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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Symbolism is everywhere

Each symbol has a story to tell, but whether it holds meaning for you is another story. As a celebrant, creating meaningful ceremony is my job (lucky me!). If I can infuse a wedding with special, specific symbolism, I’m a happy camper. When you think about it – just about everything in a wedding is symbolic – from walking down the aisle and back, and most everything in-between.

When planning a wedding, it enriches the experience to know some of the history of the customs we usually take for granted. It may even inspire you to come up with your own symbols for your wedding.

Here are some familiar wedding traditions that have a lot of symbolism and history, after all, that’s what makes them traditions and it’s why they’ve lasted so long.

A bride’s veil is quite ancient. It was once thought to be worn to conceal the bride’s beauty from evil spirits who would steal her away. Another, similar explanation was that it protected her from the ‘evil eye,’ which could ruin the marriage. Some historians say it signifies the bride’s submission to her husband, yet others say the opposite. The Greeks and Romans used something similar, with a canopy held over the couple to protect them. We still see this today with the Jewish Chuppah or the altar canopy in the church.

The bride’s bouquet was all about fertility, but also may have been used to mask unpleasant smells in a time when bathing was not as accessible. Today specific flowers still hold meaning, each with their own symbolism, although most of us don’t really think about that part.  When you carry a bouquet, you are doing something that dates back to at least to the 15th century. Wow!

And the groom’s boutonniere was thought to bring good luck, but today perhaps it’s just a way for guys to get in on the flower action, and dress up their clothing.

Tossing rice was also about fertility. A successful crop could mean the difference between life and death, and a successful (read: large) family was needed to work collectively for that goal. That’s why grain was thrown over the couple! Today although other items are used instead, such as birdseed, confetti, flower petals or bubbles, the origin is clear.

Wedding rings. We often hear about the circle having no beginning and no end, the symbol of completeness and all that. But the Romans, the first to introduce rings of precious stones and metal, used the ring to show the value of the man’s possession – his wife. Don’t think about that when you exchange your rings, though.

Tying the Knot: A cord to bind the couple together is another ancient ritual, not only for Irish or Celtic people, but in Mexico, the Philippines and Spain where it is known as the lazo or lasso (many spellings abound). There is a similar cord ritual known as a God’s Knot or Cord of Three Strands, where couples weave two individual cords together with a third cord in the center representing the importance of God in your marriage. From Ecclesiastes: Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Every religion, cultural and country has its own wedding symbols, steeped in history and meaning. When the story of your life is told, what symbols will stand the test of time?

Once more thank you for the  gorgeous photos Lisa Rhinehart!!!




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You don’t have to say ‘I do’ to the ‘Up-do’

As often as I officiate, I am still always struck by the beauty and meaning of weddings. Sometimes I even get a little misty-eyed, yes, after all this time. A wedding is quite a big milestone in life, and people make a lot of it. Well they should, but just how to do that is the question.

Everyone has their own style, and I’ve spoken with couples who are extremely romantic and those who are decidedly unromantic. I get that, really, I do. The wedding industry definitely leans towards romance, so it can be a little more difficult going against that grain.

Lots of people are not into the fairy-tale, princess, over-the-moon, heavenly and heavily romantic vibe. What about them? I’ll get to that in a minute.

But if you are looking for that extra dose of romance, and a wedding is romantic by nature, here are the areas to think about: location, words, music, and themes.

First, find a location that resonates for you. Maybe it’s the place you first met or fell in love, or where you had a special vacation. Think:  wooded area or open field, or maybe by a lake or stream feels especially dreamy. An evening wedding lends itself well to candles, fireplaces and fireworks.

Find just the right words for your vows, and if you’re lucky, for the entire ceremony.  Readings can bring the feeling, and there are plenty of romantic readings to choose from, going all the way back to Shakespeare.

Infuse the wedding with a theme, especially using that candlelight and gorgeous flowers to enhance the romance. Make it a fairytale wedding, but I caution you – you can jump the shark on this one. Use just enough elements, not too many. How much is that? Good question.

Music can tell a story – choose love songs for your processional, recessional and your first dance. Romantic elements are here, there and everywhere.

