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.




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Eight wedding rules it’s ok to skip!

 I’m a big fan of tradition and ritual, but only when it makes sense for the couple. There are many traditions that have faded away with time, and a few that perhaps should! After all, we no longer pay the groom’s family to take the woman, offering something like a cow or pile cloth, at least in this part of the world. On a lighter note, most couples do not leave for their honeymoon immediately from their reception, with shoes tied to the bumper, off to Niagara Falls, but you could…in fact, that would be very cool.

Here are a few customs that are still popular, that I think could easily be skipped. Could be skipped not should be skipped.

1. The bride’s father ‘gives her away.

Of course if you have a father and he’s an important part of your life – you may certainly want him to escort you down the aisle!  It can be beautiful, emotional and something both father and daughter have dreamed of all their lives.  However, calling it ‘giving away’ feels quite out dated; if you think of it as accompanying or escorting you down the aisle, and supporting you, it might be a better fit. As always, words do matter. It shapes how we think about things.

If you don’t have a loving father or father-figure in your life, consider having your mother escort you. And if you close with both parents, have the both escort you. Women: you do NOT need a man to walk you down the aisle, but you may want an arm to lean on.  For some couples, especially older ones – how about entering together? And many brides do walk in by themselves, and that is completely fine.

Seeing each other before the ceremony

2, The Bride’s family pays for the wedding

If you have ever wondered how this tradition started – you won’t like the answer. It’s a hold-over from the days of the dowry, as I alluded to already. When women weren’t allowed to live on their own, work outside the home, or own property, an unmarried daughter was considered a burden, especially for families living at or near the subsistence level. To remove this burden, the family would pay a man to marry their daughter. The payment helped cover the expenses of setting up the new home and she was meant to help the man become more productive.

Today many couples pay for their own weddings, or they get help from whatever family is able, on either side or both.

3. The ‘plus one’.

Single people may be quite comfortable without a date. It’s not always necessary to have a ‘plus one,’ nor is it necessary to extend that in the invitation. Are single people less important than couples? No one should feel they must find someone to go with them to a wedding. A plus-one is relevant, however, for a short or long term significant others. But please – no pressure.

I still love the 'candy bar'

4. The groom shouldn’t see the bride before the ceremony.

The ‘first look’ photo has gained in popularity – and for good reason. It helps calm the nerves, and cuts down on all that time between the ceremony and reception, when the couple gets to greet their guests. The first look photo shoot can be fun, too!

If you do choose not to see each before the ceremony, and that is a great choice, just remember that your photographer may sweep you away for photos and your guests will be left waiting for your arrival. But they will probably be having a pretty good time without you, so don’t worry about it too much!

5. Bride’s side/Groom’s side seating.

There is a popular saying for those popular, cute wedding signs, that says: Pick a seat, not a side. This is especially important when one family has a greater number of people attending that the other. You’re all family now – so get together and fill up those seats. And while we’re talking about seats – don’t leave that second row open. The first row is for immediate family (sometimes two rows) but to other guests – you can start filling in the seating from behind the immediate family! This isn’t grade school so don’t be afraid to be in front. You are not going to get called upon. Please sit up close and show the love.

6.  Equal number of bridesmaids and groomsmen.

This is totally unnecessary. Have the people you love stand with you regardless of their numbers or gender. The processional and recessional can easily be worked out. Women – you don’t need to have only women stand with you; men – the same for you! Same-sex couples have shown the way on this one.

The 'first look' is exciting.

7. Favors.

Most people do not see any real value of a tiny little gift. They are sometimes even left behind. You are buying them a meal, drinks, cake and a party. Why do you have to also give them a trinket? However, guests are used to traditions. If you don’t want to give a tiny gift, but still want to fulfill this custom, consider donating to a charity in your guests’ honor. (I devoted an entire column to this subject). Put a note or symbol of the cause you support, in the place where the traditional favor would go.

My personal favorite alternative to the favor dilemma is the candy bar – where guests get to fill up a bag from a large array of candy on a table to take home. For me, it’s going to be a lot of licorice. I’m told this is no longer trendy, but hey, I love it!

