500 and still going

This marks my 500th column for Pocono Wedding Talk. I can hardly believe it myself. People often ask me how I continue to come up with topics to explore. The answer is, I don’t know. I ask myself: why keep writing? I do have an answer to that. It is because I love being a celebrant and offering my little alternative perspective on the world of weddings. If this column has helped a few people over the years, that would make me extremely happy.

Because of the nature of weddings, I’m guessing that readers of this space come and go. If you’re about to be married, your children are about to be married, or your friends are about to be married, you may be more passionate about the topic of weddings at a particular time in your life. Thank you for checking this out.

Rhinehart Photography

But I’ve also had people tell me that although they are not involved in a wedding, they still read the column. Thank you to those people, too.

After 500 articles, I can’t say I haven’t revisited topics, or even from time to time reposted a column or two, especially one of my all-time favorites about wedding programs. I sometimes send that column to couples I’m working with, when I received an email from them asking for ‘the order of service.’ I know they want to do a program and likely intend to outline the ceremony. To which I advise – please don’t do that. This perennial column offers alternatives.

Other favorite topics over the years include talking about the emergence of LGBT weddings. The time frame for this column coincided with the legal battles for the right of gay people to marry and the ultimate win. Now-a-days gay weddings are just … well, weddings. Still, it was exciting to be on the cusp of change, and to be on the right side of history.

Another topic I enjoy writing about comes in many forms, in fact, it is the very theme, or sub-text, for much of this space –  it is how to be true to yourself when planning your wedding festivities.

Photo: Garth Woods

When travelling to other countries I always research their wedding traditions and have had a lot of fun writing about that. From Norway, to Portugal and Spain, to Morocco to Scotland and the UK, I’ve learned a lot about how other countries celebrate their marriage rites. And the many unusual and cool rituals from places I’ve never been – those have been explored, too. Customs and traditions are kind of my ‘thing.’ I’ve also written about weddings I’ve created, especially those that are a little out-of-the-ordinary. People always ask about that.

Religious, spiritual or secular is another topic I delve into often. The differing beliefs people hold can cause turmoil when trying to navigate the rite of passage that is a wedding. I hope I can help sort that out.

Remarriage, whether after the death of a spouse or a divorce, is another meaningful subject, along with including children in the ceremony in more meaningful ways.

You can always scroll back through columns either on the Pocono Record website, or on my website, if you are looking for a specific topic. And if there’s something you’d like me to think about, and write about, I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks to my current editor Ashley who does a great job and the Pocono Record for allowing me to be myself. And of course, 500 thanks to readers of these articles. I, too, benefit from the writing process. It keeps me engaged and continuing to develop my own thinking as a celebrant, and at my, let’s say, mature age, keeps my brain in gear.



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The Quiet Wedding

No two couples are alike, and not everyone wants a big fuss made over their nuptials, yet they still recognize that it is truly one of life’s big milestones and worthy of celebration. At least I hope they do.

When I hear a request for a ceremony that is ‘short and sweet’ it is often because the couple has never witnessed or imagined a personalized ceremony. They are trying to avoid a long, boring one, or may not want anything over-the-top.

Keeping it simple, however, is easier said than done when it comes to weddings. But it doesn’t have to be a choice between boring and electrifying, between plain and flamboyant. A simple wedding can be meaningful and less stressful to plan, as well as elegant. It may also give couples and families the opportunity to enjoy the event in deeper way. For more casual people, when we dress-up for special occasions, we sometimes don’t feel quite like ourselves. It’s good to be comfortable in your own skin (and clothing). Can you even imagine a bride not wearing a traditional wedding gown? Well, I can, and it can be wonderful.

Many couples find things spin out of control as they keep adding this or that to their preparations. Obviously, you need to plan ahead, even if you want something low-key. Not planning is not keeping it simple.

This is not about money, although keeping it simple can save you a bundle! On the other hand, in keeping it uncomplicated, you may be able to choose a higher-end venue, and top-notch food and drink selections, that wouldn’t have been in your budget if you had included a million-other check-listed items.

Here are some suggestions for what I’m calling the ‘quiet wedding.’

