My name is Katharine, and I had a big wedding. I feel as though I should write those words with a sense of embarrassment, that they should be a precursor to “How to Have a Wedding for Only $500,” or “Why You Should Never Waste Money on a Wedding Dress.” Those are great essays, and I’m sure a lot of people would find them helpful. But I’m not embarrassed, and I’m not going to tell you to do the opposite of what I did. I don’t think you should.
There’s nothing wrong with having a big wedding.
I don’t think everyone should have a one, of course. I’ve been to charming weddings that were held in backyards and ugly-cried my way through beautiful weddings with only six guests. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with eloping. Trust me, anyone who has planned a big wedding completely understands the appeal of running away and doing it on your own. But somehow, having a big wedding has become something to be embarrassed about.
It’s a shameful secret that we try to hide or blame on our parents. “We wanted to keep things small, but you know how my mom is,” brides or grooms say as they try not to make eye contact. Clickbait articles assure us that the bigger the wedding, the more likely the marriage is to fail. Personal finance websites chide us for spending so much on “just one day” when we could be saving for retirement instead.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with saving for retirement. And if you’d rather put a down payment on a house than have a big wedding, that’s an awesome choice. But there’s also nothing wrong with throwing the wedding you want, and can afford, to have. So here’s my dirty confession: I had a big wedding, and it was expensive, and I don’t regret it at all.
No, that’s too mild: My husband and I are so glad we had a big wedding, and I would do it all over again.
our wedding was about more than us
Our wedding was big because it was not about us—it was about all the people who had shaped our lives and our relationship. In three out of our four family branches, we were the first of our generation to get married. Our families wanted to share that exciting moment with us, and we wanted to share it with them. We had dated through most of college, and our mutual friends from those years had been waiting for us to get married since we were twenty years old. Their love and support was one of the reasons we were still together, and we wanted to acknowledge that by having them present when we said “I do.” Our parents’ friends had known us since we were children playing in their front yards and had slowly become our friends as we grew into adults. How could we not want to share such an important event with the people who had been such a huge part of our lives?
So there were a lot of people there. We still could have kept things small, of course, limiting our reception to finger food and a few hours in the church hall. No one who attended would have judged us or been unsatisfied. But we would have been unsatisfied.
Our guests had been generous and loving with us our whole lives. Many of them traveled long distances to be at our wedding. We wanted to show our gratitude and love in return, and for us, the way to do that was to show them as much hospitality as we could afford. That meant a full dinner at the reception. It meant dancing and toasts to keep them entertained. It meant buying dresses and suits as gifts for our wedding party and reserving a block of hotel rooms so everyone could find a place to stay.
smaller might be easier, but…
Smaller would have been easier, but it wouldn’t have felt right. Because, sure, a wedding is “just one day.” But the memories created that day last longer than that—not just for us, but for everyone who was there. Those memories were a gift we wanted to give.
Six years later, friends still comment on how beautiful our ceremony was and how much fun they had at the reception. Gift.
My father-in-law and his siblings got a big family photo at our wedding—the last one with everyone in it before their mother died. Gift.
My grandmother suffers from severe dementia, but she still occasionally remembers moments from my wedding day, and sharing those reminisces is something that she, my father, and I are all grateful for. Gift.
Gift, gift gift. All because of a big wedding.
big can mean different things
Big is a relative term, of course, and “expensive” even more so. I’m not trying to imply that you should have a wedding you can’t afford. My husband and I were certainly careful to spend within our available means. If our wedding had drained our bank accounts or landed us in debt, I might be writing a very different essay right now. And having money to spend on a wedding at all is a privilege that my middle-class self is very aware of.
But I think it’s worth remembering that budgeting, saving, and self-denial are not the only admirable things out there. Hospitality, creating beautiful memories, acknowledging the people who are important in your life… all these are good things too. They are worth celebrating.
And sometimes, they are just as worth spending money on as houses and retirement plans.