Tradition or Novelty?
The trials and tribulations of twenty-first century wedding planning
To buck tradition or to embrace tradition? That is the crinoline-encased question facing modern couples when they plan a wedding in the 21st century.
My fiancé, Jake, and I grappled with this following our engagement on July 29, 2020. The ring went on my finger, and we were inundated with questions which some would say have obvious answers.
Who will walk us down the aisle?
Who will be the officiant?
Will we make a traditional registry?
Will we mail out invitations?
Will we do a bouquet toss?
We definitely don’t want to do a garter toss, right?
In case you are wondering, we are, indeed, not going to do a garter toss. Jake has yet to recover from watching that tradition unfurl at his sister’s wedding last fall.
As to the rest of those questions, however, we dove into a deep trove of research and an even deeper examination of our values to answer them.
When we began planning, we found an excruciating dichotomy between fulfilling the hopes and expectations of others on our wedding day, and remaining authentic to our own identity as a couple.
In truth, many wedding traditions are rooted in a society that is rapidly changing. They have become less relevant than they used to be.
This is a difficult situation for couples to be in. Certain wedding traditions might not reflect their relationship accurately.
On the other hand, couples may have guests who find comfort and joy from watching their loved ones take part in wedding traditions.
The solution? I don’t know that there is a perfect one. However, I would like to address a few common wedding traditions and why we personally chose to alter (Or altar? Pun intended) them.
The best laid plans
Planning a wedding is a job. Literally, if you are a wedding planner. It involves lots of decisions and inhuman organizational skills.
Naturally, many couples turn to the Internet for help during this trying time, and it offers solutions that follow a carefully-prescribed planning format.
We followed some of these suggestions, and threw caution to the wind and completely deviated from others.
The ring that starts it all
Traditionally, the wedding’s big bang (if we’re going to get scientific) is the proposal.
At the center of the proposal is the ring.
Ah, the ring. Jake and I watched a whole documentary about engagement rings on Netflix which left us scratching our heads as to how to approach this topic.
It seemed easiest to visit a jewelry store where I could slip a few examples on my finger, flash them around, and see which one made me feel the fanciest.
Then again, the documentary said jewelry stores inflate their prices to massive degrees. Better go online instead.
This worked well for us, actually. We designed my ring together, and were allowed to make it look however we wanted.
We even decided to set the ring with a lab-grown diamond as opposed to a natural diamond. It looks exactly the same, I assure you, is much more cost effective, and lets you avoid the moral ambiguities attached to the diamond mining industry.
Of course, this meant that the ring’s appearance was not even remotely a surprise to me. But I actually prefer this. I’ll wear it every day for the rest of my life, so really, I’m glad I had a say in what it looks like.
Will we make a traditional registry?
This is a wedding tradition which is wonderful in certain circumstances, but perhaps no longer fits every couple’s needs.
The tradition of gifting newlyweds items for their new home is a lovely one. Nonetheless, it stems from a time when most couples did not live together until after the wedding day.
Now, many couples choose to cohabitate prior to their marriage, Jake and myself included.
I’ll be honest, not only is our home already set up, but it is stuffed to the gills with possessions.
We decided to create a honeymoon registry instead. We will value a memorable trip to Rome together more than words can express, particularly given the delicious espresso they have there.
Paper or digital?
We faced this iconic dilemma of the 21st century when deciding how to distribute our wedding invitations.
People are drawn toward the tradition of beautifully-crafted, physical wedding invitations. They are proudly displayed on the fridges of countless wedding invitees.
That being said, there is a certain amount of inconvenience, and, let’s be honest, cost, surrounding physical wedding invitations.
The many intricate details of the wedding day are tough to squeeze onto a single piece of cardstock. Additionally, the rodeo of rounding up physical RSVPs from guests is daunting, to say the least.
Our solution was to find that elusive hybrid between the paper and digital worlds.
We did mail out physical wedding invitations. However, we requested that our guests RSVP digitally, a decision which we are infinitely glad we landed upon.
I can vouch that it is much easier to track digital RSVPs and dinner orders than it is to track hundreds of tiny pieces of cardstock which sporadically show up in your mailbox as the wedding day looms closer.
