When tragedy strikes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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How to Choose Symbols and Rituals to Enhance Your Ceremony

As regular readers of this space know, I love rituals, symbols and traditions. I love the history and meaning as well as changing and updating them as well. Today is a ritual round up! As couples continue to want a wedding ceremony that reflects who they are as individuals and as a couple, using symbols as a visible sign of their love is perfect! The symbols and rituals enable a couple to take the invisible and intangible – their love and devotion for one another – and illustrate these feelings in a tangible way. It is also something very memorable. After the words are forgotten, the rituals are still remembered!

Ceremony symbols can range from traditional to the dramatic or the unexpected.  Here are some suggestions on how to easily and appropriately incorporate symbols into wedding ceremonies. Think about the reason you are choosing a ritual and it will become clear! 

Symbolize Your New Family Bond

If you are bringing children into the marriage, consider giving them a token such as a family medallion, or let them join in lighting a family candle or a Sand Ceremony, to represent the new bond you all share. Vows to the children are also powerful.

Honor Your Families

Apowerful symbol is one that honors a family member or tradition – something old.  Incorporate family heirlooms, a bridal gown if possible, is amazing, but more likely an accessory, a wedding ring, cufflinks or other special piece of jewelry. Use a Kiddush cup from the Jewish tradition in a wine sharing, or use a Celtic Quaich (cup or bowl). Do you have a photo of someone important? Consider using it in many contexts, the program, on a table, at the altar. Could you make a bouquet from a collection of family pins?

Symbols That Show Your Personality

For a casual fun wedding, couples have been known to break from traditional wedding clothes. Instead of gowns and tuxedos – try wearing a favorite color, style, designer or even something like Hawaiian shirts but only if that means something to you.  Ask your guests to wear your favorite colors. Cake decoration is really a great way to show your style. Have you seen those custom toppers that are made to look just like the couple themselves? Pets, especially dogs, are now playing a big role in weddings, even if only symbolically – use them for a photo shoot or have a photo of them on hand. Walking down the aisle with your dog is great, but takes some planning!

Symbolize Your Commitment

Vows and rings are the heart and soul, but you can add to that by exchanging other gifts reflecting what you love about each other. Share foods from your cultures to represent your bond not only with a cultural influence but with the literal feeding one another. A food ritual is both literal and metaphorical – feeding one another something special, such as chocolate, is meant to show sharing the sweetness of your life together. Herbs and spices also work well for rituals. The exchange of roses is a classic – it says ‘I love you’ now and forever – give them to one another or to your mothers!

Cultural Symbols

Do some research into your and your spouse’s heritage.  Age-old traditions are often powerful.  Some examples are: Japanese good luck origami cranes. The Chuppah for Jewish tradition, as well as circling your partner (walking around him or her) is making a big come-back.  Jump the broom to honor your African-American heritage or jump over an oak branch if you are Irish. Handfasting although rooted in both Pagan and Celtic traditions, can be done by anyone, plus – you can make your own braided rope to ‘tie the knot.’  A tea-ceremony is popular in many Asian cultures and you can adapt it in many ways. Use bread and salt for Eastern European heritage, and don’t forget the 13 coins, or Arras, as used in Spain, Latin American countries, and the Philippines.

Cues from Your Surroundings

Reflect the season of your marriage by using seasonal flowers, especially wonderful if they come from your own garden.  Your choice of location – whether a quiet garden, a wooded area, a dramatic hilltop or a busy public square can reflect your personalities.  Tree plantings or water rituals go perfectly with this, and speak to your love of nature.

We Americans are in a unique position – we come from every corner of the globe, and we borrow from each other’s traditions. That crossover has been the hallmark of great innovation in music, art and more, in our society. So if you feel captivated by a tradition that is not necessarily your own, know that you are free to borrow it, but be sensitive to cultural appropriation. Using something from another tradition without the proper acknowledgement isn’t a good idea. Explain why you have chosen the ritual, and by honoring that custom in sensitive ways, you may have just the perfect symbol. Ann Frank wrote: “We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same.”  Using symbols reflects your love and helps bring friends and family together.