First set the mood. Instead of a party band or DJ, consider a small live ensemble, such as a jazz trio, or a group that plays mostly ‘standards,’ which means classic American songbook material. Even just a really good soloist, like a pianist, will create the right feel.

The venue will also make a big difference. In choosing an intimate setting for the ceremony and reception, and having them in the same location, you will keep it easier logistically for yourselves and your guests.

Stick to an indoor ceremony to help insure there is no stress about weather, clothing choices or back-up plans in case it’s too hot, too cold or it rains. Most hotels have a room for a ceremony and a room for the banquet, and top wedding venues absolutely have great choices for this.

Consider a luncheon instead of a dinner, and serve buffet style. Many people prefer to choose what they like from the selections, and an added plus is that you avoid a return reply that must include their choice of meal. This reduces your wedding planning work load a lot. Personally, I really love the buffet option, because I get to tailor my plate exactly to my own liking.

You can skip having bridesmaids and groomsmen if it feels like it may be difficult and complicate matters. There is no requirement that you have attendants. None.

There are so many wedding trends, and some trends become ensconced as traditions. I’m talking about things like gifts for attendants, save-the-date cards, or the pressure to put on a show for that ‘first dance.’ Any and all of these ‘extras’ can be skipped if they don’t appeal to you. Even flowers are not always necessary, although bouquets for women are always pretty and flowers are, to my taste, the best kind of decor.

For clothing, hair and make-up, you can make it easy, and still go as luxurious or unfussy as you wish. As I like to say: Don’t do the ‘up-do’ if it’s not you.

One thing I never advocate skipping or skimping on is photography. I recently wrote about that, and I will simply summarize by reminding everyone that photos are forever. They are part of your legacy. However, you can cut down on the hours for the photographer, not everyone wants photos of themselves getting dressed.

If you don’t want to give your guests a little take-home ‘chachkie’, try the candy bar instead. Simply buy a variety of bulk candies and little bags and ask everyone to fill a bag to take home. Simple, sweet (literally) and easy. If this trend is passé, I don’t care, I love it.

Whatever you decide, I hope you choose what is right for you. A wedding is not a show, and you don’t need to put-on airs. The best weddings are the ones the present the couple and the families in ways that truly resonate.

 Thank you Garth Woods for the beautiful photos  


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East meets West (in Wedding World)

In today’s polarized environment it’s difficult to remember that we are more alike than different. When two people from different places, cultures or traditions fall in love, we truly see the power of the shared human experience. And it happens frequently.

When its East meets West it’s an especially rich opportunity. Readers probably understand what I mean when I say ‘West,’ because we live in the West, but just to clarify, I mean people following Judeo/Christian traditions, and/or people from North and South America, most of Europe, Africa and Australia. For Muslims, one can be Western or Eastern, depending on the country of origin.

The Eastern world very broadly includes most of Asia and Eastern Europe. These boundaries can be fluid, but for my purposes here I want to explore the coming together of people from two of these diverse backgrounds. East and West. I’ll leave the Middle East to the geopolitical types.

It’s not too difficult to come up with ideas about clothing, décor, music and other ways to infuse a wedding with cultural heritage. Not surprisingly, I want to focus on the ceremony content.

There is so much wisdom to be found in all traditions, but for those largely unfamiliar with Eastern philosophies and religions, learning about it can be quite a revelation!  I often use quotes and passages from Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism or Sikhism. This is not to say that Westerners do not practice any of those Eastern religions, they surely do. But the origins of those religions are definitely Eastern. The great part is that these writings are very accessible for Christians, Jews and Muslims, as well as atheists and agnostics. Why? Because they express a something that is liberating, loving, and compassionate.

Many people believe there are simply different paths to the same truth. I won’t argue that point one way or the other here, but all religions certainly encourage good conduct, and living a moral and ethical life.

And remember, you don’t have to follow a specific religious tradition to find inspiration from any of them.

Some of my favorite sources of wisdom are the writing of Rumi, Lao Tzu, the Dali Lama, and Tagore. I have incorporated them in weddings because they are inspiring. Even for couples who are not following those specific paths, it can be meaningful to include ideas from outside your own tradition, expressing a world view that is open-minded.