What about the non-romantic types? Couples who self-identify as down-to-earth, straight-forward, or not fussy, sometimes have a hard time in the world of weddings. All the emphasis seems to be on the flowery and romantic end of the spectrum.

Just review those same elements – location, words, music and themes – only this time think about your taste and your style.  Your vows and readings might be inspired through science, history, or literature. Your flowers can be minimal and not too ornate. Your song choices, fun, humorous or just your favorites tunes. Your theme can be books, the outdoors, or anything that reflects who you are, and most importantly, you don’t have to have a theme, and a more casual reception style, such as a brunch or afternoon wedding fit well.

And I’d like to add one more element for brides – and that is your clothing. If you are not heavily into the romance don’t choose a poofy sparkly big princess gown. Don’t have make-up and hair styles that don’t fit you. As I like to say: don’t to the ‘up do’ if it’s not you! There are many amazing dresses that are more understated and yet stunningly beautiful.

It comes down to being true to yourself, which is easy to say, but hard to do, especially with friends and family pouring on the advice. Stay strong people! Stay strong.


What gorgeous photos! Thank you Lisa Rhinehart!!!



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Getting Married on Mother’s Day

Most couples choose not to have their wedding day on a holiday. But I have performed a few ceremonies on various holidays, and it’s important to include some mention of it. Christmas is a big one, of course, and Christmastime weddings can be awesome. I’ve also performed ceremonies on the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, New Year’s Eve, Father’s Day and Mother’s Day

Honoring the parents.

For a wedding on Mother’s Day obviously, you want to include the couple’s mothers in some way, or perhaps the bride or brides are mothers, themselves.

Using the traditional gift idea right in the ceremony works great. Consider presenting bouquets of flowers to your mothers. The words are important, but I try to avoid clichés, finding it better to make it specific to each mother.  I advocate honoring parents at every ceremony, anyway, when it’s appropriate. Surely you’re going to make a bigger deal out of it on a day dedicated specifically to them!


Mother and daughter.

There are probably many moms attending a wedding, and it would be fun to address them as well, or even actively involved them. After all, they gave up their special day at home, that one day when they are supposed to get waited on hand and foot, to be at your big day instead.

Another way to see it is that it is a plus for mom. Use your wedding as an opportunity to bring the families together in celebration. Consider it a gift to mothers, especially for a destination wedding, or even just staying at a local hotel and include a spa treatment, or other favorite activity for mom and pull out all the stops!

One Mother’s Day wedding I performed included having all the mothers in attendance participate in watering a plant the couple chose, as a symbol of their nurturing their own children. They were also given a gift of a plant to take home. Oh, and don’t leave out your GRANDMOTHERS, after all, they are mothers, too.

Grandmothers, too

If there are children attending, have them all stand and say a thank you to their moms. I would explain this simply and clearly, making a statement and asking them to all join in, in a big, loud ‘thank you mom!’

Another option is to do something privately with your mother or mothers before the ceremony, such as presenting them with gifts and cards and hugs and kisses. And to make them extra proud in front of all the guests, let everyone know that you did so. Is this self-serving? Perhaps, but I guarantee your mother’s will be both embarrassed and honored when you announce it.

Because of my background working with survivors of abuse, I am always highly sensitive to the fact that not all families are happy families, and so I always carefully discuss this with the couple to learn about any uncomfortable or complex situations, never assuming everyone has a big happy healthy family life. This is true for every wedding I create.

Mother’s Day is celebrated on different days across the world, but is generally observed on the 2nd Sunday in May, in our neck of the woods. The modern holiday was created in 1908, when Anna Jarvis held a memorial for her mother in West Virginia. In 1912 she trademarked “Mother’s Day”, and created the Mother’s Day International Association. She specifically noted that “Mother’s” should ‘be a singular possessive, for each family to honor its own mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world.’

Savvy business people quickly understood the monetization potential of the holiday, and while part of me loves these holidays, another part thinks it’s all just a big excuse to sell cards and boxes of chocolates and such. So, let’s remember to honor our mothers and fathers on other days, as well. Hey, it’s not my commandment!

