Exploring Some African and African American Wedding Traditions

I’ve written about and performed the well-known and beloved African American wedding ritual of ‘jumping the broom.’ Just to recap, it comes from the time when slaves, who were not allowed to marry, created their own rituals. It is a debate among scholars as to whether the custom was brought from Africa or created here, but either way, it is a beautiful and meaningful way to mark crossing this important milestone in life. Sweeping out the old and welcoming in the new, think of how jumping across the broom literally shows crossing a line, and symbolically shows stepping into the couple’s new life together.

But there are many African traditions to explore as well. Some of these lesser-known customs from various countries and regions may be inspiring to you.

A ritual that I can readily relate to comes from the Yoruba tradition. The Yoruba are an ethnic group that live in western African, mostly Nigeria, and total about 44 million people! They have their unique religious beliefs that include the idea of becoming one in spirit with the divine creator, a belief in destiny, and being a well-balanced, positive person. At least this is my simple understanding of it, I’m sure its way more complicated than that. Some Yoruba have become Muslim, Christian or fused other religions into their belief systems. 

The ritual I want to present from this tradition is Tasting the Four Elements. In this ceremony sour (lemon), hot (cayenne pepper), sweet (honey) and bitter (vinegar) are used. These elements are tasted to remind the couple of their promise to stick together through all that life brings. To express your promise to your partner in this particular way is interesting and meaningful, and definitely something anyone might incorporate if it appeals to them. Just remember to give a shout-out to the African tradition from which it came. Any time I can use food or beverages as symbols, I’m happy! There are wedding rituals all around the world that involve food or beverages, using bread, Sake, tea ceremonies, wine and more.

Another African American custom is that of crossing tall wooden sticks. This one also dates to slavery, but just isn’t as well-known as jumping the broom. The stick represents the power and life force within trees and with that the couple is expressing their desire for a strong and grounded start to their life together. I have done many rituals involving nature: tree plantings, jumping over branches and including many references to nature, especially trees and the ‘mighty oak.’ This is another wonderful spin on that symbolism. To make it even better, if possible, choose branches from each of the family homes, or from a place that is meaningful to the couple. Trees, flowers, water, any element from nature woven into a ceremony is perfect for nature loving couples.

I recently learned that ‘tying the knot’ a well-known and loved ritual from the Irish tradition, is also used in some African tribes. It doesn’t surprise me to see similarities in such disparate places. After all, couples getting married have been striving to show through ritual and symbols what it a wedding means since, well….as long as people have been doing this!  For the African spin on tying the knot, use Kente cloth or a string with cowrie shells which symbolize fertility and prosperity. Cowry shells were an important part of the trade networks of Africa, South Asia and East Asia, and strings of them equaled specific sums of money. 

In the 18th century this was the currency of choice along trade routes of West Africa and remained so all the way into the 20th century! Today the shells and strings of shells are more often historic relics or works of art, created to serve as a reminder of culture heritage. 

Kente cloth is deeply intertwined with the history of Ghana. The colorful textile is still loved and worn by Africans and African Americans, and immediately recognizable and connects to African roots.

There are many other traditions to explore and I intend to keep doing just that. It’s a big world out there and history is long. Let’s hope we all keep learning, growing and respecting each other.

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Why Ceremony Matters

Creating ceremonies is what I do, and every once in a while it’s good to stop and remember why. To my way of thinking, there are three really big transitions in life: birth, death and marriage. Every culture and religion, all around the world, has different ways to honor these milestones. Momentous occasions are honored and celebrated in diverse ways, almost always involve ceremony; rites of passage. 

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote: ‘Ceremony is essential to humans: It’s a circle that we draw around important events to separate the momentous from the ordinary. And ritual is a sort of magical safety harness that guides us from one stage of our lives into the next, making sure we don’t stumble or lose ourselves along the way.’

The ‘Land Diving’ Ceremony of Pentecost Island, Vanuatu.

That really nails it. I probably don’t have to even say anymore. But naturally I will!

Besides those three big ones, other life changing transitions include coming of age, sexual identity, any major disruption in relationships, especially divorce. All are deserving of recognition, in small or big ways. We also have ceremonies for graduation or receiving awards and even retirement.

