Tips & Ideas


I frequent the Weddingbee message boards, and one of the frequent questions I find myself answering over there is “Where do you find a wedding officiant?”

Sometimes I think the Wedding Industrial Complex has forgotten about the wedding officiant.  I’ve met with couples who have been planning their wedding for 18 months – but didn’t think to hire an officiant until three weeks before.  Many couples worry about who is going to marry them if they don’t get married in a church or a temple, or if they are non-religious or don’t want a minister or a rabbi.  The WIC tells brides that they need to match their bridesmaid’s dresses to their shoes exactly, that you need monogrammed napkins and signature drinks – but tells you nothing about customizing or personalizing your wedding ceremony, which is one of the most important parts of the entire day – otherwise, it’s really just a party.

Here’s the thing:  wedding officiants and Celebrants are out there!  And we want to perform your wedding ceremony – exactly how you want it to be!  My weddings have NO requirements when it comes to their structure or content.  Sure, I’ll guide you in certain directions, based on my past experiences on what works, but you can basically choose exactly what you’d like to include in your wedding.  It’s always personal, and truly reflects the people being married.

And I’m not alone in doing this – there are Celebrants all over the United States (and a few scattered across other countries, too!) who want to work with you to create a beautiful wedding ceremony.  You just need to find them!  And we really do all that we can so you don’t feel like you’re being married by a wedding vendor or professional – we try to make it feel like you’re being married by a friend (well, at least, I do).  A friend who knows a lot about wedding traditions and the ins and outs of ceremony, that is.

So here are some tips when you begin your officiant search:

The best time to start looking for an officiant is when you decide WHERE your ceremony is going to be. Not only is it a peace of mind to know that you can be confident in your ceremony being as beautiful as your venue, but we also book up around four to twelve months before the wedding.  We may not be available or able to put together a great ceremony on very short notice (but it can be done!)

Start by Googling “wedding officiant in [your state]” to find some jumping off points. You can also check out websites like WeddingWire that have reviews from real brides (i.e., we can’t edit the responses) or TheKnot to see who is out there, too.

Schedule a meeting or phone call before signing a contract. There are some wedding pro’s that I think is OK for just one person to check out – but try your best to BOTH be at the phone call or meeting.  All Celebrants offer a no-obligation meeting, and I think it’s important to click and have a real connection with the person who is marrying you.  [Personal note: my fiance and I met with a few officiants for our wedding.  I spoke on the phone with one who I had a good connection with, but my fiance did not connect with her at all at the meeting – I was ready to hire her over the phone.  Meetings are important.]

Ask good questions at your meeting! I find that I almost always answer all of my couple’s questions in my initial wedding spiel, but here are some good questions to ask:

Are you legal to solemnize marriages in my state?
How do we get our wedding license?  Who files it?
Can we customize the ceremony?  Can we write our own vows?
Do you have a PA system you can bring, or a preference for amplification?
What do you wear?
Can we see the ceremony before hand?
How long are your typical wedding ceremonies?  How long do you think our wedding will be?
Do you prefer to communicate via email or phone?
Is a rehearsal included in the fee?  Do you recommend a rehearsal?  Do you attend the rehearsal?
How early do you arrive on the day of the ceremony?
Do you stay for the reception or the rehearsal dinner?
Do you have a backup?  What happens if you can’t make it to the wedding?
If we forget to get the license, will you still perform the ceremony?
Do you provide props for the ceremonies (handfasting, unity candle, etc)?

I think you should walk out of your meeting with your wedding officiant excited about your wedding and your ceremony, with a clear picture of the ceremony in your head.  A good officiant should be able to offer you assistance with your vows (either suggestions if you don’t plan on writing them, or editing if you do), reading suggestions, and help with rituals you may want to include.

I hope this helps with the daunting task of finding a wedding officiant who is right for you.  Have you found your wedding officiant yet?  How did you feel after meeting him or her?

As I’ve mentioned, my fiance Dan and I are so excited to be getting married in October of 2010.  Now that it’s less than a year (we’ve been planning since early 2008!), I’m starting to think through some details and elements that I want to include.

Our venue is a beautiful estate house, and once we visited, we decided the design theme for the wedding would be “Modern Vintage” – elegant and timeless touches combined with a modern twist.  This is the board I’ve put together with my dress and some of my accessories, along with some inspiration photos that capture the elegant feel we’re going for.

Credits, from top right and going clockwise:
Oleg Cassini dress by David’s Bridal; Inspiration Bouquet by Fleurspermail (love the grape hyacinths!); Dress Detail shot by me; Oleg Cassini dress by David’s Bridal; Monogram by Lindsey Rose Weisman; My faux engagement ring (Mystic Topaz in a setting by GreenKarat.com); Bridal Shot via Ruffled Blog; Shoes by John Fluevog; Shot of the venue via Flickr; Bouquet Detail Shot (saved without remembering where it came from! Do you know?  I’ll credit!)

