Tag Archives: ceremony

Weddings: What does it all mean?

[The wedding is the weekend after this one. The first out of towner, one of my brothers, is arriving in just two days. Between running around getting dress fittings, working out the drinks plan and whatnot, and panicking whenever I read someone else’s wedding blog, I’ve started composing a million blog posts in my head, but not finding the time/headspace to write them out. In the ramp up to the wedding, this is the post that managed to come out of my head nearly fully furnished.]

I’m really fascinated by the idea of ritual. I have a world view that’s heavy on skepticism, which precludes a belief in the supernatural. So rituals, to me, are essentially meaningless. But what is a wedding, if not a series of rituals to perform?

(Drunk groomsman says: “It’s a party, that’s what!).

Ok, I get what rituals are for. They are for marking transitions in life, for acknowledging them, for performing them by making something physical that is actually abstract – they are for making meaning. There is some kid of psychological need in humans to do this. Ritual and ceremony are universal, they’re in every single human culture. Even the Neanderthals did it.

If you believe in God, or magic, or take the word ‘auspicious’ seriously, the distance for you between the symbolism of ritual, and the thing it symbolises, might be pretty short. The Catholic church teaches that the communion wafer does not symbolise the body of Christ, but that it is literally the body of Christ. And even if a ceremony involves nothing more than spoken words, you might still believe that on a supernatural plane, something eminently real is going on.

But I don’t believe that stuff. In eleven days, M and I are going to go through the motions of a wedding. Afterwards, nothing magical will have happened. Our souls will not have become cosmically bound together by a higher power. No supernatural changes will have occurred. We’re still be just two people, standing side by side, making the decision again and again to live our lives together. The only difference is now this decision about how we want to live our lives will be bolstered by law, which itself is only a set of rules people made up, and also has no transcendental reality to it.

But our minds run on symbolism. Look at language. It is sound. It is a series of vibrations traveling through the air, reaching your ear drum, vibrating it. The sounds don’t inherently mean anything, but within a given language everyone agrees on what they mean.

Walking down the aisle in a white dress, on the arm of my dad, to stand in front of family and friends, and then exchange rings, doesn’t inherently mean anything, which is why not all marrying people do that way. But my mind nevertheless considers it a symbol of something greater, even though symbols are arbitrary. Like with a native language, I can’t very easily separate symbolic things in my own culture from the things they represent.

Yes, life is essentially purposeless. We are biological coincidences and nothing more. But one of the quirks of our biology is that we like to invest meaning into things by performing rituals. When there’s no greater point to life, life doesn’t become empty or unenjoyable (ok, maybe during your teenage existential crisis it does). Instead, it makes the best parts of life all the more precious –  things that induce a sense of awe; art; science; joy; love; flow; the connectedness to others you can feel when partaking in a ceremony among a group of people who all agree on what that ceremony means; and a sense of wonder that our brains are sophisticated enough to experience something as amazing as loving another person so much that you promise to share your whole life with them.

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$5500 Wedding budget: Photography (What to do when you have $850 or less for photos)

Enough already with the tales of my own wedding, let’s get back to general wedding theorising. I think it’s more fun. Onward with my favourite wedding topic: figuring out what a average wedding would be like if people only had weddings they could afford.

If your wedding budget is $5500, you have about $850 to spend on photography. But $5500 is just the estimate for the (New Zealand) median, which means half of all people would be working with less than that. If your wedding budget was $2500, you’d have about $380 to spend on photography.

A freaking joke, right? Check this out: the price quote for A Practical “fighting the system yet sponsored by Proctor and Gamble” Wedding’s* most recent photography advertorial. The starting rate given is $2950 for 8 hours of photography. Which translates to a total wedding budget of about 19k. Which to comfortably afford means an annual post-tax income of $190k. (APW is always looking out for the little guy!)

It all seems pretty hopeless, especially when you read blog after blog talking about how photography is the most important thing. Skimp on everything else, but for the love of cake, splurge on the photography! But I offer you salvation:

1. Stellar photos aren’t actually that important. Seriously, how often are you really going to look at these photos in the future? Daily at first, then once a year? After the first decade will you stop looking at them once a year? And will your affection for them really be dependent on the quality of the photos, or will it be dependent on the happiness of your memories from that day? Do you have any old, crappy quality pictures, from say your childhood, that you love and treasure?