Here’s a brief rundown on the four sources I mentioned. Of course, there are so many more, but for me, these are pretty important. See what you think.

Rumi was a 13th-century Persian Muslim poet, scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic. His writings, especially his poetry, has become a staple for lovers everywhere. One of his famous quotes is: Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

Lao Tzu was an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer. He is known as the author of the Tao Te Ching, and is the founder of the philosophy called Taoism (the one with the Yin/Yang symbol).  A favorite quote from him is: Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.

Of course, most people are aware of the 14th Dalai Lama, the current (and possibly last) monk to lead the Tibetan Buddhism school of thought. I love his quote: This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.

And Tagore was a Bengali, who reshaped their literature and music, as well as Indian art with his modernism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He wrote poetry, fiction, drama, essays, and songs. Here is one wonderful quote from Tagore: Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.

Imagine a wedding with wisdom from East and West, a blending of cultures, thoughts, traditions and most of all, love.









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S’mores anyone?

Creating an interactive experience

In the 1994 film Forrest Gump, the lead character Forrest Gump famously shared his mama’s advice that:  “… life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

Weddings, however are more like S’mores. You create it from different pieces to make something wonderful, and you think you do know what you’ll get.

S’mores, you may know, are a classic American treat usually made over a campfire. They are created by melting a marshmallow which is then placed between two graham crackers with a piece of a chocolate bar, which melts delectably from the warmth. A fusion of flavors, warm and special.

S’mores are an activity that everyone must take an active role in order to eat one (yes, I know someone can make one for you and hand it to you – but go with me on this). And that is my theme today. Not only is your wedding celebration a coming together of different pieces, it is a coming together of people, participating in your big day.

So I ask: is there an interactive activity that could be incorporated into your wedding? An activity, like making S’mores, that brings people together?

I love the idea of providing guests with various ways to be a part of the big day, beyond attending, giving a gift and, of course, dancing the night away (which is definitely interactive).

Unusual guest books have been around for a while, and I do love them, but they are more solitary. You sign or place your thumb print or do whatever is asked on the tree, or in the book. Actual table activities go a step beyond. Games, questionnaires, and friendly competitions can really help make for a special evening. Not everyone likes to dance. And interactive activities give guests the chance to know each other and know more about the couple.

A wish jar is very easy to pull off, and one of my favorites for Baby Blessings and weddings alike. Have a place set up where people can write down their advice or wishes for you and place in a jar. Like the wish jar, a ‘date jar’ similarly asks everyone to suggest ideas for the couple to continue to fuel their relationship with romance. Try using post-cards, perhaps vintage ones, or just goofy postcards from the area, for your guests to write their wishes upon. Again, a bit solitary, but still adds a nice touch. You are asking for your guests’ thoughts or opinions, and that’s flattering. Instead of putting the cards on the table with the container – put them on the tables – it will encourage discussion.

For the ceremony itself, I have ideas for couples who are interested in this. I sometimes suggest a community, or support vow. This consists of having the guests respond with their own version of the ‘I do.’ I’m asking for their continued promise to help sustain the couple through whatever will come.  Like the power of group singing, it’s wonderful to hear your guests raise their voices together.

And speaking of singing, for the really adventurous, or musical, you could have a short group sing-a-long, either as part of the ceremony or celebration that follows. A call-and-response type song would work well, or hand out lyrics sheets for familiar melodies.  Be sure to have a leader for this who knows how to pull it off. Clearly, this isn’t for everyone, but hey, you never know. If you hire the right pianist for cocktail hour, perhaps he or she could lead this for you.

A ‘ring warming’ ritual is another interactive activity, and is especially good for a smaller wedding. This is where all the guests get to bless the rings as they are passed around. Done a bit differently, it’s a way to honor your attendants, by asking them to do the warming or blessing of the rings. They can even form a circle around the couple as they pass the rings, before the couple exchanges them.

The old-fashioned pin money on the bride dance is an example of an interactive activity and while not for everyone, there is deep tradition here and it can be super-fun! The same goes for bouquet toss. And for a Jewish wedding you simply can’t skip hoisting the couple up on chairs.

I’ve seen a quilt signing which was lovely. People were handed squares of material to write on to be sewn together later. This could also be done on an already made quilt.

