* Noelle, Administrative Assistant at a ballet school & Nick, QA Manager and Producer for a video game developer *
My husband and I had the good fortune of celebrating our marriage twice. Yes, twice. The first was a civil ceremony performed by a guy who looked like Charlie Chaplin at the City Clerk’s Office in Lower Manhattan. That day was both intimate and very quintessentially “New York.” It included almost missing our own wedding due to traffic and a chatty cabbie, a bodega-bought bouquet, rain and then glorious sun, hot dogs from a street cart, and pure giddiness and love.
My now-husband and I met in college and did the on-and-off and long-distance thing for a while. After his student visa expired and he returned to London, I was crushed. Then, a year and a half after leaving the States, he visited me in Brooklyn in January 2011 and never left.
We were ready to make a lifelong commitment to one another and not at all interested in being separated for up to a year while awaiting a fiancé visa from US immigration services. Time was of the utmost. And so we took the plunge. And it was wonderful. We were engaged in late February 2011 and married in late May of that year.
Although our family and close friends knew we were getting married (and so, I’m not sure it qualifies as an elopement), only my sister and two of our closest friends were present at the City Clerk’s Office. I picked out my dress the night before, fashioning a strapless ensemble out of my aunt’s vintage linen hippie skirt. The brief ceremony was followed by the aforementioned hot dogs, a photo shoot with our photographer friends, drinks at a Lower East Side bar, and a night at the Standard hotel. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
And yet, when our families suggested we have a ceremony and reception to celebrate our marriage I couldn’t really say no. We had already had our wedding day all to ourselves—a day that was solely about us and our commitment—and now we felt it was time to include others in the momentous occasion.
Traditionalists may take umbrage to the fact that we celebrated twice, declaring self-indulgence or a disregard for the act of marriage. Seriously, if you’re considering doing a two-parter—which I highly recommend—do not look at wedding site forums which, at best, are inflexible and insensitive on the topic. Thankfully, I didn’t encounter such attitudes from my nearest and dearest. At most, family and friends were confused about terminology: is it a wedding? Are they called bride and groom? Which anniversary will they celebrate? In our minds, we got married on May 20, 2011, and this second event was more of a renewal and celebration. But since we are young and our families wanted us to experience all the joys of a real wedding, we pretty much treated it as such (minus some of the traditions we are not so keen on).
Just over two years after we were married, we were married again, this time at an event venue on the campus of Hampshire College, where we met. On a beautiful day in June 2013, after heavy rains had cleared and left us a crisp, radiant summer day, we exchanged personalized vows in front of our family and friends. Our closest mutual friend led the ceremony and our siblings and friends served as bridesmaids and groomsmen. We stood in front of a gorgeous oak tree with the rolling foothills of the Berkshires in the background. My dad played guitar and sang our processional and recessional, both by The Beatles. My sister and my father-in-law gave readings. I wore a sash made with lace from my mother’s wedding dress. And once the ceremony was over toasts were given, a delicious meal was served, and we partied the night away.
Whereas our first wedding was improvisational in the details, the second wedding was very thoroughly planned. Having a second celebration allowed me to put my DIY crafting skills to work to shape the look and feel of the event. I wanted our guests to feel relaxed and welcomed. And most of all, I wanted this second celebration to represent us as a married couple of two years—more experienced and confident in our partnership. I spent a great deal of time crocheting bunting, organizing photo displays, crafting head-table décor, making signage, creating countless spreadsheets, and corresponding with vendors. My mom and I hunted for bottles and vases for centerpieces. My mother made our card box, found beautiful glass lanterns, and picked out potted plants to add to the ceremony and reception spaces. My husband and I spent hours writing our entire ceremony including our vows. He also designed our ceremony program. It truly was a labor of love.
If we hadn’t had the second celebration, I would’ve never known what it feels like to boogie with my husband to a Stevie Wonder song, glass of wine in hand, and look around and see the glowing, happy faces of all the people we love dancing with us. There is no adequate way to put that feeling into words, so I won’t try. Suffice to say, it was well worth the stress of planning (I’m a control freak and perfectionist, ’nuff said) and certainly worth the wait. Sometimes things have to fall into place, and while it took two years for us to be geographically settled and prepared to expend time, effort, and money toward this kind of event, it was what worked for us.
Couples today are celebrating marriage in myriad ways—in ways that best reflect their lifestyles, values, budgets, and most of all, their unique partnerships. I honestly believe our chosen celebrations were the best representation of who we are and why we are together. Although I wasn’t nervous that day at the City Clerk’s Office, I was even less nervous standing before a hundred guests and reaffirming my love and commitment to my husband. By that time, we had lived in four cities in two years, battled unemployment and underemployment, and secured my husband a green card. Our second celebration was not only a time for family and friends to bear witness to the act of marriage but a time for them, and us, to consider how far we had come and how much more we intend to accomplish. Over two years and two celebrations, we truly experienced the best of both (wedding) worlds.
The Info—Photographers (2011): Luke Taylor (friend) and Melody Serafino (sister) / Photographers (2013): Chattman Photography and Linda Hervieux (aunt) / Location: New York City, NY and Amherst, MA / Venue (2011): Office of the City Clerk, City of New York / Venue (2013): The Red Barn at Hampshire College / Noelle’s Dress (2013): David’s Bridal / Nick and Groomsmen Suits: Wilke Rodriguez suits from Men’s Warehouse / Bridesmaid Dresses: Etsy and JCrew / Pies: Atkins Farms / Flowers: LaSalle Florists, Inc. / Guestbook: CheriBee / Favors: I Buy Coffee / Burlap Table Runners: Rented from Simply Sunshine Events / Crafting and DIY supplies purchased at: Michael’s, Sticks and Bricks Northampton, Essentials Northampton, and vintage and antique shops throughout Western Massachusetts and Southern Vermont