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Planning Your Wedding Ceremony
by Judy Lewis, HudsonValleyWeddings.com, Woodstock, NY
Planning Your Wedding Ceremony From Vows To Checklist
Your wedding ceremony is the very core of your special day. Making it just right, as with every other part of your wedding, requires careful planning and organization. Although there are price parameters to be considered here as well, the successful ceremony is more an issue of content than of budget. Once again, it is best to break down the larger issue into smaller components. If you do your research and planning carefully, arranging your ceremony can be a fulfilling, pleasant, and even a spiritual experience.
Begin by deciding the type of ceremony you wish to have. Whether you want the ceremony to be held by a Village or Town Justice of the Peace, clergy person, or other officiator, find and reserve that person early. If you have a civil ceremony, most justices are open to performing the ceremony in any number of different kinds of locations, as long as it is within their and your State. Different states require different licensure and have different legal requirements. Discuss the parameters and requirements of such a service with your officiator.
If you are going to have a Catholic ceremony, you have basically two choices: a ceremony contained within a mass, or a service held without a mass. Practicing Catholics tend to prefer the former. Once that decision is made, the parameters are fairly well laid out by tradition. Changes and additions may be made, but the priest is the final arbiter of what is and is not appropriate. This varies greatly from a Quaker or Friends ceremony in which anyone in the congregation may speak, at any length, on virtually any subject (preferably one that is spiritual rather than mundane). Jewish wedding ceremonies traditionally end with a "bang," the shattering of a glass underfoot. There are a variety of interpretations for this tradition, just one of which is the addition to every happy event, a bit of sadness that recalls the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Religious ceremonies each have their own particular guidelines, too numerous to mention here. So, If you wish to have a religious ceremony, your best resource for information is your clergy person. Interfaith, intercultural ceremonies, or same-sex commitment ceremonies all come with their own particular details and specifics. It is best for you to consult with your officiator or another expert to give you the guidelines and make suggestions for the preparation of a tasteful, moving ceremony. Your clergy person may also have special requirements for the bride and groom, such as premarital counseling for discussion of critical issues in your upcoming marriage.
You will need to pick a location for your ceremony. Especially if it is to be held in a church or synagogue, you should make reservations way in advance. Popular seasons and times of year, get taken early. Planning a year in advance is not too much ahead of time.
Next comes your decision regarding you wedding vows. Weddings today are stressing enduring values, with couples placing emphasis on their shared trust, faith, and monogamy. Your wedding vows are a public declaration of your marriage. You may choose traditional wedding vows, you may write your own vows, or you may use a combination of the old and the new.
You can make your vows more relevant to you by substituting words or phrases, by adding verses, and by mentioning family and friends. In this way, you personalize your vows so that they become more meaningful to you and your guests. Verses you select may come from the Scriptures or prayers from the Bible, in which there are many lovely words that emphasize the sanctity of marriage. You may choose to do a reading from a favorite book, poem, or play that has particular significance to the two of you. Some brides and grooms get even more "serious" by quoting from works of philosophy which illustrate their feelings and convictions to one another.
In a Jewish wedding, the vows, so to speak, are the ketubah, or wedding contract, signed by the couple before the ceremony. In some cases, the circumstance surrounding recitation of the vows is more important even than the content. Couples who have a strong belief in astrology may be concerned about waiting for a particular planetary alignment to start their marriage in an auspicious way. Whether your wedding is a large, formal one, or a small, intimate one, the ambiance of the ceremony can be enhanced by your choice and delivery of your wedding vows.
Should you choose to have music at your ceremony, it will add immeasurably to the magic of the moment. Music always has the ability to set the tone for an event. This is equally true for your ceremony. Music must be chosen carefully, with attention to good taste, as well as to personal preferences. Traditionally ceremony music is performed by an organist and/or string quartet (violin, flute, harp), or a brass ensemble (trumpet, trombone, French horn, baritone). You may compliment your instrumental music with one or more vocal soloists.
Like with other aspects of your ceremony, you may stay with traditional musical instruments and selections or you may be more experimental and "creative" by selecting more contemporary music. The use of guitar or harp, with or without an accompanying soloist, is just one suggestion. An ensemble of two to five string or wind instruments is another alternative.
Music can begin being played as your guests enter and are seated. This should take between 20 and 30 minutes depending on the number of guests and the size of the location. Music can accompany various parts of the ceremony. When the wedding party enters, musical accompaniment, from the tradition wedding march to a mixed variety of pieces can be played. If the clergy person sings any of the parts of ceremony, he or she may choose to have musical accompaniment. Music continues during the recessional, as the wedding party and then the guests exit. The clergy or officiator may be asked to make recommendations regarding both the kinds of music and the choice of musicians, and vocalists.
You will first need to decide the kind of music you like. Do so by listening to as many different choices as possible. Many musical groups will furnish you with tapes to listen to in order to make your choice. Be careful with your choice of pieces, because some religious groups may restrict the use of secular pieces, even though in most cases you will have complete freedom with regard to the kinds of musical instruments. Once you have selected your musicians, they become another valuable resource. They will be pleased to offer you with suggestions, of lists of suggestions of music they suggest for the different segments of your ceremony.
Keep in mind that there may be religious restrictions regarding photography, videos, and music during the ceremony, Be certain to check with your clergy person for those parameters.
One of your best resources for planning your wedding ceremony is your clergy person or wedding officiator. These are professionals who have participated in many ceremonies, know what to expect, can guide you, and keep you clear of pitfalls. They are aware of the legal requirements, as well as other details of your ceremony and will be pleased to assist you.
Other bits of nontraditional, or novel additions to your ceremony are the lighting of a unity candle to symbolize the unity of the newly created family. Especially when the wedding is between couples of different religious or ethnic backgrounds, the blending of cultures and traditions is an option that brides and grooms are taking more and more often. One way of differentiating a ceremony is by embracing a variety of histories. One such example is the inclusion of the African tradition in which the bride and groom jump a broom, and the Latin custom in which the bridal couple are encircled by a braided silver necklace to signify the formation of a new family unit.
One lovely sentimental touch that can be added to your ceremony, is the presentation of bouquets by the bride and groom to each other's mothers.
Your wedding rings serve as a reminder, always, of your commitment to one another. Jewish tradition calls for the groom to convey something of value to his bride (and more recently, she to him, as well). This conveyance seals the wedding contract, so it is in a sense part of a legal ceremony. Although couples have also exchanged other items, rings still win out.
It is extraordinarily important for you to share the details of your ceremony with all the professionals who will take part in your wedding. If they each know the details, they can make certain that they perform their allotted functions in a timely, organized way, including and covering everything you deem to be important. Discussion and communication are the keywords here!
Where possible and permissible, a thorough rehearsal of the wedding ceremony is suggested. For some reason the rehearsal dinner has flourished while the actual rehearsal often falls away. Take your time at the rehearsal, and have everyone participating run through the routine at least twice. The goal here is to get everyone familiar with the schedule and comfortable.
Remember to keep in mind that planning your ceremony should be a bonding element between bride and groom. Try not to allow disagreements about details to adversely impact on this delightful aspect of your wedding.
Ceremony Hot Tips
An environmentally correct alternative to having your guests toss rice at you as you leave the church, adds a nice touch. Have your florist or a friend, make paper cones (you might even have your name printed on these) which are then filled with rose petals. Have guests throw the petals instead of rice.
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