If there’s a way to tie-in activities to the specifics of the venue, don’t miss that opportunity. Getting married at a ski resort – see if you can offer rides of the ski lift to anyone wanting one, especially when it’s NOT winter. Getting married by the water? Can you offer boat rides? There are always garden style games, such as horseshoes, for outdoor weddings.

Pins on a map from guests to show where they’ve come from is another classic, and easy to pull off.

Even an ice cream sundae bar (make your own) is interactive! Now, that I would really enjoy!

My point here is that any way you concoct to get your guests more involved will energize the party, and sure to be memorable. You have asked them there to share the day with you, now get them into it, with or without the s’mores.


     Thank you Lisa Rhinehart  photographer extraordinaire







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Still Cute, Just Older

Older teens or adults children in weddings

I love including children in a wedding ceremony! We often see kids as flower girls or ring bearers. When the children are the children of the couple getting married (rather than say, nieces or nephews) it becomes even more important to involve them in the ceremony. Let them know you understand that this is a big day for them, as well. The little ones are always adorable!

But for slightly older couples, they may have older children, perhaps teens or even adults themselves. How do you include them? Is it even appropriate? As in many things in life – it depends.

If the children are ‘on board’ for the wedding, happy to see their mother or father has found love again, then they should certainly be honored, recognized or involved. It’s always a good idea to ask anyone what role they might enjoy in your ceremony, but because we’ve seen so little of this modeled for us, most people won’t have any idea of what to do. So here are a few suggestions.

Once your kids are out of the house, you really are not blending the family, nor are you becoming a step-parent in the traditional sense of helping to raise the kids, so rituals like the Sand Ceremony may not resonate as much.

Instead, I like to see teens or adult children doing something together, and one thing that works especially well, is sharing a reading. In a religious ceremony, they might be asked to read scripture, and in a less religious or secular context, there are countless sources of inspiration. Teens will need direction but adults might be honored to find their own selection. On the other hand, in our busy world, asking them to do that might feel like a burden. In that case, come up with a few ideas to present to them. Once the reading is selected, one that is age and topic appropriate, it can be split up into sections.

For teens, giving them gifts is fitting, pointing out how the gift is analogous to the rings the couple exchanges, how it is symbolic of your love and commitment to them. I often include this as part of the ceremony itself. Admittedly this is easier for girls, since jewelry usually works out well as a comparative symbol. Some boys will also like jewelry, but really anything can work, because with the gift you are simply telling them you will love them always.

Gifts for adult children are great, too, but they don’t necessarily need to be presented in the ceremony. An heirloom, if you have one, makes a very meaningful gift.

Adult children, male or female, can present the rings to their respective parents. They may also want to walk down the aisle with their mother, not ‘giving away’ their mom, but supporting her. And I like the idea of fathers walking with their children as well.

Another possibility is to write a short statement about your children, and have the officiant include it in the ceremony. Or prepare a program and include lots of wonderful details about your amazing children for everyone to read; it gives them something good to do while waiting for the ceremony to begin.

And of course, those adult children may have children, and I’m sure you will be considering roles for your grandkids!

Just because you are marrying again, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t celebrate it. Many ‘older’ couples feel they need to keep it toned down, especially if they had a big wedding the first time around. And that makes complete sense. But don’t apologize or underestimate the importance of this milestone. After all, it is quite miraculous to find love and start anew! Worthy of celebration indeed! Bring the whole family.

     Thank you Lisa Rhinehart  and Michael Straub  for the use of your photography

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Cooking up some wedding fusion

Blending traditions and cultures for an inclusive wedding

I’m often asked about this. When a couple comes from two different cultures, ethnicities or religious traditions, how do I blend their backgrounds into a cohesive ceremony? First and foremost, I am always deeply mindful that there be an absolute sense of equality and balance. No one is leaving any ceremony I created saying ‘it was all about her,’ or ‘it was all about his family.’

Here is a fairly typical scenario – let’s take a couple, one partner is Puerto Rican and the other Italian. Both come from Roman Catholic backgrounds, but do not actively practice their faith, but many of their parents and grandparents do.

