss, less bugs: Some tips for a sweet summer ceremony.

Summer’s here, in all its glory, and it’s a beautiful time for weddings. But it is a good idea to be prepared for all the season brings, including extreme heat. Be sure to let your guests know what to expect as well.

I’ll only just mention the importance of having a good rain plan, as I have written about this so much, I’m tired of hearing myself!

But how about have a sun plan? Prepare for heat and direct sun that might beat down upon you, your attendants, or your guests during your ceremony or party.

  • Here are a few tips:
    Have water and non-alcoholic drinks readily available for an outdoor ceremony.
  • Find or create shady areas. You can use market umbrellas or hang fabric in some way to create a sun screen. It is definitely worth investing in parasols to have at the ready!
  • Stock your restrooms with mini deodorants, sunscreen, blotters, bug spray and baby wipes.
  • Let folks know its ok to kick off their shoes! Maybe even have a basket of flip-flops for people to take.
  • Set your ceremony time a little later in the day to take advantage of the cooler temperatures, but beware of bugs at dusk.
  • Have lots of citronella candles or torches and bug spray (the natural kind, I hope!)
  • Please support the groom and groomsmen in the choice to go without jackets! Suits and tuxes can be unbearably hot in the summer. I have seen more than one groomsman faint during a ceremony in the sun. A vest or suspenders and tie can create an awesome summer look for guys. The Guayabera, or Mexican Wedding Shirt is another summer look I love.
  • Take advantage of seasonal flowers and foods!
  • If it’s a DIY backyard wedding be careful about food temperatures to avoid any spoilage.
  • Create an outdoor lounge by bringing indoor furniture outside for folks to relax and lounge in shady spots.

By following these few simple tips, you will have a relaxed and comfortable summer wedding experience!

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


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It’s all in the tea…

Around the world couples are exploring their cultural traditions and blending elements of East and West in new ways, and the Chinese Tea Ceremony is both ancient and important. I have only had an opportunity to work with a few Chinese-American brides or grooms, and of those only two have ever chosen to have a Tea Ceremony.

All the way back in the 5th century Lu Yu, a Chinese poet wrote: “Tea tempers the spirit and harmonizes the mind, dispels lassitude and relieves fatigue; awakens thought and prevents drowsiness.” I’d have to agree completely!

I must mention that there is also a Japanese Tea Ceremony, one of the biggest differences being in how the tea is brewed; the ‘high art’ of tea culture is very complicated. Japanese tea practitioners focus on high grade sencha/gyokuro (steamed tea and jade-dew tea) and matcha (ground tea). Chinese tea practitioners focus on yancha (rock cliff tea), tieguanyin (iron Bodhisattva tea) and dancong (lonely bush tea). Seriously, I have no idea about any of that, but perhaps, if you love tea, you’ll understand. And there is a Japanese Sake Ceremony as well.

In a traditional Chinese ceremony, the couple kneels in front of their parents and serves them tea, thanking them. It is an expression of the deep gratitude in Chinese culture for elders; parents are held in the highest regard. Some versions of the traditional tea ceremony include the bride serving tea to the groom’s family. This feels very servant-like, putting the woman in a role many modern women would prefer to forget.

But the ceremony remains significant, even in modern times, and there are three traditional prayers that accompany the ritual. The officiant directs the bride and groom to pray to heaven and earth first, then to the groom’s parents or family elders, and lastly to bow to each other.

Here’s an important detail – the ceremony is not done within what we would think of as the regular wedding ceremony – it is conducted as a separate ritual, sometimes after the ceremony but before the reception, sometimes in the morning, but whenever it is done, it is a more private event for immediate family. It reminded me of how signing the ketubah in a Jewish wedding takes place before the actual ceremony, usually in a private area with just immediate family. There are many customs that are part of the big day, or many days of celebrating and ceremony in diverse wedding traditions.

When serving the tea, the order of service is usually

  • parents
  • grandparents
  • grand-uncles and grand-aunties
  • uncles and aunties
  • elder brothers and sisters
  • elder cousins

However, you need not include all of these people, and not always in this order – there are families that prefer to serve the grandparents tea before the parents. Within each generation, dad’s relatives are served before mom’s relatives. It is indeed a very patriarchal society.