Each tradition has its own way to express the meaning, with specific rituals, readings or actions. And let’s remember that cultures and traditions evolve, changing with the times, or struggling to do so.

Perhaps you have heard of one of the most unusual coming-of-age ceremonies. It takes place in a remote island in the South Pacific, where boys risk their lives jumping head-first from a 90 foot tall wooden tower with nothing but vines wrapped around their ankles. Yes, ceremony can take many forms.

While I specialize in honoring weddings, what I think of as the number three spot in the all-important life changes challenge, I also officiate funerals, baby welcomings and occasionally other types of events. I recently performed a lovely renewal of vows, and I have also created interesting anniversary celebrations, blessing of animals, and community events. I even create secular confirmation programs and ceremonies.

A Bar or Bat Mitzvah is a classic example of a coming of age ceremony.

A funeral or memorial service is another important milestone. Sometimes people choose to do something a few weeks or more after the person has died. It can be somewhat more uplifting, and also allows people time to make plans to travel. These are often called a ‘celebration of life,’ rather than a funeral. But some traditions do not allow for this. Devout Jews and Muslims are required to bury almost immediately after the death. However, this still wouldn’t preclude a celebration of the person at a later date, after the burial.

I know there are times when families skip a formal ceremony for the dead. The reasons for this are varied. Sometimes it is a discomfort with religion, especially if the deceased had given up on her or his faith, or the family has a mixture of beliefs and they are unsure how to handle that. 

There could be costs that make it prohibitive or seem wasteful to the survivors. 

There might be family disfunction and no one wants to come together, especially if it feels like you are honoring someone who was not a good person. We know how people always say nice things about the dead, even if they don’t deserve it. These are tricky issues, but if you loved the person who has died, even without a formal ceremony, it is worthwhile to take some special time to honor that loss. As we often hear (and rightly so) – a funeral is for the living.

Weddings are entirely different. Even elopements deserve to be properly honored. A wedding is a joyful time and the ceremony is meant to move everyone through this transition. The wedding ceremony honors the partner’s separate lives, their past, and the journey that led them to one another, then marks the moment of commitment, and takes them into their future as they walk down the aisle, beginning a new path, side by side.

Even for couples who have been together for years, it is still important. Getting married is meaningful at any time or stage in one’s life. There are so many good reasons to marry, including legal rights and science has shown that a healthy marriage promotes better and longer lives. And let’s remember if the couple getting married has children, it is also an important moment for them.

Big changes have always deserved recognition, and I believe they always will. I hope everyone realizes the importance of taking the time to do just that, in whatever way works for you. And of course, I’m happy to help if you need me.

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Two Native American Inspired Rituals

Last week I wrote about a hand warming ceremony – an idea I came up with on a cold day. Another winter inspired ritual is a ‘blanket ceremony.’ It comes from a Native American tradition. 

Blanket Ritual

In the original, traditional Native American ceremony each partner is wrapped in separate, blue blankets. Then the officiant gives a blessing and removes the blankets. The couple is then wrapped in a single white blanket. The blue represents their past, single lives, and the white represents their new life, to be filled with peace and happiness. The white blanket is kept by the couple and displayed in their home.

In some ways it is simple ritual with clear symbolism, and I think it’s quite wonderful. 

This ritual can be easily modified to use just one blanket and choosing the blanket can also be part of the process for any couple. Why was it selected? Where does it come from? Who made it?  Does the color or colors represent something? Did you buy it on a special trip? You get the idea.

Martha Stewart Weddings featured the blanket ritual

You might also select certain people wrap the blanket, for example the mothers of each of the partners, or the couples’ ‘best persons,’ or have the officiant do it.

The warmth and unity of this ritual is also apparent. But as much as I like this, a blanket may not be the best symbol on a hot day. I’m thinking winter right now!

It works very well as a final ritual and having something special (besides being pronounced married) at the very end can exciting. I love adding some extra zest for the ending, whether it’s jumping a  branch or broom, shooting off confetti cannons, breaking the glass, or any number of joyful rituals to enhance that final moment.

