One of the things we love about planning weddings is that each one is different! We love helping our couples personalize their wedding day – and the many traditions involved.
Weddings themselves have evolved so much over the years. When my parents were married, it was normal to have a church wedding followed by a afternoon reception of tea and desserts. They were very surprised to learn that nowadays providing a full meal for guests is commonplace. It’s also becoming more and more accepted to have the wedding ceremony outside of a church – a good 80% of the weddings HCS plans involve the wedding ceremony and reception being held at the same venue. And usually that venue is specifically used to hold weddings or other events – something that outside of a banquet hall wasn’t really a thing until about 15 years ago.
Being based in Los Angeles, we also have the great fortune to plan many weddings that involve many different cultural and spiritual/religious traditions, or the melding of not only two families but two cultures or two religions. Working with our couples to honor their family or religious traditions in a modern setting is actually one of our favorite things during the planning process. The results are often so heartfelt and beautiful it adds such depth to the ceremony and/or wedding day we catch ourselves tearing up…even thought we know exactly what is coming!
Let’s start with old school wedding traditions – and how modern couples like ours make them their own:
The bouquet + garter toss. Roughly 70% of our couples forego this tradition completely. After some discussion with planner friends, we think the culprit is the garter. More specifically, modern brides are turned off by their new husband removing the garter from their leg, the photo op and the whole message it conveys. Based on this – it’s hard to to a bouquet toss by itself as we haven’t yet found a great replacement. A few of our couples over the years have opted to place the garter on a football/softball/etc. and then throw that, thus skipping the awkward removal and just having the toss part. Our thought is you do you for this one: if it’s not your thing people don’t really miss it in all honesty. Our one bit of advice if you do want to do the bouquet toss: throw one of your bridemaids bouquets or get a specific ‘toss’ bouquet from your florist. No bouquet survives the toss unscathed, so we recommend not throwing your actual bridal bouquet.
The most fun alternative to this we have found is our couple who used a t-shirt cannon to launch custom tees with caricatures of them out into the crowd – see photos from this wedding below and featured over on ‘Wedding Chicks’ HERE. As fun as it was – it’s best for outdoor weddings only, but if you wanted to just throw out fun stuff (sans cannon) for an indoor reception it could lend a concert feel to your fete.
Wearing your mother’s wedding dress. Very few brides actually do this – it’s one of those stubborn urban myths. Exceptions to this can be meaningful and beautiful: If your mother has passed away or cannot attend the ceremony, or some of our brides have shortened this dress and worn it to the rehearsal or engagement party. If you just plain don’t want to but someone thinks you should: we always suggest starting with saying that it would require costly alternations that would change the dress and you’re worried about the integrity of the fabric, the thought of possibly ruining it, blah blah blah. If that doesn’t work, you may have to just let them down gently by explaining that although you would be honored, it just isn’t your style and you hope they will understand.
Cake cutting. While it’s definitely headed out of fashion due to more dessert options, we still recommend this to our couples. Your guests (esp. the older ones) will still expect a cake cutting. It signals to the older guests that the ‘wedding’ activities are over – and the party is going to really kick in. Get a small cake to at least cut and get that photo that mom really wants. If face smashing is not your thing – set ground rules early and respect them (please!) as we’ve seen that go really awry when people don’t want it.
And now our best advice on incorporating religious, cultural or family traditions:
Have a real talk about with your families about what they expect. That doesn’t mean you have to do exactly what they want – but as we’ve mentioned a few times in previous posts about budgeting and guests lists – they only way to be sure that you know what people expect is to have a conversation about it. Do your parents expect you to incorporate any traditions into your ceremony? How does that line up with what you’ve been envisioning? Is there a way to compromise if they aren’t the same? Often this goes unexpressed and then people’s feelings are hurt later – best to talk it over early.
Expectations and traditions don’t just involve the ceremony. Over the years we’ve worked with dozens of couples from various backgrounds whose families and/or social circle had expectations for their wedding that had more to do with social customs than the wedding itself. We’ve come across parents who expected a locked card box, a stack of envelopes for guests to use at the welcome table, or a detailed sign in sheet that corresponded with each guests envelopes for an official accounting of each guests gift. People often have specific thoughts about dinner service order, seating assignments according to status, and/or photos with each table during dinner service. We’ve run into families from different parts of the country who wanted to incorporate regional wedding traditions like Pennsylvania cookie tables, grooms cakes, University fight songs, second line parades, burying the bourbon — the list goes on and on. My own husband’s family had a tradition of playing three very specific songs in order honoring his grandparents – you just never know until you ask. Usually, these things are very achievable – but only through planning ahead. Trust me, it’s very hard to come up with a stack of envelopes or an extra table to accommodate a surprise cake on the spot.
Explanations help your guests join in on the fun. Having an interfaith or multicultural wedding can be at the same time both beautiful and confusing if half the guests are not familiar with what’s happening. Listing ceremony explanations in your program can be a way to bridge the gap and bring all guests into the fold to celebrate all the different traditions happening during your wedding. Often guests are curious about new traditions and want to be involved but are afraid to ask if they don’t understand something. Help them celebrate with you! This goes for the reception entertainment, decor, food selections and other things as well – helpful signs explaining why things are important to the couple are a great way to ensure all your guests understand your new family dynamic and traditions, and enjoy all aspects of your wedding.
We’re definitely big believers of doing things your own way, but also feel there is a way to honor your family, culture or heritage in a way that also speaks to your modern life and wedding. With a little foresight and planning, adding these traditions to your event will make it a real experience for your guests and grow the closeness between your and your partner and your families.