When you explore Italian traditions for the ceremony itself, it is exclusively the celebration of the Catholic Mass. I am not a priest and obviously I would never attempt to mimic communion. Instead I might suggest a wine sharing ritual that references both the religious connections of wine, using an Italian wine. There’s a lot of history to draw from. I explain the connections, connotations and symbolism, and then the couple drinks the wine, sharing the ‘cup of life’ together. I hope you get the idea.

One of my favorite Hispanic wedding traditions is the lazo, which is like a giant rosary and used to join the bride and groom by draping it over them during the ceremony, while the priest blesses the marriage. Again, I’m not a priest, but I love using a lazo in a similar fashion. The officiant doesn’t have to do this, by the way. In fact, it’s a great honor to ask one or two people to wrap the cord – a favorite relative, god-parents, or anyone special to the couple.

A lazo can be made of many materials, besides being beaded like the rosary. I have seen floral lazos, and ribbon lazos – do what works for you. Some couples create their own lazo. By the way, lazo literal means lasso, for obvious reasons, and sometimes is even called a lasso – so if you see these two terms, they are the same thing.

I also love the 13 Coins ritual, which could be used instead, and I promise to write about that one soon. But you probably would not want to use both.

Michael Straub Photography

Readings can bring a lot to the table. Look for scriptural passages or use the wisdom of writers from the country you are honoring. In some instances, you might even have the reading performed in two languages. That infuses a lot of flavor. Find authors or poets from each heritage, and make sure to mention why you chose it.

There are other, and probably easier places besides the ceremony, where couples can honor their backgrounds. One of my very favorite Italian wedding traditions is done at the reception. It is when the couple breaks a vase, plate or glass, and the number of pieces symbolize how long they will be happily married. Because of its similarity to the Jewish ‘breaking the glass’ at the end of the ceremony, I find this especially wonderful, because it speaks to the universality of symbols!

For the Puerto Rican side of the family have the couple’s first dance be a danza criolla, a Puerto Rican waltz.

Have a band or DJ who are versed in Latin music, such as salsa, merengue, mambo, samba, and can also toss in an Italian Tarantella, along with some great Italian-American crooners such as Frank Sinatra, Louis Prima, Vic Damone, Jerry Vale, and Tony Bennett.

And food, food, food. Both cultures have many specific and fantastic dishes to enjoy. Don’t worry if you think they don’t ‘go together.’ Do it anyway! Food always brings people together.

These are just a few examples of how two cultures can successfully be brought together for a wedding ceremony and celebration. There are countless ways to infuse an important milestone like this with history, culture, religion, and most importantly – meaning.

(this column is dedicated to Ashley

     Thank you Lisa Rhinehart  and Michael Straub  for the use of your photography

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Fairytale Weddings – Grim Roots

I love delving into rituals and traditions from around the world, and do so fairly often in this column. Today I thought it would be fun to look at some of our most well-known customs that have, uh, let’s say – ‘uncomfortable’ origins.

It’s almost universal for fathers to ‘give away the bride,’ and I love putting my own modern spin on this by reframing it as ‘supporting’ the bride and/or ‘presenting’ the bride. The origin of this tradition is pretty clear, very literal. A daughter was the father’s property, and his to give. But there are a few other theories that make it even more disturbing. One is classic that seems to weave into many wedding traditions – having to do with evil spirits.  It is thought that the bride needed to be ushered to the ceremony because she couldn’t see through her veil, and (get this) the veil was over her face to protect her from unseen demons. Other stories say the veil was to hide her face from her groom, until it was too late for him to back out. Ugh! This reflects the long history of women valued only for the looks or child-bearing. Good and bad luck, spirits and myths, all were dominant themes in ancient times, and to some extent still today.

As most of our western wedding traditions, having bridesmaids also harkens back to early Roman times, when the bride’s maiden friends would line up to form somewhat of a protective shield while walking her to the groom’s village. These girlfriends were dressed similarly, and expected to intervene if any vengeful ex-lovers tried to hurt the bride or steal her dowry. The bride did not have different clothing, but instead wore the same dress as all of her bridesmaids, to make her blend in and all the more difficult to distinguish for potential kidnappers.

