Spanish Wedding Traditions

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

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

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

The 13 Coins from a wedding I officiated.

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

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

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

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

Photo from 1922 of traditional Spanish Bride

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wedding Trends for 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Rhinehart Photography

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

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

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

Photo: Dearly Beloved Photography

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Ringing in the New Year

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

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

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

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

Celtic jumping the branch (Garth Woods Photography)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Considering a Christmas Wedding

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

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

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

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

A good guideline for making it a worthwhile experience is guest participation. People prepare and do so much for their families at Christmas time. Can you provide some interactive experiences for them at the wedding? Bonfires and caroling would be perfect. Imagine spending a weekend attending a wedding at a resort that has incredible décor or provides sleigh rides and other winter activities for everyone! Is it sounding good now? It is to me!

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

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

Plan your reception family style – one long table and offer classic Christmas fare.  Make it feel like one big family affair, because that’s what a wedding is anyway – the joining of families.

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

Don’t forget a gift exchange! A unique tree ornament makes a great favor (wrapped like a Christmas present) or use ornaments for your seating instructions by tying the escort card to the decoration, maybe even hang them from a string of lights.

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

And of course, lights, lots and lots of lights.

Arrange for an appearance from Santa, or if he’s not available, how about Mrs. Claus, or even some elves?

For the more extravagant couple – wouldn’t it be magical to see snowflakes fall as you seal your promise with a kiss? Set up artificial snow above the altar with a pull cord – it could happen! Or maybe just have everyone toss white confetti – that might be easier.

For the ceremony, there are many appropriate scriptural passages, or you can include readings and references from many other sources of inspiration, ones that shine light on the power of love and the magic of the season.

Children’s books can provide inspiration, they often teach important lessons in life. I especially love the Velveteen Rabbitexcerpt about how love is what makes us real.

Most importantly when you plan a wedding at Christmas you are planning not only for one of the biggest milestones in your own life, but a special experience for your guests. That’s a lot of pressure. But with a few special touches you can have something very memorable. Everyone will forget that they missed Santa’s visit at home, because the spirit of Father Christmas will be with them in abundance at your wedding.

thank you Lisa Rhinehart for your beautiful photography!

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Vendors or ‘Friendors’ ?

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

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

An amazing photo of amazing flowers.

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

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

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

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

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

Does your friend understand the traditions?

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

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

Who can get the party started?

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

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

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

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Sami Weddings and other traditions

I recently wrote about expectations for my Arctic/Northern Lights trip. I’m back now and have some cool things to report. Unfortunately, I did not get to see the aurora – there are no guarantees you will see the phenomena, and that’s just how it goes sometimes. But I did have some other wonderful experiences, and one of them was learning about the Sami people.

The indigenous people of Northern Norway (as well as Sweden, Finland and into parts of Russia) have managed to maintain only a few ancient traditions, after being converted to Christianity about 400 years ago. These industrious folks have been living in the arctic regions for about five thousand years – but surviving and thriving in such an extreme climate afforded them no time to develop a written language. Customs, beliefs, and stories were passed down through oral tradition, and that is why, sadly, they do not know as much about their history as they would wish.

During one excursion, our Sami guide announced that he would be providing information on their clothing, their traditional singing, and weddings.  Weddings?! You can imagine my surprise and joy when he announced that topic! This is one of the few rituals that has survived.

Our Sami guide.

I learned that it is very difficult for a young man to find a young woman to marry. A family still living in the old ways, with the reindeer herd, fishing and trapping, and all the other activities necessary to live in the north, prefers to keep a young man at home. But mom also realizes that her son can’t stay home forever. So how does he find a potential wife? Most often at church, one of the few places to meet someone outside one’s immediate family. If a couple begins a relationship, they don’t get see much of each other, but when the time comes to take the next step, the traditions really kick in.