Vase Ritual

Another Native American ritual that could be adapted is the Wedding Vase or Wedding Vessel. Originating among the Southwestern U.S. Navajo, Pueblo and Hopi Nations, the tradition has also been embraced by Cherokee tribes in the Southeast U.S. and Mexico. 

Historically the parents of the groom have been responsible for creating the wedding vase. To start, they go to a local river and find clay to create their vase. By combining the clay with temper (sand or silica to give the clay body) they hand-build the vase. The pottery is fired outside in an open pit and then cleaned and polished so it will be ready to be used during the wedding ceremony.  There is a long history of pottery making among these people.

Beautiful Native American crafts on display

No one is expecting you to do that today, especially if you are not Native American, but the spiritual meaning will still remain. 

For this ritual obtain a vase, perhaps from an authentic source. This vessel needs to have two spouts for drinking.  Each partner drinks from a separate spout showing  that although they drink from the same vessel, they are still individuals.  I found New Mexico artist Geraldine Vail creates one-of-a-kind pieces that are just perfect.  I’m sure there are many others.

As always I advocate that when you borrow something from a tradition that is not your own, you do so with respect.  There is a difference between cultural appropriate and appreciation. Don’t pretend to be a Native American if you are not, but if borrowing this tradition, give credit and explain why you have chosen it. You can certainly have a blanket ritual or wedding vase ritual as part of your wedding, but don’t dress up in some costume and pretend to be American Indian if you are not. It’s not disrespectful to use another tradition when you do it with love, just use common sense and respect boundries.

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Breath is Life – A Winter Warming Ritual

Winter is a time when I hunker down. This is probably true for many people. Since weddings are few and far between, at least in our part of the world, the cold weather keeps me indoors, and provides lots of time to think and write.

So I was thinking: on a cold day have you ever brought your hands to your mouth to blow the warmth of your breath onto them?  With that in mind I imagined  using that exact instinctive act in a ritualistic way. Obviously I didn’t invent breathing onto one’s hands, but what I am doing is giving it a specific meaning, one that connects the importance of breathing and the importance of marriage.  

There are countless religious references that could also be made, especially when we think about Genesis. In that creation story (as in most creation stories) God breathes life into Adam to make him a person, real and alive.

As far back as the Egyptians there was an understanding of breath as it connects to religious or spiritual things. Hindus especially believe many things about the breath’s connection to something greater than our humanity.

In ancient China people were thought to have two souls, both composed of breath. Breath was given to a person to live, and then received back in death.

Buddhist meditation is dependent on discipline of the breath. Islamic prayer also incorporates breathing with the profession of faith when speaking God’s name. There are many more examples of religions using breathing as a means of achieving a higher state of consciousness.

The connection of breath, body and mind in yoga is at the very essence of its practice.  If a couple was interested in yoga I could expand on that, and this ritual is in itself very yogic.

Although I don’t quite have a name for this, I would begin the ritual by asking everyone to think of how the air we breathe is life itself, and life without love is not quite living. Breath is vitality. When we take a deep breath, we are preparing ourselves. Breath is a foundation, sustaining and connecting our body and spirit. When we are confused, we stop and take a breath. And when something wonderful happens we say it ‘takes our breath away.’ Breath really is life.

Next, I would ask the couple to bring their hands up to their mouths and to breath on them, warming them, and then hold each other’s warmed up hands. I would speak of taking this time to breathe in the moment, warming each other heart and soul, and to remember that their marriage, too, is a living and breathing thing. Just as we breathe in and out,  marriage will also expand and contract. Inhale, exhale, ebb, flow. This is natural, life and love ebb and flow.  

Another beautiful moment captured by Lisa Rhinehart

There is a popular reading, the Blessing of the Hands (author unknown), that one hears often at weddings, and if you like the poem, it would work well with this idea.

These are the hands of your best friend, young and strong and full of love for you, that are holding yours on your wedding day, as you promise to love each other today, tomorrow, and forever. 

These are the hands that will work alongside yours, as together you build your future.

These are the hands that will passionately love you and cherish you through the years, and with the slightest touch, will comfort you like no other.

These are the hands that will hold you when fear or grief fills your mind.

These are the hands that will countless times wipe the tears from your eyes; tears of sorrow, and tears of joy.

