Planning the Ceremony
Now that you've got your ceremony location and officiant booked, you can begin thinking about the elements of your ceremony. Although there are no hard and fast rules about how a wedding ceremony runs, there are some basics that you'll see in every wedding.
Here is a generic ceremony, from start to finish, that you can use when outlining your own ceremony:
Processional. This is when the bridal party enters the ceremony. Usually, the groom and his best man enter first. Then come the bridesmaids and the ushers. Next it's the flower girl, if there is one. Finally, the bride enters. One or both of her parents or a male relative can escort her, or she can walk in by herself.
Introduction. The officiant uses the introduction to welcome everyone to the couple's wedding and to talk a little bit about the couple.
Readings, prayers, and songs. If you would like to have any friends or family members participate in the wedding ceremony, this is where you would have them give a reading, say a prayer, or sing a song.
Wedding statement. The officiant uses this time in the ceremony to provide an overview of marriage, the commitment it involves, and any other historical or Biblical references to the sanctity of marriage.
Vows introduction. If the bride's father or the bride's parents are "giving her away," this is the part of the ceremony when the officiant will ask something like "Who gives this woman in marriage?" In some faiths or cultures, the officiant may insist that this question be first asked of the groom: "Who presents this man to be married to this woman?"
Vows and ring exchange. This is when the bride and the groom turn and face each other and exchange their vows, including placing their wedding rings on each other's fingers. You can write your own vows or you can use preprinted vows supplied by the officiant. You can memorize your vows or repeat them after the officiant; the choice is yours.
Pronouncement. After the vows and rings have been exchanged, the officiant may say a few words about the union your guests have just witnessed. Then he or she will pronounce you husband and wife.
Special additions to ceremony. This is where you can include any special elements that represent your heritage. It may be when a Jewish couple drinks from the same cup or has the groom smash the wine glass, or when a Christian couple lights the unity candle together.
Presentation. The officiant introduces the newly married couple to the guests in attendance.
Recessional. This is when all the participants in the wedding leave the ceremony, led by the bride and groom. It is also when guests may throw rose petals (see Figure 3.2) or birdseed, blow bubbles, ring bells, or do something else festive to hail the happy couple. (Of course, confirm with your ceremony site what types of confetti or other items are allowed to be thrown. Some facilities have restrictions on what you can and cannot use.) After the bride and groom leave the ceremony, the attendants follow, then the parents, and finally the guests.
You can include readings from the Bible, you can ask friends or family members to sing a song (one bride had an uncle, a professional singer, serenade the happy couple with an a cappella version of "Just The Way You Look Tonight"), or you can have people recite some of your favorite poetry. The more elements you can add to a ceremony that reflect the two of you, such as a favorite song or Bible verse, the more personal your wedding ceremony becomes.
Of course, you should work with your officiant when crafting your ceremony. He or she should have extensive experience in organizing a ceremony, and you should look to his or her expertise for ways to personalize your ceremony without making it run too long.
Figure 3.2 During the recessional your wedding guests may want to shower you and your new husband with good wishes by throwing something like rose petals.
Blending Religious and Cultural Elements in Your Ceremony
According to statistics from various Jewish groups, nearly half of all Jewish people getting married are marrying someone who isn't Jewish. The Jewish faith isn't alone in this intermarrying trend. Plenty of Lutherans marry Catholics, Muslims marry Methodists, and so on and so forth.
Just because you're marrying someone who was raised in a different faith, it doesn't mean that you can't have some representation of your religion at your wedding (even if it's only a small one). The following sections describe some ways that you can blend your religious backgrounds into creative elements of your wedding ceremony.
Using a Wedding Canopy
Traditionally, Jewish couples are married under a wedding canopy or chuppah, which is a prayer shawl suspended between four poles. One person holds each pole so that the chuppah is suspended over the couple. The chuppah is supposed to represent the fragility of marriage in that, at any time, it could fall or collapse.
Hindu wedding ceremonies also include some kind of wedding canopyusually constructed from wood instead of fabric. Here, the four poles of the wedding canopy represent the four parents who are giving away their children in marriage.
