How’d We Manage 115 Guests on a Non-Existent Budget? With Lots of Help

Highlights included: a homemade dress, a keg, and a poutine trough. (Yes, a trough of poutine.)


SUM-UP OF THE WEDDING VIBE:  Our wedding was a barn raising, simple and relaxed, filled up with 115 hearts splitting at the seams with laughter and overwhelming love.

SOUNDTRACK FOR READING: “All Is Love” by Karen O and the Kids

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Having a keg at the ceremony. And the late-night poutine trough. Separating the contract part of the ceremony from the personal commitment part. Because we had a friend perform the wedding, we did the legal aspect of things earlier in the afternoon, gathered in a knot at the back of the yard with our immediate family. Stripping everything away from the legal words seemed to amplify them, and we were surprised by how meaningful and raw and intense that moment was. Our vows. Our amazing invitations. Honestly. They were works of art! And last but not least, the people. The people were amazing. The people were everything. Seeing the physical expressions of love in the form of people pitching in and making magic, being surrounded by 115 bursting hearts, was extremely powerful and entirely overwhelming. The people make it real, you guys.


If our wedding had a theme, it was probably along the lines of the Stone Soup story. Our scant budget meant that everything had to be done by our hands and completed for (nearly) free, and so many friends and family members lent their time, energy, and creativity to help lift us up into married life. Shanna’s sister and her partner hosted our ceremony in their beautiful backyard—and tapped a keg for the ceremony: THE BEST. Our reception was held at a restaurant owned by a friend (this was by far our biggest expense and was beyond worth it). A friend drew our invitations. Another friend and a cousin took photos. Emma’s mom designed, dyed, and sewed her blue dress with the help of a seamstress friend (who also made Shanna’s shirt). Shanna’s best friend officiated our wedding and was AMAZING. Emma’s dad folded dozens of origami stars, and Shanna’s mom cut and sewed bunting out of thrifted lace tablecloths and kitchen twine. We bought buckets of flowers from a local flower farm, and friends and cousins helped us arrange them the night before the wedding.

Neither of us were terribly comfortable with weddings as we knew them, and we spent a lot of time feeling like fish out of water during our “engagement” (even that word didn’t feel comfortable). From the beginning, the only thing we truly felt strongly about was that our wedding be relaxed and natural—no pomp and circumstance, just emotion. Because of this (and thanks to APW…), we jettisoned absolutely everything that didn’t have meaning for us, and that was anything but dead simple. For us this meant that favours, a rehearsal dinner, a seating chart, a first dance, a bouquet toss, and a sit-down meal were out the window. But a ballin’ iPod playlist, a handcrafted ceremony, and as many people on the guest list as we could manage? Those were front and centre. Although, to be honest, we didn’t initially feel that way about the guest list—we originally tried to limit attendance to fifty people. But when our world was turned upside-down, twice, by the passing of two people who were very important to us, we were smacked in the face with the revelation that the people are the whole point. We decided to invite as many aunts, uncles, cousins, and old friends as we could fit into the space, and it was the best decision we could have made.

The morning of the wedding, Emma had a bad cold and an eye infection, and an overnight downpour had rendered the backyard sodden. But we looked at each other and said, “This is our wedding day,” and very deliberately made the transition from planning and directing our wedding to immersing ourselves in its flow. And some things worked out (the eye infection disappeared and the sun came out), and some things didn’t (Emma lost her voice entirely an hour into the reception, and our ceremony songs weren’t played), but none of it really threw us. It all just added up to the beautifully imperfect unfolding of our wedding day, of our story. “The Wedding” was no longer this ghostlike mash-up of anticipation and plans and other people’s wedding stories, but was suddenly real and visceral and alive—OUR wedding.

