Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Photographer From Hell

I recently officiated a wedding for a very gentle, soft-spoken couple who selected a Japanese garden for their ceremony. Their lighting was subtle, and their understated celebration promised to be enhanced by the sound of a small waterfall, and birds singing. Then the photographer arrived, dragging her step ladder and her attitude behind her. The fact that she looked like somebody's kindly grandmother only added to the irony that her initial snideness soon gave way to pure venom, and verbal abuse. The bride -- who was intensely shy anyway -- soon gave way to tears, and her carefully applied make-up threatened to run down her face. I waited for somebody, somewhere, to say something. Nobody did. They were either too intimidated -- or too shocked -- to react.

I have only one rule as an officiant: nobody makes my bride cry. And I mean nobody. So, I very quietly stepped in and made some threats that will remain between me, Mrs. Satan, and the spirit of my mother who taught me to behave better than I actually did. However, the photographer reined in her serpent's tongue, and I engaged the services of the wedding coordinator to make sure that she didn't unleash on my hapless bride the minute my back was turned.

I overstepped my bounds. It is usually not appropriate for the officiant to engage in tussles with other vendors without the specific permission of the couple. However, I knew the day was about to be ruined for a young woman and her sweet new husband, and I didn't want it to happen.

The photographer is not in charge of the day. Nor is the DJ, the officiant, or the caterer. The wedding is the province of the couple being married. When that simple fact is not respected, disaster can strike. Or, I will...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sand Ceremony: Blending a Family With Young and Grown Children

The sand ceremony is a versatile unity observance. In its most simple form, the bridal couple pours two containers of sand into a third empty vessel to symbolize the blending of the particles of their lives to create something altogether new that will never be separated again. It's a wonderful visual of what has just occurred spiritually.

In the case of a couple bringing children into a marriage -- especially children of varying ages -- the sand ceremony can be a way for the entire blended family to participate in a ritual action together. Each child can have a separate vial of sand of a different color and add it to the family "mix." In the instance that the ages of the children vary and an older child isn't comfortable pouring sand with a toddler, or a child of any age is unable to be present at the wedding, the parent of the child may add sand on behalf of his or her son or daughter to the container.

The implicit message of the sand ceremony is, "You are everything you were before, and now you have a family who surrounds you."

This is a reassuring message for anybody at any time -- but especially for the child of a parent who is remarrying.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Special Observances and Specialty Ceremonies

A quick trip to the Internet will yield many suggestions for special observances within a wedding or unity ceremony. They range from the beautiful to the “are you kidding me?” and from the sacred to the silly. Here are a few that I have incorporated many times into weddings and celebrations.

The unity candle is one of most well know side ceremonies in the wedding. It is usually done with two taper candles and one large candle. The tapers are lit before the ceremony, sometimes by the mothers of the bride and groom. During the ceremony the bride and groom take the tapers and light the middle candle signifying two people becoming one family unit. Sometimes other candles can be lit in honor of children in the family. A unity candle in an outdoor ceremony can sometimes be a challenge. I recommend that a tea light in a votive holder to be lit and placed on the table in case the wind blows out the tapers and it is needed to ignite the wicks.

A blown-out candle is only a minor inconvenience, and not an omen. It in no way reflects on the future prospects of the marriage.

The sand ceremony can be an alternative to a unity candle for some couples. Containers are needed -- one container to pour the sand into, and smaller containers that the sand is poured from. Plain or colored sand can be found at craft stores, or sand can be collected from beaches from prior vacation destinations, from the desert, etc. This ceremony can be created for just the couple or can include as many people as they desire. The bride and groom pour their two containers of sand into the vessel simultaneously. A small amount of sand can be left in each container to symbolize that although the couple is joined, both people remain individuals. If desired, other family members can be asked to pour a container of sand into the vessel. I have created a passage that is read while the sand is poured.

Hand-binding is also called hand-fasting. It appears in most cultures in one form or the other, and in many major religions. Its meaning is essentially the same from culture to culture and religion to religion, in that it is symbolic of the couple’s “oneness” and unity. The form I use is basically Celtic. I ask the bride and groom place their hands on top of each other, and then drape a decorated cord around them to symbolize that the couple has bound their lives together. We can also make a “sandwich” of hands when a couple has children they want to include in the ceremony as a symbol that everybody is now tied together as a family.

The rose ceremony is used to thank or honor guests or family members. A rose or other flower is handed to the honored person in the gathering. I usually write the reason for the rose presentation into the ceremony. In one ceremony, the roses were given to the co-workers in honor of a co-worker who had just passed away. Often the ceremony is used to thank parents and grandparents for being there for the couple throughout their lives.

Another unity ceremony is a wine ceremony. Three glasses -- one empty, one with white wine, and one with red wine -- are placed on a table. The bride pours the white wine, while the groom pours the red wine into the empty glass. They then sip from the glass of the combined wines. The desired effect is a pink wine, and often the color is much better than the actual taste. However, since the ceremony is symbolic, most couples don’t worry too much about how the blend actually works together except for the hue.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Bridal Battles

I’m what is often called a secular or civil officiant. In short, I do mostly weddings and funerals, and other life celebrations of one kind or the other. On a recent Saturday, I was called to officiate at the wedding of a particularly nice couple, who were getting married despite ferocious opposition from her parents. The groom was African American, his bride was Anglo, her daughter was multiracial, and they are expecting a baby — a detail that had sent her parents into a moralistic rage.