For my thoroughly modern couples, as I often do, I created hybrids, an updated version of the ritual, with their full approval of course.

For example, for one couple, I transformed it into a ‘unity ritual,’ using it like candles, sand, or other symbols of joining together. We simply had the parents come forward (no kneeling) and the couple offered them tea to sip along with some words of gratitude, then the couple shared tea as well. Pretty simple, but lovely. I was sure to incorporate some Chinese poetry and a few other cultural details, and voilà! A tea ritual made new.


Photos by Brooke and Bryan 


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Small Weddings, Big Ideas

There’s a lot of talk lately about small weddings, or as some like to call them, micro-weddings, or tiny weddings, or my favorite: intimate weddings. And there are many reasons couples are choosing to go small, and they mirror the reasons couples choose to elope. Now, that’s a small wedding!

One motive is simply to avoid all the fuss. Weddings put you front and center. The spotlight is on you and conversely the wedding requires a lot of your attention. When the time, money or energy required for a big wedding just isn’t there, be open to a tiny wedding.  I’ve officiate these lovely little nuptials for couples finishing up college degrees, starting a family, or in the process of buying a home.

A surprising and wonderful aspect of a small wedding is how you get to spend more time with your guests. Like a dinner party, it can truly be called an intimate wedding. One big shared table is a great way to go.

A micro-wedding is kind of ‘out of the box,’ as the saying goes. Maybe that’s your style. You can now incorporate ideas that might not fly with a more traditional style celebration. What am I talking about here? Have a pot-luck, or hire a food truck. Chose an alternative and unlikely venue. Anything from a campground (be sure to have a big tent) to an art museum, a mountain top or an airplane hangar.

Go completely high end; it may be in reach, given the size of the guest list. You can have the very best of everything because you are now serving 10 not 100, or 20 and not 200. Imagine choosing the best menu, the one you really wish you could have, not the one you’re settling for. Well, with a small number of guests, why not have it?

How small is small? I would say anything under 50 people is a small wedding, but I have officiated weddings with 5, 10, or 20 guests.

Second marriage or blending a family? A small wedding is great for this, too. You can put more focus on the children. Get the kids truly involved. Have games, or maybe a hay ride for everyone. If you walked down the aisle the first time with a full-blown event, you may not want to do that for a second marriage. Been there, done that. Time for something different.

One of my favorite tiny weddings was the one where we created a beer ritual for their ceremony, based on their passion for excellent micro-brews. I talked about the characteristics and complexity as a metaphor. After they both drank from the glass, we passed the beer around (take one down, pass it around?) – everyone sharing in their ‘cup of life’ moment. How’s that for ‘out of the box?’ For their cocktail hour, they had a beer tasting, with lots of unusual varieties, and with nice selection of cheese.

It’s good to remember that many beautiful venues here in the Poconos, and most likely everywhere, have alternative, smaller banquet rooms. Don’t rule out the big resorts and hotels.

There is no reason you can’t have all the beautiful details, the bouquet, the dress, the veil, or anything you want, but the cool part is you are also free not to have them.

One note of caution – you may hurt the feelings of some of your family and friends who are not invited. Tread carefully, explain clearly. They love you – take the time to let them know you love them too, and why you made the decision to have a small wedding.

Whatever you decide for your wedding, it’s important not to allow family and friends to pressure you into something you don’t want. Small is beautiful. Micro is the new black.



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Giving Meaning to the Moment

Don’t be afraid to tweak or omit ceremonial traditions.

Wedding traditions come and go, evolve and change. There are some staples most  would probably never want to forgo – in both ceremony and celebration. I would never advocate leaving out the “I do” part of the ceremony (and in some states, it’s a legal requirement). The idea of the couple voicing their agreement to marry is essential to the entire meaning of this milestone; the exchange of vows as well.

A toast to the couple is another age-old tradition that is fantastic, and not to be skipped. And there are countless more traditions that just feel so right. Traditions and rituals connect us to the past and give meaning to the moment.

Remember, that’s ‘just how it’s done’ is never a good reason in my book. Maybe there’s another way. Or you can simply skip it, if it’s not for you.

Here are a few of my personal pet peeves and suggested alternatives.