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When the officiant is an after-thought

If you have a minister, priest, rabbi or other clergyperson is who a part of your life, and they are willing and able to officiate your wedding at your venue, then read no further.

But for many couples today, finding the right person to perform their marriage ceremony is a daunting task and entering the great unknown. Today’s column may sound like a bit of an advertisement for me, and I always try to avoid that, but there’s something I need to share with you. I’ve been considering writing this for years, and finally decided that even if it is tooting my own horn, it’s something couples getting married should think about.

For couples who want a friend to perform their ceremony – there are two very big considerations. First of all, is this legal in your state? It is confusing to navigate the state’s regulations to ensure that your marriage will be legal, and many couples choose not to risk something so important. The laws vary widely from state to state regarding who can officiate. And, secondly, you must consider if the person you want to do this has the time, knowledge and skills to do it, and do it well.

There may be clergy or lay-leader in your family who does have experience – but will it feel too slanted towards one side if that person officiates? I’ve known couples who had one of their fathers officiate, but to me, that feels unbalanced. It can work, though.

Does a friend, who has never officiated a wedding before, understand if there is a need for a PA system, a rehearsal, or know how to fill out the license? Can they guide you in the creation of the ceremony, or your vows? Can they suggest special rituals, readings or other elements that add to a ceremony? Do they understand the bigger picture – the meaning of your commitment? It’s wonderful that they know you and love you, but is that enough?

What about interfaith couples? Some couples choose a spiritual leader from each faith conduct the service together – but be careful -  sometimes they compete rather than cooperate.

What about going to city hall or having a justice of the peace? Again, this really depends on where you live. It can be a great option, or no option at all. I know many judges who just don’t want to do this, it doesn’t feel like a fit for them, and they prefer to refer couples elsewhere. Some, however, do love it. In Pennsylvania mayors are legal to officiate – and I know some who do a great job. There is no ‘city hall’ where I live, but for city-folk, it’s a very viable option. But if you want something with a little more content, you won’t get that at city hall.

Here’s what bugs me the most: the money issue! When you look at examples of budgets for weddings on-line I often find the amount suggested for officiants to be much too low, that is, for a well-qualified, good one. I believe this is a hold-over from the days when one’s minister would come to perform the wedding and stay for the meal.  He probably had nothing better to do, and besides, it is part of his obligation as your clergy. Remember that clergy have salaries, and your membership in their church or other house of worship goes towards the performance of duties such as weddings, funerals and other rites of passage.

Officiating a carefully crafted ceremony

It is not uncommon to see a budget suggestion of more money for, say, flowers or décor, or limousines, than officiants. You can have a wedding without the former but not the latter.

An independent officiant, such as myself and other celebrants, dedicate ourselves to this task. We are professionals. We don’t have salaries or tithings to sustain us in this work.

If your ceremony is important to you, and in my way of thinking, nothing is more central to the wedding than the wedding ceremony… you know, the part where you are actually getting married, then don’t balk at a high celebrant fee that is still probably one of the smallest parts of your budget.

When your officiant is an after-thought you are short changing yourself. The opportunity to have a real, meaningful and unique ceremony creates one of life’s best moments. Isn’t that what you want for your wedding?

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Making the Most of Wedding Ceremony Readings

Including a reading or two in a wedding ceremony is quite a common practice. I explore this routinely with couples because it can be a wonderful way to honor a special friend or family member while imparting wisdom.  Often in a church ceremony, passages from scriptures are read by someone the couple chooses. It might even be a required as part of the liturgy (depending on the denomination) – and is always an honor to be asked to participate.

When outside of a specific religious orthodoxy, many people still want to include readings, and are free to choose from prose, poetry, and other inspirational sources, or even write something original. Readings can add content and meaning to any type of ceremony.

