Our 200-Guest Summer Camp Wedding Was Pure Soulfood

Your basic black, Jewish, Dominican, Italian, West Indian Episcopalian throw down

Emily, Editor & Sofia, Teacher

SUM-UP OF THE WEDDING VIBE: A community-focused weekend at summer camp, complete with a talent show, s’mores, popsicles, and a dance party heavy on ’90s R&B.

LOCATION: Hope Junction, New York

Where we allocated the most funds:

Definitely food and drinks for the reception and brunch the next morning. We knew we were going to have a big wedding, as we both have large families and a wide circle of friends. Because our wedding was two hundred–plus people and we are both huge fans of passed appetizers and open bars, our food costs were high. The camp also required that we use their in-house catering, so we couldn’t shop around for lower prices. However, we ended up loving every single dish the camp provided, from the barbecue salmon at dinner to the maple breakfast sausage and trays of avocado at brunch.

Where we allocated the least funds:

We didn’t pay much for lighting and flowers. Our lights were string lights ordered from Amazon, and our flowers were a hundred percent baby’s breath from Costco. We didn’t carry bouquets or give out corsages. Our family and friends nailed up the lights for us, and they helped us arrange twenty-five tables’ worth of flowers. We also got help spray-painting hundreds of glass bottles and jars to make our gold vases. Our napkins were part of Sofia’s great-grandmother’s dowry—some still had the family initials stitched into the corners. The family carried the napkins with them as they fled Nazi Europe. We dyed the napkins shibori-style using indigo dye, and guests got to take some of them home as favors.

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We also didn’t pay anything for dessert since my mom made a total of six hundred mini-cupcakes for our reception—strawberry, lemon, and chocolate. They were not only beautiful, but delicious, and completely gone by the end of the after-party.

Finally, we did our own hair, with a little help from family and friends. We both have curly hair and are super particular about our curl preparation routines, so it was easiest to just use our own products and styling expertise. Our friend Chanel did our makeup as a gift.

What was totally worth it:

Our wedding was a full weekend long. We invited folks to stay in the on-site private cabins both Friday and Saturday night; guests paid for their rooms just like they would pay for a hotel. It took time to set up the website where guests could book rooms, and then to personally assign rooms to each party. Then it took more planning time to finalize the food, drinks, and entertainment for a full thirty-six hours. Sofia and I like to host and event-plan, though, so this wasn’t as arduous for us as it might have been for others. And once the wedding came, it was beyond worth the work it took to make it a weekend event.

On Friday night, we had a talent show where everyone—from my dad’s oldest friend to our youngest cousins—performed. No one will ever forget when one of our nieces, also named Sofia, rapped a near-flawless cover of Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend.” The camp opened up the lakefront on Saturday, and our family and friends lounged on pool floats and took out paddleboats before getting ready for the ceremony. Best of all, we actually got to spend quality time with our community before, during, and after the actual wedding—all we ever wanted.

What was totally NOT worth it:

We couldn’t really think of anything that wasn’t worth it. It’s true that we spent many hours making sure that small details were just right, but that was worth it for us. Some people might say that stressing about your wedding isn’t “worth it,” but as a person who deals with anxiety, advice like, “Don’t worry about it! Everything will be fine!” isn’t particularly helpful. I definitely did stress and worry about the wedding, but that was okay. Our wedding was a big deal to us, and we wanted it to be just right. I don’t regret taking it very seriously, because the emotional investment definitely paid off in the end.

A few things that helped us along the way:

We kept all of our planning documents on Google Drive, so we’d just write down notes and tag each other in comments whenever we had a free moment. Both of us were incredibly invested in the planning process, but we had varying amounts of free time during our eighteen-month planning period. It was great to be able to keep everything we needed in one collaborative space. One of the most helpful documents we created was our planning timeline, which helped us keep track of what we needed to focus on that month and what could wait until later.

Sofia and I approach everything as a team. We are each other’s equals in every sense of the word, and the wedding planning process was no different. It helped us to think about the wedding as a project or challenge that we were tackling together. We just decided to believe that there was no disagreement we couldn’t talk through and resolve. Did we fight along the way? Yes, plenty! However, we consider our ambitious wedding weekend a testament to our capabilities as a couple, and we were so proud of ourselves afterward that we got tattoos on our honeymoon that read “GDCT” (Goddamn Cool Team).

My best practical advice to my planning self:

Try to put the most time and effort into the parts of planning that you enjoy. I absolutely loved writing our ceremony and designing our wedding website, since it gave me the opportunity to be creative in a way that worked for me. Don’t be afraid to outsource or skip something nonessential that doesn’t bring you any satisfaction. Shower everyone you love with affection and jobs and gratitude. Repeat.

Favorite thing about the wedding:

Music was a really lovely and integral part of our weekend. Our family processional walked in to Yeasayer’s “Red Cave,” which we chose in part for the lines “I’m so blessed to have spent the time / With my family / And the friends I love / In my short life I have met / So many people I deeply care for.” During the ceremony, our beloved cousins serenaded us. We knew they were going to sing “Passenger Seat” by Stephen Speaks, but what we didn’t know was that they were going to transition into “Not a Bad Thing” by Justin Timberlake near the end. As a JT fan, this surprise pleased me so much that I literally jumped for joy when it happened. Finally, one of our guests mentioned that our wedding was the most racially diverse event they had ever attended. This made us incredibly proud. We have built our diverse community with great intention, and we were elated to be able to bring everyone together in a beautiful, inclusive space.

Something Else We’d Like to Share:

My dad wrote a Facebook post after the wedding, which I think says it all:

Emily and Sofia threw a three-day party that was heartwarming and silly and raucous and fancy and casual and entirely unforgettable. They are both products of racially and culturally mixed families, so the weekend was your basic black, Jewish, Dominican, Italian, West Indian Episcopalian throw down. We danced to Hava Nagila and hip-hop. We listened to Pablo Neruda’s poetry in Spanish and English. We had a welcoming prayer on Friday night from Emily’s Aunt Stephanie, an Episcopal priest, followed by a ceremony in which we sang in Hebrew. During the reception our hilarious master of ceremonies, Sofia’s cousin Thaddeus, halted the dance music for the Hora, in which the brides and, to my surprise, the parents of the brides, were held aloft in chairs by their dancing friends and family. “We’re gonna get Jewy for a minute,” Thaddeus said to introduce it all, “and then we’ll get back to the blackness.”

And everyone—gay, straight, Jewish, Christian, white, black—laughed and reveled in the crazy, messy, glorious mix of it all. It went mostly unsaid, but I think we all knew how much we needed an event like this, at a time like this. It was nourishment for our souls after the ugliness that has been unleashed in the country in recent days and months. It makes me as angry as anyone else to see the events in Charlottesville and its aftermath, but mostly that kind of hatred just baffles me. What are people who hate like that so afraid of? What exactly is the downside of living together and learning from each other and sharing all that’s good about each other’s backgrounds? When the weekend was over, Sofia’s dad, Eric, wrote to Joanne and me. “The English language lacks a word for the relationship between the parents of spouses,” he wrote. “In Hebrew/Yiddish, the word is machatonim. We feel beyond fortunate to not only have the best daughter-in-law imaginable, but also to have such wonderful machatonim.” Machatonim. I’m glad I know that now. How do we learn things like that from each other if we literally try to build walls between us?


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