The funny thing about weddings is there is so much pressure. Pressure from all sides. Pressure to live up to. When you make choices perceived as non-traditional (by which I mean, basically anything) it seems like everyone has something to say about it. Why don’t you just color inside the lines already? But the wedding industry has also invested a lot of money in making you feel like you should personalize everything about your wedding and make it super indie (while, obviously, still also jumping through all the traditional hoops, because clearly you must have it all at once). Which, when you’re making more traditional choices, can make you feel not good enough. I feel super passionately about both of these issues because I lived in a middle ground where half of my choices were super non-traditional, and half of them were super traditional. I thought that was awesome. The world just thought it should criticize me twice (shut up, world!). So I’m thrilled to introduce Jessica, talking ever so smartly about owning tradition.
I would consider myself the traditional bride. I think my husband and I had a traditional wedding. And I feel like society and the wedding industry overall finds traditional—well, trite and boring. This was something I grappled with throughout our entire engagement. Growing up, and even more specifically, after I had started dating my future-husband, I thought a lot about weddings—weddings in general, my wedding in particular, etc. I liked the pretty of it all, but even more so, I liked that weddings meant something. They were making a statement about your love for each other, usually in front of a lot of other people who are important to you. So, I got wrapped up in the traditions of getting married.
I always knew I wanted traditional vows. My husband and I did not write our own, even though we would have had plenty to say, because I liked the notion that we would be saying the same words our parents did, our grandparents did, and that many people after us would also say to commit their lives to each other. I liked the united feeling with other married people, making it work every day, making the choice to love each other, even when it’s tough, in good times and bad, sickness and health, and—well, you know the rest.
But as we got further into planning and I was faced with the tiniest of decisions I never dreamed I’d ever have to make in my life (satin chair covers or cotton? What?), I also found myself struggling against the “traditional” that I thought I always wanted because I felt like our wedding would be less exciting, less meaningful, less unique, and less fun if we followed traditions.
My husband I are weird people. We sometimes talk to each other in random accents just because we feel like it and make funny faces out in public to be odd. We have unique tastes in things like music and hobbies, and I wanted our wedding to reflect that. I didn’t want people to think we were boring folks because we had a boring, traditional wedding.
I was voraciously reading wedding magazines and looking at wedding blogs at other spectacular weddings that had all these untraditional elements. You could really see the personalities of the bride and groom through their untraditional choices. So more and more, I worried that traditional actually did mean boring, and I thought we would somehow be looked down upon if we followed in the footsteps of those who married before us.
But if I could tell my pre-wedding self one thing now that the wedding day has come and gone, it would be to relax and stop worrying about the impression your wedding will make! I spent so much time trying to find unique things for our wedding that I caused myself unnecessary stress. (I can’t tell you how many times I went back and forth on damn escort cards. At first it was ticket stubs because we like going to concerts, then it was postcards because we like traveling, and finally I just decided to buy a kit at a craft store and make simple ones myself. They were still pretty, and they were functional.) I say unnecessary because our wedding was everything I wanted it to be—it was traditional, but we found ways to make those traditional elements still say “us.”
We got married in a Christian Church and had a traditional Christian ceremony. But in between the readings from the Bible (that we hand-picked) and the pastor’s sermon, our best man pretended to lose my ring and completely lightened the mood. It was perfect. The flower girl, who had sprinted down the aisle in lieu of actually sprinkling petals, fell asleep at her mother’s feet (one of the bridesmaids, who happened to be pregnant with her next child!). The picture of her sleeping on the stairs with her thumb in her mouth is one of my favorites from the ceremony.
We chose to have a string quartet and used all traditional wedding music (Canon in D, Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, etc.) instead of current songs we enjoy. I re-thought this many times. But once I heard the strings start playing the opening strands of my song and saw my mom crying on my left (she walked me down the aisle) and saw my soon-to-be-husband’s face at the end of the aisle, I knew it was the right choice.
I had always associated these songs with getting married, and now I was the one getting married. After having heard these songs time and time again, both at other weddings and just in general, they still felt special and unique when they were played at my own wedding. I got goose bumps and teared up as I walked down the aisle, even if it wasn’t a unique song no one had heard before. Perhaps because it wasn’t a song no one had heard before.
Many couples today shun the bouquet toss and garter toss. I questioned my husband on this often—should we do it? Should we forego it? Will anyone participate? Does it seem outdated? We decided to keep it in because I found a great song I wanted to use for my toss (“I Know What Boys Like” by The Waitresses, if you’re wondering) and for the garter retrieval (“Hot for Teacher” by Van Halen because, well, I’m a teacher), and my husband thought his friends would be into it. I am so glad we kept it. One of my bridesmaids broke a dress strap jumping and lunging for the bouquet, and the look on Rick’s best man’s face when he caught the garter was priceless. It was one of the funniest memories I have of our wedding and our friends, and I wouldn’t have traded that for the world.
One tradition I actually wanted to fight was the clinking of the glasses to make the bride and groom kiss. A weird tradition to try to buck, right? But, I didn’t like the idea of kissing on command. However, my husband and mother thought it was cute, so we found a way to do it that fit our personality better. If someone wanted us to kiss, they had to stand up and sing us a love song. I was unsure if we’d get any takers and thought I maybe should have just followed tradition on this one. But I am so glad I didn’t.
Not only did my uncle and some of Rick’s cousins oblige us, but it led to our entire wedding party serenading us to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” reading the lyrics off someone’s cell phone. Standing there with my new husband, arm in arm, watching our bridal party members and closest friends sing to us off-key, sometimes struggling with the words, was one of the times at our wedding I felt the most loved.
Looking back on our wedding, it could be described as traditional, but I also think it was us. We carefully chose all the special dance songs for our reception and even planned most of the playlist our DJ played at our reception, since music is important to us. But we also let him play four different Ke$ha songs when tipsy wedding party members requested them. We ate delicious food and cake and danced the night away with wonderful family and friends who came out to support us. We found the right mix of tradition with elements that were special to us. It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. And traditional doesn’t have to be boring and void of personality.
I think tradition is what you make of it. No one’s wedding will be exactly like ours, but I cherish the fact that the vows we said and the promises we made are part of a community of people who made those same vows and promises on their wedding day. “Trite” traditions like the bouquet toss can be made fun and unique if it fits your personality and the personality of your guests. Some of my absolute favorite memories from our wedding come from the traditions I so vehemently tried to fight while planning it.
At the end of it all, our wedding day was perfectly us, from the unique elements, like our cake topper that showed a “Still Shopping” sign in place of a bride, taking pictures on a playground to show off our goofy side, and posing with golf clubs because Rick and I have golfed our whole lives, to the traditional cake cutting and father/daughter dance. Don’t worry so much about what other people want or think of your wedding or how traditional or untraditional it is.
I always worried our wedding wouldn’t be cool enough, and I wouldn’t be a super chill, to-hell-with-tradition type of bride. But that’s OK. Tradition doesn’t always have to be bad, or overdone, or trite. You can make traditional your own type of traditional, and it still can be cool and fun and wonderful and all the other adjectives you want to use to describe your wedding day.
Do what feels right for you; don’t worry about what people will think or if it’s been done before. You just might surprise yourself and find that the traditional elements you so passionately fought against end up being what you cherish the most.