Photo: Garth Woods

But too often the reading is either not heard, or the meaning is not clear. Don’t squander this opportunity. Here are some helpful ideas for selecting and performing – yes, performing – a reading. Brides, grooms: please share this information with your readers.

  • Practice, practice, practice! Unless you are a professional actor or public speaker, in which case you already know this, practice (aka: rehearsing) makes all the difference. The piece should be practiced out loud. It is not the same as just reading it to yourself.
  • Typing or writing the piece (even if it’s been given to you) helps – you can put accents, or stress marks, as cues for the proper inflection. This also reminds you of a difficult word or phrase, so you don’t trip up. The process itself helps you internalize it.
  • As slow as you may try to read the piece, go even slower. Perhaps even jot a note to yourself to remind you of that. When we are anxious or excited we often go faster than we realize. Remember, the listener needs to absorb the meaning.
  • And with that one opportunity to hear the piece, unless you are providing ‘Cliff notes,’ go simple! Unless your guests are literature scholars, choose something easy to understand. Classics often require some analysis and are written in a style unfamiliar to most of us. A simple, straight forward piece, such as “The Art of Marriage” is not only beautiful and meaningful, but accessible for most of us.
  • Don’t put the text in your program booklet – it will shift people’s attention away from the reader.
  • Consider having several people read one piece. It can be very effective to have a group, such as siblings, read alternating lines or stanzas. Pauses tend to be longer between the readers, slowing it down, and each reader gains confidence from being with the other. This is also a great technique for children.
  • Volume, volume, volume. If there is a microphone, don’t shy away from it. If there is no microphone you will need to project your voice. Again, practice that.
  • When thinking about who will read, and why, pick something that fits both reader and the couple.

    Photo: Lisa Rhinehart

There are many places to look for ideas, including song lyrics, excerpts from novels, contemporary poets, and religious writings. From Dylan Thomas to Bob Dylan, Pablo Neruda, Maya Angelou, or even children’s literature – I have found all of the above inspiring.We are free to borrow wisdom from other cultures. The writings of the Persian philosopher Rumi, or the Lebanese-American author Kahlil Gibran have works that are particularly appropriate for weddings.Gibran wrote that: “Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary.”

Bob Dylan wrote: “… she opened up a book of poems and handed it to me. Written by an Italian poet from the thirteenth century. And every one of them words rang true and glowed like burnin’ coal, pourin’ off of every page like it was written in my soul from me to you.”

I hope your readings ring true for you, too.

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The Evolution of Tradition

Traditions and customs change and evolve over the years. It’s true for most things and for weddings as well. I recently wrote about how some ancient customs were connected to fertility and survival in the ‘rain on your wedding day’ column. But if we go back only a few hundred years ago, or less, we find lots of interesting wedding stories, and see a direct line to modern times.

Kidnapping the bride!

According to the New England Historical Societyweddings in the 1700s were a mix of homegrown ideas and practices brought from England. That kind of intertwining makes complete sense to me. Superstition reigned then, think: Salem Witch Trials, so we can easily imagine how their world-view impacted their weddings. For example, is was considered bad luck to get married on a Tuesday. That makes no sense to us, but in some places, it was even forbidden, and it was also bad luck to marry on Friday. Wednesday was seen as the best day, maybe because it sounds something like ‘wed day.’

Other superstitions have also faded away – such as it being unlucky for the bride to look in a mirror before the ceremony. That would never fly today!

Bee hives were used as decoration?  I can’t imagine that happening today either. But apparently bees had to be informed of the wedding and were even given a piece of cake. No one wanted bees getting angry we presume!

I officiated for this couple - she wore grandmothers dress!

With our present-day receptions, or parties, we see a straight line back to what was once called the ‘second-day wedding.’ Up until recently, couples were usually married at home, most often the home of the bride, so the following day the parents of the groom, or other close relatives, would throw a party for them. Today we combine the two into one big day.

Life existed before the internet, and even before every day postal service, so to let people know about the nuptials it was posted at their church or at the town hall.

