Monday, October 7, 2013


DEBORAH CROMBIE:  My lovely daughter was married a week ago last Saturday, and it was not the wedding that we have come to believe is conventional.

My daughter did wear a bridal gown (I never imagined I could be so emotional over a DRESS) but other than that it was design-your-own-wedding. The groom wore waistcoat and slacks but no tie or coat. Venue, a ranch. An afternoon private ceremony on the barn porch with family and matron-of-honor and best man. No walking down the aisle. The bride had two sets of parents in attendance.  The wedding vows included some references to the Green Bay Packers...

Then, in the evening, a big party with barbecue. There were multiple bundt cakes instead of a wedding cake. Everyone brought their favorite snapshots of the couple. Instead of a guest book (and who ever looks at those after the wedding?) the couple had the guests sign stones, which they put in a big glass hurricane that will go on their coffee table.

My best friend since elementary school did all the flowers, and they were spectacular.  My husband took the photos and did a bang-up job.

The bride and groom were relaxed and happy, and everyone had a great time. The only thing that went wrong was that we ran out of champagne...

And yes, the bride did wear her cowboy boots with her dress. This was Texas, after all...

So, REDS, is this weird? Do you think it's important to stick to tradition for big life occasions?  Have you?  (And who invented all those rules, anyway???)

RHYS BOWEN: I had a very low-key wedding because we got married in Australia and really had no close friends or family there, except for my uncle and John's cousin. And we were leaving the next day on a ship bound for Hawaii. So I made an ivory linen short dress and coat, John wore a dark suit. But both my girls have had the traditional wedding with all the trimmings, and a lot of fun it was preparing for them too.

But my son is getting married soon and he and his fiancée wanted a wedding "in nature". So they have rented a rural property with lots of land, above Clear Lake. There is a cabin that sleeps 20 and some yurts in the grounds so that everyone can stay the night. They plan an outdoor ceremony then a barbecue and a ranch-style breakfast the next morning. Should be fun, but I'm wondering what one wears in the middle of "nature"?

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Rhys...fig leaves? ;-) I feel as if I've told my wedding story husband's assistant planned most of it. I won't say I wasn't interested in the proceedings, but once the venue (The Boathouse in Central Park) and the date had been chosen I started to glaze over when asked questions about how I wanted the napkins folded and whether or not there should be sprigs of rosemary all over. Fact is, I went to a basketball game that day. Didn't even get a blowdry. Luckily the game didn't go into overtime. As it was, my matron of honor was hyperventilating waiting for me to arrive at the Plaza. Knicks lost to the Cavs. To add insult to injury the Cavs were staying at The Plaza. Other than that a good time was had by all. Gondola rides on the lake, lots of bubbly..some traditions must be upheld..

HALLIE EPHRON: Rhys, you'd better pack sturdy shoes and rain gear.

It rained on my wedding day. It was a small gathering at my parents' New York apartment, about as far from nature as you can get.

We were a fairly oblivious couple, but hey, it was the 60s. My adorable short white Mexican lace "wedding dress" came from a store in the Village and I completely forgot about buying anything to wear on my head or music to "walk down the aisle" (aka emerge from my parents' bedroom). My dad ran over to the local public library and borrowed a record with Mendelssohn's Wedding March.

I had a wonderful time helping my daughter plan her wedding. It was sort of a hybrid. Outdoors, clambake, on an island off the coast of Maine, her sister and a friend officiated (ministers for a day), but the bride wore a gorgeous wedding dress and the groom was oh so handsome, clean shaven, and in a suit. Many of the guests came in shorts and played foosball and horseshoes after. It was lovely and it was exactly what THEY wanted -- which is, after all, what really matters.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, Rhys. I'd say a floaty dress, and flats. And I hope not Wellies. Take bug spray. And a shawl. Watch for poison ivy. (Hush, Hank, it could be gorgeous.)

I remember my mother and I talking about this at one point..the reason there are traditions is so that people have a structure for what to DO. If you veer off into newness, people start worrying.  Like Rhys asking what to wear. In a more traditional wedding--even at someone's home--it's predictable and easy for guests. I always read in the NYT about weddings in the deep forest or at ski resorts. Sigh. Just send me the photo, I say.