These are the hands that will tenderly hold your children.

These are the hands that will help you to hold your family as one.

These are the hands that will give you strength when you need it.

And lastly, these are the hands that even when wrinkled and aged, will still be reaching for yours, still giving you the same unspoken tenderness with just a touch.

For my Humanist approach, I want to simply emphasize that using breathing as a marriage ritual connects the couple to the essence of their lifeforce, which is wonderful to embrace on such an important occasion.

What do you think of this idea? I hope to create more winter-inspired ideas soon, and if I do, I’ll be sure to share them with you.

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Gift to the Future – The Importance of Wedding Photography

There are two framed photos that grace the walls of my home – my parents wedding and my husband’s parents wedding. I treasure these and enjoy them immensely. They are the World War II generation and both our fathers are wearing their uniforms. These photos tell quite a story.

My parents wedding photo.

Your wedding is an important story, and we all know weddings can be an expensive undertaking. There are many ways to prioritize your budget. I hope photography is one that is at the top of your list. Even an elopement is worthy of beautiful photographs.

In our digital world everyone can take photos and who doesn’t have thousands of them filling up our hard-drives? I’m here to make the case for hiring a great photographer along with having actual prints made. 

A beautiful formal shot by Lisa Rhinehart.

A true professional will capture images that most of us simply cannot even see. It’s not the equipment, although that helps, it’s the ‘eye’ and the ‘art.’  You may have a family member or friend with all the good equipment, but if they are not a professional, do they really have what it takes? 

Asking a friend to take your photos is like asking one of your guests to help serve the meal. A guest is a guest. Neither should your father, uncle or aunt officiate your wedding. Unless they are professionals with experience, leave these two important jobs to people who truly know how to make it an amazing and meaningful experience.

When choosing a photographer, take the time to look through their work. Some take lots of formal shots and others go with a more photo-journalist route – the ‘capture the moment’ approach. One of my favorites always surprises me with the moments he’s caught, while I never even noticed his presence.  I think a combination of these approaches is really perfect. Capture those special unguarded moment, without the pasted-on smile, but also get group shots and portraits. Sometimes these are the only photos future generations can reference.

I adore this photograph, how it captured a wonderful moment.
Rhinehart Photography

I have seen the results of having a friend or family member (who is not a professional) take pictures, and sometimes it is not pretty. Out of focus, heads chopped off, squinting faces. 

Professionals have cameras costing thousands of dollars, as well as carrying a back-up camera in case anything goes wrong. For a bigger budget there can be two photographers covering everything.  They also carry a variety of lenses, flash guns, lights, spare batteries, memory cards and a whole host of other technical stuff. But as I already stated – you are paying them not only for this gear, but for their art, their hard work and time spent both on sight and editing afterwards, along with a lifetime of training and experience.

In our modern world, most photographers send the couple a link to all the digital images and the couple can choose what they want to do with that. I encourage you to get at least a few high-quality prints made. Digital images can easily be forgotten or lost to the dreaded computer crash. Prints will be part of your home, to be handed down generation to generation – even after formats change.

Great candid shots like this compliment the formal photographs.
Lisa Rhinehart Photography

Years ago, I found some footage of my family that was on an old home movie format, and had them converted to video-tape; then I had that converted to DVD. What will happen when there are no DVDs left?  Technology is forever changing… but a print, like a painting, just is what it is.

As with all of life’s milestones, we are left with memories, and those memories can be best kept in the real world. Consider it a gift to the future.

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Weddings in Sicily

Every winter I take a vacation abroad, and I always try to crash a wedding if possible. Preparing in advance I want to learn about the local traditions. This year it’s Sicily, and as you read this I’m there right now!

As I studied up on their wedding traditions I’ve learned that for Sicilians, a wedding is probably the most important event of a lifetime. Historically it was a necessity – adding to social status, bringing the couple into the community. Unmarried people were considered weird, unlucky and not worthy of attention. 

the town of Cefalu in Sicily

As in other parts of the world, marriages were mostly arranged by parents or relatives, and couples often married without even knowing one another. 