The ‘something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue’ routine dates to the Victorian era when the ‘something old’ was worn to connect the bride to her past and her family and we see that today as well, usually with something small. I recently officiated for a bride who wore her grandmothers dress and it was so lovely. The ‘something new’ shows that she was ready to start her own family and journey forward. ‘Something borrowed’ was supposed to be taken from a happily married couple so that couple’s good fortune could be passed on to the bride. The ‘something blue’ was associated with faithfulness and loyalty, as in the phrase: ‘true blue.’ However, the part of the rhyme that most people leave off is ‘a sixpence in my shoe,’ which encouraged the bride to tuck in a sixpence coin for good luck.

All the little details have history

Bridal showers come from Holland where an old story explains how a bride’s father didn’t approve of the marriage and refused her dowry. So the brides friends ‘showered’ her with gifts, so she would have the dowry necessary to marry the man of her choice. Hurray for bridesmaids! After that, any woman who didn’t have a dowry was given a shower.

Some customs don’t go back very far at all. The diamond engagement ring only dates back to the 1920s. Good to remember if you want a different kind of ring.

A fascinating evolution is one that is traced from the literal abduction of the bride to what we now call the honeymoon. Vikings, who took the kidnapping less literal, ritualized it and it became a time for the couple to hide together after the wedding. During that period of about a month, the couple would spend that time alone, but friends would bring them honey wine and thus the name ‘honeymoon’ evolved. There is documentation from 1546 calling the first month of marriage the sweetest, add to that the honey mead and viola!

These are just a few examples of customs that have come and gone or changed. When it comes to weddings rituals, traditions, customs, beliefs and history all come together.

thank you Lisa Rhinehart for your beautiful photography!

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A Humanist Approach to Weddings

One of the most important subjects I explore for a wedding ceremony is religion. I want to know something about the couple’s faith traditions, if any. What is their thinking or practice at this time in their lives? What are the family traditions (if any) and how important is it to honor those, even if the couple themselves are not strongly tied to these beliefs?

It is not unusual in our modern world to find that young people are not as deeply religious as preceding generations. The Pew Research Center reports thatyoung adults are more likely to be religiously unaffiliated, especially in North America. Unaffiliated doesn’t necessarily mean non-believer, but clearly there is a shift.

Why there is a decline in religiosityis debatable, but one reason may be that with more education comes more questioning. The more data-driven and analytical we become the more likely we are to apply that to religion. Think of it, around 100 years ago, more than a quarter of children in America did not even attend school. Today 37% of Americans between the ages of 25 to 34 have at least a bachelor’s degree.

Another element that has turned people away from religion is the corruption and scandals within religious institutions. Feel free to speculate about other reasons, but for my purposes, it doesn’t matter why, just how to honestly express the couple’s views honestly.

Many couples I work with arebelievers, just not involved with religious institutions. I many people say they find their spirituality or connection to a High Power in their own way, along with others who are unsure (agnostic) and some who are non-believers.

When couples ‘come out’ to me as non-believers there is often an underlying fear of judgement. They will get none from me, but society does judge those who are not church-going, God-fearing individuals. And calling oneself an atheist does have a somewhat, negative connotation, because it means withoutGod, and lackof belief.  There seems to be an emptiness there, a void. But it doesn’t have to be.

I suggest instead: Humanist. This is a positive term, one that says, I believe in goodness and I don’t need God to be good. Humanism stresses the importance of humans rather than divine or supernatural matters. Humanists believe in the potential value and goodness of people, emphasizing common human needs, and seeking rational ways of solving problems. That is a very positive approach.

So back to weddings! In a ceremony without any strict religious dogma, without prayers or scriptural readings, blessings or pronouncements about God, a Humanist approach can help express the couple’s values. Through their wedding ceremony they can declare to family and friends that they, too, are good people, who share values such as kindness, caring for others, and doing good in the world, just like their religious fellow humans.