My first (!) wedding was in Acapulco--both our families went and we were married at my parents' vacation home. We went to the town market and swooped up millions of fresh flowers that morning...and were married by a somewhat-suspicious looking minister I swear right out of --oh, what's that movie? Night of the Iguana. I had the slinkiest white dress, just a long tube of sculptury white, which I can't even imagine my body fitting into now..

My second (!) wedding was at a gorgeous mansion in Dedham MA, so wonderful, and we were married in a rather Chinese-y ceremony by a friend who was made JP for the day, and then by my then-husband's Tai Chi master.  I was in Carolina Herrerra, a curvy heavy white silk jacket with a peplum, and a huge white chiffon skirt. Oh, I LOVED it.

Shall we go on to wedding three? I forgot what we were even talking about here...

I guess the key of any event is to make your guests comfortable--and to remember your goal. Debs, sounds like you did that!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I do think it's important to stick with tradition, for the reasons Hank enumerated: when people have an idea of what to expect, it releases them from the anxiety of wondering what to wear, how to react and wondering what will or won't be appropriate. Part of the problem, as near as I can tell, is that the modern wedding-industrial complex encourages brides and their families to view recent innovations as rock-ribbed verities, without which no wedding could possibly be valid. Thus things like the mandatory bridesmaids weekend, the gift that covers the cost of the plate, the calligraphy place cards, the wedding video, etc., etc., etc.

You want real tradition? Both sets of my grandparents were married in a minster's parlour, with the bride in a new dress that she would continue to wear for Sunday Best in the years to come.  That, brides of America, is how the vast majority of weddings happened 80 years ago. Even families that could afford to have a white dress and a party kept it to close friends and family. I have a wonderful 1920's era Emily Post ettiquette guide, where she outlines the most elegant wedding: vows at the local church in the morning, followed by coffee, punch, petit-fours and finger sandwiches at the bride's parents' house. No sit-down dinner, no DJ, no limousine or horse-drawn carriage to whisk the newlyweds away - just a bride and groom very eager to be off as quickly as possible, because in those days, the best part wasn't hanging out at the reception videotaping a choreographed dance with the wedding party in order to get more hits on You Tube.

DEBS: Rhys, fig leaf, indeed! And yurts? Really? You'll have to give us a full report!

Last spring I did a panel at an event with Judith Martin, a.k.a. Miss Manners, where she spoke about her latest book, Miss Manners' Guide to a Surprisingly Distinguished Wedding. (She is very sharp and funny, by the way, if you ever have the fortune to hear her speak.) 

I meant to buy the book, but life sort of got in the way... But now, looking over the a list of her main points in an Amazon review, I think we--and I should say THEY, as the bride and groom planned everything and we just helped out as best we could-- hit the mark on them all. It certainly fit the sentiment of Julia's lovely definition of tradition.

The couple's biggest concern throughout was that the guests should feel comfortable and enjoy themselves. The wedding was a celebration, not a production, and if they continue in life with as much kindness and consideration as they showed that day, I think they are assured much happiness.

So, Gentle Readers (to quote Miss Manners,) what traditions do YOU feel are the ones worth keeping?

(Oh, and Julia, thanks for reminding us why the bride and groom used to be so eager to get away:-))


  1. I love this theme, of making sure people feel comfortable and can have a good time. (Hank, nothing wrong with "Three's a charm" - my older sister did the same and just celebrated her thirtieth anniversary with #3.)

    I came of "marriageable age" in the mid-seventies. In my gang, people either didn't get married until well into their thirties or they had potluck weddings on a Pacific coast bluff with homemade dresses and wedding shirts. So I never even learned all those traditions about the garter and the various kisses and feeding each other the cake.

    My sons' cousin recently had a lovely wedding in a Wyoming mountain valley. All the young women wore cowboy boots, including the bride, and everyone felt relaxed and comfortable. It's the new thing! (Indeed, your daughter is very lovely, Debs!)

  2. How lovely that your daughter had a wedding that was what she wanted it to be . . . .

    I do love weddings . . . and tradition . . . but I think such an important event must be whatever is most meaningful to the bride and groom. Aren’t weddings really about family and friends and celebrating with those you love?

    For myself, I figured I was getting one shot at the whole wedding thing, and it was all that tradition that I’d always deemed essential for a wedding. It was late in the day, everything was white [there was lots of snow on the ground]; I wanted candles in the Church, so we had set up all the Christmas candelabras and there was candleshine everywhere . . . it was absolutely perfect . . . .

