Ask Team Practical: Private Wedding Ceremonies by Alyssa Mooney It’s Ask Team Practical Friday with Alyssa! Hooray! Today we’re discussing private ceremonies, and how it’s ok to say your vows at city hall… and not re-stage them for the merriment of your guests later on, if it’s not meaningful to you. We’re also talking about learning to stand firm on what matters to your new baby family, all while taking your families’ feelings into account. So, how do you tell your mother that you’re having a private ceremony, and family won’t be attending? Read on, dear reader, read on… As I dive into the APW archives, I notice that so many of the wedding graduates make a big deal out of the actual wedding ceremony, with at most half of the attention on the reception. Is it kosher to not have the ceremony? My fiance and I are planning on having a courthouse ceremony with two people as witnesses (with neither of them being family), and then having a big party for everyone. Of course, I haven’t actually mentioned this to said family yet, as we’re in planning stages. One of our reasons for doing this is that we want no religion involved whatsoever. My guy is atheist, I’m polytheist, his mom’s Orthodox Christian, my grandmother’s Catholic, etc. We don’t want to try to please that crowd! So can I get advice on How To Tell Your Mother She’s Not Going To Your Wedding Ceremony? ~Confused and Tormented Welcome, CAT! Since we here at APW are huge fans of elopements and city hall weddings, you’re in the right place. Before we dive in, I want to make a quick point. Don’t feel that marriage and religion are so hopelessly intertwined that you can’t have one without the other. You most definitely can have a secular ceremony and craft vows and procedure that remove that which you do not believe from the equation. And telling your mom that you’re having a secular ceremony might prove to be easier than telling her she’s not coming to your ceremony. But that’s something you can do if you want to. Which you don’t. So, we’re moving on… Now. On to what you’re actually asking. The best thing you can do is make your decision and stick with it. You’re going to have people who will exclaim and gasp over your private courthouse ceremony, but let them. People do a separate ceremony and reception all the time. The hard part will be getting your immediate family to understand that they won’t be there for the ceremony. For most families, ceremony is an important part of a ritual that they expect to witness. Telling them that they won’t be witnessing it can be a blow. Be understanding of that, even as you hold firm. Remember that, for your parents, society and their heart have told them what their role in your wedding will be, and any deviation from that can make them a little nutty (and may be really emotionally hard for them). So, make sure your parents understand why you decided on this. Be very clear that it’s not a decision to exclude them, it’s a decision made in the best interests of you and your partner. This isn’t the first time you’re going to make a decision as a baby family that your family of origin might not agree with. And be respectful. You have every right to have the ceremony that you decide on, but they also have every right to be sad about that decision. Not keeping their feelings in mind is the quickest way to turn this into a standoff – complete with yelling, hurt feelings and Aunt Mabel calling you “on your mother’s behalf.” Remind them that you still want to have a party and celebrate the marriage. And make sure that you point out this is something that the TWO of you want. If a family member even gets a whiff of hesitation in one of you, they might assume that one of you is pressuring the other to go to city hall. Stay united and firm in your choice. It’s excellent practice for… well, the rest of your life, actually. And it might not be an issue. Once they have time to think it over, your families might be happy with the fact they get to just have a big ol’ party in celebration of your marriage. Before we’re done, a few tips: Do not let anyone talk you into doing a replay of the ceremony at the party so they can see you do your vows (unless that’s something that’s meaningful to you). Yes, your mom might want to actually see you say the words, “I do,” but like I’m sure she taught you, life is full of disappointments. Re-enacting your wedding won’t give her the experience she thinks she’ll be missing. Just tell them that you respect your vows, and saying them again just for the pleasure of an audience would lessen the experience for you. On that same note, don’t let anyone talk you into having a traditional reception that you don’t want, because you “didn’t give them the ceremony.” Yes, make concessions on less-important things when necessary to keep people happy and make your guests feel welcome, but don’t feel compelled to compromise on the whole reception. Letting your grandmother turn your imagined buffet barbeque dance party into a formal sit-down dinner because she doesn’t get to see you say “I do” could possibly make you more miserable than just having the damn church ceremony she’d been gunning for. Think about having your ceremony and then having a lunch or dinner with close friends and family afterward. Being with you shortly after your vows might make them feel closer to the actual event and lessen impact of not being there. They don’t get the vows, but they do get to see you two with the glow of love still on your faces and hear all about the long lines at city hall and how the Justice of the Peace had horrid breath. Remember, when times get tough, and your partner’s sister has rudely said for the fifth time how she could NEVER have a courthouse wedding, that this is a decision you made with the best of intentions. You would not be able to make everyone happy with your choices, even if you had a typical wedding in a church. (For evidence of that, see pretty much every dang wedding grad post.) Make yourselves as happy as possible, as long as it’s not at the expense of others, and you will be fine. Take pictures. I don’t care if you think you don’t care, make sure you have at least one off-kilter, blurry, blissful shot of the two of you on your wedding day. Even if you never share it with anyone else, you’ll want a picture to remember those two crazy kids in love. And remember Lindsey‘s friend Bea’s lovely wise words: “My first wedding was arranged in four days and we were very happy until he was taken from me. My second wedding only had five people and that was extremely happy also. So you see you do not need all the fuss to be happy.” So, Team Practical, who here has had an unattended ceremony? Raise your hands. Now put them down and start typing comments and helping CAT. How did you deal with telling family and friends? Any logistical tips for the couple? If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Alyssa at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though we prefer if you make up a totally ridiculous sign-off like conflicted and rageful but deeply in love in Detroit (CARBDILID, duh). We’re not kidding. It brings us joy. What, you don’t want to bring your editors JOY?!? Alyssa Mooney Emeritus Staff Alyssa received a BA in Theatre and a minor in Gender Studies from Stephen F. Austin State University. She lives in Dallas, Texas, with her adorably red-neck husband, Maggie the Wonder Dog, and sassy baby Tater.