2. Covering every minute of the day isn’t that important. The photographers’ unaffordable ‘basic package’ starting prices have a bad habit of including 6 or 8 hours of coverage.

I submit to you that you do not need that much time. I submit to you that endless pictures of the wedding party in different poses are redundant, not to mention a waste of everyone’s time especially if it happens during the reception, by Jove. Also, who gives a crap about immortalising the moment the bride applied her eyeliner. I submit to you that there is such a thing as enough photography, and it involves a full length shot of the couple, a face shot of the couple, some family group shots, and a picture of each partner with their wedding party. The stuff after that is gravy.

3. A lot of your guests have cameras. Just because there is no professional present, doesn’t mean moments aren’t being captured. In fact, your guests might be so busy acting like a crowd of paparazzi that you’ll need to actually tell them to stop it. You know how when you have a night out with your friends, a few photos always end up getting taken?  And, you know how you never find yourself wishing, Oh, If only there had been a professional photojournalist with us to take photos of us all at Beerfest? (Bad example?)My point is, there WILL be photos of your wedding day, and they will be good enough.

So here’s what I reckon people should do: hire a professional for the length of time your budget allows for, and get your portraits taken during that time. Get the group shots that are necessary, and then spend the rest of the time you have on couple portraits, and then some photojournalism of the ceremony and  the beginning of the reception if time allows. At the reception let your guests do what people do anyway at parties, which is take photos. Ask everyone to upload their pics to a photo sharing site somewhere, or to just send them to you. Choose your favourites to collect into your own album.

The thing about all those unaffordable photography packages is that if you break it down to an hourly rate, it suddenly becomes an option to get them for an hour or two. For the photographer listed above at 8 hours for $2950, that works out at arout $370 per hour. Not that that’s what that person would charge, but it illustrates the range you’re working with. Even on a legitimately low budget, you could still have someone relatively high end do your portraits for an hour before the ceremony.

I recommend figuring out the hourly rates of various photographers, finding ones you like, and then approaching them with your numbers and asking what they can for you. The Wedding Photojournalist Association is a good place to start – it’s international, and list prices (sometimes by the hour!) of photographers with links to their websites.

That is what I did. I found a handful of photographers that charge around $200 per hour, told them I have $450 to work with, and said, What have you got? The one I chose in the end offered me 2.5 hours photography with the ferry transport to the resort included. He’s offering me something less than his normal hourly rate because, get this, the fact that my wedding is so low budget and quirky (read: short casual dress) makes it valuable to him as a photographer! It’s a sweet sweet feeling when the industry works in your favour.

*I did manage to stay off APW for quite some time after I wrote this post, and it was awesome. And then I started hate-reading it.

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.

Purpose of weddings: It’s not about the legalities

Alternative titles for this post:

A case for multi-wedding marriages
or
A dress! You guys, check at this dress!*

M and I are New Zealanders. In New Zealand, once two people have been living together as a couple for three years, the de facto partnership they are in has practically the same legalities around it as an actual marriage. For instance, if you break up, assets would be split fifty-fifty. You enter this phase of financial union without doing a thing – the couple doesn’t have to go somewhere, or sign something, or make any declarations. It just becomes a truth that everything is now jointly owned.

We reached our three year mark right about the same time that we moved to Singapore. Before that though, we’d already completely merged our finances anyway. We were in it together, man. And then Singapore happened, which just further cemented the fact that as a couple, we were a done deal. Obviously emotionally, yes: if following your partner to a foreign country because he got a job there isn’t commitment, I don’t know what is. But also legally: the way the visa  situation works, M is here by what is known as an employment pass, while I am here as his dependent. The paperwork included going to the NZ High Commission to write signed statements, witnessed by an official, about how long we’ve had joint bank accounts and the like. We are officially recognised in Singapore as having a common-law marriage, and it’s what allows me to stay here with him.

It gets worse. For years we’ve had the habit of referring to each other as each other’s partner, but here in Asia, a lot of people don’t get that. And most people I’ve come across really don’t get living together before marriage.  Seriously, the number of times I’ve had to explain that we’re not married, but we live together, but it’s like being married, and actually, this is very common in NZ and it would be unusual not to live together first. So for the almost two years we’ve been living here, we’ve gotten used to just calling each other husband and wife when talking to locals. Makes conversation with a chatty cab driver that much simpler.

