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!


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A Fusion of Inspiration

Understanding and Using Elements of Buddhism in Your Wedding

I received some nice feedback about my recent piece on Sikhs – their beliefs and wedding traditions. Thank you. It is not a very well-known in America, so it was especially worthwhile sharing a bit about Sikhism. Buddhism however, is very well known – if only in name. Many Americans and westerners in general, are attracted to the philosophy it teaches, even if they are not necessarily practicing.

I believe the reason people not born into this religion are drawn to Buddhism is its focus on wisdom, ethical conduct, and the goals of happiness and freedom from suffering. The Dalai Lama is perhaps the best-known Buddhist in our time.

There is much to draw from in a tradition that encompasses such a wide variety of expression. If there is one idea that connects all of Buddhist thought, it that of compassion. Buddhism differs from most other religions in that there is no requirement to believe in a deity. Buddha is not considered a god.

Buddhism is based on the teaching of a man whose name was Siddhartha Gautama, a rich and privileged prince who discovered there was suffering in the world and wanted to understand why. His awakening or enlightenment, and the teachings and insights that resulted, have been inspiring humans ever since. Buddha means ‘enlightened one,’ and thus this name is given to him as the original teacher of this philosophy. Buddha lived in India, probably between 563 BC to 483 BC. Today it is estimated that there are about 350 million (6% of the world’s population) who practice Buddhism.

Using some inspiration from this religion in a wedding ceremony can be beautiful. You may be Christian, Jewish, secular or spiritual, whatever your background or tradition, there is no reason you can’t use such a beautiful source of wisdom. At least that’s my opinion. I’m sure somebody, somewhere, will object! People love to make rigid guidelines.

The works of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist Monk, author, poet and peace activist, are very appropriate in weddings, as well as the Buddhist Scriptures themselves, where you will find writing like this:

Like the energy from within the sun, a great marriage is a sum more than its parts: it shines like rays of goodness from the fusion of souls in harmony.

And like the sun, its brilliance knows the relationship to time, a brilliance that will light your path, and warm your hearts, and guide you safely forward into the journey of your life.

Let this marriage be that fusion of inspiration for those to follow.

For ritualistic ideas consider lighting incense, hanging prayer flags or using special flowers such as lotus, orchids and peonies.

The Tibetan ceremonial scarf, called a ‘khata’ that is placed around the neck, is lovely. It should be white and can be incorporated by draping around the necks of the bride and groom as a blessing, or a welcoming or leaving ‘thank you’ gesture.

There is a ribbon knotting ceremony – so similar to the Celtic handfasting – in which the couple’s wrists are bound together with a yellow ribbon. And the use of bells or gongs adds a particular beauty to open and close the ceremony.

There are symbolic colors, different in various countries and cultures. Red and gold in China, saffron and brown in Thailand, Burma, India, Sri Lanka Laos, and Vietnam, black and gray in Japan and Korea and red, blue, green, white and yellow in Tibet.

It is interesting to note that for the Buddhist, marriage is basically a secular affair, not a sacrament, and falls under civil laws. Still any symbols, readings or rituals are perfectly acceptable.

It is always important to remember that ‘cultural appropriation’ -  taking traditions and identity and misusing them in insensitive ways, such as using sacred objects for fun or to sell things – is not cool. However, drawing lovingly from traditions with respect is honoring them. Perhaps you will find something inspiring.



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Weather You Like It or Not

I’m sitting at my desk here in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, on a March day. A few weeks ago, we hit a high of almost 70 ° and now it’s snowing like crazy. Unpredictable as the weather, as they say. And I’ve said, a thousand times, what is the rain (or snow) plan?

There is nothing like a beautiful outdoor setting for a wedding. Especially here in the Poconos! It is romantic and inspiring to be surrounded by nature.  Whether it is by a lake, in a field, the woods, or at one of the many beautiful resorts such as Mountain Springs Lake, Shawnee Inn, Skytop Lodge or The Stroudsmoor Country Inn. At venues such as these, there is always a good indoor alternative in case of rain. That is just one of the good reasons to choose a professional location. But when there is no appropriate back-up, a place and space to go to in case bad weather, what will you do?