Don’t shy away from choosing Mother’s Day for your wedding, just be sure to run it by your mothers before committing to the date. It’s not rocket science – just remember to incorporate a ‘thank you’ to them on your big day.

Oh, and Happy Mother’s Day. Please pass me a chocolate.



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A Conversation Worth Having – Love doesn’t have to be blind

I didn’t think I’d ever write about something like this, it is a difficult topic in many ways. But why should it be taboo in a wedding column? So, the question is, should you consider a prenup, or is it just for the rich and famous?

A prenuptial agreement, or prenup, is a legal written agreement that is made before a marriage, outlining what should to happen in case of a divorce. Now, I’m not a lawyer, nor am I offering legal advice here, but reading up on it I’ve come up to some understanding.

Let me begin by comparing it in the following way: I’m a big advocate of advance planning around all issues of death and dying. Not everyone is comfortable talking about death, but making your final wishes known is a gift to your family – a gift of less stress, and more clarity.  It’s difficult enough to make complex decisions like these – add grief and mourning, and you can easily be overwhelmed. There are many decisions regarding end of life, and all require results, leaving you less able to grieve and be with loved ones.

You might think of a prenup in a similar way. But while we all will die, we certainly all won’t divorce. However, being prepared for anything and everything is not a bad way to approach life. You may be in love, but you don’t have to be blind.

Five good reasons for a prenup are:

1. You make considerably more than your partner.

2. Your partner has a lot of debt and you don’t.

3. You have kids from a previous marriage.

4. You envision leaving the workforce to care for the children.

5. And one surprising and very good reason is that it promotes honest, upfront communication about two of the most difficult topics – money and marriage.

The idea is certainly not a romantic one – and in our culture, we get very caught up in the romance of engagement, weddings and marriage. A prenup feels like you are planning for failure. Perhaps another way to look at it is that you are planning for a relationship where you agree on finances. You are getting all the cards out on the table.

And should you ever part, the agreement means you can avoid extended court proceedings, saving you time, money, and lessening the hurt.

Establishing procedures and rules for issues that may arise in the future, especially debt, school loans, and mortgages, is important. Unpaid bills can ruin your credit and negatively impact your future. If your partner has a student loan and you separate, do you want to be responsible for that debt?

The biggest problem that arises around the prenup is when one partner wants one and the other does not!

I hope couples can at least talk about a prenup and use it as opportunity to communicate and learn about one another, thoroughly exploring the pros and cons. You may very well decide not to have a prenup, but the conversation may be very worthwhile.

Now, was that so bad?


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What does a wedding have to do with the environment?

Earth Day just happened again, as it has every year since 1970, and it’s a reminder to give extra thought to the importance of the environment. Many couples have told me that the natural world is something that inspires them. A walk in the woods, for example, may be one of their most treasured and bonding experiences. Others have expressed their concerns about ecological issues.

Conservation is at heart a very conservative idea – the word itself tells us that. The how and why it has become political is not for this column, but I will say that taking caring for the planet is something most logical and reasonable people can agree upon. Unfortunately, thoughtlessness, and disregard of the consequences of our actions as individuals, companies and countries has created a mess. The question is: can we turn that around by some tiny action? Does choosing the recycled paper really matter? Is it too late? I don’t honestly know the answer to that, but I do think a wedding is a time to address it, if its matter to you.

So how can a couple express their love of nature and respect for ‘mother earth’ in their wedding? Much has been written about the ‘green’ or ‘eco’ wedding and most of it involves your purchases. Where you put your money does matter, but so do words and rituals.

Choosing rituals that use natural elements, especially trees or plants as well as water express this point of view. Planting a tree, and/or watering a tree, along with good explanations of why this action is meaningful – makes a great symbolic statement. I’ve done variations on these actions numerous times.

Water is vital to our planet and access to clean water is a crisis in many places. And remember that water is a strong religious symbol as well, almost every religion has cleansing rituals involving water. This makes it a natural fit for a wedding, and you can combine those two ideas, with a water ritual.

