Most wedding customs are so stale you could leave almost all of them out of your big day and hardly anyone would notice. No one ever has walked out of a reception saying, "The food was divine, but I can't believe we didn't do the chicken dance. I declare." (I have no idea why I gave that guest a southern accent. It just felt right.)
There are four traditions that stand the test of time. They are personalized vows, the open bar, the best man's speech and the honeymoon. It's these four that can make a wedding special for the bride and groom and everyone in attendance.
Personalized Vows I've been to wedding ceremonies in which couples wrote their own vows and it made the entire day. When two people take the time to personalize the most important words they’ll ever say to each other it causes the guests to think "Hey, these kids have a shot. They're not just getting married. They're marrying each other." That's a big difference.
The traditional "for better or for worse" vows don’t do the bride and groom justice. These people have been through better and worse. They have planned an American wedding, an event that in modern dollars and man-hours equals approximately the entire Normandy Invasion. If you can plan a wedding together, you can live together, buy a house together, invade Nazi Europe together, etc.
And vows should be meaningful. If your fiancée is putting you through college, praise him. If you both share an unhealthy devotion to the Food Network's Rachael Ray, mention it. If you have an embarrassing story that shows how much your husband loves you, please share it with all so that we may mock him mercilessly at the reception. This is why we come to weddings. Well, this and…
The Open Bar Going to a wedding reception that does not have an open bar is like going to California and only seeing Fresno. No offense to Fresno, which I am told is lovely, but no one goes to the West Coast just to check out the haps in the San Joaquin Valley. At the risk of mixing analogies, you go to California to drink margaritas in San Diego, have a few Red Bull and vodkas in Los Angeles and enjoy fine wine in San Francisco.
An open bar is part of the unspoken contract between bridal party and guests. In exchange for a generous gift and any expenses incurred through the purchase of new hair styling, clothes or travel, you must provide your guests with an opportunity to make total asses of themselves in a rented space. You win out in the long run because you will own your reception video—and what is left of their reputations—forever.
Besides, you don't want to be known as a closed-bar wedding. You could host an elaborate ceremony on a scenic Hawaiian bluff with the Rev. Jesse Jackson presiding as the bride and groom parachute from a B-52 Stratofortress while Yo-Yo Ma and Kid Rock perform a breathtaking duet and, if you don't provide free booze, the only thing any guy in attendance will say about that day is, "Dude, closed bar."
Best Man Speech Everyone always listens during the best man's speech. I mean really listens. Uncles who don't listen to aunts, teens who don't listen to parents, old people who don't listen to doctors – they all pay real close attention when the best man speaks. It’s so quiet you can actually hear the DJ fantasizing about his sweet Trans-Am. Yes, it's that quiet.
Have you ever wondered why we pay such close attention? Here's why. The best man's speech is the ultimate seal of approval. Here's a man who's probably a lifelong friend of the groom. This man knows in the back of his mind that their friendship will never be the same. No one in the room has more to lose by this couple getting married. But if this man who is losing his best friend and facing many a lonely weekend playing Xbox, if this man can give his blessing, then who can object?
And that's why we listen to his words, because he is the most objective person in the room, because what he is expressing is as close to real honesty as you’ll ever hear from a public speaker and because, with a little luck, he'll be just tipsy enough to pull a Steve Buscemi from "The Wedding Singer."
The Honeymoon The more I research the origin of the honeymoon, the more I wish I was a Viking. (To be fair, everything makes me wish I was a Viking.) Legend has it that Northern European men in the mood to marry used to abduct their wives from neighboring villages and take them into hiding while the bride's father and brothers hunted them down. This hiding period came to be known as the honeymoon. How romantic.
The name itself came from a drink the bride and groom would share—mead—that was made from honey. Couples would drink a cup of mead per day during the first 30 days of marriage, presumably to take the edge off the wife's recent kidnapping. (Admit it. There’s a part of you that longs to be kidnapped by a take-no-prisoners Norseman who never wears shirts. I know how you women think.)
In a twist of fate that surely has generations of Viking fathers rolling over in their fiery ship graves, many parents now pay for their daughter's honeymoon. (To keep up with modern times, perhaps we should rename the whole tradition boxedwinemoon. I’m just throwing that out there.)
The tradition is a keeper. Marriage is a celebration of love. You can share that with your family and friends, and we’re glad you do. But it should be an intimate celebration too, because this is the person you will be spending the rest of your life with—not us—and the only way to do that moment justice is alone with beautiful sunsets, lots of laughter and at least a 30-day supply of mead.
To read the first part of this column—on which wedding traditions need to go—pick up the latest issues of Brides local magazines.