Calibrating the ceremony
The ceremony may not be the longest portion of the wedding, but, considering that the point of the wedding is, you know, getting married, your ceremony probably carries a great deal of meaning for you and your partner.
It did for us at least, which led us to make a few non-traditional decisions from the processional to the recessional.
Who will walk us down the aisle?
We both love our fathers, and we both love our mothers. We didn’t necessarily feel that one parent was more entitled to the honor of walking us down the aisle than the other.
Nonetheless, the father giving away the bride has become practically second-nature in Western wedding ceremonies. It is so expected, I don’t know that it is questioned all that often.
When I thought about it, however, it didn’t seem quite right that only my father should be giving me away. I felt that my mother has had an equally important role in my upbringing. Therefore, Jake and I decided to tweak this tradition at our wedding and asked both of our parents to accompany us down the aisle.
Our parents are on board, although my mother is worried she won’t be able to make it down the aisle without bursting into tears.
Who will be our officiant?
The officiant is the glue of the ceremony. They assume the formidable task of accurately communicating your love for each other to your guests.
We wanted our officiant to be someone who knows us inside and out as a couple, and understands how we want our relationship to be memorialized.
Accordingly, we asked a close, very dear friend to perform this role for us. He has known us for nearly the entirety of our relationship and can give both an accurate and meaningful account of our time together to our guests.
We are so glad he will be guiding us to those immortal words: ‘I do.’
Should we write our own vows?
Considering that I write for a living, I thought composing our own vows was a no-brainer.
On the other hand, my engineer fiancé, who does not write for a living and dreads the impending stares of 100 of our closest friends and relatives, felt stressed at this proposal.
We both wanted that personal touch, though.
Our solution was to write our own vows, but together, which allows us to make our vows both original and collaborative. We feel that reflects our views about marriage, anyway.
As a bonus, we’re avoiding the inevitability of 10 rambling pages of vows from me and a short, but very heartfelt paragraph from Jake.
After we say ‘I do’
Who doesn’t love a good wedding reception? You’d think you can’t go wrong as long as you feed people good food and let them get their boogie on to some catchy tunes.
Or so we thought.
This, in fact, may be the portion of the wedding when couples feel the most pressure to meet their guest’s expectations. The party is what everyone looks forward to, after all.
What will we feed over 100 people?
We went back and forth regarding the victuals we would serve to our hungry hundred guests.
Neither of us are particularly fond of the traditional plated meal; a meat-and-potatoes affair which we balked at spending thousands of dollars to procure.
We found a caterer we liked which offered palatable options at the low, low price of…let’s just say, we were willing to pay it.
Disaster struck, however. I received a cryptic email a month later informing me the caterer’s building had burned down, and they would no longer be able to feed us.
You just can’t make this stuff up.
Avoiding the temptation to view this as an ominous sign from the gods, we kept looking.
And, we were struck with inspiration.
One of our favorite restaurants is India Palace, a restaurant in Mankato which serves up a delicious array of curries, paneers, and naan bread.
Why not? We thought. It was certainly cheaper than traditional wedding food, and much more fun.
Though we’ve encountered resistance from some of our guests, we’ve also encountered an equal amount of guests who can’t wait to try something different.
This one definitely falls under the ‘you just can’t please everyone,’ category. We are pleasing ourselves, at least.
Will we do a bouquet toss?
Yes, but Jake gets to do one, too.
We had less significant reasons behind this choice. We just thought it would be amusing.
Additionally, all but two of my seven bridesmaids are already married, while Jake has several groomsmen who are not. Basic math supports our decision.
The takeaway on tradition
Overall, our choices regarding our wedding day were extremely personal to us.
Wedding traditions can be wonderful and beautiful. Many people look forward to leaning on their father’s arm while they walk down the aisle or registering for that long-awaited KitchenAid. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
I do feel, however, couples deserve the license and creativity to make their wedding day their own. A lifelong commitment to another person is monumental, and should be celebrated in a way which is as authentic to that couple as possible.
If planning a wedding has taught me anything, it is that weddings, like relationships (and wedding dresses) are not one-size-fits all.