8. Receiving line.

Especially for an outdoor ceremony, a receiving line slows everything down. If guests have been sitting in the sun, let them go and get a drink! Or they may even be chilly and need to warm up. If you do forgo the receiving line – just be sure to visit every single person at the reception.

Having said all this, if you want to keep these traditions, of course you should. My intent here isn’t to tell you what to do or not to do, but merely relieve you of any guilt you may have in forgoing some of these wedding protocols.



Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the gorgeous photos!


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Don’t sing the post wedding blues…

Planning a wedding? It will come and it will go and when the ‘big day’ is over – what then? There was so much leading up to it, so much to do, so much fun and so much stress.

Many couples have reported that after the engagement, wedding, or honeymoon, they walk into their home and break-down crying.  It may be tears of joy, or tears of relief, but it may also be tears of fear or depression. Some newlyweds report feeling let down. It’s a real thing. If you envision your wedding as walking off into the sunset, what is there to greet you? A new journey is beginning now. Scary stuff! You prepared for the wedding, but did you prepare for your marriage – and is that even possible, marriage being a complicated, lifelong challenge?

Walking into the sunset, but now what?

I could write a post-wedding to-do list, but it’s all been said before. You know, the stuff you must do after the wedding –  write the thank-you notes, save the cake or cake topper and/or bouquet if you’re into that. There are legal things to do as well, especially if you’re changing your name. But I’m not addressing those tasks today; I’m reflecting on the emotional impact, and the possibility of a case of post-wedding blues.

With all the energy that went into planning that one day, regular old everyday life may seem boring or empty. Accept that that it’s ok and even normal to feel this way, and begin the process of creating a good marriage by sharing those feelings with your partner. Guess what, he or she may be feeling the same.  Remember, there is no magical transformation that comes with signing the marriage license.

Now for some ideas! To replace the excitement of wedding planning with some new excitement, try creating a date night routine, where each partner can take a turn at surprising the other with a special evening out. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, use your imagination.

Find new things to do together.

It’s also a good time to start planning something new to look forward to. You and your spouse can take this time to work on your home, search for a new or future one, do a room make-over, or organization something you’ve been putting off forever.

What about a future vacation or trip? Create a bucket list of places to go and work on a plan to make it happen in the many years ahead.

You can break-in new gifts with a party. Did you receive new glassware? Have an after-wedding bash to inaugurate it, and hang out with your best pals. Sometimes the wedding reception is just so busy you really don’t get any quality time with family or friends. It’s quite the whirlwind. How about a quite get together with your attendants as a thank-you to them?

Dive into a local charity and start to give back. You just spent a lot of time on you, now refocus on helping others.

Keep you love alive.

Any notion that all your needs will now be met because you are married is just silly. No one is everything for someone else. Keep your friendships with others going, don’t ignore them just because you’re married now. You’re still the same human being, aren’t you? It takes work, dedication, patience and commitment, but go out and create the life you dreamed of.



Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the gorgeous photos!

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Let’s Call Them ‘Attendants’

-     Why a gender-neutral wedding party is a great idea

The people standing up there with you at your wedding ceremony are more than just statues.  There is a reason you ask your closest friends, siblings or others to be by your side as you exchange your vows.

So who are they?  How do you choose them?

They are there the people you want not only to witness, but to support you through this important life transition.

It can be tricky when you have a lot of siblings and friends. Some grooms even choose their father as their best man. But here’s the thing: there is no rule that the bride must have women stand with her and the groom, men.

Same-sex couples have taught us so much; think about this –  when you remove the ‘bride’s side/groom’s side’ from the equation a truth is revealed! Have those you mean the most to you stand with you!

Sometimes, to balance things, someone gets excluded. Again, there’s no rule here, folks. You do not have to have the same number of people standing on each side.

However, if the imbalance bothers you, consider having people participate in a different way, such as sharing a reading, ushering or other ceremony related task.

You can get your attendants more involved with your wedding right from the start by asking for their help, confiding in them, and sharing your feelings.

