Simple Traditions

by Meg Keene, CEO & Editor-In-Chief

Here in the more indie wedding community, it’s become really fashionable to say, “Forget tradition, we’re not doing anything traditional in our wedding. We’re doing it all our way!” Now, anyone who reads this blog knows how much I support having a joyful wedding that represents your most vibrant self, and to heck with the cookie cutter wedding. But I think that mindlessly ditching tradition can be just as bad as mindlessly following it.

When we ask my dad his opinion on various wedding related ideas, some of them non-traditional (or not traditional for our family, as we work to blend two faith backgrounds) he always tells us, “I’m not too worried about it. You can do what you want, because in the end, tradition always wins at weddings, because wedding are by nature traditional.” He has a point. David and I have chosen to get married, as opposed to staying domestic partners, because marriage is powerful act of tradition and ritual, that links us to generations and generations before us as we make a meaningful and new life commitment.

As we construct our wedding, we try to look at each tradition thoughtfully, to decide what choices we want to make.

  • The first thing we look at is “where did this tradition come from?” Lots of things that are currently thrown around in the world-o-weddings as being absolutely set-in-stone traditional, are actually relatively new inventions. The Unity Candle, for example, started in the 1970’s, and seems to have had its geniuses on a soap opera. Now, if the Unity Candle is a meaningful tradition for you there is no reason not to use it. But, given how new it is, I’d venture to say *not* using a unity candle is MORE traditional. Which is to say, don’t take people at their word when they say “But you HAVE to do this thing, it’s traditional!”
  • The second thing we look at is: Is this tradition meaningful to us? Does it have powerful symbolism? Is this symbolism something that we are comfortable with? As I’ve mentioned before, I am relatively uncomfortable with the idea of being walked down the aisle by just my father. I am however, very comfortable with being walked down the aisle by both of my parents. It’s a great symbol of the joining of two families, and coming from my family of origin to create my family of choice. Luckily for me, this is the Jewish wedding tradition. But if I wasn’t having a Jewish wedding, it’s a tradition I’d feel perfectly comfortable with adopting.
  • And finally, we ask ourselves if the tradition is meaningful to others. Weddings are, after all, not just for the couple. They are powerful moments in the lives of our families, and usually they take place in front of our community. Early on in the process, my mom mentioned that she’d like me to have a cake that “looked like a wedding cake.” Wedding cake was not something I had strong feelings about, but since it was somewhat important to my mom, we decided to go with a more traditional wedding cake. The great thing about that choice is it allowed us to incorporate another family tradition that was important to me. My parents, like my grandparents before them, cut the first slice of their wedding cake with my grandfathers Marine Corps sword. It’s an old military family tradition, and it makes for some really neat pictures. We are doing the same, and it is one of the wedding details that I care the most about. I’m proud that this will tie us to two generations of long and happy marriages, and will honor my grandparents, who didn’t live to see their grandchildren married.

What traditions are you thoughtfully embracing for your wedding day?

Picture: Martha Stewart Weddings, Summer 2008

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. She has written two best selling wedding books: A Practical Wedding and A Practical Wedding Planner. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and two children. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit #NASTY

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  • Anonymous

    I couldn’t agree with you more about the way you choose traditions that are impt to you and others. I use the same logic. For me, I’ve always thought that the involvement of the mother of the bride was always overshadowed by the father of the bride who gets to walk her down the aisle and then have a dance. I’ve often wondered what the mother feels like in this process. I will have my mother and father walk me down the aisle for two reasons: 1) I don’t agree with the idea of one man “giving” away his daughter to another and 2)I think the mother should play a part in the day too!

    We are also bucking tradition by not having a maid of honor or best man. We have too many very close friends and family to just choose one and we certainly aren’t going with 6,7 or 8. It kind of alters things slightly (i.e. bachelor and ette parties, who holds the ring and bouquet in ceremony , who does a toast) but we will work that out. We know who are very closest friends are and they will all be there, it makes no difference if they are standing up front or sitting down.

  • My fiance and I are having a fairly traditional wedding (Catholic is practically synonymous with traditional, anyway…), but one of the details that I suppose would be optional, but I’m insisting on, is that Eric and I won’t see each other on our wedding day until I’m walking down the aisle. I look at tons of real weddings on blogs, and I’ve noticed that many of the couples opt to have a “reveal” photo session before the ceremony–sometimes in a different dress. Now I don’t get ring-envy, but I admit to the occasional multiple-dress-envy, insanely-talented-photographer-envy, and amazingly-beautiful-floral-design-envy), so these lovely pictures did create a wee bit of jealousy in me. But ultimately, I decided it was too important to me to see Eric’s face as I walked down the aisle. I won’t pass that up for an extra dozen or two pictures of us.

  • We are cutting our wedding cake with my parent’s wedding cake knife. We didn’t really care about the cake either but my parents wanted something that looked like wedding cake, so be it.