Long Receiving Lines – It can go many ways, but receiving lines sometimes feel like they take forever, especially after sitting for the ceremony, no matter how wonderful it may have been. Please know it’s ok to forgo a receiving line, and Instead make sure the newlyweds visit every single table at the reception and share a few words of thanks with absolutely every single person. Remember the receiving line gives each guest a chance to personally interact with the couple.

Cutting the Cake Late – As someone getting a little older (ha!) I’m not always up for staying late. But it’s bad form to leave a reception before the couple cuts the cake. Regardless of this fuddy-duddy, if the party is already rocking and everyone’s on the dance floor, it breaks the mood to stop and cut the cake, so please try to do this immediately after the meal.

Long Readings and Mumblers  – Readings can add a lot to a wedding ceremony. I like that there is so much wisdom to draw from in the world, it is powerful to bring in ideas and inspiration from different sources. Whether religious, spiritual, literary, poetic, or even movies and pop culture, we can find great words to inspire and share. But if your reader is not comfortable performing the reading, or the reading itself is too long, it can fall flat. You can always include a reading in a program, or just be sure to choose the right person to read. It’s find to skip readings when there is no one appropriate.

The ceremony/reception gap – Have you ever been all dressed up with nowhere to go? I recall a family wedding a few years back when my husband and I attended the ceremony in the church, about an hour from our home. The reception was yet further and wasn’t scheduled for a few hours after that. We would have had time to go home, turn around, and go back to the reception, or just kill some time. Obviously, we didn’t want to go for a meal, so what to do? This is why many couples are choosing to have their ceremony and reception in the same location. But if this isn’t possible, take a long and hard look at your time line.

The Wedding Program – I’m not against a program, but please try to give it some ‘added value.’ To simply outline the service does not really add to your guests experience, but rather encourages them to simply follow along and check-off each section. Let the ceremony unfold, and give them something good to read in a program booklet. Or, again, it’s ok to skip the program booklet all together.

When you plan your wedding, besides your own vision, try to see it through the eyes of your guests. And remember what you liked and disliked about weddings you have attended. These insights will guide you in creating your big day, in the best way!



Once more thank you Lisa Rhinehart for your awesome photography!




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The path to an honest ceremony

Customs, values, mores and traditions… they all change over time. If we didn’t expand our horizons, we’d still be living in caves. For some people the tradition of marrying in a house of worship is absolutely the way they want and need for their wedding ceremony. And that is great, if that is who you are. But people do change, and what about those who no longer connect to their faith tradition, or those who are secular?

We are a diverse society, and although it seems to trouble some people, I believe it gives our country strength and is what makes us great. Within that diversity is religion. I love thinking about, learning about, and discussing religion, but for some reason it is one of the most sensitive topics. I’m always perplexed how, in some circles, you’re ‘not supposed to talk about it.’

Frequently, couples I work with tell me they consider themselves a part of a religious tradition, but do not follow the dogma or strictures of their faith. Other say they believe in God but not the institutions that seek to represent Him. And there are many other ways people identify themselves, using terms such as non-practicing, secular, spiritual, atheist, agnostic, humanist or secular humanist. I’ve heard it many times: ‘we’re not getting married in the church because we don’t attend and we’d feel like hypocrites.’ That is straightforward and sincere, but not always an easy decision.

This is why I often find myself referencing the famous quote from the Dalia Lama who said: ‘My religion is very simple, my religion is kindness’

In 2014 the Pew Religious Landscape survey reported that 22.8% of the U.S. population is religiously unaffiliated, and that atheists made up 3.1% and agnostics made up 4% of the U.S. population. Similar findings came from the 2014 General Social Survey, which found 21% of Americans had no religion, with 3% being atheist and 5% being agnostic. Considering the number of Americans (321.4 MILLION) that’s a lot of people, but for comparison, remember that Christians make up 83%of Americans.

So, to my point today: What do couples do if they are not taking their vows within a faith tradition? Some go to a courthouse, and in most states Judges and Justices of the Peace (here in PA they are called Magisterial District Judges), can perform weddings.

It differs widely state to state. Some states have a licensing system and others do not (PA does not license officiants). Massachusetts offers a license for a day, and in California you can get deputized for a day, so anyone can legally perform a wedding ceremony. In Florida, a notary can perform a ceremony!

