Sunday, July 11, 2010

Wedding Traditions

(News-Herald, July 8) Summer is not complete without weddings, and I had the privilege of attending a very nice one recently as a Plus One.
Plus One’s have all the fun at weddings—you don’t know any of these people, so it’s not necessary to sample that special cake that is one layer of class reunion plus one layer of family drama held together with the emotional frosting of fraughtness.
Weddings are loaded with traditions, old and new, official and unofficial, silly and sweet. All of these come with loaded subtext.
Sometimes the subtext is easy to figure out. The bridal subtext might be “Hey, Everybody! Look at Me! Me Me Me Me MEEEEEEEEEE!!” Any bride who starts a sentence with, “It’s my day and I’m entitled to….” just doesn’t understand the situation. Fortunately, it’s also traditional to forgive the bride for saying stupid things under pressure.
In the ceremony, fathers still “give away” their daughters, as if the wedding solemnizes a bill of sale. These days almost everybody gets that this is a teensy bit bizarre, but it’s one of those traditions that has such a powerful link to earlier generations (not to mention to the days when the bride was old enough to think about marriage, but too young to think about sexist patriarchy) that it remains irresistible.
For new traditions, I like the unity candle. Seeing the moms light the family candles is a nice piece of symbolism about the joining of two families, plus it gives the moms something to do while letting everyone get a good look at their outfits.
The only thing almost as obnoxious as self-involved brides are all the friends and family members who believe that the purpose of the occasion is for the bride and groom to publicly rank everyone they know in order of importance.
The correct offer for friends and family is “Whatever will help your special day go most smoothly.” But you have to really mean it, because often the true response to that is “We’ll just be happy to have you there.” In other words, come sit in a pew and be quiet.
Friends and family who insist on being given a place of prominence have led to all sorts of traditions from the made-up job (“Aunt Ethel, we would be so pleased if you would personally guard the punch bowl”) to the person who inserts himself into the reception (“Hey, everybody, listen up. Since I have always been a very important part of the life of my second cousin’s niece twice removed, I thought I should say something today…”). And the world would be a much better place if couples would stop buckling to pressure to lengthen their ceremony by including musical selections by relatives who don’t sing very well.
Divorced guests must behave themselves. When the ceremony gets to the parts about the power of love and the eternal nature of this bond, divorced guests may neither snicker sarcastically nor burst into bitter tears.
Some subtext is hopelessly garbled. Throwing rice symbolized fertility. Birdseed symbolized… small meals? Soap bubbles symbolize cleanliness?
At the reception guests may reveal their uglier sides (particularly if the wedding party takes six hours for pictures). Some traditions are a test—can the couple stand on their own two feet? The clinking glasses are just a way for folks to say, “Look what we can make them do! Dance, puppets, dance!! Bwa-ha-ha!” The cake cutting is even worse. Will you show everyone that your first loyalties are now to each other, or will you bow to peer pressure and entertain guests by demonstrating that your marriage, a few hours old, is just as layered with conflict and power struggles as everyone else’s. When new couples smash cake in each other’s faces, divorced guests get to react visibly.
The modern wedding reception is run by some combination of the photographer and the dj. Select your photographer for two qualities: speed and unobtrusiveness. Photographers can turn a reception into a massive photo op, and couples end up doing a series of things for no purpose other than taking a picture of it. Nobody gets out their wedding album to say, “Hey, remember that time when we posed for the camera?” Make your photographer chase you around.
A good reception dj can sense the mood of the crowd and is personal without trying to be the star of the show. And of course a good reception dj understands one simple fact—nobody is truly married until they’ve done the chicken dance.

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