So why are we even getting married, when it doesn’t really change much? Well, for one, its going to be a bit more convenient to actually have a marriage certificate instead of having to prove our commitment in other ways. But for us, getting married, or more accurately, having a wedding, is not about the legal stuff at all. We’re doing it for two main reasons:

1. Making explicit all the implicit promises that we have already made to each other, and doing it in a way that our community recognises. I hate to be quoting Sex and The City, but Miranda put it perfectly, in the episode where she marries Steve: “I do actually wanna say those vows, out loud, to Steve. In front of the people I care about”

2. Acknowledging, along with our family and friends, that loving each other so much that we want to share the entire rest if our lives together, is awesome. We’ve been lucky enough to find our person, and that’s amazing, frankly, even if it is a miracle that happens to lots of people. It’s worthy of a big-ass celebration.

So once I figured out that the legal part of this wedding will be much easier to handle in Singapore than in Indonesia (for starters, Singaporeans use English), we made the decision to get the meaningless, five minute, registry office ceremony done a few days before the emotional, poignant readings, personalized vows, ring exchange ceremony at the resort.

My intention was to approach the legal thing as much like paperwork formality as possible – we’d show up in whatever we were wearing that day, sign what we needed to sign, and be done. But, it turns out, we need two witnesses. And there’s a dress code. The info online literally specifies that shorts and flip flops aren’t appropriate. What up, we live in those things.

So that means my man can wear his office wear, and I…well, I don’t look my best in my formal office wear. The thing is, for men, formal professional wear and formal social wear are the same thing. For women, they are kind of vastly different. Miss Manners discusses this issue here. And since our legal ceremony will be socially formal, and not professionally formal, I was instantly launched into fashion fantasies of a Kate Middleton-like nature.

Which brings me to this dress. I won’t bore you with listing the ways it is perfection, I’ll just let you see for yourself:

Karen Millen, I salute you.

I tend to be uber fussy, I mean discerning, about my clothes, but this one is hitting so many nails on so many heads, that when it comes to this dress, I just can’t. I just can’t not obsess over it. 

You complete me.

The only nailhead it doesn’t hit is the price.

Don’t speak. I know just what you’re saying.

You’re saying, “Lindsay, I thought this was a frugal wedding, you sell out.”

Yeah, the dress is over SG$500, and that’s not even addressing the shoe issue. So here’s the deal: it’s not coming out of my wedding budget, it’s coming out of my everyday budget. Plus I can totally wear it again. Right?! Also, you know how I just said my taste is very discerning? When my local friends just read that, they were all surprised and thought about how my ubiquitous plain t-shirt with denim shorts does not exactly reflect a keen sartorial eye. Here’s the sad truth: I’m so damn fussy about clothes, that I almost never find something that fits the bill, and hence I almost never buy new stuff, and hence, I mostly wear pretty old things that were acquired as gifts, or purchased in the days before my fussiness went stratospheric. The upshot is, I spend so little on clothes, that I can actually justify this.

Then there’s the witnesses issue for the legal ceremony. M wants his brother to be his, and I would like my mother to be mine. But since I’m all dressed up and such, and all our immediate family members will be in town, it doesn’t seem right to leave them out. We’re allowed to bring up to 20 guests to the registry office. So we’re going have all our immediate family come. And since we’re doing that, well, maybe we should all go to TWG afterwards and drink champagne and eat a macaroon or two.

Suddenly, it appears I’m having two weddings. But I don’t want to look at it like that. I still consider our non-legal ceremony on the beach to be our real wedding, the one that’s important. Now we just also have a fancy family morning tea to go with it. And the fact that I get to have both beach party princess, and elegant urbanite dresses, well, I’m not too sad about that.

*Yes, check at. That’s how we spoke where I grew up, mmkay?

Book review: Is the Offbeat Bride book worth reading?

Everyone knows the Offbeat Bride blog, one of the earliest bridal blogs and the first to glorify non-mainstream weddings. And everyone knows its central message is authenticity, as in, if you really like Doctor Who, go ahead and have a Doctor Who themed wedding. But what might have seemed a very relevant and even groundbreaking discussion at first, has become absorbed everywhere, and now even Style Me Pretty brides constantly mention that they want their wedding to “reflect our personalities”.  The whole Be True to Yourself thing is kind of yawn-inducing at this point. So when, on a bookshop shelf, I came across the book that spawned the website, I wondered if there was anything in it that we haven’t heard before.