Some counties and states accept the on-line, internet ordination – click a button and become a minister (I do NOT recommend you do this!). Just remember when you choose someone who has never performed a wedding ceremony, that is exactly what you are getting.

And here’s something else that happens: some couples simply go ahead and have a religious ceremony, even when they don’t believe, or it isn’t what they wanted.

I try not to write about myself in the column, but I’m very proud to have studied at one of the world’s leading education programs for the study of ceremony, the Celebrant Foundation and Institute, headquartered in the U.S. in Montclair, NJ. No matter how someone becomes legal to officiate, having training and experience makes a difference. Like almost everything, you do get what you pay for, and I am always distressed when I see those on-line wedding budget guidelines undervaluing the officiant. Geez – we’re pretty important, in fact you can’t get married without us.

I am especially passionate about creating ceremonies that span a range from traditional, to spiritual, to completely secular. Interfaith weddings are a bit of my specialty, too.

I even have couples who identify as religious, yet still don’t want their wedding ceremony to be about their faith, but focusing more on them.

All these reasons are why Celebrants like myself have been growing in number. And like most clergy, I, too, feel called to do this work.

No matter what your beliefs, we all need to respect one another. My only exception to this is when someone’s beliefs infringe on another’s rights.

Everyone deserves a ceremony that accurately reflects who they truly are. Life’s milestones deserve your careful attention. Wherever your path has led you, I hope you can celebrate it with clarity and honestly.


Once more thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the use of your gorgeous photography!



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Give Them Something To Talk About

Recently, I ran into a couple I’d officiated for, maybe 10 years ago, and they shared something wonderful. They told me that people still talk about how they ‘jumped over that stick’ at their wedding. WOW. Mission accomplished. Rituals are meant to be memorable.

Sometimes, however, the most memorable part of a wedding isn’t the good part. That was the case with my own wedding, and one of the motivating factors that led me to become a celebrant.

My story is that the short, civil ceremony we had left me feeling let-down. ‘That was it? That was my wedding?’ I thought. On such an important day, the brevity was disappointing. There should have been a little something more! Because my husband and I come from different backgrounds, we just didn’t know what to do. This was back in the late 1970s (no Celebrants yet) –  so we had a mayor marry us. It was basically: Blah, blah, blah, do you? I do – ok, you’re married.

If you are planning a wedding, what will be most memorable? What will be the best part? And although I hope there are no disappointments, what could be the worst part?

I decided to ask a few friends what they remembered about their wedding ceremonies.

One reply was: I remember walking down the aisle crying and laughing at the same time. I was so desperately happy; it was the most intense feeling of joy I had ever had!’  What a great memory!  This illustrates the power of that simple, ancient and fundamental ritual – walking down that aisle – walking towards your future. Never underestimate the power of the entrance.

Another friend recalled a moment in their wedding ceremony when her mind went blank as she tried to interpret what words the officiant was asking her to repeat… she simply couldn’t relate to these words, ones she had never heard before, and then, especially when the word ‘obey’ was included, it was a moment of panic. She told me she thought later that she wished she had written her own vows. I think this recollection speaks for itself.

I was told another story of how the couple’s videographer forgot to charge his battery and the wedding video was completely blank. This obviously reminds us to choose vendors with great reviews and lots of experience.

And while I am constantly trying to remind people not to under-estimate the importance of your wedding ceremony, I need to remember what another friend shared with me. He said his best memory of his wedding was how beautiful his wife looked in her wedding gown.

With that, I am reminded that all the gorgeous details, the dress, the bouquet… all are lovely and do matter. Still, remember your wedding is not only a photo-op and a party. It is a celebration of your love, and a time when you take an important oath –  that promise to stick together. For many people, it is a sacred time, a promise made before God. For others, while it may not include a religious aspect, it is still one of life’s most important milestones.

Many people will tell you that their wedding day flew by. It may have been a long time in preparation, but the day itself was over in a flash. Savoring the moments is great advice to give, but not always easy to do. All you can do is try. Stay mindful.

For us old married folds – what do you remember most? And for those about to take the big leap, I wonder what you will remember. What do you want to remember?


Once more thank you Lisa Rhinehart for your awesome photography!



