Sara & The South African Wedding

So in my post-burned out state, or my trying not to be burned out state (turns out re-launching a blog is TOUGH, y’all) it seemed the perfect time to bring you Sara’s South African wedding. Unbeknownst to Sara when emailed me about her wedding, South Africa is the first country I ever visited outside of the US… when I was 21 (which is bizarre, right?) So we bonded over the intense and wonderful and complicated and hard and amazing place that South Africa was. And then there is her wedding, which is just so right. I’ve said for years that if I had a generous amount of money to spend at our wedding, I would rent a place out and have everyone stay all weekend, because what could be more blissful than that? (Hint: not an ice sculpture.) That’s exactly what Sara and Stof did, and they have such a great story to tell, with such wise advice.I’ve been reading your blog for months and months and it is the one *weddingblog* I can’t seem to pull myself away from (even 4 months since the nuptials). So I thought I’d send in some thoughts and pics from my own nuptials which happened all the way in South Africa. Actually, our wedding was held in a nature reserve VERY close to the southern most tip of Africa, so you should be chuffed to know that your philosophy has even sifted down to the very edge of Africa!

Your yourweddingisnotashow post particularly resonated with me. It wasn’t something that we particularly planned to be that way, but my overwhelming and lasting memory of our wedding is that it was the antitheses of a stage production. I have been struck by how many weddings are very showy. Maybe the nature of a wedding lends itself to that tendency: the guests arrive, take a seat, and the carefully scripted “entertainment” unfolds before them – complete with costume, hair, make-up, a pretty chorus line, romance (maybe a tear or two), scene changes and (hopefully) some pretty hilarious one-liners. AND, usually, the bridengroom throw in food drinks and some dancing: all for the cheap price of a (pre-selected) gift off the registry!Our wedding had all of those elements, but more than anything, it was just such a fabulousa party. A week after we returned from honeymoon, our friends and family got together and organised a “reunion” – ostensibly to look at photies, but actually I think they just wanted to hang out, tell crazy stories from the weekend and re-chant the cry of the wedding: WHoop! WHoop! (We got married in a place called De Hoop.)Actually, the venue was the starting place. We got engaged at the De Hoop Nature Reserve when we visited it on a day trip and it was too lovely to not imagine getting married there. Once we had made the decision that we weren’t getting married in Cape Town, but under that spectacular Wild Fig Tree (followed by a party in the old barn) the rest of the decisions were easy to make (although, not always easy to achieve without angst).I think the main reason for our wedding not being a show is that we stretched it over a long weekend (Thursday (a public holiday) to Sunday)… which we needed to do because we held it in a ridiculously beautiful place a good three hours outside of Cape Town (or any metropolis, really).Everybody could stay at the reserve in amazing accommodation to suit all pockets (from LUXURY houses to camping) so everybody got to know each other over the weekend. Obviously, it was essential to try and get as many people there as possible for the whole she-bang, so we incentivised things a little: a good portion (probably half) of our generous budget (thanks both Mums and Dads!) went towards relieving the cost of accommodation for those people who stayed for Thursday, Friday AND Saturday night. We also subsidised the Friday night, but made the suckers who only came through for Saturday pay full price: evil, I know.The next thing we did was throw in a bit of competition! On the Thursday evening we held a barbeque competition. South Africans LOVE a bbq so much that we even have our own name for coal-cooking: a braai. My husband (Stof), our brother in law, and I (the braai’d, as I called myself) were the judges and on that first night all our guests set up in teams and tried to outcook each other. By the end of the night (which ended in wild dancing. Of course), everybody had met and mingled: if only because they were testing the other person’s lamb to see if it really was better than their own! The winners? Those old friends my parents had INSISTED on inviting, but whom neither of Stof nor I knew too well. They were awesome.On the Friday we had a day of activities – including a full morning treasure hunt – which ended with whale-watching and sundowners on the dunes, wine-tasting and a pub quiz! All with a hint of competition as well…Now I realise that organising two full days of stuff for people to do prior to the actual wedding could be overwhelming, but my Number One Tip for any part of the wedding process is: don’t try to micro-manage your guests. Most of them are grown-ups (and the children are even harder to organise). Micro-managing (which includes micro-planning small stuff like favours and anything overly elaborate) might be appreciated by a grand total of five people, but on the whole, guests probably couldn’t be bothered: they’ll do what makes them happy in the context of celebrating your marriage.We outsourced the “organising” of the different pre-wedding events to people who love that particular kind of activity, but nobody spent too much effort on any one thing. Some people LOVE to organise sh*t. (I know this because I’m one of them.) (editors note: ME TOO!) Find those people. Use them, but insist that they don’t stress. They will love it. Our collective attitude was to provide the elements, throw in some awesome people and hope for the best. Whoop! Whoop!I guess my Second Important Tip is: once you have found and debriefed your vendors or talented mateys, let go! We were able to “in-source” so many of the elements of the wedding weekend, but I also consciously told (erm, forced) myself to trust those people who we chose. I chose to see it as a fairly indulgent experience: their gift to us was the way in which they carried out our “dreams”. Our gift to ourselves was not having to actually do it! I think this attitude also allowed ME (i.e. the marrying one) to be surprised and delighted by the day/weekend. If had been deeply involved in every aspect and had specifically planned each detail and minute, there would have been no room left to actually experience the time as it unfolded.When the Wedding Saturday finally rolled around, everybody was relaxed and so comfortable with each other. Old friends had reunited and countless new friendships had been forged. The family had met all the new babes and sussed out the new boyfriendsandgirlfriends. Our community had been built. When I walked down the aisle with my parents, it felt less like I was making an entrance as that I was welcomed by the warmth. Stof and I made an intensely private commitment public, but we did so within a group of people who had come to appreciate each other almost as much as us, so we felt *held* by our community.All the stuff that went wrong didn’t matter: like rain and completely screwing up the table seating and nearly forgetting to serve ALL the food we’d brought with from CT for the buffet (and actually forgetting to collect the oysters). Of course it didn’t matter to us because we were just so stoked to be marrying each other (erm, that heady-lovey-newlywed feeling IS all it’s cracked up to be)… But all that didn’t matter because in the end our wedding relied on more than just Stof or me: it was a living and breathing celebration of life.
Amazing photos by friend of the couple Rowan Pybus