From the tag cloud in my sidebar you can see that one of my most frequently used tags is ‘authenticity’. And if you asked OBB, they’d say, Hey, We’re all authenticity all the time too! What I mean by the word is not exactly the same thing that they mean by the word, but, in the Venn diagram of authenticities, there would be some overlap. For instance, this: “…we didn’t put ourselves in debt. Instead of paying to create a fantasy land, we picked the best things our everyday lives had to offer and crafted an extra-special everyday.” Exactly, exactly, exactly.

That said, the discussion around money issues was not a very compelling one. I’d been keen to check out what the book had to say about it ever since, way back when, Meg on A Practical Wedding let us know that she contributed a sidebar in the book on the topic. So yes, you know what’s going to happen now, brace yourself for some more of my apparently unavoidable APW headdesking…Initiate:

Inevitably, the scant few hundred words about money talk a lot about emotions, and zero about actual numbers. There are four bullet points, two of them employ the phrase “feels right to you”, one says, “You don’t have to spend money in ways that make your feel financially uncomfortable”, (Teh Wisdom flows!), and the other one says, “…there are times when you’re willing to throw money at a problem to make it go away. Do it.” Arg. I hate financial advice about emotions, because it isn’t actually financial advice, and money, perhaps unlike other wedding stuff you can talk about, lives in the world of objective truths. It’s a bad idea to go into debt, whether that feels right to you or not (and evidently, going into debt for a wedding feels right for a lot of people). *headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk*

The most useful part of the book for me was the discussion about navigating religious differences, particularly when you want a secular wedding but some of your family members are religious. Or as in our case, they don’t necessarily know that we don’t share their beliefs. Thanks to the advice in this book, we are strongly considering incorporating an ambiguous moment of silence during the ceremony, where people can think happy thoughts, or pray, or send vibes, according to their world view. We’ll also be taking heed of the caution to not discuss our wedding’s religiosity or lack thereof ahead of time with said family members.

But ultimately, the most engrossing part of the book is the awesomeness of Ariel Stallings herself, author and founder of all the Offbeat offshoots. It didn’t take many pages of reading before I was sucked into her coolness, and the book is mostly a record of sorts of her own wedding experience. It’s like reading her personal wedding blog, except there’s chapters instead of posts and you get to read them all at once. Feeling teenagerish, when she says stuff like, “I wanted to dress for the wedding the same way I would for my faviourite kind of party, which is to say like a fairy-freakish electro forest queen”, apart from vigorously agreeing, I couldn’t help kind of wanting to be friends with her and wishing I could have been at that wedding. It sounds damn fun. Minutes after I finished the book I did the googling necessary to find her wedding pictures, and got totally adolescently inspired by this bridal portrait. She looks fierce.

She’s the cool older sister, and while reading the book I found myself constantly evaluating where my own wedding would sit on the offbeatness scale, and alternately feeling totally aligned with her, and then wondering if I was overstating my wedding’s offbeatness in an effort to be like the cool kids. But seriously, turns out my wedding is going to pretty damn offbeat, and the book provided some nice solidarity, even if she’s more extreme than me. So I’d say if you’re someone who is not having a mainstream wedding, and is looking for some like-minded reassurance, then yes, it is worth reading.

Podcast: Me talking wedding budgets with Rogue Bride and Hindsight Bride

I’m not saying this is exactly what went down, but when I remember recording this podcast with Rogue Bride and Christie from Hindsight Bride, these are the words I recall being said:

Christie: Lindsay writes an angry, righteous blog…
Me: What? No, I’m a nice person, I swear!

Me: Wedding budget calculator. Income. Wedding budget calculator. Percentage. Calculator.
Them: You’re a massive nerd.

Them: Wait, is it REE-dill, or rye-DELL?
Me: What the hell are you guys talking about.

All of us: Sha-vari chairs? Key-uh-vari? What is that anyway, frikkin Italian or something?

Christie: Rainbows and sausages.

Rogue: I’m going to punch myself in the face.

Them:*giving me compliments*
Me: You guys are the nicest people ever!
Them: What? No, we’re badass, we swear!

Shorter version:
Them: It’s nice that you’re badass.
Me: It’s badass that you’re nice.
(Thank you Robyn Sherbotsky and Ted Mosby.)