If only one of you is Jewish, you can still have the chuppah but you can make it uniquely your own by choosing a different fabric to suspend between the four poles. Instead of using a prayer shawl, you can use an antique tablecloth from one of your grandparents (it would qualify for the "old" or "borrowed" element of the "old, new, borrowed, and blue" idea that many brides weave into their ceremony). You could also choose to use a piece of tulle or fabric that matches the bride's gown (see Figure 3.3), or perhaps you'll invest in a handmade quilt for your wedding canopy, and you'll eventually use the quilt in the bedroom you'll share as husband and wife.
Figure 3.3 To add a unique element to your wedding canopy or chuppah, you can use fabric that matches your gown.
Even non-Jewish couples could consider using a wedding canopy or something similar to itespecially if they like the idea of getting married underneath a symbolic house. I've seen variations on the chuppah theme in the form of a flower-filled trellis or an arbor.
Using a Unity Candle
One of the most consistent symbols in a Christian wedding is that of the unity candle. The man and the woman each take a candle and light a third candle with each of their candles. This unified flame symbolizes the joining of two as one (see Figure 3.4).
Figure 3.4 The bride and groom each use a candle to light a third, known as the unity candle. This custom offers a superb symbol for the unity of marriage.
Whether one of you is Christian or not, you may find the idea of combining two flames into one a wonderful addition to your wedding and decide to include the unity candle in your ceremony. Many couples include other members of their family in the unity candle lighting ceremony, such as each of the bride's and the groom's parents joining in on the lighting. Some couples that are bringing children to their marriage may also include the children in the candle lighting. However, ask your ceremony site first whether this would be acceptable; some states and/or facilities do not allow children to handle an open flame.
Adopting a Ketubah or Marriage Contract
Another element of Jewish weddings is the Ketubah. It is a religious marriage license (as opposed to a state-issued one) for a Jewish couple. It is usually written in Hebrew.
With the increasing rate of interfaith marriages among Jews and non-Jews, a number of companies now offer various versions of a Ketubahsome in Hebrew, some in English. Usually, these marriage contracts become a decorative item that a couple will frame and hang in their home.
Sharing a Glass of Wine
Both the Jewish and Christian faiths include the eating of bread and the drinking of wine in their religious ceremoniesthink of the preparation of communion and the "kiddush" service traditionally held after a synagogue service.
Sometimes the notion of sharing a first glass of wine as husband and wife is a part of a religious ceremony. You can choose to make this symbolic act part of your ceremony, if you'd like. In many cultures mothers perform this ritual, immediately as the couple enters the wedding.
Breaking the Wine Glass
Like the chuppah or wedding canopy, the tradition of breaking a wine glass at the end of a Jewish wedding is meant to symbolize how fragile love can beand how with one good smash of the foot, it can be broken forever.
Some other people believe that couples break a wine glass at the end of a Jewish ceremony because they want to symbolize the permanence of getting married. That is, once you break a glass, it is forever alteredyou cannot put it back together, piece by piece. The same could be said for getting married: Once you get married, you should look at it as a permanent act. Even couples with no connection to Judaism may like the symbolism behind this glass-breaking idea and choose to include the breaking of a wine glass in their ceremony.
Decorating the Hands and Feet with Mehndi
Mehndi is the custom of decorating the bride's hands (see Figure 3.5) and feet with henna or a temporary tattoo in an ornate design. You'll find mehndi on traditional Muslim or Hindu brides. The Muslim culture regards this as a time for the bride-to-be to have two days of peaceful and quiet reflection and meditation, since once the henna is put on her hands and feet she does not leave the house again until her wedding day.
Celebrities like Madonna and No Doubt singer Gwen Stefani have shown up at special events with mehndi designs on their hands and feet, and like piercings, mehndi is seen as a form of body art. If you're marrying someone for whom mehndi is a wedding ritualor it's a part of your heritageit would be a wonderful nod to that legacy to treat yourself to mehndi and to proudly wear it on your wedding day. Just be sure that your mehndi design is tastefully done and that it is not offensive to the culture.
If you decide to blend traditions from your religions into your ceremony, do your guests a favor and include something in your program about what you're doing and why. By explaining each of the traditions to them, you'll make them feel as if they are more active participants in your ceremony.
Figure 3.5 As a nod to either the bride or groom's Hindu or Muslim heritage, the bride may choose to have mehndi, or henna tattoos, applied to her hands and feet for her wedding.