    We are doing a change-your-clothes-and-off-to-the-honeymoon going away. I love this tradition and I plan to toss the bouquet on my way out the door for anyone to catch. I hope the photographer gets a picture of it because I’m not turning back to look.

    My dad is going to walk me down the aisle because when I asked him what the most important detail was to him, that was it. He said he had no desire to give me away, he just wants to walk with me and has been dreaming of it since he first held me in his arms. I can’t deny the man his happiness.

    I’m sure there are some other ones in there as well. I’m kind of a sucker for tradition in a lot of ways.

  • We will have some military traditions, some religious ones, and some that mean alot to my parents. And others we are just flat out not doing.
    I hate the whole bouquet toss garter fling thing – so we are skipping that. My dad and I have a little bit of an awkward relationship, so him walking me down the aisle and having the father/daughter dance will mean the world to him.
    Because my fiance is military, we will cut the cake with a sword and have a sword arch entry into the reception.
    And then we have one that we are creating for us, and hoping to make it a family tradition. This is a blending of the unity candle idea, a religious ring blessing, and a Coast Guard Academy tradition. We will each have 2 vessels of water from places that mean something to us. (My water will be from the Gulf of Mexico where I grew up, and the Pacific from Hawaii where I went to college and really grew into the woman I am today.) We will combine the waters together and then have our priest bless the rings in the combined water. Its a little odd, but very US.

  • Krista

    What a beautiful post. I agree wholeheartedly, with everything you said. I also think it’s incredibly thoughtful of you to consider traditions that are important to your parents.

  • I guess the biggest, most thoughtful tradition we’re incorporating is getting married at all… We’re not traditional, we’ve been living together for years and already have a toddler son. But as our relationship evolved and we became parents, we started to feel that we actually wanted to go through this next step.

    I used to think that if I ever got married, I would do everything my own way and everything differently. But starting the planning makes me realize that it’s really not all about you, but also about pleasing the people you love (to some extend) and giving them memories they can cherish for the rest of their life. So my wedding will still be pretty nontraditional, as it should still reflect who we are, but I’ve warmed up to compromise.

  • All along, when asked about any aspect of the wedding, all my father has said is, “I just want to dance with my daughter.” So, that settled that one!
    In the Unitarian Universalist tradition (the religion is only about 50 years old, so tradition is less about the age of the ritual and more about the frequency), we light candles at the beginning of the service, to share our joys and sorrows. So, we will begin our ceremony with people lighting candles for those who have passed away and maybe a few people will light a candle to celebrate a marriage or a birth that happened in the last year.
    We are doing an informal garter toss, but it’s mostly just an excuse to wear a red sox garter, toss it at our Yankee-loving groomsman, and play the Dropkick Murphys. So, it’s not imbued with any real meaning, but that’s not stopping us: We just want to have fun with it.

  • Fantastic post. I loved this. I don’t have time to comment properly now but I’ll be back ;)

  • Ok, I’m back already :)

    Your dad is absolutely right – thanks for sharing that thought because it crystallised for me something I hadn’t quite been able to put my finger on.

    I loved your list of questions. It’s nice to break the process down like this. With some things it feels almost instinctive making these decisions, with others it takes a lot of thought. But either way I think we go through a very similar process.

    I just loved this line: “coming from my family of origin to create my family of choice.” That’s what it’s all about, right?

    I don’t know whether it’s because of our attitude from the start, but everyone has pretty much nodded along with everything we’ve said and not questioned our choices (so far!)

    Hmmm, I feel a post coming on…

  • This is pretty much the way we’ve approached things too. Yes on the rings, because I like the idea of unity. No on changing my name, because the idea behind it does not ring true to me. Yes to white dress, because it’s a good way to stand out and easier than finding a colorful dress that does the same thing. No on best man toasts, because he’s not especially good at speaking in public and there’s no reason to make him do it just because it’s “tradition.” It’s a great approach!

  • It’s funny- I actually found myself pushing for traditions when my parents were arguing against. For several generations my family has been married in the episcopal church–my parents included–but they have not practiced any religion since then. I really wanted to carry on the tradition of a church ceremony, but they were pushing for something outdoors. I had to explain that it was important for me to become a part of that family lineage, regardless of whether I practice a particular religion on a daily basis.

    It’s a funny thing how traditions–and following them or not–can raise people’s emotions!

  • I’ve really only thought about the traditions I don’t want, and those are toasts and the garter toss. I hate wedding toasts, and since my friends and family are very shy when it comes to public speaking, I would never put them through that.

    I think garter tosses are tacky. Bouquet tosses aren’t much better, but we’ll see about that. We may not have a cake, maybe cupcakes instead, so not cake cutting there.

