Big Wedding, Small Budget

Getting Started

It’s really time to start writing the ceremony. Even though we have more than three months until the wedding, I want to have enough time to really be thoughtful while I’m working on it, go over it with Steve and make changes, go over it with Ilana (our officiant) and make more changes, and then review it finally and finish it. The ceremony is not something I want to be writing at the last minute.

But, man, it is so much more difficult than I expected! Or at least, it’s more difficult to get started than I expected. I think part of the problem is the freedom. Even though we’re using a basic Jewish ceremony structure, we are really starting almost from scratch. In a lot of ways, I think it would be easier if we just had a proscribed ceremony to use. But we don’t.

I realized the other day that this process reminds me of writing a paper in college vs. writing a paper in grad school. In college, I took a ton of literature and sociology classes (and by a ton, I mean I could have majored in the “writing intensive” course qualifier). The papers I wrote for those classes came with very few guidelines. The assignment was basically to make an argument based on what we had read and spend 10-15 pages (or more) supporting that argument. We had so much freedom; we really had to start from scratch. In contrast, the papers I wrote in grad school came with a topic, an assignment with specific questions to cover, and a rubric to sue when grading to make sure we covered everything. Much more laid out, and almost always easier to write.

The thing is, I enjoyed writing papers in undergrad way more. I relished the chance to write about something meaningful to me, to craft my argument however I wanted. And this is the same. So, I’ve decided to attach writing the ceremony just as I attacked paper writing in college. Start with an outline, think about it incessantly, and finally, just start getting something down on the page. The rest will come. The important thing for me to remember is that getting started was always the hardest part.

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Wedding Programs

This past week, I broke my rule of sticking to my to-do list timeline and started working on our wedding programs. I mean, when inspiration hits, you’ve got to stop what you’re doing and follow it, right? So that’s what I did. It’s actually been a lot of fun playing with font, design, and layout. DIY on the computer is my favorite kind of DIY, apparently, and it makes me excited for some of the other projects I have planned to do for the wedding.

In the big picture, programs are pretty minor, I think, but in our wedding, they’re actually fairly important. Since we’re having an intercultural wedding, there will be many guests who have not attended a Jewish wedding before and are totally unfamiliar with the traditions. I don’t really want our officiant to have to introduce every step of the ceremony (that would take forever), so it’s easier and more helpful to just put it all in the program. It’s also a way to introduce our non-traditional wedding party, since the bridesmaids and ushers won’t be walking down the aisle or standing up front (just our families will be doing that). And finally, we’re having a lot of (hopefully) unique touches at the reception, and the layout isn’t traditional. So, I want to make sure that the guests find and sign the guestbook, know that we have lawn games, and sample the dessert. None of those elements will be happening in the traditional way, so the program serves as a kind of “guide” to the reception as well.

Putting together the program has also amped up the excitement level exponentially. For the first time, I saw our whole wedding laid out, written down on paper. Every step, every special element was there. Things are coming together, and the program highlighted all of the decisions and plans that have already been made. It was so much to fun to picture all of the things I was writing about!

Although I already have the design for our program done, I wanted to highlight some of the fun ideas I have seen out on the interwebs. Sources listed below the pictures, as always!

Remember those folded paper fortune tellers we used as kids? It would be so fun to have them as a wedding program! From Alchemy Hour Designs on Etsy.

Having an outdoor wedding and worried about it being hot? Combine your program and giving some comfort to your guests. From A Cool Breeze.

This might be my favorite wedding program ever. It’s the Daily Prophet! This is Offbeat Bride; if you click the link, you can actually see the context and text of the program.

I think the scroll programs are classy, but still a little unique. From

This may not look like much, but in the Offbeat Bride world, it’s considered to be the mother of all wedding programs. It’s worth clicking the link to read the content; it’s hilarious.

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Now that I’m starting to think concretely about our ceremony, I’ve arrive at the question of vows. Namely, do we do them at all? And if so, what kind of vows would we use?

As I’ve mentioned before, we plan to use the structure of a Jewish ceremony as our base. A traditional Jewish ceremony doesn’t actually include any vows. It does include a declaration that the groom (and bride in an egalitarian ceremony) make when they exchange rings. But there are not promises, no stating of “I do” or “I will.”

Surprisingly, those words have become important to me. I guess it’s indicative of my assimilation into American culture. But I’ve always thought that the point of a more public wedding ceremony, for me at least, was to promise things to each other in front of our community. And saying, “I do” makes it feel like a wedding to me. Also, neither Steve nor I speak Hebrew, so it feels important to me to declare something in English, which we both obviously understand. Thirdly, I really want to include some English wedding tradition in the ceremony to represent Steve’s background. And lastly, without thinking about it, I wrote the invitation wording to say “as they exchange marriage vows,” so clearly, the vows are important to me on a subconscious level.

So, it looks like we will be doing some form of English vows. The second question to consider is that of writing our own vs. using established tradition vows. I have been to weddings of each kind. Vows that the bride and groom have written themselves add an intimacy and personal touch to the ceremony that is incomparable. They are touching and romantic. They give the wedding guest a window into the relationship that everyone is celebrating that day.

Traditional vows, on the other hand express the fact that, by getting married, the couple is joining in an established institution, with all the weight and support of history. Established vows that come from the bride and/or groom’s culture have personal meaning. And I think that in an intercultural wedding, using vows and traditions from each culture help initiate the other person into that culture. They also help bring the two sides of the new family together, where each is represented.

As you can see, there are definite advantages to each. So I think it really comes down to personal preference. The truth is, Steve and I (especially Steve) are fairly private people. Neither of us is particularly comfortable with confessing all of our most intimate feelings in front of a large crowd, even a large crowd made up of our friends and families. Also, the traditional English wedding vows (which, of course we would modify somewhat) sound like something straight out of the movies to this Jewish American girl!