To propose, the reindeer are hooked up to the sleds and they proceed, with the groom and his best friend in the first sled, followed by family members in order of importance (parents next, etc.). They ride to the women’s lavvo (tent-like dwelling) and encircle it three times. Then the best friend enters the dwelling and asks the young woman if she will say accept his friends propose. If the answer is yes, she comes out, unhooks one of the reindeer from its harness, and ties the animal to his sled. If his proposal is rejected, the friend simply comes back out alone, much to the man’s disappointment. This is still done today with reindeer herding families, but it is also sometimes done with cars. The woman comes out of her house and takes the key out of the ignition, puts it in her pocket, signaling yes, this car is now hers to share ownership. I inquired about same-sex couples and was told that they probably did not accept that for marriage, historically, but today, absolutely yes, no problem. Norway is a progressive place.

The 'lavvo'

The Sami are a very egalitarian society, with women holding leadership roles along with men, and working with the reindeer and everything else that needs to be done in their harsh climate.

The wedding itself is a massive affair. The celebration provides an opportunity for Sami near and far to gather, and today, outsiders are welcome too. A small Sami wedding is about 500 people, a more typical number is over a thousand! And of course, the celebration lasts for three days. I would expect no less. For this reason, couples often put off marriage, since the expense of such a large party is great.

Our guide was a 30-year old Sami guy, with a master’s degree in economics, who had returned to help the family with their herd and be a guide for us tourists. He told me he was not ready to marry yet, because he couldn’t afford to do so, although he hopes to one day. His family, generations of reindeer herders, represents part of only 10% of Sami people who live and work today in the old ways.  Most Sami are living a modern life just like any other Norwegian.

The traditional Sami food is a simple reindeer soup or stew with potatoes and carrots, along with hot beverages and lots of bread.

The reindeer sleigh ride

Another fun discovery I want to share was back in the town ofTromsø;I found ‘love locks’ on a bridge. It’s interesting how this engagement custom has spread around the world. I wrote about this a few years ago, noting how in Paris, padlocks on the Pont des Arts so weighed down the bride, the city had to remove them because the bridge was collapsing. I also saw love locks in Lisbon, and I’ll bet you can find them on many bridges everywhere, around the world.

I always love learning about wedding traditions around the world and sharing them here. Whether or not you follow your cultural traditions, you still might find inspiration if you dig into your background and find a way to infuse some of that character into your own engagement and wedding experience. I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to meet and learn about the Sami people, and discover the stark beauty of the arctic.

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An arctic wedding anyone?

Unusual wedding destinations are always a hot topic. As you read this, I’m on my way to the arctic to try to see the Northern Lights. I can’t help but imagine how magical it would be to have a wedding with the aurora borealislighting the sky. We can certainly file that under unique venues!

Locations for viewing the lights range from Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Sweden, Finland and my destination: Norway.

Why would anyone want to do this? The peace, quiet and beauty found in the arctic might be the perfect setting for a certain couple. There are plenty of skiing opportunities as well, along with huskies and reindeer and learning about indigenous cultures.  You might be inspired by this natural stunning phenomenon, and maybe you just love winter, snow, and the outdoor activities that go with that. There’s plenty of hot chocolate by the bonfiretype stuff to do. And very important to many couples – you may find it romantic and cozy.

It’s not as cold as you might think. And as I have learned, having family in Norway, there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

Even here in the Poconos I get inquiries about outdoor weddings in the winter. I’m game if you are. It’s just as the Norwegians say – it’s all about dressing correctly. I recently discussed this with a bride and we were thrilled to discover the Ugg makes white boots.

You may not have to go out of the country, because the lights can sometimes be viewed in Maine, Michigan and other state-side locals. But wherever you are going to see this spectacle of nature, there is never a guarantee you will see them.

The technical explanation of how this show in the sky happens is that charged particles from the sun strike atoms in Earth’s atmosphere that causes the electrons in those atoms to move to a higher-energy state. When the electrons drop back to a lower energy state, they release photons, aka: light. I’m not sure I completely understand, but sure hope I get to see it. Getting a look at the phenomena depends on clear skies. Wish me luck.