    My mother has already told me not to expect a father/daughter dance since my father does not dance. Period. I’m fine with that, as we may not even have a lot of dancing anyway.

    As for traditions we will be going with, I will have my father walk me down the aisle. That’s the only one we’re definitley going with at this point.

  • As usual, a great post!

    I, too, have found that I’m incorporating a lot of traditional elements because they are important to family members, and therefore, they become important to me.

    My future father-in-law was rather upset that there would be no Christian elements in the ceremony. Even though my FH and I are atheists, we found a nice biblical passage to be read before the vows. (Ok. Song of Songs. Its hot!!) It was such an easy thing to do and it made his side of the family extremely happy.

    Meg, what your father said was so true. Marriage is traditional, and part of that tradition is the blending of families. Incorporating traditions for your families is part of having a wedding.

    Having said that, my mother is aghast over my too-low-cut-for-a-bra wedding dress. Sometimes its time to create new traditions . . .

  • Hmm… things we’re keeping…

    The best man will be giving a toast, becuase hes a great public speaker, a great storyteller, funny, and always appropriate.

    We will be cutting the cake, becuase theres a cake-cutting set that got used by my MOH 2 years ago, thats already been passed around to several others of our crew that have been married. So, connection to my chosen community there.

    But I guess the biggest tradition decision we’ve had to make has been about the dresses. My fiances opinion that since its a lesbian wedding we had a free licence to buck any and all traditions we wanted- and she wanted a black dress. I wound up begging and begging her to wear a white one. Not out of a desire to be connected to some long lineage, or becuase of some purity bullshit, but because for the 7 years I pined for her before we dated, I’d imagine with horrer sitting in the audience at her wedding, watching her walk away from me in a wedding dress, looking every bit a bride. Now, I get to stand at the alter and watch her come towards me, and I wanted to see her looking every bit the bride I had imagined. So, I guess that falls into the “personal meaning” catagory. We compromised with an ivory dress, since she just didnt like how she looked in white white.

    But we definatly dont want a garter, and we wont have any dancing. Both my parents are walking down me the aisle, and her mom only is walking with her.

  • Wonderful post!!
    A couple of the traditions that my fiancee feels strongly about are 1) not seeing me before the ceremony and 2)using the traditional wedding march. I have no clue as to why, really, BUT – this is his wedding too, and I didn’t really have strong feelings one way or the other.

  • What a fantastic post.

    Like you, I struggled with balancing traditions important to my family and me and the Mr’s desire to get away from the more patriarchal/heteronormative aspects of wedding planning. Hard to do, I tell ya!

    The most traditional thing we are doing is getting married in a church- I honestly never thought of doing it any other way. But the church Catholic, like my family’s, and the ceremony will have different elements as well. We’re taking out the bouquet/garter toss, but adding the Victorian tradition of cake charms for the female guests to partake. Etc.

    I’m also making sure to incorporate Filipino traditions into the ceremony and reception, because even though I may not agree with a lot of things in the culture, I find something very beautiful about making connections with my family’s past in such a communal moment.

  • i don’t know what happened, some of my post got eaten! I meant to write “but the church isn’t Catholic, like my family’s…” etc.

  • Peonies and Polaroids

    Hmmm, traditions… I’m walking down an aisle, but alone. Um, nope, I can’t think of any. I’m wearing a white dress, does that count?

    We didn’t exactly decide to ditch the traditions, it’s just that none of them really appealed to us.

  • Peonies and Polaroids

    Rings! We have rings! The whole attire part of the wedding is quite traditional, on my part anyway.

  • Great post, so glad I found your blog! I’ve been dissecting some of “antiquated traditions” over on a private wedding blog I have. So far I’ve done the big white dress and the bouquet/garter toss. I’m keeping the white dress, ditching the big, and definitely saying hell no to the bouquet and garter toss. The history of that tradition is heinous!

    The antiquated tradition that I’m most excited about ditching is, like you, having just my father “give me away.” I don’t want to write about that one until I formally ask my mom to walk with us . I’m asking her this weekend, and can’t wait.

  • Analise

    Again, can’t say enough how much I uber-love the work around here!
    I linked to this post through your latest Wedding Graduates, and it made me think of two comments related to the (gorgeous) site redesign, if you’re still looking for user input…
    It would be great if there could be a way to “save” or “favorite” select posts for later reference without having to email them to myself or bookmark them all. (But perhaps that’s not possible without a login…? Might be complicated, but there are certain pieces that I keep forwarding to friends and it would be fab if they could all be collected in one place!)
    Also, you do such a great job of linking back to key previous posts like this one, but the year they were written isn’t shown which can be confusing…
    Everything else: keep on keepin’ on!!

    • meg

      Oh…. good call on the year. I think that would need a log in, and I think, honestly, we’re moving in that direction. That seems to be what people want, and it makes a lot of sense. Not there *yet* however :)