And it’s not difficult to do. It is easily accomplished by simply including statements about those values. And of course, there are those readings we hear so much about!  You’ll find great content everywhere, from literary sources, poems, prose, and even scientific sources such as Cosmos, by Carl Sagan, when he concludes that ‘for small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.’ There are countless possibilities.

In our modern world, not only can we say: ‘love is love,’ we can say: ‘good is good.’

thank you Lisa Rhinehart for your beautiful photography!


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Rain Again!?

…Is it lucky on your wedding day?

It’s been a rainy summer and I recently wrote about that all-important rain plan for your outdoor ceremony. Now I have something else to say about rain and weddings.

I have found myself, far too often this year, telling the story of why it is lucky to have rain on your wedding day. I once thought this was simply a silly rationalization. After all, you’re unhappy it rained on your big day, and people keep telling you it’s lucky. Right! Sounds bogus, or so I thought.

But upon further examination there is quite a bit of logic and history involved. And like so many ancient wedding rituals and customs it involves fertility.  Long ago (how long? I’m not really sure) people were dependent upon rain for their very survival. If it didn’t rain, food didn’t grow, and they might starve. Any gardener or farmer will tell you the same – rain equals growth. We humans also needed to grow children for the community to survive; children help with those crops, as well as hunt or care for elders. So, rain equals fertility for both crops and people!

And not surprisingly, other rituals such as throwing rice or grains, or carrying a bouquet of herbs also speak to fertility. It is all connected to the earth and the basics of survival. I like how ritual connects us to our history and place on this earth. Yes, these classic customs have deep roots. Even wedding cakes, a part of weddings since medieval times, were a symbol of fertility and prosperity because they were made from wheat. A relic of fertility rites, ancient wedding cakes were literally thrown at the bride, and that could be the origin of today’s cake smashing tradition.

Ritual washing in the Ganges River

Another way to think about rain is that it is cleansing. The idea of washing away sorrow or sadness is a meaningful way to look at it. Think of how a rainstorm will wash away dirt or dust, even off of your car, and how wonderful the air smells afterward a rainstorm. You might even see a rainbow before it’s all over.

Water in itself is a strong symbol. Civilizations began around water – from the fertile Nile delta, and by rivers, streams, lakes and oceans everywhere. Water plays a prominent part in religions as well. Holy Water. Think of Baptism for Christians or the Hindu ritual of wading into the Ganges river to wash away sins. Muslims ritually cleanse themselves before prayer, and not surprisingly ritual washing is common in Judaism. (I’m always amazedat the commonalities between Judaism and Islam).

Water symbolizes healing, which can be literal as well. There are even modern fertility rituals for women wishing to become pregnant, and many of them involve water.

I, too, love using water ritualistically. However, I must admit that having that water come down from the sky on your wedding day isn’t exactly great.

But, if it rains on YOUR wedding day it may help to remember the connection between our ancestors and the very moment you are experiencing. A couple somewhere, so long ago, whether on the plains of North America, or some medieval farmer, was rejoicing that the rain came! And if you attend a wedding and it rains you can share the story behind the good luck and help make the day a little brighter.

thank you Lisa Rhinehart for your beautiful photography!

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Partners in Planning

 Getting your significant other on board…

It’s not uncommon today for couples, not parents, to pay for their own wedding. This can translate into said couple doing all the work as well. When this is the case it is important that both partners are on board. Wedding planning can be fun or a nightmare, but most often it’s somewhere in between.

I’ve seen all the extremes. One person doing absolutely everything and becoming exhausted, or an over-zealous mother taking control of her daughter or son’s wedding plans. A controlling parent can be a real problem, but I’ll leave it for another day, another column. Today let’s focus on the couple themselves.

One good solution is, if you can, hire a wedding planner. It is well worth the investment.  A great venue with a top-notch coordinator on staff will also ease the burden. But that’s not always the case either, so read on…

And even with help, there are still countless decisions to be made, and simply recognizing that is important. Don’t underestimate it – there is always more to do than you anticipated.