Incorporating readings is a great choice in your environmentally conscious wedding. Try writings such as an excerpt from American naturalist John Muir, who describes the natural world in all is beauty, or from Thoreau’s Walden, or even Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax – who spoke for the trees and warned of the dangers of disrespecting the environment in this cautionary rhyming tale.

Favors from nature are always great – seeds for planting are nice – but be mindful – only do this if you give them at the right time of year. The same is true for gifts of small plants needed to be transplanted – they can easily die, and the purpose defeated. Maybe something made from repurposed or recycled materials would be better.  Food from local sources is perfect – support local farms and crafters. When you don’t fly stuff around the world you reduce the carbon foot-print.

Donate to your favorite environmental charity in lieu of favors and leave a note on each place setting (on recycled paper, of course) explaining why you chose that cause and encouraging your guests to support it as well.

Today marriage between couples of different religions and races is quite common, accepted and successful. It is marriage between people of different political leanings that can be tricky. It’s the new ‘guess who’s coming to dinner.’ When two people understand the world in much the same way, it bodes well for their future.

An environmentally conscious wedding, one that minimizes waste, expresses a point of view, and celebrates your values is a beautiful thing indeed.




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Some practical ideas on how to include your children in your wedding

Don’t underestimate the importance of your wedding for your children. What you don’t want is the children sitting by silently, feeling left out, like guests at their own party. Please take the time to include them in some way. It will help create a happier, healthy, new family life. It’s been said that love is the best medicine, and there is more than enough to go around, once you open your heart.

For the fifty percent* of men and women who walk down the aisle more then once, how to involve children from a previous marriage can be a challenge.  The most important message you can send is that whether a child is yours or mine, he or she is now ours. Involvement is the key to making a child feel part of this new union and to provide a loving and positive message.

Here are some simple ideas to include children in the wedding, and to help unify the family.

Photo: Garth Woods

ASK THE KIDS:  Always ask the children how they would like to be included.  They may have mixed emotions, so go slowly and be sure they are ready to participate, and then give them choices, perhaps including some of the following ideas.

A FAMILY RITUAL: Invite the kids up to light a ‘Family Candle’ instead of the usual couple-only Unity Candle, or pour sand together for a ‘Family Sand Ceremony,’ which is a great symbol, showing the importance of the individual and the strength of joining together. Many other ritual ideas can be expanded to include children. I’ve done everything from sharing food and beverages, playing with rocks and water… there is always a way to express joining together.

Photo: Wesley Works

EXPRESS COMMITMENT:  Before the couple exchanges vows, consider saying an ‘I do’ to the children. You can also arrange to have the children say an ‘I do’ to a new step-siblings. This needs to be worked out in detail with your officiant, and can be a very powerful thing! The wording should be simple and clear.

GIVE A FAMILY SYMBOL:  Just as the couple exchanges rings, so can you give a physical symbol to the children during the ceremony – consider necklaces, rings or other special engraved gifts, or simply choose something that appeals to them! There are even some items marketed for this specific purpose.

Children can also participate by handing a rose to their moms or grandmothers, giving rather than receiving.

INVOLVE THEM IN THE WEDDING PARTY:  Younger kids will be honored to be ring bearers, flower girls or junior attendants, while older children can stand with you as an attendant, best man or woman – or even walk with you down the aisle.

ADDING THEIR VOICE:  If they are comfortable speaking at the wedding, children can read poems or letters they have written directly to you and your spouse. Encourage practice and have it written down – don’t expect anyone to memorize anything at a wedding! But be flexible:  kids may get butterflies on the day of the ceremony, and assure them it is all right if they choose not to go through with the reading.

FIND SPECIAL TASKS: Have children create program booklets, or perhaps design the cover. They can also arrange flowers, greet guests, escort guests down the aisle, or any number of special jobs. Let them know that they are part of your team!

Don’t underestimate the importance of including children of any age. A marriage is about so much more than just two people. Even if they say ‘no’ to these ideas, do something special for them anyway, find a way to acknowledge your love for them on your wedding day. They will appreciate it.

Photo: Lisa Rhinehart Photography

*52.3% according to the last U.S. Census


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The Diversity of Muslim Weddings

My interest in wedding customs applies to every country, tradition and religion. To me, it’s all fascinating and there’s something to learn from every place and time.