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Calling all nerds and geeks!!

Attention gamers, book lovers, pop culture fans, Harry Potter-philes and Buffy buffs, Zombie fighters and all nerds and geeks!

Those words – geek, nerd – that were once pejorative, have become affirmative; it is now a good to be a nerd! You’ve gone mainstream!

These two terms encompass quite a wide range of passions. They can mean anything from someone who is a techie – a computer wiz, to someone who loves all things science fiction. It could be The Hobbit, Harry Potter, Star Wars or Star Trek, or Dr. Who. It may be World of Warcraft, Dungeons and Dragons, or the Legend of Zelda – gamers are definitely geeks.

There are countless ways to reflect your nerd-dom in your wedding. Your invitation, some (or a lot) of your decor, your clothing, your choice of music. You may go full out thematically. But in the ceremony? Really? Yes – I have worked with several self-proclaimed nerds and geeks who wanted to include some of their obsession in their ceremony.

First, easiest and perhaps most important, is to include some quotes or passages that are relevant. For example:

‘I would rather share one lifetime with you than face all the ages of this world alone.’ – from Arwen of Lord of the Rings.

And from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:’ Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’ (amazingly also Matthew 6:21 – which tells us a lot about Harry Potter’s brilliance).

How about ‘It’s not enough to just live. You have to have something to live for’ from Battlestar Galactica.

I have enjoyed using wands and light sabers. This works well at the end of the ceremony; in quasi-military style the couple walks through an arch created by their attendants.

I once had a couple who wanted their weddings rings in a miniature TARDIS. I didn’t know what that was before I met them, but you can bet I do now! It is the acronym for Time And Relative Dimension In Space – a time machine and spacecraft from the British science fiction television program Doctor Who. And it looks like a phone booth!

And speaking of Doctor Who – here’s a quote from that show: ‘There’s a lot of things you need to get across this universe. Warp drive, wormhole refractors… You know the thing you need most of all? You need a hand to hold.’

And then there are the vows! Using your geeky style in your vow can be fantastic – in the right dosage, of course! You might reference travelling through time together, or, as in Lord of the Rings, speak of that ‘one ring’ for the exchange of rings.

And we cannot forget Game of Thrones, with this great quote to use in a wedding vow: “You’re mine. Mine, as I’m yours. And if we die, we die. All men must die, Jon Snow. But first, we’ll live.” Of course, if you are not marry someone named Jon Snow, you might want to adjust that a bit.

I think it’s absolutely charming to reference your favorite things in your wedding, whatever those things are, as long as you find the right balance. It’s your wedding, and those who truly love you should understand that.

We can’t transform the world, but we do have the source code to ourselves.

If you get this you are a nerd!

Thank you SO Photography for the awesome photos!!!



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A wee bit of Scotland

I’m excited to be heading to Scotland this summer, if only for a short visit, so I thought it was a good excuse to revisit some of their wedding traditions. I’m familiar with some, but there is always more to learn.

I consider myself well versed in many Celtic rituals, which would encompass Scotland. Among my favorites are: ‘tying-the-knot’, ‘the make-up bell’ (which goes by many names) and a more obscure ‘jumping the oak branch.’ I’ve performed all of them, and written about them, too. But in this quest I have discovered a few more. Now that I have, I hope I will get to use in them in the future. And I’ll endeavor to check out their authenticity when I get there.

I am somewhat familiar with the Oathing Stone, Pinning the Tartan, and the Quaich (aka: the Loving Cup) but haven’t used them much. Two of the new-to-me Scottish traditions are the Caim, and the Groom’s Siller.

The Caim is a prayer done in a sacred circle at the altar. The circle symbolizes the element of protection, with the couple safely inside. Circles are always strong symbols and I could write at length solely about the circle (and I have) but suffice it to say, it represents wholeness, community and a connection to the universe. To do this ritual a circle is drawn on the ground in some way. I would suggest petals.  To create a variation on this with, I might suggest having attendants or close family members forming the circle around the couple. I have, in fact, done this, but never thought of it as the Caim.

Traditional Celtic words for the prayer are as follows, but I think any prayer would work.

The Mighty Three, my protection be, encircle me.
You are around my life, my love, my home.
Encircle me. O sacred three, the Mighty Thee.