  3. I love it when you can see the couple's personalities coming through in the celebration - sometimes that translates into a more traditional wedding, and sometimes it doesn't!

    Our wedding was very traditional (mostly because "it would have killed Grandma" if it hadn't been...), but there were three things I cared enough about to pay attention to: I had to be able to wear a "real bra" under the dress, no flowers that looked like they belonged at my dad's funeral home, and comfortable shoes.

    The shoes were blue mule-type Sketchers tennis shoes (worn with white socks). Ten years later they are still my favorite part of the wedding (aside from my husband, of course!). People's faces when I hiked up my skirt to walk up the stairs at the altar were priceless. Worth the entire $21.99.

  4. As one who is the midst of planning a very non-traditional weddding - now that my partner of 15yrs and I CAN finally get married - it is nice to hear of successful weddings that break with tradition.

    Deb, that wedding photo is wonderful. They look so relaxed and are clearly having a great time. And in the end, isn't that what is most important?

    All my best to them and they begin a new chapter in their lives together!

  5. Weddings have gotten so crazy. We just went to a lovely one this weekend--25-year old first-time bride marrying a 44-year old divorced father. She was in the Vera Wang fantasy, and the adorable 8-year old son was the ringbearer. The reception was at the country club, black tie. Much grumbling ensued, but to my husband's utter shock he was not the only one in a tux. If they did any of the usual things, like throwing the bouquet, we were already gone. The couple did not even come to our table.

    One of my daughters, after living with her man for six years, had the big blowout do. It was an excuse for an awesome party, and that was 13 years ago. My youngest daughter had a very small group at Jungle Island in Miami, and her girlfriend got ordained online so she could marry them. It was also an awesome party, even though small.

    The worst thing about weddings now is all the accoutrements for their families and friends: Showers galore, destination weddings requiring travel and possibly passports, and the bachelorette parties! All before the wedding gift is purchased. My middle daughter is going broke trying to keep up with all her college and work friends getting hitched.

    My first wedding was traditional. Fat lot of good that did. My second was in 1982 and we got married in Vegas, which I shared a couple weeks ago. Nothing about it was typical, and yet it worked for us. Isn't that the important thing?

  6. PS Deb, may your daughter and son-in-law have a long, happy and healthy marriage.


  7. oh, Debs - I think your lovely daughter's wedding was spot on perfect. She looks happy, relaxed and . . . PERFECT!

    I wish them years and years of happiness, love and laughter

  8. Our wedding was non-traditional in the sense that we both were women, and in 2005, people were just starting to wrap their minds around that idea.

    Back in those days, you had to find a jurisdition that permitted same-sex nuptials. We chose Quebec City because it's so romantic, and romance is, after all, the most important wedding tradition. We both wore dresses and lovely corsages and had a cake decked with orchids and lots of bubbly. Everyone who attended (even my politically conservative brother) seemed caught up in our joy.

    Of course now I live in same-sex wedding central, because last fall, Maine was one of the states where voters embraced marriage equality. Unsurprisingly, this summer has been packed with weddings.

    So many longtime couples never imagined when they got together 20,30 even 40 years ago, that in their lifetime, they would be able to marry. My day job allows me the privilege of working with many such couples, and so I get to hear all about their celebration plans. I make sure there's always a fresh box of Kleenex in my conference room to dab the happy tears because, boy, do they flow.

  9. Congratulations to brides and grooms and mothers-of-the . . . and all. My sister was married on Thursday to a woman who has been her life partner since 1979! Glory be.

    We are in the midst of wedding planning. Two daughters have had fairly traditional weddings, but the baby is looking to be UNIQUE. We are booked at "Club Getaway" in Kent, CT.

    I am praying for sunshine, and do not plan to go on the zip line or the ropes course.

  10. Oh, LOVE the cowboy boots! And tell your dear daughter to remember to have fun.

    Brenda, I always cry at weddings, too. xoo

  11. Most lavish wedding we ever went to was on Long Island at a Hilton. The groom was Indian, the bride Jewish. TWO ceremonies, THREE days of fun and feast that began with an Indian-costumed drummer marching through the hotel in the early morning, went on to feature the groom riding through the parking lot from the front door to the back door of the Hilton on a white stallion. Sadly there was no liquor so we kept detouring to the bar to refuel.