Christianity was established in Sicily in the 5th century. The Byzantine, or Orthodox Church became their tradition, but by the 13th century the Roman Catholic Church made inroads on the island. 

I found this tidbit to be fascinating: many Sicilian wedding customs, especially before the 20th century, were based on Muslim practices dating back to medieval times when Arabs dominated the island. The church may have supplanted the mosque, but many Muslim traditions held on. It is not uncommon around the world  to find subtle influences rooted in ancient customs, and it shows us the power of history, religion, ritual and tradition. 

The bride on her way to church.

For Jews of course, the story is different. The Jewish explosion from Sicily was at its height in 1493 when the Spanish Inquisition reached the island.

But after 500 years, today there is a slight resurgence of the Jewish community when the Great Synagogue of Palermo was reopened in 2017. The building had been taken and used as a monastery, but it has now been returned to its historic owners.

The famous Godfather movies have two Sicilian weddings in the films. It is interesting and relevant to this discussion that they are very different. One is more modern and one very old-fashioned. One movie scholar writes that ‘As noted in the screenplay, Michael’s wedding is the same in feeling and texture as it might have been five hundred years ago, with all the ritual and pageantry, as it has always been, in Sicily.’

Lengthy engagements are still the norm but that is mostly due to financial concerns. Having a good job to support a family and pay for a home leads to courtships as long and six or seven years. And when the couple finally announces their engagement, it could still be another year or two until the wedding. The bride’s family bears most of the costs of the wedding. There are no bridal showers are we know them, but they do now use the bridal registry, which helps the couple establish their home.

His and hers VW beetles wait outside the church. how adorable is this?

Divorce was uncommon until the 1970s. The 1961 film, Divorce, Italian Style, is based on the fact that divorce was actually illegal then, and the story involves a husband fantasizing about getting rid of his wife. Apparently a satire, or ‘black comedy,’ it plays with the concept that its ok to murder your wife. At least that is what I gather, I haven’t seen it.

Until about 1900 most Italian weddings, complete with dowries, were arranged by consent of the spouses’ parents. A girl might be informally betrothed while fairly young, perhaps at fourteen, and wed at around the age of eighteen, although there were instances of girls marrying at fifteen. Sicilian marriages are no longer arranged by parents, and today your will even see public displays of affection and all the trappings of modern love and modern life. And today you can choose to have a civil ceremony, officiated by a mayor or civil registrar. Shocking! Same-sex civil unions and unregistered cohabitation have been legally recognized since June 2016.

Due to immigration and the exposure to the rest of the world, especially the EU and the U.S. the modern, western style wedding is in full swing. Even without travel opportunities, through TV and magazines, most Sicilians have adopted modern attitudes. 

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You’re Engaged… Now What?

Christmas is a popular time for proposals. A ring does make a wonderful surprise gift. If you just became engaged, sit back and enjoy the feeling for a minute, because it won’t be long before everything starts spinning, and hopefully not out of control. 

If you haven’t told anyone yet, please tell your immediate family first. And this should be a personal visit, if possible, or at least a phone call. Please don’t email the folks to announce your engagement.

Where will you find your ring?
Rhinehart Photography

So what’s next? After savoring the moment, everyone begins thinking about their fantasy wedding, and don’t be surprised if you and your fiancé have different ideas on this. Your friends and family will have their opinions, too. Remember, a marriage is about collaboration and compromise, it is about two of you, and it is also about the families, so with that in mind, stay open to their ideas. Listen to everyone’s suggestions and simply say, ‘we haven’t really decided yet.’ Take it all in and don’t rush to any decisions. Your wedding plans should be approached with the love and respect you wish to bring to your marriage.

Once you’ve settled on the major issues, such as where you’d like to have the wedding, and what type of wedding it will be, then you can begin the rigorous task of research. Whether a back-yard barbeque, a destination wedding, or a high-end 300-guest event, all need planning and require lots of decisions. And it’s in the details that couples most often get confused and stressed. Don’t hesitate to ask family and friend to help and divide up some of the tasks. In fact, including them will make the very happy! Everyone who loves you will probably want to be a part of it – so give moms and future mothers-in-law specific tasks and ask for their advice. If possible, be sure to include them on a few shopping trips, especially for a wedding gown, visiting venues, tastings, or to any expos you may attend. This will go a long way in creating good feelings and getting everyone on the same page for the big day!