Where do you start? First pick a venue and date, not necessarily in that order. After that come all the details; from clothing to cake, music to photography, flowers, décor, and of course, choosing the right officiant – there are so many decisions. You must prioritize. What really matters to you?

Here’s the important part: a wedding is not the sole purview of a bride. These are modern times, people! Examine your gender biases. Women – are you thinking this is your exclusive domain? Is this something you’ve planned and dreamed about for years? Or maybe you are a bit of a control freak. If so, you maybe be shutting out your partner.

And men, examine your biases as well – perhaps you see it as a woman’s territory and think you shouldn’t be involved. But a wedding, like a marriage, is about two people joining together as a team.

And even same-sex couples fall into these same traps – one partner doing everything!

All the details need to be decided

I love this much-used, adorable wedding quote: “We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness—and call it love—true love.” To which I might add – we join up with them and plan a wedding.

When interviewing couples, I have sometimes found one partner less engaged in the process than the other. Then something wonderful happens. Once they realize that a ceremony can be real, honest and yes, interesting, curiosity is peaked! It’s the same with the other wedding plans. It really doesn’t have to be the ‘same old, same old.’

So, what does spark someone’s interest? That’s your starting point; from there keep encouraging (not nagging) your partner to be involved and then you must be truly open to his or her ideas, even the ones you don’t like. There may be a way to work with those ideas, remembering that (as in marriage) compromises should be made.

Some areas that might get a disinterested manly-man type groom more involved might include: choosing a play list, selecting beverages, wine, beer, mixed drinks, or food.  A hobby or passion in life can become a theme. Ask your partner questions and clearly express that you need help.

Together on the journey? Start with the wedding planning.

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A Short and Sweet Request

From time to time I get an inquiry from a couple who say they are looking for a ‘short and sweet’ wedding ceremony. This raises a few questions, along with a few answers.

First of all, I’m thinking perhaps they have never attended a good ceremony, so they are looking to avoid something long, or something that seems long because it is so boring. And on the flip side, they may not fully realize the importance of taking the time to recognize this milestone.

I’m certainly down with the ‘sweet’ part, but short is a relative term. If you are getting married in some unusual way, let’s say, sky diving or snorkeling, then just a quick ‘I do’ is probably what is needed.  Other than that, I don’t believe 10 minutes is enough. I’m also not a fan of a ceremony that would take morethan 30 – 45 minutes is way too long for people to stay interested, and that includes the couple themselves. If you can’t say all the important things that need to be said in about a ½ hour, the officiant needs an editor.

Every guest should understand what this day means to you -  emphasis on ‘you,’ because it’s your wedding. You should not have to settle for something that doesn’t express who you truly are and what your commitment means. When you and/or your guests neither understand nor care about what’s going on, it certainly isn’t a positive experience. If you’ve ever attended a long ceremony in any context where you didn’t know what the heck was happening, you know what I mean.

In most houses of worship, you really are there for that: to worship – and however long that takes, is what it takes. The wedding part is sometimes simply added in, or there could be a specific litany for weddings, but it will always include lots of praying, which definitely takes some time. I’m not against praying, not at all, and everyone is free to pray or not to pray, whenever they want to. In America we still have freedom of – and from – religion, and this has actually allowed religion to flourish.  We are free to worship as we choose, when we choose, or not. But is a wedding the time for this? Yes and no – it doesn’t have to be. Obviously if a couple is religious, they may well choose a worship service, but for many people, even people of faith, they prefer a celebration of their marriage.

When I explain all this to couples they are often very excited. It’s a good feeling to be able to have a ceremony that recognizes who you are and where you are going. It is especially important for couples of different traditions or world views. Many officiants of all types, understand this. Talk to the person you are thinking about having perform your marriage ceremony and see if they are open to expressing all of that. For me, as a Celebrant, that’s what it’s all about, but I certainly don’t have a monopoly on it.

