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  • Writer's pictureJeanette Baker

Weddings Now, Weddings Then

It is February, the month of romance, Valentine’s Day, See’s candy expeditions and excited children carrying their paper offerings to school with great care. Interestingly, quite a few weddings are planned in February, not so many as in traditional June, but enough to qualify as an alternate wedding month.

Over the last 40 years, weddings have become complicated and far more expensive. My first wedding was small. Close family and friends gathered at St. Bartholomew’s Catholic Church with an afternoon reception held in my parents’ living room. People sat on couches, on the floor and hung out in the kitchen eating ham sandwiches and cake. That marriage lasted 26 years but no matter the effort on both sides, it was never going to be a forever marriage. Still, my ex-husband was (still is) very smart in all the areas I’m not. I’m grateful for that given we had two children together. Both of them inherited the best of both of us.

My second marriage was cut short in 2006 by my husband’s kidney cancer and subsequent death. That was hard, very hard. It’s been sixteen years and I still try not to think about it.

My current husband has a lovely Irish accent, a home in Tralee, Ireland, Co. Kerry, is left-handed, can fix almost anything and plays the saxophone professionally. I wasn’t going to get married again given my track record and because I really liked living alone, but I changed my mind when I heard him play that saxophone. I did wait for six years before tying the knot.

70 years ago, a Justice of the Peace married my parents. World War II was barely over and my mother wore a new navy suit to celebrate. My dad tipped the officiate $5 and somewhere during the journey to sunny California they threw away their umbrellas. I have no idea who their witnesses were and there is no longer anyone to ask. The feeling was, as in so many marriages of the time, that as long as the bride, the groom and the priest showed up, as long as there was cake and champagne, as long as friends witnessed the occasion, the wedding was a success. No one registered anywhere for anything.

Today’s weddings are planned to the last detail with lighting, a band, before the ceremony music, after the ceremony music, cake tastings, entrée samplings, favors, video photography, engagement pictures, save the date notices and, to top it all off, a wedding planner who coordinates the day assuring that all will run smoothly. The cost is staggering and I haven’t even mentioned destination weddings.

One would think cleaning out the bank for a wedding is an American or maybe even a California custom, but that isn’t so. Across the pond, in the British Isles and in Ireland, weddings are even more elaborate and shockingly expensive with men and women dressed to the nines. Women wear fascinators, (small hats with flowers) incredible dresses and strappy sandals guaranteed to sprain the ankles of those over 40. Men always dress in suits and ties. A band, a full bar and a guest list in the 300s are customary as are religious ceremonies, lavish feasts with several entrees followed by a more intimate celebration and more food for those who stay late.

I’m nostalgic for customs common to newly weds hundreds of years ago, customs such as jumping over the broom or hand-fasting where after a year and a day if a couple didn’t suit, the two went their separate ways without rancor or fiscal hardship. All children from such a union were recognized as legitimate. I like the dowry idea, too, and the bride price paid to the bride's family. It seems more equitable to share the cost.

I've often thought that marriages should be lavish affairs much later when a couple’s commitment to each other is long standing and without question, a 25th wedding anniversary for example. Wouldn’t it be better to go all out and celebrate a long-married couples’ love and tolerance with an event that measures up to that kind of commitment? What, after all, do 20 somethings know of hardship, sacrifice, loving someone other than themselves and hanging in there no matter what life throws at them? I am happy to see that more couples are taking their time to commit to this most important of all decisions.

We look forward to St. Valentine’s Day, to happy endings, to online matchmaking and romantic movies, hoping for the right someone to share life with. No one really knows how people manage their relationships or why one couple stays together happily for a lifetime while others decide to start over and try a different path.

Several years ago, friends of mine celebrated their 50th anniversary. It is an evening I think about often. Hosted by their daughters, it was a lovely and tasteful affair despite the torrential rain that pounded the rooftops. Guests shared food, wine, conversation, laughter and friendship. I remember thinking, what a grand thing it is to be married and still in love after 50 years. It is more than grand, it is inspiring and miraculous to share in the glow of knowing this lovely couple would marry each other all over again.

I’ve included a personal (and brief) list of what makes a wedding lovely and comfortable for guests, friends, the wedding party and me. A wedding planner is essential for those who are not particularly organized. That would also be me.

At some point during the day before the ceremony, the bride and groom should be fed especially if an evening wedding is planned.

Vows should be meaningful, not too humorous or too sentimental. (You should probably ask the best man if you can take a look at his written speech. Make sure he actually has a written speech.)

Candles. There is nothing more beautiful than the glow of candlelight after the sun goes down.

The band… An accomplished and professional live band is a gift for the guests as well as for the bride and groom. (My choice would be the Jennifer Keith quintet. They are an incredible swing band.) Give up whatever you must for this treat.

Flowers, no matter what kind, speak of celebration.

I’m not a fan of an open bar that is open all through the night but many people wouldn’t have a wedding without one. I'm happy with wines that compliment the meal and good champagne, the kind with the smallest of bubbles...enough said.

Guests seated with those they know and are comfortable with are happy guests.

Smaller table groups encourage conversation.

The bride and groom should greet all guests together and personally thank them for coming.

Do not be embarrassed to dance. Dancing is fun when you’re confident on the dance floor. Take lessons if you must. A great time will be had by all.

Hire a wedding planner. Yes, they are expensive but you are hosting that once in a lifetime wedding.

Happy Valentine’s Day

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