If you choose to use a wedding consultant, a good one will make everything go smoothly. I highly recommend it. Organizing a wedding can be surprisingly hard work and especially for the do-it-yourself ones. For some couples it’s fun, but others prefer not to attend to all the little details themselves, or are just too busy.

Determining your budget is, of course, very important. You may be surprised at different ways your budget can be flexed. What’s important to you? What must you have, what can you live without? It’s all about the choices. 

Discuss values. Don’t have a friend marry you if they have not background in doing this. Yes, you will save money, but a meaningful ceremony is worth its weight in gold.

Would you like to stay conscious of ecological issues for your wedding? Find out about recycling at the venue you choose. Is there a ‘cause’ that is important to you or the family. Many couples are making charitable donations instead of giving favors. 

Would you like a designer gown, but can’t afford it? Try buying a ‘recycled’ gown – there are loads of places on the Internet to get one. Remember it’s only been worn once. With a few alternations you could be wearing a real designer gown worth thousands more than you could ever afford. 

Instead of renting a tux, buy a really great new suit – it’s a better value, because now you’ll have a great new suit!

Be yourself and feel like yourself. If you’re not a fuffy, spangely girl, don’t try to become one for a wedding.

There are lots of ways to approach the planning. There is no right or wrong way. But getting organized is really important. I suggest you get one of those wedding planning workbooks – there are many available to buy or download. It will keep you on track and help ease the stress. 

However you choose to handle your wedding plans, remember what’s really important: that you have found the person with whom you want to share the rest of your life. And that’s what matters the most.

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Wedding Trends 2020, do they matter?

As the new year approaches, bloggers and opinion makers of all stripes give their predictions and advice for the coming year. I will attempt to add to the cacophony. But having said that, I’m not a fan of following what the latest fashionistas tell us; on the other hand, there are good ideas that come up every year that can be inspiring.

Although there are specified activities for weddings, in some ways it is a blank slate. You know the outlines of the day, but how you fill that in is up to you. This is where fashion, taste, and yes, those trends, come together with creativity, form and function.

If nothing else, considering trends helps you figure out what you like or do not like.

We all want to look great, especially a bride or groom. But remember that fashion comes and goes. Looking back on old wedding photos we find that some styles have held up better than others. Those 1980’s giant puffy sleeves and huge hair – not so much. I’ve seen the big sleeves trying to come back, to which I say: no!! No. No. No. However, 1920s dresses still look amazing to me. I’m a fan of 1940s fashion as well.

I read for 2020 something I’ve been preaching for years: be yourself. I don’t consider this a trend; I consider it sanity. This can mean a lot when it comes to a wedding gown. Some women may not want the traditional look. Many women might feel more comfortable wearing a special dress (not a gown) or even a pants suit. To which I say: yes! Yes. Yes. Yes. 

Consider purchasing a suit rather than renting a tux.
Rhinehart Photography

A new generation of bridal designers are offering up lots of choices for that woman. Names to know include Ted Baker, Hermione de Paula, Monica Byrne and Danielle Frankel. You may not be able to afford a designer label but take look and be inspired. That’s the whole point. Check out trends for inspiration not for mandates.

This trend of ‘being yourself’ is good news. I like to see people feeling relaxed, secure and comfortable, as well as not spending what they can’t afford. It’s good to look and feel like yourself.

And I’m not leaving the men out of this discussion. Any man who is not comfortable in a tux and stiff shiny shoes will not enjoy his wedding day as much as if he’s in a regular suit and perhaps sneakers. I see a lot of guys wearing fresh new spiffy Converse sneakers in the coordinated wedding colors. I’ve also seen many grooms and groomsmen wearing jeans with a nice shirt, tie and vest.

Choices are good! Here’s a groom in jeans!
Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the use of your photography!

Food stations are a growing trend and I love this idea.  This differs only slightly from a buffet in that having the food spread around the room on several tables (or stations) encourages people to move around. This results in more interaction as well as a less congested buffet table. It moves things along, making for happier guests. Who enjoy standing in the buffet lines or waiting for their table to be called? By the way, there is nothing wrong with choosing a buffer rather than a plated meal. In some circles it has a reputation as being second best, but for me it’s the best.

