This year marks the tenth year I’ve served as a Religious Representative in the Congregationalist Wiccan Association of BC. I get a lot of people who are looking to do non-traditional weddings. Those ten years have been full of some amazing experiences, and I have learned a few things about weddings along the way, which I think apply regardless of your faith; especially if you’re not interested in spending $50,000 on one. Let me share them with you!
Note that this article has been written with couples in mind. I would like to state categorically that I support any combination of individuals that want to get married. I am polyamourous myself. But I’m speaking mostly of legal weddings here, and until the laws change, this is sadly restricted to couples by necessity. But go ahead and have commitment ceremonies for your trio/group/tribe/whatever, and all the power to you!
1. No Amount of Disapproval Has Ever Stopped a Determined Couple
Whether you agree with your friend/family member’s choice or not, when they announce the wedding plans, the choice has been made. Arguing with them about their choice of partner, or how they choose to do the ceremony, will only produce resentment. Refusing to attend because you disapprove will produce resentment that will last for years. They’ll still be talking about it at your funeral.
So do yourself, and the person in your life who is getting married, a favour. If you must, voice it once, and gently, and then congratulate them and go to the wedding anyway. Getting married is one of the rites of passage in our society that signifies we have become adults. Your loved ones have made their decisions as adults. If you love them, that means you respect them. Respect their choices.
2. Do the Paperwork Beforehand
Everyone knows they have to fill out the marriage license in order to get married. Some people try to do it too early, but usually the clerk at Vital Statistics tells them when it should be done. But to this day, only one couple has ever listened to me when I have warned them to have everything except the signatures filled out before the day of the ceremony!
Why do I counsel people to do that? Because it asks you questions like where your grandfather was born. What city your biological father was born in. The full, printed. legal names of your witnesses. Do you really want to be running around half an hour before the ceremony, slogging through grass in your tux or dragging your train behind you, looking for your mother so you can ask her where your maternal grandmother was born? Because I can’t do that for you. I have no idea what your mother looks like!
3. It’s the Oath that Really Matters
Many people are forced, for whatever reason, to make a choice between getting the ceremony they want, or getting the legal paperwork done. In this case, I counsel it’s the oath that really matters. Making a public declaration of your love and devotion to one another, before your friends, your family, and your gods, is the part that is really important to you as a couple; whatever that looks like. If the Justice of the Peace is sufficient for that, get that done. But if the religious aspect is more important to you, do that. You can get the paperwork done later.
4. … but the Legal Parts DO Matter Sometimes
There are, however, real consequences of being legally married, or choosing not to be. If you are legally married, you will have to file your taxes together, and for some of us, that’s a big deal. Often disability benefits get cut when people get legally married, because I guess the logic is that your spouse ought to support you and you should be dependent on them, rather than having economic rights and freedoms of your own. That’s unfair, but it’s a harsh reality for many of us.
On the other hand, if I had not been legally married to my husband when he was in a near-fatal car accident, it would have been his mother who made the medical decisions. I’m glad it was me. Do some research, and really consider it.
5. The Bride Always Cares More About the Details Than the Groom (if there’s one of each)
In any heterosexual marriage I have ever done, the groom has always referred me to the bride because “I just want to make her happy.” Some brides insist, however, that their fiance be at every single planning meeting, which he usually mumbles and mutters through uncomfortably. Don’t waste your time or mine. Ask him if he wants input, and if he doesn’t, don’t insist he give it. What he’s going to remember is how you looked in your gown and whether you cried or beamed.
This is not true of homosexual couples, although I usually find that one partner cares a lot more than the other, and that’s the one I most want to talk to.
6. You Will Never Make the Whole Family Happy, So Don’t Try
How many times have I had this conversation: “We want to have a Wiccan wedding, but we don’t want to tell our grandmother this is what we’re doing, so can you, like, hide it?”
Sigh. Yes I can. I’m required to follow the forms of a Wiccan ceremony, but there are many ways to interpret those forms, and I can do Pagan Lite, if that’s what you want. But it saddens me because what that means is that you’re tailoring your wedding to make other people happy.
It’s your wedding. It’s your special day, and even if the marriage doesn’t work out, you’ll never get another one quite like it. So don’t be afraid to be a little selfish, and you do it the way you want to do it, whatever that looks like.
This holds true all the way around. Don’t argue about which faith the wedding should be in; make it a multifaith wedding! I’m delighted to work with your pastor, your imam, or your rabbi to make a ceremony that embraces both of your faiths! My sister-in-law did a Hindu ceremony and a Seventh Day Adventist ceremony independently and the whole family attended both. I once went to a Pagan-Muslim ceremony presided over by an Anglican minister. They were all amazing.
Once caveat: this is partially dependent on culture. Indo-Canadian grandmothers expect to plan their granddaughter’s wedding. But in that case, you’re not talking to me anyway.
Another caveat: save the obviously far out stuff for people who will grok it. You may want to have a full skyclad coven wedding the night before the legal wedding, because only your coven gets the importance or purpose of consummating the union in the cast circle. On the other hand, another couple manged to pull off a full-on Wiccan handfasting with people done up in body paint to represent the quarters, and a hundred guests, so YMMV.
7. Write All the Words Down
Your brain doesn’t work well under stress. It loses track of small details. It has difficulty making decisions. It doesn’t remember things as well. So be kind to yourself; write all the words down that you intend to say. Bonus points if you do it on easy-to-read cue cards in largish print, because nothing stalls the ceremony better than fumbling with papers or searching for reading glasses.