There are many ‘normal’ places to stay, nice hotels, in cities within the arctic. I’m going toTromsø– and they have beautiful Radisson and Clarion hotels, both right by the fjord with awesome views. It’s a small city with everything any other city would have.  And there is a beautiful historic cathedral (Tromsdalen Church)right in the town itself.

A little further out, you can find more exotic spots. There is the famous Ice Hotel in Sweden (not far from Norway) that would be an ideal venue for a wedding, or the Alta Igloo Hotel in Norway said to be the northernmost ice hotel in the world. They have their own ice chapel.

Another way to enjoy the arctic is in the summer, when its light all the time, but you won’t see the aurora borealis.

If you travel out of the country, always remember to check the laws for obtaining a marriage license in a foreign country and check in your state to be sure the marriage will be recognized. It most likely will, but its best to do your homework.

I’ll let your know if I see those lights and if they are as magical as I imagine.An arctic wedding anyone?

 

 

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The Power of Music

First a little story: A few weeks ago, I officiated a wedding with a lovely string ensemble playing for the ceremony. I mentioned that the couple had a wine sharing planned and asked if they could play during it. Naturally, they readily agreed, and it enhanced the ritual so much. This was the week when we had several domestic terrorist attacks, and afterwards, as I was driving home, my heart was heavy thinking about those mail bombs, mass shootings and murders. Knowing there was little I could do at that moment, I remembered to put on some music, and it lifted me just enough.

That is the power of music and why it is important to think about music for your wedding. Think about it in depth, and (as they say) ‘out of the box.’  Music is powerful and touches our emotions and moves us in ways that words cannot.

Trio at Harmony Gardens (Garth Woods Photography)

I am in a somewhat unique position to address this topic because, not only am I a Celebrant, which has given me the opportunity to experience a wide variety of choices for ceremony music, but in an earlier period in my life I was a musician and composer.

Here are some of my personal tips when considering your wedding ceremony music.

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.  But be clear about your needs and who you hire. I actually once had a DJ fail to play the recessional music because he was not paying attention! Read those reviews!

Similarly, if you have a band playing your reception, one or two players from the group may be able to play the ceremony.

With live music, amplification and volume issues are crucial. When we think about bands and volume, we usually think about them being too loud, but at a large, 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. Most times they can use some amplification.

Penn Strings under cover (photo by me)

It’s almost never done, but I think putting the ceremony musicians at front, near the attendants, can be very effective. Place them off to the side – it will provide a nice visual as well as having the music coming from the same direction as everything else, which I like for some reason. But they may require a covered space, in case of dampness or rain, because for many instruments, the sun will negatively affect them, as would dampness of course.

If you are going for something a little more adventurous, consider bagpipes! Or why not have a sax player or fiddler lead you down the aisle? Ethnic music, such as Klezmer for a Jewish wedding, Celtic for Irish heritage, the many types of Latin music or even Gypsy music, evocative of Eastern European backgrounds, can be terrific.

With recorded music comes unlimited choices. You might even use different styles for your processional and recessional. Classical for the processional and a pop tune for the recessional, for example. Lyrics (even in an instrumental version) can express something humorous or personal. Think of your guests having that ‘ah-ha’ moment when they figure out the words to the song they’re hearing!

As I already mentioned, I often request music to be played quietly during a ritual. It truly adds a wonderful feeling to a wine sharing, unity candle, sand ceremony or other actions where there is no speaking. Music creates ambience and fills in those quiet parts helping everyone feel more relaxed and signaling the mood. That’s why you will no doubt have ‘guest arrival’ music for anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes before the walk down the aisle.

Featuring a live performance right in the ceremony can be tricky. Unless they are undeniably, amazingly talented, I don’t recommend it. When a friend or family member volunteers, and you don’t think their skills are up to it, it can become very awkward. Try to graciously decline a well-intended offer if you feel hesitant. Trust yourself. Tell them that you wouldn’t dream of having them to miss the ceremony by ‘working’ it. But, if you can’t deny them, consider asking if they would perform at the party instead. Remember, there is so much intense focus, and quiet attention at the ceremony – the pressure can be too much for an amateur.