That’s why I found it so interesting that Muslim weddings have few specific requirements at all, other than signing the marriage contract. This contract, called a ‘meher’ (sometimes transliterated as Mehr, Mahr, and other versions) is a statement specifying a gift, sometimes money or almost anything that the groom gives the bride. Modern couples approach it simply as a wedding gift.

The groom may use an engagement ring to symbolize the meher, or sometimes a sum of money is given, small or large, or perhaps some other useful gift, even land, or a commitment to pay for an education. seen as

The meher is noted in the wedding certificate, called the nikkha, and the couple has witnesses sign it, like a marriage license. But the nikkha is the religious custom, like the Jewish ketubah, not to be confused with a state marriage license. The officiant, whether an Imam or other spiritual leader, should also sign the civil paperwork, but that need not be part of the ceremony. Interesting to also know that Muslim weddings do not have to be held in a mosque.

Historic note: the meher was considered the bride’s security and guarantee of freedom within the marriage. I hope that doesn’t surprise you – remember that the extremist views we hear about, are just that, extreme, and do not represent most people.

After those few requirements, the wedding simply unfolds depending on the traditions of the specific country of origin. And of course, there are many American born Muslims, too, so expect those wedding to look like any other typical American wedding.

If the country of origin is, for example, India, then a bride might use mehndi on her hands and feet, along with other women in the family. You could see a dramatic entrance of the groom on a horse, and lots of music and dancing. The traditions are a varied as the countries themselves. World-wide there are over 1.25 billion Muslims.  From China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Arab countries of North Africa and the Middle East, as well as many African nations… that’s a lot of people, and that’s a lot of variety of customs and traditions.

In the United States, according to a 2016 estimate, there are 3.3 million Muslims, which is only about 1% of the total U.S. population. American Muslims come from various backgrounds and are one of the most racially diverse religious groups in the United States. They are your neighbors, maybe a doctor, or serving in our military, and there are many well-known sports stars, too!

You may see a Muslim bride wear a hijab (head covering) and in a modest, although gorgeous, wedding gown… or not!  Not all Muslim women wear the hijab, just as not all Jews wear a kippah (yarmulke), nor all nuns wear a habit.

If you are invited to a wedding where one or both partners are Muslim, women guests should certainly dress up, but remember to dress more modestly – so pull out that cocktail dress or gown with sleeves, it will be more appropriate. Expect lots of speeches at the reception. There will be lots of food, but probably no alcohol. Put your wedding card in its envelope and your preconceptions away, and enjoy yourself!



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Music and Your Wedding Ceremony – So many the choices…

A playlist can be just a general vibe or a very personal thing. Much has been written about musical selections for weddings, but the emphasis is usually on the party. Along with decisions about how music will pump up the party, how will it get you down the aisle?

I am in a somewhat unique position to address this topic. As a Celebrant, I have heard a wide variety of ceremony music because of the hundreds of ceremonies I’ve officiate; but in an earlier time in my life I was a musician and composer. I can see it from many perspectives, so I have complied some tips to consider your ceremony.

If you are using a DJ for your reception, he or she may be able to provide music for your ceremony for a reasonable additional fee. Often DJ’s have a smaller set-up just for ceremonies, and that is perfect when the ceremony and reception are at the same location.

Weddings by Paris - a great local DJ.

Similarly, if you have a band playing your reception, one or two players from the group may be able to play the ceremony. If you want a different style of music for the ceremony and the reception – be sure the musicians are comfortable with your selections.

With live music, amplification and volume issues are crucial. When we think about bands, we might think about them being too loud, but at an outdoor wedding ceremony, the opposite could occur. Without reflective surfaces, music dissipates, and quieter instruments may not be heard. I’m sure you would like your guests actually hear the music, so let the musicians know the situation. They may need to amplify, especially if it is an acoustic guitar, or a harp, for example.

Putting the ceremony musicians towards the front of the ceremony space can be very effective. Having the music coming from the same direction as everything else just makes sense to me. It can be a nice visual as well, depending on what they look like of course. I know a harpist who dresses so beautifully, and it looks really cool to see her there. Maybe I’m getting too picky here.