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  • Wow, I am so jealous of your wedding, Sara! Also your dress. Link? My family were actually the first people to stay at De Hoop once it was opened up, years ago now but I remember it so clearly, what a fantastic place to get married!

  • Beautiful wedding – it looks like people are having a great time. And what an incredible tree.

    South Africa was the first country outside North America that I visited – at the age of 21. Many of the parts I visited were incredibly beautiful. I was quickly introduced to braais :)

    Nearly 6 mo post wedding and I too can't pull myself away from this blog – thanks Meg for doing such a great job keeping it up.

  • oooooh, am i jealous! i was just talking to my fiance last night about how great it would have been to just get married in south africa, (his grandma, uncle and some cousins live in jo'burg) instead of in connecticut near my family. it would have been so much simpler, way more "us" and a heckuva lot of fun! (we spent 2 weeks there this past summer, lots of braai, i've never eaten more meant in my life!)

    anyway, Sara, congrats on the wedding, your pictures are beautiful.

  • wow this is funny, South Africa was also the first place I visited, though I arrived at 20, I left at 21 (study abroad at Stellenbosch – Maties vir altyd! haha). I think we actually stayed at De Hoop on one of our weekend trips. that strangler fig!! uhhh I miss those trees.

    ANYWAY what a glorious wedding. Sounds like the absolutely ideal way to get married.. I hope we can come close to creating that kind of environment for our regular old Fri-Sat wedding schedule. Thanks for the great advice – letting go of control is a bit of an issue for me, I need all the reminders I can get. congrats and thanks for sharing!

  • Natasha

    Yay!!! Go South Africa!!

    LUURRVLYYYY wedding!