If you are planning to get married in a backyard, by a river or stream or waterfalls, in a park or at someone’s home, think through all the details. You need a strong backup plan, one that you can feel good about. This is something the DIY couple may not think through quite enough, and I’m here with some tips.

You should consider renting a tent, and you cannot wait until the last minute (they need to be booked in advance). You may have to ‘bite the bullet’ and pay money for something you may not use. That can hurt, but not as much as getting rained out will hurt.

It’s not only rain, although that is by far the biggest problem, it could be wind, or even extreme heat that thwarts your beautifully imagined nuptials.

Take your back-up plan a bit further, and it can make all the difference. Here are a few more little tips:

Is there an arch or floral arrangement that can be moved and used for the backup location – if you are moving inside?

How about having some material, such as tulle, or a woven bamboo fence, to create a ‘vibe’ in an otherwise boring, back-up space. Have it on hand, just in case! Have friends at the ready to set it up quickly.

A few tables with flowers, or loaded up with those battery-style candles can create a cozy feeling for the back-up location.

The right size area rug can help differentiate the altar area from the rest of the tent or dance floor!

Think about what your photos will look like. Is there an eye-sore that needs to be concealed?

And if you are at a venue, whether a resort, restaurant, or B&B, don’t be afraid to ask questions and make you own suggestions with the coordinator there. They will be more than happy to accommodate you. If you want to bring a piece of furniture or other available ‘props’ – let them know what you’re thinking!

I recently asked if I could use a table I spotted in the hotel lounge for our ceremony. A friendly staff member happily carried it in, and it was perfect for the couple’s wine sharing ritual. It can be as simple as that

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say again and again: What is your rain plan?



Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the gorgeous photos!

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A few fun DIY ideas for your Wedding

Those who read this column regularly know I try to emphasis the big stuff. The deeper meaning of a wedding, especially the ceremony (my particular area of expertise). But from time to time ‘girls just wanna have fun.’ So here are a few ideas to add some of that fun to your wedding.

Photos are important and a popular idea I enjoy seeing is having lots of family photos on display. It gives a sense of continuity and helps guests learn about one another’s family and friends. Hanging photos from a clothes line, or creating displays in other unusual ways, adds flare, and is easy and inexpensive. If you are on a budget that’s a great way to save money, but don’t skimp on having a photographer document your big day!  Someone took the time to take the photos you are now displaying, remember that your wedding photos will be on display someday.

For a casual outdoor wedding consider setting up various seating arrangements and let people pick their own seats. A mish-mosh of picnic tables, blankets, small tables and chairs all together creates a festive but relaxed environment. It can look tacky and disheveled or it can look good – you have to bring it all together with flowers, matching tablecloths, or other details, so it looks intentional. Conversely if you’re renting tables that are all the same, mix up the tablecloths and flowers!

Lights lights lights. It’s not done until its overdone. Whether using a professional DJ, lighting company or doing-it-yourself you can’t have too many cool lights for the party. I love strings of lights, you know, they kind you buy in the home and garden section at Target! Mix them all up and string them across the room. String lights can also be used to create an interesting effect for your ceremony site, but remember lights, like candles, don’t have the most effect in daylight. If you have a lighting person – go for the gusto and color your world.

Karaoke for your reception! Enough said!

Build a bouquet! Have your guests seated on the aisle hand flowers to the bride as she processes… she gathers them together in a bouquet – then places them in a vase at the front. They can be moved to the reception afterwards. This is especially good for a very small wedding when you can have every single guest involved.

Or do the reverse of building the bouquet – have a bouquet that you can easily take apart and hand out all the flowers in that bouquet to the special women in your life after the ceremony. You don’t really do much with it anyway once the ceremony is finished.

I’m a big fan of theme weddings, and they don’t have to add to the cost either. You can have a black and white wedding – just let everyone know. Looks very cool.  Really, any specific color theme can work, especially if it holds a special meaning or connection – just ask your guests with a simple: please wear something pink in honor of the bride’s mother.

The little meaningful touches add fun and style and don’t have to break the bank. Just let your imagination take you where it wants to go.



Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the gorgeous photos!