Telling your personal story in your vows is the only way some people get that customization they are looking for into their ceremony, but I caution you to remember that the vow is really your promise to one another, not your life story. Don’t talk about all how you met as part of your vows.  However, a few little additives can add a lot of flavor.

With a very short ceremony you miss out on some important opportunities. Will you be able to thank family and friends for supporting you, or honor parents, children, siblings or others who have helped you along in your journey? How about remembering those who are deceased? Mentioning a grandparent or grandparents who have passed may not be at the top of your list, it could mean a lot to your parents.  Remembering your own parents is profound. What about including personal details about your personalities, your love story or just simply what you love about one another? These are all things I explore when creating ceremonies. Having charming details about the couple and their community adds so much depth, and is even, sometimes, fun! How about a shout-out to your dog?

Short and sweet is a relative term, and I hope you get all the sweetness you deserve but don’t give it the short shrift.

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Navigating Social Media for Your Wedding

Many of us are addicted to social media. I recognize that in many ways I am as well. How do we draw the line between using it and abusing it? How do we decide how much social media to use for a wedding?  Some? None? Tons? Here are some thoughts on the subject.


Unplugging for the ceremony is a must! As a celebrant I am keenly aware of how people look at or play with their phones when they should be ‘in the moment.’ I get it, it is truly an addiction. And that is exactly why you should, in no uncertain terms, ask everyone to turn them off and put them away. If you have a professional photographer (and I hope you do, it’s one of the best investments you can make) let them capture the ceremony visually. If you do not have a professional photographer simply designate one or two people to take the pictures. But please, please, do not allow everyone to use their phones during the ceremony. Afterwards – have a blast taking those selfies and other videos and photos.

Cassie Cook Photography


Many couples create their own hashtag so all the photos on any platform, tagged with their unique tag, can be gathered together. If you choose to do a hashtag, don’t forget to check to be sure someone else isn’t using the same one. A unique hashtag is the way to go.


Social media is great for sharing information about any event. Many couples have wedding websites that can be very helpful … but not everyone is media savvy. Do not expect all of your guests to have all the information if you ONLY send it via social media or even email. They are your guests, I’m assuming you know them pretty well, so be sure those who are not as ‘connected’ get a piece of paper or phone call with all the details, such directions, places to stay, or anything else they might need.

I’ve seen lots of wedding websites with almost nothing of value. Make sure you have meaningful content if you are going to bother having a website. Directions, things to do, places to stay, how to dress, what to expect, times, locations, photos and other tidbits will make it worthwhile. Otherwise, skip it. You don’t have to have a wedding website!

Please do NOT post any photos of the couple before they have had the opportunity. This is bad form. Sure, put up a photo of yourself looking amazing in your best clothes, but don’t spoil the chance for the couple to share their imagines first. I know it’s frustrating to wait for the professional photos (which sometimes take quite a while) but it will be worth it. Besides, you may not have captured their best side, again, that’s where the professionals come in.

Photo: Allure Productions


If possible, encourage your guests even at the receptionto try to stay off of social media. It’s so much better to be talking to one another, listening to the toasts, enjoying the music, the food, the dancing, the fun, rather than to have your head in your phone. I know it’s hard to say this, but you might ask your DJ or band-leader to mention it a few times and you will be off the hook.


I have had several weddings with family members living far, far away. Live streaming the ceremony made it wonderful for them. They got to see and hear their loved ones getting married even though they were unable to be there in person. Keep this in mind for those who can’t travel, and let your officiant know it’s happening so she or he won’t think something strange is going on.

Overusing social media makes your special day less special. A wedding is many things, but it is not a show. Although there are many great ‘visuals’ involved – the flowers, the clothing, the décor, and so much planning goes into it, it is still an important milestone in life. Keep the meaning of the day foremost in your mind.

Oh, and please follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest –  hashtag #LoisHeckmanCelebrant and tag @LoisHeckmanCelebrant.

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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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