According to Rogue and Christie, my South African – Kiwi mongrel of an accent sounds sexy to the American ear. I’m not sure I believe them. Certainly I don’t think either saffas or kiwis enjoy my deviations from their norms much. So it’s possible they were just being super nice to me again. They’re tricksy like that. They keep saying nice things to you and offering to do nice things for you, and then also doing them, and then the next thing you know, you really really like them and start to feel like doing nice things back. It’s how they suck you in. They’re selfish like that.

You can listen to the podcast and assess my accent for yourself here.

How to make your wedding special without spending money

I think one of the fundamental reasons why weddings have gotten financially out of hand is that people want their weddings to feel special and meaningful, and they mistakenly believe that the way to make that happen is to spend a lot of money.

There is actually some validity to the idea that money makes things special. Here’s a great example of how stupid our human minds are: things that are rare or expensive become regarded as wonderful luxury items that speak of status and are to be coveted. Critical to note: it’s not that the inherent awesomeness of the item in question pushes up demand and price. It’s that an item that is hard for the average person to obtain becomes a symbol of luxury, and therefore everyone starts to covet it.

Like when the Dutch used to have to pay taxes on stairs, and so then the fanciest houses in Amsterdam started having two staircases leading up to their front doors. Or eating shark’s fin – it’s a tasteless piece of cartilage that originally only the rich families in China could afford to eat, because it takes days of labour from a skilled cook to do the preparation that makes that crap approach edible. And then the general population got the message that shark’s fin is a luxury, and next thing you know it’s become a wedding staple in Chinese culture.

But there are other ways that our pathetically manipulatable human minds assign specialness and meaning to things: the time, effort, and skill to make something (a proxy for money), sentimental association, and ritual and ceremony. Though of course these things get muddled up, for instance you’re likely to have have a sentimental association with certain rituals. And things that were originally valued for their hard-to-make-ness have become commonly regarded as ceremonial necessity. I’m looking at you, Wedding Cake. Also you, Thousand Dollar Wedding Dress. But the upshot is, you can still make your wedding feel, uh, properly weddingy, even if you can’t afford a wedding cake that costs $5 per slice.

Here are some ideas.

1. Time, effort, and skill

For my wedding, the biggest deposit of specialness in this area is going to come from the fact that various family members, from a variety of continents, will take the time and effort to come be gathered together in one place. It’s something that our family only ever gets to experience any more at weddings. Time was when all my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all lived in the same country. We saw each other regularly and had Christmases together. No more. Now I go years without seeing cousins I saw all the time growing up. Being reunited with some of them at my wedding is a big, meaningful deal.

Other ways people might implement this idea could include taking the time to sew an exquisite dress, spending the effort to make a really special cake, having a bunch of people pitch in to put the centrepieces together.

2. Sentimental association

This is when you include objects that belonged to a loved one, or do things that remind you of your love for someone, or something that just means a lot to you. Playing a song that is meaningful to you. Giving speeches and toasts also falls into this category – they serve to spark emotion, maybe get a bit nostalgic, and bring love to the surface.

I plan to do all these things. My wedding ring is going to have a diamond that my mom’s grandfather gave to her. And we will play the songs, and we will have the speeches.

3. Ritual and ceremony

This is the heart of what makes something a wedding and not a family reunion with centrepieces and speeches. This one is cultural. I was raised in an Anglican community. For the people I come from, this means there are certain way weddings are done, and if they’re not done this way, they’re not as much of a wedding. Plus the stuff that is not part of the religion but has become definitive (you know what I’m talking about – veils, white dresses, and so on).

The tricky part here is when you’ve already rejected some parts of the culture that make no sense to you. For instance, I am no longer religious, so having religion be any part of my wedding is not something I want. Also I just don’t really like veils. And also I don’t dig myself in white. But I still want it traditionally weddingy enough that everyone there feels that it’s meaningful.

Everyone will strike their own balance here. For us, there will be no priest, no prayers, and no sermon, but there will still be an aisle walk, readings, vows, a ring exchange, and a kiss. I won’t wear a long white dress or a veil, but I will carry a bouquet, wear a light coloured dress, and probably have something nice in my hair.

So, I offer this as hope for any engaged couples out there who might be despairing the difference between their original wedding fantasies and what it turns out they can afford. The beauty of your wedding does not come from money. You can still go ahead and have something incredible. And stay financially solvent to boot.