And speaking of kidnapping, the best man’s role comes from his duty to make sure the bride either didn’t escape or get kidnapped. Apparently kidnapping women was more common than I realized. But sometimes the best man himself was charged with a kidnapping to bring a woman to be married. This is told clearly in well-known Roman myth, the story of The Rape of the Sabine Women, where the men of Rome kidnapped young women from other cities and brought them to be married to Roman men. It’s interesting to note that the original meaning of ‘rape,’ may have been ‘abduction’ as opposed to sexual violence, but I’d bet anything that sexual assault was part of the deal. Those poor women! Until 1753 English brides could be kidnapped until the Marriage Act was passed.

Mock-kidnapping are still part of wedding traditions in parts of Eastern Europe. Ha, ha. What a fun tradition, right? It is, but only if you do not look too deeply. And unfortunately, real kidnaping is still a practice in many places. Have we come much further? Recently the kidnapping of girls by Boco Haram made headlines world-wide, but probably only because of the sheer numbers of very young girls taken. It takes a lot to get people’s attention.

Less traumatic is the origin of the ring bearer carrying that pillow. The pillow symbolizes the promises of your sweet marriage dreams coming true. Using a small child to carry it represents innocence, the future and new beginnings. That’s a relief.

Pope Innocent III introduced the period of waiting between betrothal and marriage in 1214, and engaged couples started displaying their commitment with a ring – and so began the tradition of the engagement ring.   Archduke Maximilian of Austria was the first to put a diamond on it, in 1477. The engagement ring is worn on the fourth finger of the left hand because it was once thought that the vein in that finger led directly to the heart. Not all women wear it there however, in traditional Indian practice its worn on the right hand, because the left is considered unclean. Also in many Northern and Eastern European countries such as Denmark, Norway, Russia, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Greece, and Bulgaria, it is more common to wear the wedding ring on the fourth finger of the right hand. In Brazil, the engaged couple each wear plain bands as engagement rings on their right hands, and then, upon taking their vows, switch their rings to the left hand. I love this!! Couples in Germany and the Netherlands often do the exact opposite: sporting engagement rings on the left hand and wedding rings on the right.

Traditions vary and the roots of some of our most well-known customs have surprising beginnings. Understanding them doesn’t have to turn you away from using them. In the end, we chose the customs that we love the most and interpret them for a modern era.

     Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the use of your wonderful photography


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How to give the best wedding speech ever!

Have you been tasked with giving a speech at a wedding? Quite an honor, but sometimes a little scary! You want it to be good. No, you want it to be great!

Here are some of my thoughts on how to help you get there.

First, and very importantly, it needs to be structured – you know:  a beginning, middle and end. Hold this thought as you create yours, and it will help guide you. Know your three key points – your introduction, some meaningful content, and a good ending. Endings are everything, it’s also what people remember the most, so bring your best energy to it.

And a common problem many speakers battle is not knowing when or how to end.  I’m sure we’ve all heard speakers going on and on, wishing they’d stopped sooner! If you are not reading the speech you may also find yourself out on a limb and having a hard time getting back to safety. In other words, just prattling on and on.

Don’t let this happen. Either write your speech or use bullet points to keep you on track. If you know what you want to say, and prefer NOT to read it – practice OUT LOUD with a friend. This really does make a big difference.

Introduce yourself. Not everyone knows who you are, and assuming they do is arrogant.  Simply say who you are and how you know the couple – and that starts you off in the right direction. There’s your beginning.

A best friend of one half of the couple must include words about the other partner. It can’t be all about your friend, leaving out his or her new spouse. This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people forget to do so, or make it sound like a mere after thought. A short compliment to him or her isn’t enough. Include something of substance.

Keep it clean. Don’t include anything you wouldn’t want published in the newspaper, heard at work, or want your mother to hear. If in doubt – don’t say it.

Include stories, experiences with the couple that enlighten us to their personalities and their love. Explain why you know they belong together. Your childhood friendship with one or both of them is fine, but keep that brief.

Humor is difficult. Don’t force it. If a story is funny, great, but don’t tell jokes, it’s not open mic night, it’s a tribute to the couple, not you!