The Siller – These are silver coins, which the groom gives to the priest or minister. Guess what? This is exactly like the 13 coins, or arras, sometimes done in Hispanic weddings! I just love how different cultures have developed similar customs. It works like this: the officiant pours the coins into the groom’s hand and then the groom pours them into the bride’s hands, and she then pours them back. The groom then drops the coins into a plate – the sounds it makes is also part of the deal. The symbolism is clear, they are promising to support one another, but additionally the noise of the coins is meant to remind them of their pledge that all wealth should be shared, and there is a duty to manage, save and invest money with wisdom. Good advice.

The Oathing Stone – This is another ritual signifying the pledge to provide and protect, where traditionally, the groom is promising to protect the bride, but in our modern world I would make it a mutual promise between the two people, regardless of their gender. When an oath was taken holding a stone, it was considered extra binding. Some say this is the origin of the phrase ‘set in stone,’ which makes sense. Any stone will work, simply hold the stone, or place your hand on a large rock, when taking your vows. You can get as simple or fancy as you wish. Some people use a specially engraved or painted stone, and then have it as a keepsake.

Pinning the Tartan – This really is old school, and it has to do with which clan the family comes from, signifying the clan’s acceptance of the newlywed into their family. To enact this, the fabric (meaning the specific tartan pattern of the clan) can be made into a sash or even a rosette, and pinned by a family member onto their son or daughter-in-law. It’s considered especially beautiful when the groom’s mother pins the tartan onto her son’s bride. If you don’t have your own family tartan, this isn’t for you.


Photo Credit: C. Rielly

The Quaich – This two-handled cup is used at the wedding feast (aka: the reception) but I’ve used this type of ritual as part of the ceremony itself. In the Scottish tradition, the couple takes their first communion together as a married couple, but you could use the cup for a wine sharing ceremony. The vessel began as a wooden cup, then silver was added, and today the Quaich is usually made of pewter or silver. Some good whiskey was used (hey, it is Scottish) but I feel any beverage can be used. Sharing food and drink between families is always a bonding experience.


Silver Quaich

If you have even a wee bit of Scottish or Celtic heritage, or you simply like these rituals, I hope you will consider incorporating one of them into your ceremony. I often say: ritual is the language or ceremony! So find your voice and speak out in the way that most pleases you.


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Giving Your Word

Going deep into choosing or creating the right wedding vows.

Whatever type of wedding ceremony you are having, religious, spiritual, secular or civil, the exchange of vows is perhaps the most central element in the ceremony. It’s something I explore in depth with the couples I work with, and I’ve found they find it often feels daunting. That is why I like to remind each couple of exactly what the vow is – and what it is not. It is your promise to one another. It is not the story of your entire relationship.

Webster defines it this way:  a vow is a solemn promise or assertion; specifically: one by which a person is bound to an act, service, or condition.

For a wedding, it is the way you express your intention to be together always. And saying this promise before friends and family, and projecting these words into the world around you, is powerful. It makes it real, and it becomes a part of your existence. Even for an elopement, just speaking the vow out loud is a powerful thing.

There are the classic vows, with which we are all familiar. Those include phrases like: ‘from this day forward’, and ‘for better or for worse.’ Then there are vows as individual and unique as one can possibly imagine.

And of course, you can write your own vows.
How will you choose, or create your vows? I suggest you start by reading through some samples and see if any ‘jump out at you.’ I give ‘my’ couples lots of examples – but anyone can find vows on the internet. Maybe the perfect vows already exist. They very likely may! After all, you really don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

Or maybe you find something that is close to perfect, but not quite. In this case, pick a few favorites, go line by line to see which best reflect how you feel, and cobble them all together.

Think about some of those key phrases. Do you prefer ‘as long as we both shall live,’ rather than ‘til death do us part,’ or how about: ‘from this day forward?’ Which feels better for you?

Stylistic choices set the tone but the content is obviously important. What exactly are you promising? To love each other forever? of course, but also to respect and care for one another, to remain best friends, support each other’s dreams. How about through challenges or difficulties?  Vows can list ideas, actions, feelings, thoughts and motives, along with hopes for the future.

