By Casey Nilsson
Planning a backyard wedding is tough stuff. Every detail, from the restroom trailer to the wine pairings to the entrees to the diameter of paper lanterns, must be thoroughly discussed, debated, struck from the record and so on. It’s too easy to forget that those details belong in the “reception” category, not the “wedding” category. Remember the wedding — you know, those few, delicate moments when you lock eyes, hold hands, laugh at the awkwardness of it all, cry at the beauty of it all, say your vows, exchange rings and kiss?
My fiance and I were engaged last August, but it took all of eight months for us to start talking seriously about our ceremony (as in this month, when I booked our officiant). We’ve been so consumed with setting the reception scene that we almost forgot what it was really all about. Us. Our love. Our future.
Since an embarrassing moment when my officiant asked how we envisioned our ceremony (she saved me after I babbled a few “uhhs” and “uhms”), I’ve been brainstorming ways to make our wedding feel like the big show, not the waiting room before the free food and booze bonanza. Here are a few unusual ideas I’ve discovered and, as always, leave your own tips and advice in the comments.
The Music: Instead of trotting down the aisle to the “Wedding March,” have a close friend or family member strum a few chords of a classically romantic tune on the guitar or ukulele (I’m thinking Elvis’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” is a winner). Don’t know any musically gifted people? Hire a three-piece band that fits your scene, with a banjo for the bucolic or a violin for the upscale.
The Witnesses: Traditionally, bridesmaids and groomsmen exist to serve as witnesses. But some couples — including the one I’m in — have chosen to skip on the bridal party. If you, too, are planning a slimmed down ceremony, see if the officiant can start with a short statement welcoming friends and family, calling all guests (yes, all of them) to serve as witnesses to the couple’s union. It’ll bring the group together in a beautiful way, while preserving the integrity of tradition.
The Readings: A fair amount of ceremony readings come from the Bible, but if you’re not overly religious it might be more personal to have close friends read favorite passages of poetry or prose. We’re considering a few lines from a letter written by poet John Keats, though other romantic writers include Emily Dickenson, E. E. Cummings, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and, of course, Shakespeare. And if you found a great paragraph in the latest harlequin, don’t be ashamed to use it. It’s your wedding, after all.
The Twist: Couples often incorporate a symbolic union into the ceremony using all sorts of props. Some light a candle, fittingly called a union candle. Others dangle their wedding bands on ribbon strung before the guests so each can give a silent blessing. If you and your partner are from different states, it might be sweet to do an earth union, where your two lands come together by pouring dirt or sand from each state into one jar.
I’ve stumbled upon another idea — not involving open flames or pouring dirt near our fancy outfits; that spells disaster — that seems about right: The sealing of love letters. In the days before the wedding, each person writes a letter detailing all the reasons why he or she is marrying the other. During the ceremony, the officiant explains that the letters may be opened in two scenarios: a moment of serious doubt, so they can reflect on why they got married in the first place, and a moment of celebration, their tenth wedding anniversary. The letters are then sealed by the couple and handed off for placement in a box or frame. I’ve seen some variations that lock the letters up with a bottle of wine from the reception, but I don’t know if I’d want to drink our Rex Goliath ten years down the line (though it is delicious today!).
The Vows: A career words-woman, I would’ve felt comfortable crafting some fine phrases of love. But my man cringed at the idea of tripping over his words in front of dozens of people, including his new in-laws. It’s his day, too, so we’ll opt for the traditional “Till death do us part” bit, and will seal our heartfelt, private thoughts in white envelopes.
Some vows I’ve browsed include several lines that begin with “I promise,” sprinkled with words of commitment and innocent jokes; others ditch the vow format altogether and function as declarations of love. If you’re planning to write your own, bear in mind the best wedding advice I’ve gotten to date: Keep it sweet, simple and true to you.
Casey Nilsson is the copy-editing extraordinaire for Rhode Island Monthly magazine. She’d like to marry her dreamboat, throw a personal, romantic reception and avoid angering any immediate family members — in less than eight months and for about $8,000. Follow her thrifty, DIY journey here or on Pinterest @cnilssonRIM.