See if you can find a meaningful quote, something that makes complete sense for the couple, reflecting their taste, passions and values. There is a lot of wisdom out there, finding something from a source that connects to their lives helps illuminate your intent. But again, don’t force it. It’s not required.

If you think it’s too long, it probably is. When you practice the speech – time it.  About five minutes is perfect.

Be sober, or mostly sober, when you speak.

Be yourself. Don’t write something overly fancy or use words you wouldn’t ordinarily use.

Don’t let the speechmaker who proceeds you, steel your thunder or your wonderful stories. Check with them ahead of time and compare notes if at all possible.

If you are asking folks to raise their glass in a toast for your finish, make sure their glasses are full before you even start, so check with the wait-staff before you even begin.

Remember – there is a difference between offering a toast and making a speech. Please do what is asked of you, although a speech is often (but not always) ended with a toast. However, don’t step on someone else’s toes if they’ve been asked to make the toast. A best man versus a father, for example – the father offers a toast, the best man gives a speech; or best woman gives the speech, and mother offers the toast, or any version conceivable.

And finally, the big conclusion – thank everyone for being there and acknowledge the love that brought you all together.

     Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the use of your wonderful photography


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Spotlight on Grooms

So much focus is put on women and weddings. Maybe too much, really – focus that becomes pressure, stress and unrealistic expectation. Remember that men, too, are almost always part of the occasion and equation, and too often not given enough thought. Time to look at the men-folk again!

Before I get to all the practical stuff, I want to share an observation. I see a great many men cry during the ceremony, most often during the vow exchange. I am not surprised when they are caught off-guard by overwhelming emotion. My theory is that in our culture men are taught to suppress their feelings (big boys don’t cry) and at an important, extremely emotional time such as this, all those tamped down feelings that have built up inside can’t be held back. The damn breaks. At least that’s my guess. So, men, if you do cry, please remember that it’s quite normal and understand why. A little advance crying might help relieve the pressure, though, so give into the urge to shed some tears beforehand.

Now, onto wedding planning! Granted there is usually one partner who is more inclined towards the wedding planning, but given you are a team and planning a life together, it would behoove ANYONE getting marriage to participate in planning. Male couples can teach us something here – after all, if there is no bride to carry the burden of wedding planning, what do two grooms do? Usually they plan their wedding together.

Many a (straight) groom has expressed that all he needs to do is show up, implying wedding work is up to the woman. This is wrong on so many levels. If he takes his upcoming vows seriously and his friends and family are joining him to celebrate, why shouldn’t he be engaged (pun intended!) in the process?

The good news is that many men today are taking an active role in their own wedding planning. Here are a few tips for them.

Some of the classic ways to be involved include choosing music, signature drinks, menu, photographer, and participating in choosing all your vendors. In other words – express your opinion. Don’t get sucked into a wedding that does not fit you style. To be sure you will feel comfortable and proud on the big day, you must participate in advance.

If things are getting tense in the family, you can be a shoulder to lean on, a hearing ear, and even a buffer, should your bride and her mother (for example) start to argue. However, don’t ever say one bad word about your future mother or father-in-law. It will come back to haunt you. Just be understanding and support your partner!

If your bride is taking on too much and is stressed out, gently help her off the edge of the cliff and encourage her to let go of any unimportant tasks.

If you have decided to write your own vows, don’t leave this to the last minute. Check in with your fiancée, to be sure you do not wind up walking away from the ceremony embarrassed. Don’t make your vows all humor, one funny line is enough. As a celebrant, I assist couples who are creating their own vows, so they will be confident without necessarily knowing what the other one is planning to say. You may not have that opportunity – so talk with one another about the length and tone of this important promise, or ask a friend to help.

On the day-of, classic responsibilities include making sure your attendants are there on time, and sober, and know who is holding the rings. Delegate jobs for them in advance, such as welcoming guests, directing traffic, and generally being around to help. There’s a reason you chose them to stand with you, they are there to support you!

Don’t forget to eat something, it’s a long day, and pace yourself in all ways. If your normal routine happens to include exercise, go ahead with that in the morning. You’ll feel better. The same advice goes for women, of course.

