How we’re crafting the ceremony: Opening thoughts

As I write this, there’s just a little over three months to the wedding. How did that happen so fast? Combined with the fact that my very first bridal blogger-in-arms, Rogue Bride (you never forget your first), already had her wedding a few weeks ago, it’s starting to feel kind of serious. I’ve suddenly spent less time wedding theorising, and less time wedding fantasising via other blogs than I have since…oh who knows how long, and more time making spreadsheets, putting together a playlist, researching beach games to have at the reception, and thinking about the ceremony. The other day I had my first two official wedding nightmares of things going wrong on the day. A rite of passage, folks! Anyway, let me talk about how we’re approaching the ceremony.

First of all, Miss Manners’ take on it is that personalising your ceremony, especially if that means making it less solemn, is an affront to the dignified tradition of wedding ceremonies. She’s all for just going with whatever traditional wording your belief system/culture has always used. Once again, Miss Manners is halfway right.  Tradition is a strong way of imparting meaning (I also discussed that here). And that’s all well and good for people who readily identify with a given belief system. But for those of us who don’t, we’re forced to reinvent things, one couple at a time.

For instance, I don’t believe in the supernatural (including souls/spirits/ghosts, any kind of higher power, and the idea of fate). But I was raised in a Protestant community in South Africa, and between M and I, the majority of our extended family have this belief system. The customs associated with the culture are still my customs, and they can still have meaning for me even without the supernatural beliefs. I am very fond of Christmas, and damned if I’m not going to participate in giving presents just because I don’t consider Jesus my saviour. I just leave out the praying and the church-going (singing carols is still fun though). So what I want to do is adapt the Anglican, or really just general western, wedding ceremony, by leaving out the religious bits, thus rendering our wedding recognisable, traditional, and hence meaningful to everyone, while also not feeling like a charlatan.

Part of this is about the general tone the ceremony will take. Sometimes, I think the tendency towards ceremony is like a personality quirk. Kiwis tend to be  irreverent about these things, while South Africans tend to the opposite. I often read online about couples that wanted to make sure their wedding ceremony wasn’t serious and stuffy, and they consider it a success that their ceremony was filled with lightheartedness and laughter, and vows like “I promise to buy you chocolate when you’re upset”. I think it’s to do with feeling comfortable, and maybe if you’re not raised in it, ceremony is not something you feel comfortable with. The way I grew up though, in order to acknowledge that getting married is a big freaking deal, it’s serious, there needs to be some solemnity to it.

Then on the other hand, just secularising a religious ceremony isn’t going to cut it, because there are sentiments we want expressed that aren’t included in the traditional texts. Or are even the opposite of the traditional themes at weddings. Like, our love is not unconditional, and I don’t aspire for it be. I also don’t buy the idea that a successful marriage is about sacrifice, or is an exercise in tolerance. And I want to talk about being each others’ highest priorities, and how we are going to be a team in everything in life. So I need to find readings that reflect this stuff, without being publicly mushy, which I think is also a personality quirk that some people have and some people don’t.

And then we also need to acknowledge the fact that by the time this ceremony happens, we will already be legally married. I don’t want to mislead people about what is actually going on. So I need to find some wording that talks about that while still saying that actually though, its this emotions-only ceremony that is the one that matters to us.

Finally, on that note: some dress news. I went three times to try on that Karen Millen dress. The second time, some embroidery was coming undone on an elbow. They sent it back to be fixed, but it wasn’t fixed properly, but it was fixed enough that people wouldn’t notice. The third time, I took the fiance with me, and some embroidery was coming undone on the chest. Plus it became apparent we’d need to remove the shoulder pads, and then M said it looks like a doily. He says that about anything involving lace or embroidery, but he had a point that maybe I didn’t look my best self. And of course, that sucker was expensive. So I’m not getting it. The hunt resumes.

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3 responses to “How we’re crafting the ceremony: Opening thoughts

  1. Frugally, your favorite sporadic commenter with long responses is back from her honeymoon and super excited about hearing about your wedding planning. One day I will start my own blog, I promise, but it is so much more fun to get a glimpse into other people lives:)

    After going to 10+ weddings in the last two years, we had a ton of thoughts about ceremonies. We also had one wedding where people didn’t necessarily know we were already “legally married” and one where they did. I been to both “Weddings, Part II” for friends who had weddings in more than one country and “Wedding Receptions” for people who just had a ceremony in one spot or eloped. I love the ceremonies and the ritual of the community bearing witness to the promises a couple makes to each other in marriage and wish everyone would do it regardless of the situation. The words I said (on two separate occasions) to my husband were vastly more detailed and all encompassing than the legal commitment we made at the courthouse. They are things that I wasn’t promising just for one day but for the lifetime of our marriage, and thus it didn’t matter that we were already married as we were holding ourselves accountable to our families and loved ones.

    We didn’t have readings because at many weddings they interrupt the flow of the ceremony and the person doing the reading is not really into it (e.g. someone is assigned a reading just because of guilt for not making them a bridesmaid). They can be lovely, but unless they offer something beyond the abilities of the officiant or really encapsulate your relationship in an essential way, they can take away from emotional crescendo that builds up during the ceremony. You can always have someone read a passage/poem during the reception. However, we were very lucky to have two different officiants that custom wrote poem ceremonies for us that managed to capture the spirit of our relationship and the solemnity of the occasion for our non-convential, scientist selves. We’ve been at weddings where the officiant straight up had readings that were about death and focused on negative aspects of commitment…eeep!

    That said, if you are thinking about readings for your officiant or are really stoked to have readings or am wondering what mind-altering substances I am on that makes me think it’s okay to tell people what they should do at their own weddings, I am a big fan of this passage by Madeline L’Engle from The Irrational Season, which is third down in this link:
    NOT the velveteen rabbit quote

    Good Luck! Now I am going to check out the dress post!

    • Yay, it’s Erin! So, you’re a scientist? No wonder I like you so much. (Non-scientists: I like you too.)

      Forgoing readings all together is something that hadn’t occurred to me. My thinking was it would kind of mimic the bible readings/mini-sermon that tends to happen at Christian weddings. Also, we’re considering not having an officiant. We might just get the bridesmaids and groomsmen to do everything that is not our vows. Haven’t come close to figuring it all out yet. I do like that quote from The Irrational Season, it’s going on the short list.

      I would LOVE to see your ceremony, if you’d be willing to share it. If you’re not comfortable with just putting it here, maybe you could email it to me? Please please please?

      In closing, as ever, I look forward to reading your blog one day.

  2. Okay, I think I get what you are aiming for with your ceremony. Even if you don’t have an officiant per se, you definitely need someone who is the head honcho and has authority to both organize the ceremony and the other people involved in. Even if they just open and close the ceremony (You may be seated to You may now kiss your spouse), it will be so helpful to have someone (besides you two) taking ownership of making things happen.

    For our vows, I wanted them to be a surprise for some strong reason I am not remembering now, so I borrowed an idea I think I read on APW where we each said three things we loved or valued about the other person and then made three promises to the other person. We each had a little intro paragraph, too. It worked out really well as both a nice structure for writing and we ended up having very similar ideas that meshed really nicely we revealed them at our first ceremony. It makes them a little long to memorize (I also get nervous about reciting things in front of a crowd), so I wrote them in a little moleskin book. MAKE SURE someone has copies of all parts of the ceremony because we spent an hour on the day of our wedding tearing our apartment apart to try to find my husband’s vows (to no avail!) and it was really stressful.

    I will email you our ceremony. We basically brainstormed a list of important themes and turned it over to our amazing friend.

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