  12. Oh yeah, there was a Jumbotron so all the guests could see.

  13. Kristopher, congratulations on your upcoming celebration! And Denise Ann, congrats to your sister!

    Hallie, I was once invited to visit an Indian family near London who were in the midst of a week's celebration of their son's wedding. The entire back garden was filled with marquees, there were buffets of Indian foods and sweets, floor pillows and beautiful silk hangings everywhere. And this wasn't even the day of one of the scheduled parties! I was invited to the henna painting the next day, but unfortunately couldn't go. I still regret that...

    Interesting that no one has really talked about $$$ and the wedding-industrial complex. My daughter's wedding cost a fraction of what is considered "normal" to spend on a wedding these days--normal being an amount that would make a down payment on a very nice house or buy a luxury car. Or take the couple around the world for six months.

    And none of those things make the couple any more "married."

  14. I love reading all these stories of weddings, and especially loved the picture of your daughter, Deb. She looks like every bride should look--but many can't manage it.

    My own wedding, 1980, (second--the one that "took") was on the bluffs just north of Mendocino. I was in a floaty paisley (paisley!) dress surrounded by a dozen friends. At the last minute we ran into a young man practicing his guitar and asked if he wanted to play at our wedding. So he was with us.

    Anybody remember Marilyn Wallace? Marilyn and I made several small cakes for a good friend's backyard wedding. Beautiful cakes. The only problem was that it was the only day of the year that the temperature got to be 100 degrees. Our icing started melting. We were frantic. We ended up setting each cake in an individual bowl filled with ice.

  15. Debs,
    My nephew and his wife had a wedding very much like your daughter and son-in-law, right down to the bride's cowboy boots! She spent part of her childhood in Texas before the family moved to NC. They got married in NC at the home of a family friend who owns a large, historic house on a lake. The ceremony and reception were both outdoors. The reception was a backyard barbecue! The bridal gown was three-quarter length in pale yellow, with lots of beads on the bodice, and a brown sash. She wore a yellow shrug over the gown. The bridesmaids all wore brown dresses, and the bride had requested simply that they wear a brown dress in any style that was flattering to them. Some already owned such a dress. There was no actual aisle except for a make-shift one that the families created with bales of hay as a border; there were yellow flowers on the hay bales.

    The food was from an area barbecue restaurant but all the desserts (no traditional wedding cake) were made by family members.

    Some of the bridesmaids are moms, and they each carried their baby or toddler in their arms, along with their yellow flowers. The dads were able to take pictures of their wives and little ones without having to make sure little Johnny wasn't getting into trouble!

    My nephew and the best man and ushers wore clothing pretty much like what your son-in-law wore. Interesting...(I'm thinking the two couples would make good friends!)

    In the months prior to the wedding, my sister went shopping at thrift shops in CT, looking for yellow dishes and other items to be used at the reception. Since there are more of those stores in my part of CT, she came down here and we went out together to look for the plates. We ended up with about four different patterns, mostly dating back to the fifties, which was what the bride wanted. Placemats were in gingham and calico, and made mostly by the moms of the bride and groom.I think the bride made some of them, too.

    When guests checked in, there was a table set outside, with a digital camera and a printer. Each person had someone in line with them take his/her picture, which was then immediately printed out and tacked to a "memory board". (I use my photo from that day as my Facebook profile photo.)

    Of all the weddings I've ever attended, this was my favorite! It was even MORE special for me, because my sister (groom's mom) and my mother almost died when my sister was born. To see my sister all these years later at her own child's wedding brought tears to my eyes.

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  17. Next year will be our 30th wedding anniversary--and if anyone has any suggestions on how to celebrate that I'd love to hear them.

    The only "tradition" that matters to me is that, like Edith said, people feel comfortable and can have a good time. My poor mother-in-law, now dead, was not happy about our wedding. She looked liked she was standing in front of a firing squad in every photo. Of course the only way to have ensured her good time would have been to call off the wedding!

  18. Debs, your daughter and son-in-law look so happy and relaxed in the photos--and you're just lovely! Thanks for sharing.

    My first wedding was simply standing in front of a judge with with my late first husband and two friends. Nothing before or after. Lasted 18 years.