  • Love, love, love that tree. What an amazing location. And some really sound advice. Congrats to the happy couple!

  • Angela

    wow, totally jealous. you guys made it so personal and everybody had fun. congrats!

  • I am FLOORED by the amazing-ness of this wedding. I would be floored even if there wasn't a wedding involved, if it was just a weekend event. I mean, whale-watching?? Cook-off's? Dancing? A TREASURE HUNT? Y'all know how to do a party up right in South Africa…

    Plus I'm swooning over your dress and your hair garland. Grogeous.

    But this –> it was a living and breathing celebration of life. made me sniff. Awesome.

  • LPC

    Now THAT'S a wedding I wish I had attended…

  • redfrizzz

    beautiful wedding, what a shebang of activity! and, LOVE LOVE LOVE your dress, please give details?
    many thanks for the sound advice!

  • I just got back from South Africa and I have to say that it is amazing. Thank you so much for sharing your wedding. The way you created a community by holding it over multiple days is such a great idea.

  • Liz

    you get some of the best dressed brides on here.

  • This is definitely one of the weddings that I wish I had been to, and I think it really keys in on the idea of creating a community between relative strangers by the simple act of spending time together. It's something that I hope to do with my own wedding weekend, and this was great inspiration. Thanks for posting!

  • Oh it still makes me nearly cry that our camping+retreat lodge wedding came to naught, but it makes me so happy to see the joys in others' experiences of that dream. I couldn't have pictured anything more beautiful than what you described. (beautiful in both the emotional and physical aspects, of course.)


    There really are no other words than that. Your dress is TO DIE FOR and you are absolutely stunning in that dress!

  • I concur! I joined Team Married over 6 months ago, and this is still one of my favorite daily blog reads–thanks Meg!
    Also, that dress is incredible! I had a dream one night several months before getting married about a hand-painted dress, but had no idea how to get somebody I trusted enough to paint all over my dress, which was made by my friend.
    One of these days I hope to get organized enough to post our wedding because all of the real weddings were so inspirational in my own planning. Love this blog and recommend it to all of my engaged friends!

  • This is so how I want our wedding to feel. I want everyone to feel like they're part of a community. We've got one day less (Fri-Sun) but hopefully after the barbecue and margarita making contest on Friday night, breakfast and table setting on Saturday morning, everyone will feel that way.

    "Of course it didn’t matter to us because we were just so stoked to be marrying each other" Exactly.

    Congratulations–you look radiant!!

  • i love all of it…but i keep coming back to the tree.

  • KD

    Envy isn't something I'm used to feeling, but this wedding is turning me upside down.

    I covet your wedding!

    The community, the joy, the nature… takes my breath away!

    And what beautiful advice as well. I will definitely plan on leaving some stuff to others so certain things can unfold for me. Thanks!

  • Meg

    I've been thinking a lot about the tree today myself…

  • Hannah

    Oh that dress that dress that dress

  • I'm loving the overall feeling of your wedding – it has such a focus on happiness rather than budgets or expectations. Perfect!

    As the others have mentioned, your dress is simply gorgeous. I'm in the research stages of making my own dress and would love it if you took the time to answer a few questions. What sort of pleats were used on the skirt (boxed?) and what type and weight of fabric do you think was used? Thanks and congratulations!

  • Wow a wedding weekend sounds like bliss. Gives you a chance to really immerse yourself in the experience. Congrats

  • Nat

    This post couldn't be more perfectly timed for me! Your wedding sounds so much like the wedding we're trying to plan. We're having it at a farm-stay property which generally takes school groups to do horse riding and fishing and the like. We'll also be encouraging guests to stay from Friday through to Sunday and will be subsidising their accomodation.

    I have been having trouble working out how to manage a weekend, as well as a wedding! It was actually only last night that I couldn't get to sleep because I was trying to work out how I'd organise brunch before the wedding and get ready. After reading your post it occurs to me, *I* don't have to, someone else can and will probably LOVE to do it. It seems obvious, but what a relief it is to realise. Thanks again!