On the other hand, if you wanta friend or relative to perform you shouldask them. Maybe the latest upcoming star is your cousin! It is an honor to be asked to participate in someone’s wedding. However, find out what they would be comfortable playing. While a musician may have achieved a level of proficiency and sound great, don’t ask them to play something out of their area of expertise. From very personal experience I can tell you how difficult that is. I was once asked to sing and play at a wedding and was then informed of what song they chose; it was something that was completely out of my musical style and beyond my technical skill. I was embarrassed, to say the least!

Whatever you select for ceremony music, it will add beauty and joy to your wedding day. Aldous Huxley said, ‘After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’

And Leonard Bernstein wisely said: ‘Music can name the un-nameable and communicate the unknowable.’

 

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I do, do you? Three essential elements of a wedding ceremony.

It is commonly accepted practice (although it is not the law) that there are three elements a wedding ceremony should contain: The asking, the vows, and the pronouncement. Signing the marriage license another piece of the puzzle, of course, and truly the only legallyrequired part, at least in Pennsylvania, where I practice. Personally, I would never sign a license without including the three elements I just outlined.

Some people are confused about the difference between when the officiant asks the question that elicits the response: ‘I do’, and when the couple exchanges their vows. These are separate elements.

I want to illuminate each one. We’ll start with asking the question. This is sometimes called the monitum. In Latin that means ‘warning’ and it speaks to the voluntary aspect of the wedding – that the couple are coming freely to join together. I prefer to call it ‘The Asking,’ because it just seems so much more straight forward. Why make things more complicated than they need to be?

Photo: Lisa Rhinehart Photography (gorgeous as always)

This ‘I do’ part, the asking, is traditionally put this way: do you ‘take’ this man (or woman) to be your husband (or wife). I don’t care for ‘take,’ I prefer: do you welcomeso-and-so as your wife or husband. There are many interesting ways this can be phrased, and I’ve created fun variations and solemn ones.

I was surprised to hear recently that a person officiating (not a professional I might add) used the old phrase: ‘if anybody here knows why this couple should not be joined in marriage, speak now or forever hold your piece.’ Maybe he drew his knowledge of weddings from movies. This bit comes from medieval times when the church had control over who could or couldn’t marry and they needed to know the status of the couple or if appropriate agreements were made. From there it evolved into being more about the consent and support of the community, and maybe even some outstanding debts. It was also used to ensure that close relatives weren’t marrying one another. Almost no one says this anymore.

Once the couple has agreed, answered in the affirmative, we arrive at the main event: THE VOWS – and the oldest traditional wedding vows can be traced back, once again, to the medieval church.

Vows, too, can be very simple or quite complex. I find myself reminding people that they do not have to reinvent this wheel. Sometimes one partner wants to write their own vows and the other is content to choose something. Just remember, the vow is your promise. And it should be spoken out loud, putting it out there in the universe, and more importantly, saying it to your future spouse. Understanding the power of words and saying those words out loud, makes it quite different, and way more powerful, than reading them to yourself or hearing someone else speak.

When working within a religious system that will not allow for much customization of the ceremony, couples who want to put their mark on their nuptials sometimes create long vows often telling their love story. It’s almost the exact opposite with me. Since the entire ceremony created by a Celebrant is customized, it takes a lot of pressure off the vows, allowing them to be sweet, honest, simple and to the point. Because, after all, your promise is not your life story. Leave that to me!

I didn’t list the exchange of rings as a crucial element. Although almost everyone does exchange wedding rings, it’s nice to add little vow for that moment, but I don’t consider it as essential as the other three elements. And that leads us to that final element – the pronouncement.