Both partners do not necessarily have to say the same vows. It can be interesting and meaningful to say different words. But it is important that when saying different vows, they should be about the same length and hit the same notes.  It doesn’t feel good to have one partner say something funny and the other something heartfelt and tender, or to have one partner go on and on, and the other be very brief.

When writing your vows, the best advice I can give is to get straight to the point. And while I mentioned at the top of the column that it’s not the story of your entire relationship, putting a few charming details into it can work well. Just be prudent about it, ok?

Some couples wish to keep their vows secret from one another. This is a very exciting experience. When this is the case, I request that they send them to me to check out. Not to judge but to be sure there is that balance. I let each one know, without giving away content, if they need to edit or adjust their vows, until they match up nicely. They still have the surprise element, but with balance, and that has worked out very well. If your officiant is not engaged with this process, solicit a friend’s help.

Photo by Garth Woods

Don’t let this overwhelm you. It is an important part of one of the biggest days in your life. It is perfectly fine to pick vows from a book or the Internet and say, ‘yes,’ this is for us!


Once more thank you Lisa Rhinehart and Garth Woods




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Symbols within symbols across cultures and traditions

Since this is a weekly column (and I’ve been at it for many years now) I can’t possibly stick to writing about wedding ceremonies every single time.  And I don’t often offer fashion advice or write from the perspective of a wedding planner, either. With me – it’s usually about the meaning of ceremony, and as an extension of that, symbolism, ritual and tradition. But I will go off on tangents from time to time.

Last week I wrote about familiar symbols in weddings, and recently I was wearing a symbol myself: a beautiful ‘hamsa’ (sometimes spelled Hamzah, Hamzeh or Humza) – a necklace that I bought in Morocco. I started thinking about how symbols are connected through time and traditions. I love this necklace not only for its imagery of the open palm, but because it holds meaning in two major faith traditions, Jewish and Muslim, and it has some non-religious meaning, too. It isn’t very often you see a symbol be so adaptable.

I began to think about the variations of the cross. Most of us are familiar with several types of crosses; the cross most of us think of, in its most basic form, is the Latin Cross. But did you know there is also the Celtic Cross, the Patriarchal Cross (the one with two horizontal bars going across the vertical one) and the Papal Cross (with three horizontal bars)? There are lesser known crosses, too, such as the Armenian cross, the Byzantine cross, several types of Coptic crosses which have a circle incorporated, the Maltese cross, the list goes on. And of course, we can’t forget the Crucifix, the cross with a representation of Jesus’ body on it.

All hold one thing in common, fidelity to a Christian denomination, such as the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Anglican, Protestant groups, Lutheranism, or other denomination.

Additionally, there are variations that place that allegiance within a country or cultural context, such as Irish, Armenia, Macedonia, or Nordic, as well as to certain patriarchs or Saints. There is the cross of Saint Thomas, the cross of Saint Phillip, the Cross of Saint James. They vary through history as well, like the Byzantine cross.

Some of these crosses are very elaborate and others extremely minimal, and there is beauty in all of them. With the many denominations within Christianity, we find they can be represented by variations on its best-known symbol.

And back to that hamsa – it is traced all the way to the ancient Mesopotamia and Carthage, that’s hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. It is considered a symbol of protection, sometimes against the ‘evil-eye.’ In Islam, it’s known as the Hand of Fatima – Fatima being the Prophet Mohammed’s daughter. In Judaism, it is associated with the mystical branch of the faith, the kabbalah, and represents the metaphorical Hand of God.

As if that isn’t enough, there is the Ahimsa Hand, which is very similar – it is the palm but depicts the Dharma Wheel in the center.  It is a symbol in Jainism, a religion from India, known for peace and non-violence.

Symbols and their meanings seem to evolve even more slowly than the religions themselves. There is one symbol, however, that abruptly changed. That is the swastika. The poor swastika was used for thousands of years before the Nazis ruined it. It comes from the Sanskrit word meaning ‘well-being,’ and is still a sacred symbol in Buddhism, Jainism and some ancient pagan practices. However, for westerners like us it has come to mean one thing, and one thing only. For us this once beautiful symbol is forever despicable.

A religious symbol isn’t simply an ornament; it holds history and meaning. If you buy a cross or a hamsa to wear as jewelry, it is enriching to know what it means when you wear it.



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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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