Guests began to arrive and we greeted them in the backyard, instead of hiding in the house as we had intended. We had so much fun mingling with everyone; we suddenly realized everyone had arrived, and the only thing we were waiting on was us! Our niece and nephew were each supposed to walk one of us down the aisle, but our niece fell asleep so we walked together, carrying our nephew. The wrong song played as we walked down the aisle but it was the best wrong song we could have asked for. In the middle of the ceremony, Emma’s grandfather surprised everyone by asking to read a poem he had written earlier that afternoon. During the ceremony, we laughed and laughed. We spoke from our truest hearts. We incorporated a ring-warming into the ceremony to involve those important people of ours, and a community vow where everyone voiced their support for our marriage by going wild and making as much noise as they humanly could. It was totally overwhelming to look out at a sea of hollering, clapping, whistling, gleaming people and see SO MUCH LOVE beaming back to us. After the ceremony, we served everyone a glass of bubbles for the toasts, to make sure we got to hug everyone and thank them for being with us.

At the reception, children ran screaming through the rooms of the restaurant. We served appetizers all night and the restaurant surprised us with a “poutine trough” at midnight (this was as amazing as it sounds). The bar staff danced behind the bar. Emma lost her voice. Shanna barely stopped talking. As he left, Emma’s eighty-eight-year-old grandfather told us “Thank you for getting married,” and our hearts burst (he also said, “What a great party! I just wish I was thirty-five so I could stay all night!”). We thought we would clear out by about midnight, but we didn’t wind down until 2am when the restaurant staff very nicely told us we had to go home. The last six or seven of us gathered on the sidewalk and Emma’s cousin pulled an accordion out of the trunk of a car and we danced on the sidewalk, twirling and tripping and laughing.


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  • Sara P

    “The people make it real,” indeed :). Congratulations! What a lovely wedding :).

    • Em

      Thank you :)

      • scw

        I had the same experience as an introvert! I’m so glad we didn’t go with the intimate gathering we originally expected. I loved having everyone there.

        also, I loooove this wedding so much that I don’t know how to begin commenting on it. just know that there’s at least one stranger (probably tons more) out there grinning – and, ok, maybe crying a little – over your photos and write up.

  • eating words

    Oh wow. I just love how heartfelt and beautiful and happy this wedding is! I especially love this sentence (and am hoping I get to experience the same thing at my own):
    “’The Wedding’” was no longer this ghostlike mash-up of anticipation and plans and other people’s wedding stories, but was suddenly real and visceral and alive—OUR wedding.”

    • Em

      Thank you! I hope you thoroughly enjoy the ride at your very own real-live, weird and wonderful wedding-beast :)

    • MABie

      Yeah, that line really stood out to me too! I hope I get to experience that at our wedding.

  • Caitlyn

    Where are Emma’s super cool glasses from?

  • Another Meg

    Oh man. I’d never heard that song before for some very stupid reason and now I must have sunscreen in my eye, dang it…

    ‘As he left, Emma’s eighty-eight-year-old grandfather told us “Thank you for getting married,”’ [SOB.]

    • Em

      Haha right???

  • Lisa

    That picture of you two leaning against one another at the ceremony. <3333

  • Megan

    There were three mentions of the poutine trough and no pictures! C’MON!!!

    • Em

      Haha I know! We don’t really have any photos of the reception because my close friend offered us free photography as a wedding gift, but we still really wanted her to enjoy the party instead of just documenting it. We had tried to set up a couple back-ups prior too but honestly we were pretty disorganized, seat-of-the-pants planners and it didn’t quite come together. I am very happy that we prioritized her experience over lots of photos, but we’d probably think more carefully about getting extra folks on photo duty if we had it to do over again (that, and we’d recess to Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” of course…)

  • Lindsay in CO

    This wedding sounds incredible and everything that I could ever hope mine will be next June. Thank you so much for sharing. Having all of the “is this really what we should be doing?” thoughts right now while in the depths of planning and reading this truly helped. Thank you. It was beautiful!

    • Em

      Yeah man. It’s going to be awesome.

  • Belle

    This is so beautiful! I don’t even know you and I teared up reading this. It sounds like you had the most amazing day anyone could ask for. You are definitely well-loved which is what matters most. Congratulations!