Photo: Garth Woods

If you are going for something a little more adventurous, consider bagpipes, or why not have a saxophonist or fiddler lead you down the aisle, just as the piper might? Ethnic music, such as Klezmer for a Jewish wedding, Celtic for Irish heritage, or Gypsy music, evocative of Eastern European backgrounds, can be terrific. World music is more popular than ever, and the possibilities abound. African, Latin, Middle Eastern – it’s all accessible.

With recorded music comes unlimited choices. You might use different styles for your processional and recessional, such as classical for the processional and a pop tune for the recessional.

I love bagpipes! Photo: Stroudsmoor Photography Studio

Think about the lyrics (even in an instrumental version) and how they express something personal. Imagine your guests having that ‘ah-ha’ moment when they figure out the words to the song they’re hearing.

I often request music to be played quietly during a ritual. It adds a wonderful feeling to a wine sharing, handfasting, or unity candle. It creates ambience, and fills in those quiet parts helping everyone feel more relaxed.

Make an entrance! Photo: Rob Letter

Music for the ceremony should add beauty and joy to your wedding day. Aldous Huxley said, “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”



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Three Cool Customs

Wedding traditions and rituals are kind of my ‘thing.’  As a celebrant, I really love incorporating something unique into a ceremony – that is, if it resonates for the couple. Conversely, there is nothing good about a ritual if it holds no meaning for anyone involved. That is why learning as much as I can about different cultures and traditions keeps my palette expanding. Then I pass it on to you.

Wedding traditions are as diverse as our world, and today I want to share three cool customs that come from three completely different places: Peru, Lebanon and the Czech Republic. While they are all intriguing, I don’t expect to see them in action in my future (although I’d be pleasantly surprised if I did).

  1. In Peru single, female guests take part in a tradition much like our familiar bouquet toss, but with a sweet twist. Charms are placed between layers of the wedding cake, and attached to the charms are ribbons dangling out of the cake. Before the cake cutting, the single women each take hold of a ribbon and pull. That’s when they discover which one ribbon holds the toy wedding ring. The woman who gets ring is said to be next in line for marriage. Isn’t that charming?

  1. In a Lebanese wedding, music, dancing and joyful shouting are part of a tradition call ‘zaffe.’ This ruckus takes place just before the ceremony, right outside the groom’s door – beckoning him to the wedding. A rowdy group made up of friends, family, and often hired musicians and dancers, escorts the groom to meet his bride, sending them to their nuptials with shouted blessings or even a shower of flower petals.

There is an entire profession dedicated to this. It reminds me of how our American  DJs help get the party started.  Although it’s a very ancient Arab tradition, it can be made very modern, and sounds like a lot of fun.


  1. In the Czech Republic the bride’s friends plant a tree in her yard and decorate it with colored ribbons and painted eggshells, because, according to legend, the bride will live as long as the tree. This takes place before the wedding ceremony. I always love a tree planting ritual, sometimes called a ‘unity tree.’ I’ve created so many variations on this ritual, and I truly love it.

I have a caveat with the tree planting, it is: what happens if the tree dies? When using anything living for a ritual, I’m always mindful of that. Consider the words, symbolism and the practical elements, when deciding upon a ritualistic act.

Butterfly releases, doves, as well as trees and plants in the ceremony, should be carefully researched and considered. But in the end, I have to admit, I love tree planting as a ritual. Not surprisingly, you will find tree planting rituals in many cultures. A Buddhist shrine requires a special tree, in Israel trees are planted in honor of loved ones, and the Oubangui of central Africa plant a tree for a newborn child. Trees also play a prominent role in mythology.

Candles are another example of how ritual can go wrong, at least if you use them outdoors. Assuming the candles represent something like the flame of your love –  if you cannot light them, or they blow out in the wind, you have defeated your intent.

I hope to keep exploring this big amazing world of customs and traditions, discovering new ideas, everywhere!


Posted in Ceremonies and Celebrations, Pocono Weddings, Tips on Weddings, Wedding Ceremonies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
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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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