I don’t know how many times people have said to me, “Oh, we’re not going to write our vows; we’re just going to speak from the heart,” and then draw a blank when the moment comes; or repeat “I love you” over and over again like a broken record. Speak from the heart on a cue card beforehand, when your brain is still fully engaged. Don’t try to make your poor brain compose poetry on the spot. It’s just not that smart.
By the way, there’s no reason your vows have to be traditional. But I think you’ll find it’s important to do some vows, because that’s sort of the point of a wedding, even if those vows are just, “I promise to love you with all my heart as long as love shall last.”
8. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
A positive attitude is important. Seriously, are you really going to let the fact that the photographer is late, or that someone ordered red roses instead of yellow ones, ruin your whole day? Come on! If you can’t handle that, what makes you think you’re going to be able to handle the vicissitudes of married life?
All kinds of things happen that we don’t plan, but happiness depends on your ability to try to roll with the punches. Save your anger and tears for things that really are disasters: like, say, the bride getting into a car accident on the way to the altar; not a late photographer.
And guests? Please leave your personal quarrels at the door. No one gives a fig that your cousin Alice was rude at grandma’s funeral. But they will care that you started an argument over the punch bowl. This day is about the people who are getting married. Don’t make it about you.
9. No Wedding Has Ever Gone as Planned — but They’re All Perfect
Here’s the bald truth; SOMETHING WILL GO WRONG. It will. Because the best way to ruin a perfectly good plan is to expose it to the enemy. The photographer will be late. The rings will be a little too tight (happens a lot, actually, because hands swell when we’re stressed.) The bride will trip over her train on the way to the stage (that happens a lot too, which is why traditionally, one of the jobs of the Maid of Honour is to carry it, but nobody teaches us how to do that so we screw it up.) The Best Man will misplace the rings for ten minutes, until he remembers he put them in his shoe for safe keeping. The caterer will put chicken in the vegan dish. The groom will spill wine on the sleeve of his fancy shirt at the reception.
And you know what? The world will not end. Nobody will remember that nonsense 20 years from now, and if they do, it will be a fond memory you can talk about every anniversary and laugh over.
You know what people will remember? How happy you looked. How much love was in the room. How everyone came together to decorate the hall. How your mascara ran as you recited your vows (word to the wise; go with falsies if you want luscious lashes for the wedding.) Rituals never look as cool as they feel anyway. Love it for what it is, and know in your heart that where it went wrong — that was personal to you, and it’s all part of the experience.
10. Add the Personal Touches — You’ll Treasure Them
My wedding was a Wiccan wedding. I got married in the green dress my mother wore to my graduation, and not a white one. I made little besoms as wedding favours.
The Pagan-Muslim wedding I attended started with the bride walking down the aisle to an Arabic music piece. The Charge of the Goddess and quotes from the Koran were read.
A lesbian couple exchanged masks instead of rings. Another couple exchanged bracelets. A third exchanged tattoos.
Two couples exchanged ring-troth on a family sword. One had their grandparents’ 50th anniversary wine glass set on the altar and used them for their own wedding cups.
People will remember these personal touches. And so will you. Don’t be afraid to break with tradition or add a few things that have personal meaning to you.
11. … but Maintain a Few Traditions So it Feels Real
Tradition, however, has a power all its own, and some of that cultural resonance has an effect on you, whether you realize it or not. So make sure to include some traditional parts — the parts you like and agree with — so it maintains that cultural resonance for you and your guests.
Because those moments are culturally reinforced in hundreds of movies and stories and TV shows, they’ll have meaning for your family and friends as well, so it will feel like what it is. I think that holds true for everyone.
12. Let Your Community Support You in the Ways that They Can
Your community wants to help you and be part of the experience. Let them do it. Some people will offer to donate their homemade wine; drink it. Some will want to cater; let them cook. Some will offer to help decorate the hall, others will serve as designated drivers, still others will make monetary donations.
Don’t insist people fit into some predetermined mold of what you want from them, unless they’ve said, “How can I help?” Accept all offers of assistance with grace and gratitude, no matter how crummy you might think grandpa’s homemade wine is. People know best what they can afford to do, it’s being offered freely as a gift, and by allowing them to be part of it in their own way, you embrace their love and their friendship. They’ll remember it.
13. The Best Weddings Are Always the Come-As-You-Are-We-Just-Want-You-There-Potluck Kinds
So many people set themselves up for disappointment by expecting to be the Kardashians for a day. They want photo-perfect weddings out of TV Land. It’s not going to happen. First of all, everyone on TV is shown living the life of the next highest income bracket, so you probably can’t afford the wedding you saw on the sitcom. And remember what I said about things never going quite according to plan? The same holds as true of big budget affairs as small ones.
Unless you’ve got a strong cultural impetus to do so, don’t spend thousands of dollars on your wedding. Save it for buying a house or a car. Don’t have your wedding in some ridiculous expensive resort people have to fly to unless you can afford to pay for their plane tickets, because people will feel left out and disrespected because of their class.
Those kinds of weddings are always tense, and they become more about the performance than the event itself. Without exception, the best weddings are conducted in a big yard or a rented hall, with everyone asked to come as they are, “we just want you there.” The best reception meals are really affordable, or better yet, are potluck. No one is excluded or treated as more or less important than anyone else. And the love that is shared in such a welcoming atmosphere is a beautiful, tangible thing.
I’d much rather go to one of those than any ballroom with professional catering any day. Let your love be the show. That’s what everyone who matters has come to see and celebrate anyway.