Each half of the couple was well-mannered, well-educated, well-spoken, gainfully employed, and completely serious about the commitment they were making together. Her grandmother and aunt were on hand. His parents and godparents had accompanied him. Everyone in attendance was gracious, kind, and loving — in direct contrast to her parents, who refused to attend, had made absolutely ridiculous threats and statements, and kept their supposedly treasured daughter in tears on what should have been a happy day.

I sat with the bride for awhile as she blinked back her tears. I said to her, “Nobody has to get married these days. It isn’t required in many people’s minds. You two are exchanging vows because you love each other, you want your children to be raised in a stable home, and you believe you are ready to make sacred promises to each other and God. If that isn’t reason enough for happiness, then nothing is. Don’t let anybody destroy the joy of this day for you and Allen. And don’t let anybody cast dispersions on your innocent children.”

When she and her groom walked down the path of the little garden where I waited to marry them, they were both smiling. And I thought of what her parents had denied themselves because they wanted to “teach her a lesson.” They won’t have memories of their own daughter looking beautiful, and smiling into the face of a very fine man. They didn’t get to see their six-year old granddaughter help me with the rings, and turn the pages of my book. They won’t have any firsthand memories at all of what was a sweet and sacred day.

They won’t be able to erase the memory of them that now everybody has — even I have it, and I have never met them face to face. To all concerned, they are the ones who abandoned their daughter and granddaughter, and would not take the high road. But most of all, they are just losers.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Shifting Sands

The sand ceremony has become an increasingly requested unity observance within a wedding ceremony. The basic premise is that each member of a couple pours a vial of colorful sand into a larger container, and the grains from the couple's vials mix together so that the grains can never be separated again. The sand ceremony is especially appropriate when families are being blended by a marriage, and children are coming along for the ride on the journey on which their parents have embarked.

A bridal couple with children often opts to include the children in the sand ceremony. However, when a child of a bride or groom does not want to participate directly, there is another way to keep the symbolism intact.

A vial of sand representing the absent or non-participating child can be added to his or her parent's vial. And then the combined vial is added to the mix. The whole point of the sand ceremony is that the grains of sand are intermingled to create something new and different.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Buy or Rent?

Despite the changes in contemporary wedding practices -- the groom can no longer just "show up" on the big day -- the bride is usually the one under the fashion microscope. However, the groom does have some decisions to make. To tux, or not not tux -- that is the question.

A bit of retail reality right now is that sales of dress and formal wear are so soft they are squishy. Perhaps a "right" wedding wear decision for a man right now is to consider buying. Especially if a suit is involved. For just about the price of a rental, a beautiful suit can be all his. And he can wear it later. (I know, that's what bridesmaids always hear about their dresses -- but in the case of a dark suit for a man, it happens to be true.)

There are sales galore right now, even at the high end stores. Check out the bargains before you commit to a rental. When it comes time for the next job interview, funeral, or even anniversary dinner out, he will be happy to have something appropriate to wear already hanging in his closet.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Selection Process -- It's a Two-Way Street

When I first became a wedding officiant, I accepted almost every invitation to officiate that was extended to me. It never occurred to me to decline a request, and I almost never did, unless there was a scheduling conflict involved. However, over the years I have learned that if the little voice in my head says "run like the wind," I politely decline a wedding and go on with my life.

The times that I fought my own instincts were memorable. In most instances, I had hoped that my misgivings would be proven wrong, but they never were.

I am much more careful these days. I have found that my own perference is for smaller, lower profile weddings. I still do many large, fancy weddings -- but I often feel like a prop in somebody's Broadway production. If I catch a whiff ahead of time of anything resembling an upcoming episode for reality television, I try to suggest another officiant with more love of show business than I possess.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sand Ceremony: Who Brings the Stuff?

Every wedding planning guide breaks down the to-do list according to responsibilities. Although the specifics may vary a little bit, the gist is the same: every task has an assigned steward.

I recently officiated a wedding for a couple who had indicated that they wanted to include a sand ceremony as part of their celebration. I wrote the appropriate text, emailed them the entire ceremony ahead of time, and we went over the details at the rehearsal. Except the part about who would bring the vessels, and the preferred shades of sand.

Since the sand ceremony is a highly personal and personalized contemporary ritual, I assumed that this couple would select (and later, keep) their own vessels, their own colors of sand, and bring them with them to the wedding. Hundreds of my other couples have done so, without incident.

However, I should never have assumed anything. And they arrived for their wedding well-coiffed, beautifully dressed, and empty handed. The venue owner and I quickly improvised with some lovely little vases and sugar -- so nobody was any the wiser.

From now on, I will travel with a sand ceremony set in my car, just in case. And I will remember to remind a couple who requests a sand ceremony that they should select their choices of the items needed, and bring them to the wedding.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Double Bridezillas

Many commitment ceremonies -- especially those involving two women -- resemble traditional weddings in their emotion, structure, and execution. However, should the officiant be faced with two women who are also bridezillas, the hormones, hysteria, and mayhem can be doubly difficult.

I recently spent some quality time with a professional wedding planner -- the adoring sister of one of the bridezillas in an upcoming commitment ceremony -- and she said that she was having nightmares involving yards of hot pink tulle and lilies. I offered her as much sympathy as I could, and we discussed strategies to keep both of the first-time brides from reducing a happy occasion into a bomb crater.

Saying, "No, the dress doesn't make you look fat" to one nervous bride is a matter of routine. To try to convince two nervous brides is another matter altogether.