    My second wedding was a bigger deal. It was Ben's first, and he wanted a big event. I did it all myself. I made my two-piec ivory knit wedding dress. I did the flowers and decorations and made most of the food (except for the breads, bagels, and cream cheeses from the local kosher bagel house). We were married in The Writers Place in KC, then just newly opened. We entered to a recording of Holly Near singing "The Great Peace March" and processed out to her singing "Sky Dances." Our friend, a poet and Protestant seminary professor, married us. Another friend made the tallis Ben held over us while a third friend gave the baruchachai (sp?). We wrote our own marriage vows with Ben seeing marriage as education and me as a creative endeavor. Afterward, all the poets in Kansas City gave a reading of poems they'd written for us as the entertainment of the reception. We called it the Riverfront Reading at the Wedding. The editor of a big national literary magazine tended bar for us. People still talk about how much fun it was. (We forgot to cut the 5-layer wedding cake--which I also made--and my kids ate it afterward.) That marriage has lasted 21 years ad still going.

  19. Deborah, I think your daughter's wedding is just how weddings should be, fun and relaxed. My daughter and her husband chose to get married in Key West, where they lived for a year while she taught there. It was at the old fort overlooking the beach with just family and a few friends, and they said vows that they each wrote. We had a lovely wedding feast at a restaurant afterwards. We also had a big reception when they returned to our area a couple of months later to live, and many more friends and family attended that. It was all fun and very much reflected the couple. My daughter is a practical person and chose to use money we would have given her on a wedding to use on a house. I thought that made great sense. I just don't understand why people spend so much money on a wedding when they could use it on a part of their lives together that will last more than a day. I know that there are people who have money to do whatever they want, but I see people who could use that money elsewhere throwing it all onto the wedding day blowout.

  20. OH, my gosh..bridesmaids carrying the babies! That is ADORABLE!

    Jonathan and I had a croquembouche instead of a cake--everyone got a cream puff!

  21. Terry Shames: How nice to remember Marilyn Wallace. She was a terrific writer and a great teacher.

  22. Love all the wedding descriptions! And debs, your daughter is gorgeous.

  23. My wedding (43 years ago last week) was low-key. I only mention it because one of the nicest things my brother ever did for me was to save from the trash my father’s list of my wedding expenses. My father died just four years after our wedding and my mother (a thrower-outer) was moving. The list is a wonderful memory of my father’s personality.

    Our daughter’s wedding was planned, and mostly financed, by the bride and groom. (“Mom, we’re in our 30s, we can pay for our own wedding.”) They were married in the Philadelphia suburbs, in the same church her father and I were married in, but the reception was in downtown Philadelphia at one of their favorite restaurants. So we got a fancy bus to drive the guests from the city, where guests stayed, to the suburban church and then back into the city for the reception. On the way back the bride and groom rode on the bus and there was lots of champagne. Her father and I, however, were in the van we had transported the bride’s maids to the church in, and we missed the champagne bus ride. But the photos are great.

    And now for a gripe about other weddings we’ve been to – what’s with the music that’s so loud you can’t converse or even think straight?

  24. Neither Lillian nor I are Quaker, but we had a scroll made of all our vows, hand-painted with autumn leaves, and all our friends and family signed it as witnesses to our commitment. It's framed and hanging next to our actual wedding certificate, but it's the Quaker promise that we look to.

    There's a lot to be said for traditional ceremonies, but I do see the appeal of doing something that is uniquely yours.

  25. A Texas style wedding with a beautiful dress sounds wonderful.

    My first wedding was supposed to be in the house of a minister. He turned out to be a justice of the peace. We stood in front of his TV in his living room on Commonwealth Avenue in Brookline. His wife made him shut off the TV. That marriage lasted three months.

    My second wedding was in a church. I wore a white dress. We had a cake, beautiful food, champaigne, and lots of guests. People threw rice. We had a honeymoon. We had children. They grew up. They had children. We are still married.

    I officiated at my first wedding upstairs over a restaurant in the North End of Boston. Men stood every 6 feet along the wall around the edge of the room. They did not talk. They did not join the party. They just stood there and watched. The guests talked about trash and junk then flew home to Florida. I wished my little cousin good luck and took the green line home.

  26. It's just adorable :) Thanks, you really nailed it.