A new tradition that has developed, and I although it plays into the ever-growing list of things-to-do-for-weddings, it is beautiful. Give your intended a gift on the morning of the wedding. This doesn’t have to be about the expense, but it does need to hit the right note. Something personal, a private reference between the two of you perhaps? Or sending a card or letter – via one of your attendants – to deliver to her before your walk down the aisle is also a grand romantic gesture and will surely set a romantic tone for the nuptials. If ever there is a time to get sappy, this is it!

Pay attention to your own grooming. While a bride may be at the spa, getting her hair, nails, and make-up perfect, some men don’t really care for any of that. But it is important to go a bit beyond just a fresh shave or beard trim and haircut, and I encourage men indulge in some extra personal grooming, beyond their daily routine, and consider getting a facial. Most men never know the joy of a facial:  pores cleaned, little hairs trimmed –  it really will make you look your best, especially for those close-up wedding portraits.

Make sure your clothing and shoes fit properly, well in advance, guys.

Stay sober.

And during the ceremony and party following, focus on your partner, make eye contact, compliment her, and be a complete gentleman in all ways. Thank everyone, and remember to enjoy the moment.


     Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the use of your wonderful photography


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Should You Accommodate Difficult Guests?

The concept of the dysfunctional family has become a bit of a joke, with everyone declaring their family is ‘not normal.’ And what is ‘normal’ anyway? But for those with severe problems, it’s no joke!

Whether it’s addiction, mental health, or developmental issues, there are probably people in our lives who have circumstances that may impact a big event. Couples planning a wedding often worry about family members who are struggling with those or other ‘disruptive’ issues. With much-needed attention being given to our nation’s opioid crisis, we are more aware that many people are abusing drugs.

I recently officiated for a couple with three children, one who was autistic. This young child moaned, cried, and ran around during the entire ceremony, which everyone tolerated because they love him, and they understood; but unfortunately, it distracted the couple from enjoying their special time. They had given me a heads up about him, and believed he’s be ok, but the stress of the change of scenery and the change in routine created an environment that escalated his behavior. And although they had his favorite calming thing – a cell phone game – to help, it was still hard for him. There’s an important lesson here: triggers.

For those in recovery, weddings can also be stressful. They may not want to be around alcohol, which seems to be such a big part of many celebrations, and some recovering alcoholics would prefer not to be around people who are drinking. Others feel differently. Alcohol can also be a trigger for drug use.

One question is: do you want to have a ‘sober’ wedding? An open- bar with drinks freely flowing is probably not the best idea for the recently sober – flaunting the temptation. If you want alcohol at your wedding, but are concerned about it, consider having table service instead. It’s more discreet than folks hanging around a bar.

It’s a difficult decision whether to even invite a friend or family member who could become out-of-control.  An honest discussion with the person may be possible, but because so many addicts are in denial, it might not work. Choosing not to invite someone, especially someone close to you like a brother or sister, is a very heart-wrenching decision. You don’t want to regret or second guess yourself after the fact, but either way, you probably will.

Another important question to ask yourself is how willing are you to adjust your event to compensate for someone else’s issues. Would that non-alcohol event be ok with you? Would a smaller, more casual afternoon wedding work better, be less stressful? Would you choose a no-children wedding if there are young ones you don’t want there? Would you be willing to provide services or help for those with special needs?

Are you afraid the person in question will make a ‘scene?’ Assigning someone to keep an eye on the person is a burden that doesn’t seem fair.

It’s not uncommon for one partner to be concerned about someone, while the other partner thinks it’s ‘no big deal.’ Try to understand and acknowledge that there really is no way to know what will happen, and in a way, you are both right.

If it the couple themselves in recovery, one or both partners, there are many ways to celebrate that accomplishment. I have had several couples share those stories with me and we created interesting, sensitive and meaningful ways to touch on that in the ceremony.

And of course, if should go without saying, be sure to support someone dealing with addiction or mental health issues. Congratulation them on the hard work it takes, as when they walk a healthier path.

There is no one answer, and no right answer to these dilemmas, but I hope these questions and considerations will help you think through the challenges, if you have these concerns about your big day.

  THANK YOU Lisa Rhinehart for the use of your gorgeous photos 

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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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