  • Meg, I've been reading your blog for quite awhile now and this is the first wedding graduate post that has made me cry.

    All I can say is wow.

  • Meg

    You have a spine of steel. I'd say every 2.5 weeks one makes me teary (while I'm coding, oddly I don't read them again when they go up…)

  • JD

    I love it! We're going to be having our wedding location for our wedding party from Friday night-Sunday morning.. with a friday night bbq for everyone who is in town and sunday morning brunch at the local dinner we often frequented…its not quite the same, but I'm hoping to create some of that community feeling too.

  • This is so so lovely! A lot of times I feel annoyed and stressed out when weddings turn into multiple-day affairs, but I have to say, when done right (like this one seems to have been), they are absolutely wonderful.

    A few years back my cousin married the sweetest Southern woman and they had a big old-fashioned Southern wedding–days of dinners, long lunches, outings, and by the final post-wedding mid-afternoon lunch, we were all sad to leave! We all felt so welcomed by her little town (everywhere we went people would say "You're with the wedding, aren't you!") and it was such a wonderful way to get the two new families to blend together.

  • Sarah

    i think that organizing people who are coming from out of town is one of my biggest fears… congrats to you for taking it up in stride!

  • GAWD THANK YOU. This wedding is EXACTLY what i needed to see tonight.

  • Meg


    This is not a contest. It's just doing something that makes you happy. Is all.

  • Jessica

    GORGEOUS dress!!!!!

  • Sara

    WOW! I'm so humbled and happy – thank you for all the amazing comments.

    My frock: was made by a wonderful S.African designer called Karen Ter Morshuizen who designs under the label Lunar ( Having a frock made for you in SA is actually pretty cost-efficient (cos we're so far away from most dress labels). The AMAZING blushing bride protea was painted by a local artist and then scanned and screen printed onto the raw silk. Um, Briar, I have no idea about the other stuff, but i know the raw silk was the really good "conscious" type (Lunar is like that), there was loads of it, and I wanted the pleats to have a 1940's feel… and it was important to show off some clevage!

    And yes, that tree is INcredible… once we'd seen it we couldn't imagine getting married anywhere else! The whole reserve is amazing. does the accomodation so if you're planning a trip to SA…

    Finally: PLEASE don't be silly. As Meg says: it are not a competition, guy (ok I paraphrased a bit). We had a fabulous wedding cos we stuck to what felt just right for us. Every wedding that does that ends up being a real celebration of that couple. It's unimaginable that 98% of our mateys (even the ones we like the most!) could have felt *right* having a wedding like ours. But so many of their weddings have been tre-men-dous for no other reason that it (the wedding) was right for them.

    Wedding planning is such an exciting time because you get to figure out an aesthetic and a way of working together as a couple: you get to learn a bit more about your (pl) character! And then you invite enveryone round to enjoy it. I think that sometimes the focus gets lost here – that sometimes we brides get so excited we try to *show* it off as opposed to inviting our guests to just celebrate the Amazing And Unique Couple Vibe. Showing can end up feeling a bit artificial. Celebrating surely can't!?!

  • April

    OH. MY. WOW. I got goosebumps and tears reading your post and seeing the pictures. And I also have SERIOUS wedding envy!!!!

    What a lovely, laid-back, fun, and inviting celebration it looks like you had!

  • oh, I love this!

    I studied abroad in SA in 2002, and am so excited to be going back this summer during the World Cup. Really great to see a full SA wedding here, complete with braai!

  • really really good one.

  • THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for posting this wedding! I am South African and I know that I will be getting married in CT and I am SO thrilled to see all these great ideas. Seriously, thank you Meg. And thank you Sara for helping me to realise again that you can still have a great wedding out of the US even when it seems that every single wedding on the blogosphere takes place there.

  • Meg

    I have done a lot of Australian, British, and Scottish weddings (enough that I have a sort of standard procedure of not changing the spelling to American spelling ;) But never South African. But if you send me yours, I'll have two!