Have your 'best people' with you!

Today ceremonies are becoming more unique and personal, and that is great because we are all different and your wedding should be an honest reflection of your life. There are still, however, some classic duties worth knowing.

  • While the best man traditionally holds the rings, more and more frequently the best woman, or any best person (terms I prefer to Best Man, Maid or Matron of Honor) can hold a ring. If a woman doesn’t have pockets, just put it on the thumb!
  • A best man or woman should be there right from the start to assist with various responsibilities, especially researching accommodations, transportation, and getting information for the license – all traditional groomsmen jobs. Today most grooms are completely involved in the wedding process start to finish, so his best person might be helping with just about anything.
  • Other attendants can be asked to help leading up to and including the wedding day with chores like parking, ushering, and generally assisting wherever needed. Be sure to be recognize and thank them at the reception –  individually and publicly – explaining who they are, and what they mean to you.
  • A fun task for any attendant is to collect memorabilia from the wedding such as programs, favors, guest book, or cake topper, all great keepsakes.
  • Bridesmaids should check in frequently with the bride throughout the party, and help her with her dress, hair and makeup, changing her clothes later, and giving her all the support she needs.
  • Groomsmen can be sure the get-away car is ready, and possibly decorate it, transfer the couple’s luggage to the car, and keep track of things like airline tickets.
  • Attendants can also look after elderly guests who may need assistance.
  • And finally, everyone should keep an eye on each other and discourage too much drinking. Encourage each other and the couple to drink plenty of water, so the couple will feel good the following day and no one says or does anything embarrassing.

Your attendants are your support network – use them wisely.

Make it work for you!


Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the gorgeous photos.



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Do you need a wedding program?

I’m away this week so I thought it would be a good idea to run this older piece.

Why? Because everyone planning a wedding eventually comes to this question: should I have a ceremony program?

As the big day approaches I sometimes hear from ‘my’ couples, asking for the ‘order of service.’ I know immediately why. They are creating a program and want to include an outline of what will take place.

This is a common practice, and in a religious ceremony it can help people get ready to find the page for a scriptural passage or which hymn will be up next. That’s ok – to a point. But a program for your ceremony it isn’t always necessary or even desirable. Do I really need to read ‘lighting of candles’ to know that the candles are being lit?

A few cute example!

When you think about it, the ‘order of service’ simply encourages people to anticipate what is happening next, distracting them from what is happening in the present. It becomes a checklist to be completed. I believe it is more enjoyable to allow the words and actions to unfold.

Instead, why not approach the booklet as a chance to expand and enhance the ceremony experience for your guests, rather than distract them?

If you have the time and inclination, a wedding program can provide ‘added value.’ For more creative couples it can even become quite the artistic project!  And it can serve multiple functions.

This couple gave their guests something fun.

Here are some suggestions to add content and value to a program:

When listing the bridal party – explain who they are, your relationship with them, or even where they live. People travel far to attend weddings. You can show your appreciation of their time and effort by making mention of it.

Use photos – of yourself, your family and friends. Even your pet who unfortunately, was unable to attend, but sends best wishes!

Get creative – the program can be made to look like a theater playbill, a menu, a newspaper, a fan, a passport, a map, a chalkboard, anything goes!

Explain rituals that are being performed. Give historical, cultural or religious background, and why it is being used. This is true for religious or secular ceremonies. Remember not everyone is versed in your traditions and will appreciate learning about them.

Give music credits – details on what songs or selections were played and what they mean to you.

A musical couple I officiated for!

If your ceremony is in a unique location – explain why you chose it.

Readings, poems, lyrics – just as with rituals – explain why you are using them in your ceremony, especially if there is particular story to accompany it. Or, include a poem, song lyric, or other writing that you could not fit into the ceremony. But don’t include the work itself if someone is reading it.

Honor family members with a tribute to them by using a meaningful quote with their name – especially poignant for those who couldn’t attend or those deceased.

For multicultural or multilingual families, have translations of some or the entire ceremony.