In case it hasn’t become clear by now, it looks like we will be including some semi-traditional English vows into the ceremony, probably to then be followed by the Jewish exchanging of rings. I think it’s the perfect way to represent both of our backgrounds while still staying true to our beliefs. This is shaping up to be a truly intercultural ceremony.

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Crafting our Ceremony

Now that we have an officiant for the wedding, it’s time to start working on the ceremony. This is anything but simple. Being an atheist, inter-cultural couple comes with its challenges, and creating a ceremony that incorporates all of that should be a special challenge indeed. But I think this will probably be one of the most rewarding parts of planning the wedding, and I know it will make the actual ceremony even more meaningful, knowing all of the thought and emotion that went into it.

I probably won’t go into too much detail about the ceremony on the blog, since I don’t want to divulge too much. But here is a general framework of what I’m thinking:

I’m planning to structure the ceremony around the traditional Jewish wedding. We’ll sign a Ketubah before the ceremony begins. We’ll be walked in by our parents, we’ll have a chuppah. I’m not sure if we’ll have the circling or not, but I’m considering it. We’ll have a ring exchange, the sheva brachot will be recited, we’ll drink some wine, and Steve will break a glass. My absolute favorite part of every wedding is when the groom stomps on the glass and everyone erupts into shouts of “Mazel Tov!” So, that will definitely be happening.

Within that traditional structure, I’ll be adding, subtracting, and changing in order to make this a ceremony that really works for us. First, everything will be egalitarian. We’ll each be giving each other a ring. We’ll both drink the wine. If we include circling, that will have to be egalitarian as well. Second, the Hebrew (and English) wording will be altered to reflect our secular beliefs (or non-beliefs, depending on how you look at it). I’ve found some good Humanistic Jewish resources to use as a guide. We both feel strongly about having the wording of the ceremony match up with our particular set of values; neither of us wants to be simply repeating words that have no meaning for us whatsoever. Third, I’d really like to add some vows in English to the ceremony. Most of our guests will not speak Hebrew, and a large number of them will be completely unfamiliar with a Jewish wedding. Also, neither Steve nor I speak Hebrew, so I like the idea of us doing some vows in English. These will not be personal vows; both of us are fairly private people when it comes to declaring our feelings in public. Instead, I’ll probably use some version of traditional English wedding vows. We’ll change those to make them secular, too. And we’ll have to decide how much of the antiquated language we want to use. Thee instead of you? Probably not. But the part about “I plight thee my troth?” Delightful.

Of course, our officiant may want to add things in as well, so I have a feeling this will be a work in progress for quite some time. For now, I’m just glad to have an idea of where it’s going.

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Trusting Myself

I’ve always been a decisive person. Once I make a choice, I stick with it. I do take a long time to make a decision, though. I like to explore all of the options and think about the advantages and disadvantages of each. I try to imagine how each choice would work out in the long run, and how each would make me feel. I think about issues again and again, moving slowly toward a decision. And when I’m finally finished, I relish the accomplishment of moving forward, of making a choice. I don’t look back.

For some reason, I thought planning a wedding would be a little different. I read posts from so many women online second guessing their decisions, especially after getting negative feedback from other people. I’ve heard about so many people completely scrapping their wedding plans after changing their mind.

So yeah, I thought wedding planning would involve a lot of self doubt, second guessing, and questioning myself. Luckily, I was wrong. Each decision I’ve made has left me feeling good, feeling resolute, and feeling ready to move forward.

Yesterday was the first time, though, that I made a really emotional decision for the wedding. I asked a friend to be our officiant. And this was a difficult decision. I always imagined getting married by one of our Rabbis (not an option now because Steve isn’t Jewish). I really had to examine whether or not I wanted to hire a rabbi who would be willing to officiate our wedding. And I had to do some research into what Jewish law requires (not that our interfaith marriage is recognized, but I am nothing if not contradictory).

It turns out that I didn’t love the idea of paying someone to marry us that we didn’t know. And Jewish law only requires that someone educated and literate in Judaism perform the ceremony; clergy is not required, since the couple actually marries each other rather than having someone else marry them. So, slowly, after imagining how it would feel to get married by a friend, we made our decision.

And then, I waited a couple of weeks to ask her. I expected to feel uncomfortable with such an untraditional choice, to regret it, to feel the loss of the wedding ceremony I had expected to have. I didn’t want to ask until I was sure.

But the truth was, I was really sure all along. So yesterday, I asked. And she said yes. And afterwards, I felt absolutely no regret, no sadness. I felt like a weight had been lifted. I felt nothing but immense excitement and joy.

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Our Ceremony, Unplugged

Ever since I read on Offbeat Bride about an unplugged ceremony, I have wanted to have them. I’ve attended too many weddings where everyone is holding up cameras and cell phones during the ceremony, where the professional photos of the bride walking down the aisle show guests’ smartphones instead of their faces. I want people to really be present at our ceremony, to be part of it.

The reception is a different story. Having guests take pictures there is part of the fun, and we will probably set up a share site for people to upload their photos. With such a big wedding, there is no way our professional photographer can capture absolutely everything that is going on, and I’m excited to see our wedding from our friends’ perspectives.

We’ll probably put something about the unplugged wedding on our website, in the program, and we may have our officiant announce it at the beginning. I hope people won’t feel bossed-around or upset. We’ll be happy to share our professional photos of the ceremony.

Asking people to put down their electronics these days feels a bit subversive and heavy-handed. But I think it’s worth it. For me, the whole point of having a wedding is to get married, to make those promises, in front of our friends and family. Not in front of their IPhones.

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