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A Sikh Wedding Primer

Chances are most of us will never have the opportunity to attend a wedding from a tradition completely different than our own. While many American Christians may go to weddings in different denominations, or even attend a wedding at a synagogue, and Jews may attend weddings in churches, how many in the Judeo-Christian tradition have ever been to a Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, or Sikh wedding? How many of us have even heard of the Sikh religion for that matter?  In this day and age it is important we all learn more about one another.
Since we may never have that opportunity, let me share some of what I’ve learned about Sikh weddings. I became interested in this when I officiated for a couple that was blending some elements of Sikhism and Christianity in their wedding.

Most Sikh’s live in India, but of course, like any other group, they have spread out world-wide. Especially in the 19th and 20th centuries, Sikhs emigrated around the world. They do not try to convert people to their faith.

When meeting people from India or of Indian decent, don’t assume they are Hindu – they could also be Buddhist, Jain, Christian, Muslim or Sikh. And there are a few (very few) Zoroastrians and Jews there as well.

Sikhism was founded 500 years ago, and has a following of over 20 million, ranking it 5th in the world’s largest religions. Sikh is pronounced more like ‘sick’ but because in English that has a somewhat negative connotation, most say ‘Seek.’  And the plural for Sikhs is pronounced ‘six.’

The religion teaches a message of devotion to God, truthful living, and equality. They denounce superstition and blind ritual and base their beliefs on the teachings of 10 Gurus. I really respect how Sikhs denounced the caste system in India, and have been advocates for equality. They are by our modern standards, a progressive faith tradition.

They are recognizable for the turban, called a dastaar, that men wear, but those unfamiliar with that have confused it with the middle-eastern and usually Muslim keffiyeh. These head coverings are very different actually – once you know, of course. Today, however, many Sikhs do not wear the turban, and it is no longer required.

One of the most exciting parts of a Sikh wedding is the grand entrance of the groom, with lots of singing and dancing, and the groom looking very spiffy in gold or red. Sometimes he’ll enter a luxury car or, if he’s lucky enough, on a horse. He is followed by his closest friends and family. Women have their own moment next, but its cool how men also get to dress up.

A garland exchange is one of the first rituals, and it is beautiful (also done in other cultures, such as Buddhist and Hawaiian). It is used as a greeting, and symbolizes the acceptance of the two families joining together.

Everyone takes off their shoes in a Sikh house of worship. Heads are also covered, women with a scarf and men a bandana of some sort (if you’re not wearing a turban). Followers of the teachings come forward and bow to their scriptures, but non-Sikhs would not be expected to do this. But you will probably have to sit on the floor.

Don’t be fooled by the separation of men and women in the hall. Sikhism is very enlightened in their views and treatment of women, seeing men and women as complete equals.

For the religious portion of the wedding, the marriage officiant reads the couple their marital obligations as the couple walks around the holy scripture four times. After the end of each circle, the couple bows down to agree.

At the end of the ceremony, a sweet pudding, called kara parshad, is passed around to all the guests. This dessert is made with whole wheat flour, butter and sugar. Can’t go wrong there!

I am no expert, but I have learned that the Sikh tradition is full of symbols and rituals, and the wedding and temple are quite exotic to a typical westerner like me. Yet even with men’s long hair, beards, turbans, and the important ceremonial iron dagger – this faith tradition is still thoroughly modern in many ways. I hope to someday be able to attend a full-out Sikh wedding, and if I do, I hope I will feel culturally competent, knowing a little more of their traditions.

The beautiful photos are by Jay Pankhania - a UK based photographer who specializes in Sikh, Hindu and Indian weddings.

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What does it mean to be spiritual?

Spiritual. When asked about their beliefs, this is what I often hear from couples who wish to be married. But what exactly does this mean? Literally, spiritual means ‘relating to things of the human spirit rather than material or physical things.’ But in a more religious context it can mean a wide range of ideas.

For some it means they embrace the idea that there is more to life than what we see, while rejecting the dogma of organized religion. They feel a connection to something beyond themselves they may call the Divine, the universe, the sacred, God, or it might even remain nameless.

Spirituality can be a very open-ended concept, and is not incompatible with religion or belief in God.