Sustainability continues to trend up and that’s a great thing. The average age of couples getting married in 2020 is 33, so they are the Millennials we hear so much about. Gallup finds that millennials’ concerns about the environment is at a high point. Green, eco, whatever you want to call it – more and more couples are thinking about their choices at each step of wedding planning.

Another big wedding trend advocates for a more intimate experience. Also known as micro-wedding – these weddings tend to have a smaller guest list of around 40 people or fewer. They can be formal or informal, and keep with tradition, or take a more modern approach – however, they tend to be a fusion of both.  However that doesn’t mean you can’t go big in other ways – you might be able to spend more lavishly per person with a smaller guest count.

While the signage or messages such as ‘pick a seat, not a side’ is an excellent one, you may have seen it once too often. Find new wording such as: Find a seat, stay as long as you can. We are all friends here, so there is no seating plan. But seriously it doesn’t have to rhyme.

And finally – the unplugged wedding should NEVER go away. This is not a trend, this is my one commandment. Politeness never goes out of style, so please turn off your phones and cameras at any special event, at least for a while, and try to live and breathe in the moment. 

Just remember that the value of any trend is that if can function as a sounding board. It will help you assess what truly resonates for you.


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Exploring Rituals for the Holiday Season

With the holiday season upon us – I’m taking a break from wedding talk today… but there is a connection. It’s something I write about often: ritual. And what could be more ritualistic than Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, or New Year’s Eve?  From the more secular parts of the celebrations, such as the Christmas tree and gift exchanging, to the most holy and sacred acts of worship, the holiday season is replete with customs, traditions and rituals. Lighting candles, decorating, wrapping gifts – all become meaningful when we do it year after year, just as our parents did, and their parents before them.

Photo Credit: Rhinehart Photography

Old or ancient customs connect us to the continuity of life, to our faith or cultural past. New traditions bring closeness within our own families and communities right here and now. But sometimes those same traditions over and over can become more of a chore than a joy. 

Wouldn’t it be great to have your very own traditions to pass down through generations? Some families do, but if you don’t, you have the opportunity to start something of your very own. Simple things like driving around to look at lights, or baking cookies are holiday favorites. Here are a few more ideas that might inspire!

Explore world customs and make ornaments, food, or craft projects that reflect another culture. Can you imagine eating latkes for a special Christmas meal? Expand your cultural awareness with the Italian Fest of the Seven Fishes. You don’t have to be Latinx to enjoy tostones (fried plantains) or coquito, which is a coconut-based drink enjoyed with cinnamon and rum, similar to eggnog. 

Giving is always important. Have your family conduct a food or coat drive, or buy gifts to donate to a local shelter. Before donating anything, be sure to check first to see exactly what they need. Remember, it’s not what you want to donate, its what they truly need. Gift cards are often perfect because they offer people the opportunity purchase what that actually want. Adopt any cause or charity that resonates for you, and then continue to support it every year.

Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for the use of your beautiful photography!

Start a tradition of reading. Choose a classic such as the wonderful O. Henry story ‘The Gift of the Magi,’ or try poems, chapter books, or just about anything. Perhaps pick something that takes you out of your comfort zone. Everyone will be more open to the book when it’s read together. Whether it’s after the candles are lit for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah, or for the 12 days of Christmas, read every night. 

Karaoke anyone? Sing songs together. Not everyone is musical but most can still muster up a few tunes with the family. Sing it loud, sing it proud, and sing it every year! 

Start an on-line holiday remembrance tradition, using photos or video. Mix it up with quotes from the family and the famous. Include favorite foods, special moments and even a few bloopers (but not too many, don’t embarrass anyone).

These are just a few ideas that may inspire you. I hope you will dream up your own traditions and personal rituals to add depth and tradition to your holiday season. ¡Felices Fiestas! 节日快乐 (Jie Ri Kaui Le)! Laethanta saoire sona! 幸せな休日 (Shiawasena kyūjitsu) Li holide eximnandi! Forhe Feiertage! Etc. etc.


find me on facebook – Lois Heckman, Celebrant, and Instagram – Lois Heckman

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Enjoy the holidays!!!