If children are involved in the wedding party, they can create the cover or write something special. They might also help by assembling or distributing the booklet. Don’t forget to credit children for any role they play in the wedding, and thank them for their support of the marriage. They will appreciate the sentiment, and love seeing their names in print.

If you do decide to create program booklet, I hope you’ll make it special, but if you are stressed, too busy, or simply cannot take on one more task – don’t do it! While your guests may be delighted to find a program full of surprises, truly, no one will be disappointed that there is none at all.


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Tales of Moroccan Weddings

My annual January trip is on, and we’re visiting Morocco, so naturally I wanted to learn more about the wedding traditions of this fascinating country.

The days when marriages were arranged are, for the most part, past. Today young people in Morocco choose their own partners, although parents still may have veto power. But no matter how modern the couple, the wedding is usually traditional, and when you read about their customs you will understand why.

Some brides will wear western dresses but most still choose a caftan or a takchita (a two-layer dress) made of silks, satins, and other rich materials, which are beautifully constructed and detailed. Jewelry is a must, and it, too is extremely extravagant. Hope I can find something wonderful to bring home!

Just one of the many beautiful looks of a Moroccan bride. (Caftanluxe)

The entire celebration can last up to seven days, with several pre-wedding ceremonies. Like our wedding shower, gifts are sent to the bride ahead of time. Two days before the wedding the bride has a tradition hamam (sometimes called a ‘Turkish bath’) – the ritual sauna – with girlfriends and women relatives. It is an act of symbolic purification and might even include songs performed by her friends.

Next comes the henna, a well-known tradition, and the henna from Morocco produces yellows and reds when painted on the body in beautiful designs. This too, has a ceremony element and represents a sort of ‘lucky charm’ for her new life. For the henna ‘party’ everyone enjoys tea, cookies and traditional Moroccan music. Older, married women share the “secrets” of marriage life with the bride-to-be. A custom says that the bride does not have to do any house works until her henna fades. I hope it’s a very long-lasting henna.

Henna hands from one of my brides!

On the day of the ceremony it all begins with more singing and dancing. Verses from the Koran are read, assuming it is a Muslim wedding. Islam is the majority and established state religion, but there are Christians, Jews and people of the Baha’i Faith in Morocco, and Moroccans are known to be a more tolerant country than many of their neighbors.

The bride is carried around on a large chair called the ‘Amariya’ as people get to see her and wish the couple good luck. The couple then sits in two comfy chairs in the center of the room for the actual nuptials. She can change her clothes up to seven times throughout the long day and night of celebrating. Wow! There are many women here who might get behind that idea.

All of these interesting customs apply to more populated areas. But Morocco is diverse and I also learned of this fantastic story about the Berber people who live high in the Atlas Mountains. I must share this story.

Potential brides at the Imilchil fair (From Sahara Discovery)

Berbers are a separate ethnic group indigenous to North Africa, going back thousands of years. There they hold the Imilchil fair, or moussem (which simply means festival) which commemorates an ancient, Shakespearian-like story of a son and daughter of warring tribes who, forbidden to marry, chose suicide rather than to be parted. The story continues with the tribal elders, heartsick from this tragedy, vowing to permit their children to choose their own spouses from then on. And that is how this festival came to be. It is a way for members of the isolated communities to meet and perhaps find a spouse.

Today, young women arrive at the fair dressed ready to be wed, usually in white but often covered by a traditional striped woolen cape in their tribal colors. Young men roam the crowd, looking for suitable wives, and a woman, if chosen, has the right to accept or refuse. An engagement ceremony is a critical element of the festival. However, a quick decision is expected, and at the end of the fair, a mass wedding is performed, or couples might just sign a marriage contract and save the big ceremony until all family members and friends can gather later. While some of the couples may have just met, many have a passing acquaintance with one another but follow the tradition by marrying during the fair. Now that is a story worth knowing!

I’m sure I won’t have an opportunity to attend a wedding on my visit, but I look forward to soaking in all the culture I can. I’ll be back soon with my own tales of Morocco.


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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