In the latest Gallup poll Americans are still predominately Christian. 69% of us are Protestant, Catholic or other Christian denominations; Mormons are 2% and Jews are 3%, the ‘other’ category is only 5%, which surprised me because it seemed so small, and 18% have no religious identity (2% did not respond). Other polling sources come out with similar, if not identical, results.

However, Gallup did not offer the category ‘spiritual’ as an option. If they had, my guess is the numbers would have looked very different.

I have met with many couples who want to connect to their faith traditions, but in ways that are more compatible with a 21st century view of the world which includes science and our evolving ideas and knowledge. Think about Galileo and the Church in 1600s for a great example of what happens when dogma trumps progress.

So how does one honor spiritual ideas and values in a wedding ceremony? There are probably as many ways to express it, as there are different paths of spirituality itself.

Sometimes I simply make a statement of fact, saying that the couple share a sense of spirituality, and perhaps try to describe it, if possible. For example, ‘they find peace and meaning in nature.’

Other times we include specific poems, excerpts or quotes from various sources, that reflect their worldview. There is wisdom everywhere, and it doesn’t take long to find it.

Some of my favorites sources are in poetry and literature, along with classics such as Rumi, Kahlil Gibran, Celtic writings, Lau Tzu, and Buddha; but it is the couple themselves who will direct me to the right inspiration. The texts of Hinduism (the Vedas), and of course the Torah and the Bible all contain beautiful and meaningful words. There are scientists such as Neil DeGrasse Tyson and naturalists such as John Muir, who have written eloquently about our place in the universe.

Beyond words, there are rituals that connect us to earth, air, water, fire, nature, culture, ethnicity, history, art and family. The possibilities are endless, and it’s always challenging and exciting to explore how we humans view our place in the world.

To me, being spiritual means putting great value on love and goodness in the world. What could be more beautiful than that?


Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the gorgeous photos!

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Finding or Creating a Beautiful Ceremony Space

Because I officiate so many weddings I have come to recognize what to look for in a great ceremony site. The ceremony – you know, the part where you are actually getting married – is the reason for the ‘big day.’ If your ceremony is not in a house of worship, you may want to think through the location details.

The majority of weddings I perform are outdoors – so I’ll address that first. Because modern couples are often looking for unique locations, they may find a spot they love, that isn’t necessary set up for a wedding. The owners of said fabulous locale may not have the experience, or may be stuck in one way of doing things. While many great wedding venues really have it together (and what a relief that is) don’t assume every venue knows what’s best. Think through the details for yourself.

An arch is always a great anchor for your ceremony.

The space should not be vulnerable to interruption – whether street noise, air conditioning unit, or other sources of interruptions. Look beyond the immediate space. Whether at a farm, backyard, hotel or resort, sometimes a neighbor decides to mow the lawn or use a chain-saw during your ceremony. To insure something like this doesn’t happen, give a heads-up and request an hour of quiet from neighbors.

At hotels, where there are guests other than your guests, just accept that there will be other people around – not in the very room or space where you are having the ceremony and reception – but in the vicinity for sure. I like the authenticity of a living, breathing location – but it comes with some lack of privacy. I’m ok with that, are you? Public parks – likewise!

Chairs can be moved to work for you.

The view behind the couple will be the framework of their photos – so make sure to ‘stage’ the ceremony in the best spot. Keep the light and angle of the sun in mind for both the couple, attendants, and guests. Talk to your photographer about this. No one wants to spend the time squinting or shielding their face from the rays. Just because ‘they always set up the space this way’ doesn’t mean you can’t set up differently, unless the seating is secured to the ground.

Sometimes just standing under a tree is enough. Simple is good.

What a special outdoor space.

Sound – will your guests be able to hear? At the beach the ambient sound of the ocean is louder than you’d think. Is there electricity? If you have music for the ceremony, where will a DJ or musicians set up and plug in? Having acoustic music? Make sure to set them up close to the guests so they will be heard.

And then there is the all-important back-up plan in case of rain. Have the best plan possible – one you will feel good about in case of a sprinkle or hurricane.

Is the space good as-is, or will you need to decorate? Sometimes just chairs and perhaps an arbor is enough, but an arbor is an issue in itself. I have seen them blow over in a wind – several times. If you are providing the arch be sure it’s is totally secured to the ground – and I do mean secured.