Again, this can also be creative or simple. I like to get right to the point with words such as ‘I now pronounce you husband and wife’, or ‘I now pronounce you married.’ I can add flourishes and fancy language, declaring on this day, and at this place, these two people declared their commitment, blah blah blah, but ultimately the ceremony has to end, and the couple can seal their promise with a kiss. Yes, they kiss. I do believe people kiss each other. You may kiss the brideis another throw-back to when the couple had never most likely never kissed or sometimes even met before the ceremony. And kissing was in the realm of manhood. No, a woman could not initiate a kiss, she was there to be kissed. But many people still find that phrase adorable, and I will certainly use it upon request.

So these three elements, the asking, the vows and the pronouncement can be expressed in many ways, and the language used is important. I just love that. I do. I now pronounce this column done.

Very grateful to the amazing photographer Lisa Rhinehart for the many years now I’ve been using her photos to illustrate my columns. Check her out – she’s amazing!

 

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When tragedy strikes

Today’s topic isn’t the most pleasant or uplifting, but it is important. And I am well aware that I have been accused of often being ‘too serious.’ Is that a bad thing? But here’s what I want to talk about, in light of recent events: What happens if just before your wedding a local, state, national or personal tragedy strikes. What do you do? There are many ways terrible events can impact a day that was supposed to be about love and should be full of joy. And there are many ways to respond.

When I was very young, my cousin was getting married – it was a big deal, especially because we’re a small family – and right before that happened, the father of the groom committed suicide. The wedding celebration was cancelled, and the couple married instead in the private study of the person who’d been set to officiate. This was an appropriate and proportional response.

Anything can happen, and in these turbulent times, they happen more and more. Whether it is something like the recent mass shooting at the synagogue, or a personal event in your own family.

There are two elements that come into play – that your response be appropriate and proportional. And any decisions made about it are always subjective. Only the couple and perhaps the immediate family can decide if or how to respond. But most importantly I urge you not to ignore what is going on, whether in your family, circle of friends, or in the world.

And now a small plug for hiring well-trained officiants: those of us with training and lots of experience can help couples with this. We can help find the words and actions to express what you are feeling. This is done most often, at the opening of the ceremony. So speak to the person or people you lean on, talk about it and talk to your officiant.

Ritual acts could include lighting a candle, tossing pebbles or stones into a nearby lake or river, a butterfly release, placing a flower in a vase. Some people like to have an empty chair, often with a photo or flower but I must confess this is not my favorite thing. Consider having the person’s favorite song played by your musicians or DJ, carry or wear something that belonged to your loved one. A memorial table with photos and artifacts is always appreciated and works well whether it is for personal or a community tragedy. But do not turn your wedding into a funeral. Again, proportion is important. A statement along with a reading and/or a moment of silence is always appropriate.

Transitioning into the joy of your marriage is the harder part. Words that remind us all that we must live our lives bravely and recommit ourselves to loving and gratefulness will certainly help, while acknowledging that it doesn’t change the fact that it’s difficult.

Cancelling a wedding is a tough decision. However, if there is a death in the immediate family it may have to happen. It might be you go from your planned ceremony at a lovely resort to a ceremony in a hospital room.

There is such a thing as wedding insurance, and if you bought it, you can recoup most of the costs. If you are considering cancelling, call your venue as soon as you possibly can.

The timing is important. If a death is a few weeks before your date, try to go through with your wedding plans. And don’t feel guilty! Think about what your loved one would want you to do, and most likely, they’d want you to be happy. Just acknowledge them at the ceremony, even with the simple lighting of a candle.

When community tragedies strike you may want to give part of your wedding over to dealing with it. Take a collection for a reputable charity. Give your gifts to victims. I wonder what it felt like for couples getting married on September 12, 2001 – the day after that terrorist attack?

Dealing with death is never easy, but it is a part of life, and we don’t get to choose the timing. Whether you are religious, spiritual, or secular, whatever your beliefs are about death and after-life, a loved one always lives on in your memory.  When you think about them and talk about them, they are with you. So don’t ignore it. It’s ok to cry and it’s ok to laugh, and it’s wonderful to celebrate love.

Death is not the opposite of life, it is a part of 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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