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Life (and weddings) do not always go as planned.

Did you miss me? When I opened the paper Sunday morning there was no Pocono Wedding Talk  and I was stunned. After over a dozen years of writing this column something happened last week. I forgot to submit one. Blame it on the Thanksgiving holiday week, which no doubt threw off my routine, blame it on my aging brain, or best of all, I’ll try not to focus on blame. But it did get me thinking about how mistakes will happen. 

Yes, things don’t always go as planned in many aspects of life, and that is certainly true for weddings. 

Although not all of us have attended weddings recently (or ever) – evaluating your experiences can be a good way to help you avoid mistakes. Couples may recall what they loved about weddings they’ve attended, or what they did not love about them. Did it feel boring? Did things move too slowly? Was the music too loud? Was the food fantastic? Was the DJ rockin’? Was the Celebrant awesome?

Once you think about those pros and cons, you can become pro-active to try to ensure that your celebration is the success you want it to be.

Here comes the cake (don’t drop it)
Thank you Lisa Rhinehart for your amazing photography!

Notice I say successful, not perfect.

There is a mass medial idealization of weddings, summed up in an expression I see often that says: Best Day Ever. That’s setting the bar really high. Should we even aspire to this?

If you have an expectation of perfection you will likely fall short. Just acknowledging that is a good start; know and accept that every little thing may not go your way.  But if you relax and ‘go with the flow,’ you will have a wonderful experience. No one intends be become the ‘bridezilla’ – but some detail can trigger a nervous bride (or groom).

Traffic tie-ups, bad weather and so many little things are not in our control. However, it is reasonable to want the big things to go right! That would include the ceremony and special moments such as toasts and big-ticket items such as food at the reception. 

A little rain won’t dampen your spirits.
Rhinehart Photography

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but once, and only once, I was late for a wedding. I have officiated nearly 1,000 at this point, just for perspective. But here’s the important part:  the wedding party and the entire group of guests handled it beautifully. They sang songs together as they waited for me to arrive. What an amazing way to deal with the situation. They were all laughing and singing, and when I entered, they let out a big cheer, as I walked straight up to the altar and we began! I hope it never happens again, because I may not be as lucky as that.

Here are a few common concerns you should be prepared for:

Have a good back-up plan for weather conditions if you are planning an outdoor ceremony or reception. 

Speak frankly with anyone expected to make a toast and even offer help. Let them know if some stories might embarrass you, or what they can focus on. 

Be careful about alcohol consumption which, when starting too early in the celebration, can cause many things to go wrong.

A guest list spinning out of control is another problem confronting many couples. Use tact in explaining to family that weddings are expensive; simply say that as much as you’d love to have so-and-so, your budget simply doesn’t permit. 

Your perfect dress, its wants to be worn comfortably!
Rhinehart Photography

Women, please try on your dress again before the wedding, with your shoes, and actually walk around in it. Many women discover too late that the dress is simply too long or the shoes too uncomfortable. While you can’t change the dress, you can hem it!

For the DIY folks – problems I have encountered include big beautiful floral arrangements that do not have a base heavy enough to support them. I’ve seen them blow over during outdoor ceremonies. (I once had groomsmen quickly gather rocks and put them into the flowerpots to stabilize them.) I’ve also seen arches and arbors fall over when not secured properly. 

But most importantly, give yourself the room to feel many things. There is an unrealistic expectation not only about the dream wedding, but what it will feel like. You think it will be the happiest day of your life, but it’s possible that it may turn out to be the most tiring day of your life. It is not unusual to have doubts, sadness, fear, and many mixed emotions on your wedding day, or leading up to it.  Being nervous is very normal. I often remind couples that if they weren’t nervous, I’d be worried about them. You are nervous because it is important. 

So, while you may wish to work out all the details of your celebration, do not ignore your feelings. A wedding celebration is more than food, dancing, flowers and a big party. It is an important milestone in your life, so give it the emotional space it deserves. 

find me on facebook – Lois Heckman, Celebrant, and Instagram – Lois Heckman

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