Please: no aisle runners outdoors, they are nothing but a problem. On an uneven surface, such as grass, they tend to bunch up and trip those walking on it.

Indoors offers opportunities for romantic touches like candles (which blow out outdoors – please don’t try to use real candles outside) but remember in daylight or even a semi well lit room, they just won’t have the effect you’re looking for. Unless you’re willing to dim down the lights the use of candles will be less dramatic that you hope.

Whether indoors or out – if you are setting up chairs make sure the aisle is wide enough, especially if a bride is wearing a big dress and being escorted. Don’t stage your attendants standing behind the couple and the officiant. I don’t like having my back to those I’m speaking to, because when conducting the service, I am speaking to not only the couple, but everyone. Most officiants probably feel the same.

These are just a few tips to insure your ceremony location provides the right feeling, a sacred space, or the best vibe, for one of life’s most important milestones.

Define the space with floral arrangements.


Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the gorgeous photos!

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History, Symbolism and Using Wine in your Wedding Ceremony

Using wine as a symbol has deep roots, and I love incorporating a wine sharing into a wedding ceremony. But only if the couple actually likes wine, of course! There are countless ways to interpret the ritual and many reasons a couple may choose to ceremonially share wine.

When I’m officiating at a winery it’s just a natural fit. Weddings at vineyards are popular and here in the Poconos we have our own ‘wine trail,’ with eight vineyards (that I know of) and a few more in the extended region. Just recently a local vineyard added a new building and is offering weddings there: Mountain View Vineyard.

Love in the vines.

A little history is warranted! Going back to the Greeks we learn that Bacchus was the Roman God of wine, and Dionysus, the Greek God of wine. These two gave wine all the hallmarks of divinity, making it a drink of the Gods! Honey wine, or mead, is even called the ‘nectar of the gods.’

If we look to the bible we find lots to draw on as well. In the Christian tradition wine is a sacred rite, the Eucharist, which has its roots in the Gospel of Luke when Jesus shares bread and wine with his disciples. In Judaism wine is blessed during a Seder and is a used at regular Friday night dinner. So, whether it is Shabbat or Communion, wine is a strong spiritual symbol, a symbol of the earth’s bounty, of prosperity and joy, and an affirmation of life. That’s why I especially love using wine for an interfaith ceremony.

Interfaith symbols (Photo:Melissa Kelly)

Noah, you may recall, planted a vineyard as soon as the flood receded. Wise man! Psalms refers to wine saying it gladdens the heart.

The connection of wine to the earth is profound. Growing the grapes, harvesting, and thinking of all the places grapes are grown and fine wine is made. Putting aside religious references a lot has been written about wine in every place and time. Thomas Jefferson wrote that “good wine is a necessity of life for me.” And good old Ben Franklin said “Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.” I’m giving wine the stamp of the USA, although we can also draw on Italian, French and many, many other cultures and countries for inspiration.

Wine at the center of things! (Rhinehart Photography)

One could also look at the science of wine making – thinking about how the variety of chemicals, ferments, and enzymes contained in the wine, work together. The process of grapes becoming wine is like life and love, in that it is based on complex chemical interaction.

Then there is the ‘wine box’ – which is another interesting way to incorporate wine into your ceremony. This ritual involves putting a bottle of wine (along with other items if you wish) into a box at your wedding – to save and open in the future. You can open it on an anniversary, or perhaps if your marriage hits a bump in the road. The idea is to open the wine and recall your wedding and the love that brought you together on that day. That’s why it’s good to put something else into the box – such as a copy of your vows, or letters to each other.

Whenever way I talk about wine, it is ultimately about sharing the ‘cup of life,’ with your future spouse, as you promise to share all that the future brings, sweet or bitter. I prefer the couple share and drink from one glass, but two is ok as well. I had a couple who poured white and red together, the meaning is clear, but I know aficionados would probably be dismayed at mixing wines. As always – whatever works for the couple, works for me!

Given the many ways to interpret wine, I’m surprised it’s not used more often! Ernest Hemingway once said that “wine is the most civilized thing in the world.”  That’s why you can’t go wrong using wine as a symbol in your wedding.




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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