I’ve had my dress in my possession for nearly a year now, and I just adore it.  I’m removing the taupe sash and adding in a metallic mint green one (how could I not throw as much green as possible into my bridal look?).  I have both a birdcage veil and my friend Lindsey’s veil to wear, too – I think I’ll wear the more traditional veil (a two tier fingertip veil with beautiful beading on it) for the ceremony, and the birdcage for the reception.  I have my hair trial in a few weeks, so maybe I’ll have more wedding inspiration to share!  It’s so interesting being on the other side of the wedding planning!

I recently met with a couple who were interested in ways to incorporate their support of marriage equality in their wedding ceremony – so I turned to one of my favorite sources (the internet!) to find some good ideas for them.  I am proud to live in a state that offers civil unions (it’s a big step in the right direction!).

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Officiating at the civil union of Jess & Lorrie

My favorite suggestions came from this A Practical Wedding blog post.  I really liked the idea of including a brief notice in your program:

Jessie and Dan believe that marriage is a universal human right, and look forward to the day that they can celebrate the joy and privilege of legal marriage with their LGBTQ friends and family.

Another suggestion that Meg had was, if you include a wine ceremony, to spill a few drops (kind of like at a Passover seder!) to suggest the sacrifices and sadness at the fact that our gay friends cannot have the same rights in marriage as we will.

White Knot

I also discovered the White Knot campaign, where you wear a small white knot, pinned to your shirt, to symbolize your support of Marriage Equality.  You’re encouraged to wear them EVERYWHERE and when people ask you about it – talk about it!  I hadn’t heard of this movement until this morning, but it’s one I really like, and is really simple to do.

PS: OffBeatBride is always a great resource for this, too, as well as a wonderful resource with some great “wedding porn” of gay weddings.

I thought I would take a few posts to write about the various unity ceremonies that can be included in wedding ceremonies.  There are not only so many wonderful rituals and traditions that you can include – but there are so many variations on each of them.

Let’s start with one of my favorites, the sand unity ceremony.

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In this ceremony, the bride and groom pour sand into a central vessel, to represent the many aspects of their lives coming together – and their marriage and lives will be as hard to break apart as it would be to separate the many grains of sand.

How It Works

We have the props set up on a small table at the front, which is usually directly behind where I am standing during the ceremony.  When it is time for the ceremony (usually at the end, just before the closing remarks and after the ring vows), the couple separates, each standing on one side of the table.  Depending on the room, I either go to stand behind the table, or I’ll go stand in front, slightly off-center, near the groomsmen.

Usually, there are two vials of colored sand, with a central (empty) vessel.  Sometimes, we will have a third color (if they’re incorporating kids in the ceremony, they’ll have their own color, or can pour their parent’s color, for step-families).

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If the couple wanted to include their family or parents, I invite them up, to stand on each side.  If we’re including kids, they’ll stand near their relevant color.  I then introduce the ceremony, and explain the meaning and relevance of the sand.

Our couple stands before two vessels of colored sand.  These represent their lives as separate individuals, and separate families.  Each one holds its own unique beauty, strength, and character.  They can stand on their own and be whole, without need of anything else.  However, when these sands are blended together, they create an entirely new and extraordinarily more intricate entity.  Each grain of sand brings to the mixture a lasting beauty that forever enriches the combination.

Just as these grains of sand can never be separated and poured again into the individual containers, so will your marriage be a molding of two individual personalities, bonding together and forming one heart and one life.

At this point, I ask the parents/family members/kids to pour a single layer of their sand, to represent the base of support and love they have for the couple.  They are then seated.

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Then the couple pours their layers, individually, to represent their prior lives and the retention of their own unique-ness as they are joined together in marriage.

And then, to symbolize their marriage, the couple pours the remaining sand together, mingling the two colors.  If the couple has children or step-children they want to really incorporate into the ritual, they’ll often pour their sand at the same time as the couple as well, mingling all of their colors together.

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If the wedding is on a beach, or there is some relevant sand the couple has provided, I’ll then “seal” the top, by pouring a layer of this sand, and mentioning its meaning.

Here is a very poor diagram to give you an idea of the layers:

Sand

I love this ritual because, afterwards, you have a beautiful sand sculpture to keep!  I did a wedding last summer that was smaller, and, a year to the day, they had a big vow renewal, and poured new layers onto the sand – a beautiful way to symbolize their first year of marriage.

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Pouring the sand, the first year.

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Parents pouring the first layers of the sand, a year later.

Where do you get the sand?

There are tons of places to buy unity sand ceremony sets (you can get even get fancy and get them engraved!) online.  They even match them to David’s Bridal and Alfred Angelo colors, if you want to be super coordinated!  I’ve also found beautiful sparkly colored sand at craft stores (check out the floral department, it’s often used for filler in vases for arrangements, or in the wedding section, or in the kid’s section [for play sand]), and even some bridal stores are beginning to carry it.

And make sure that you bring something to cover the vase up with, so it doesn’t get too jostled on the way home, if you intend to keep it.  You can pour a layer of melted wax (from a candle or just purchasing some wax and melting it) to really “seal” the top so it won’t get too mixed up.

Not Just for Sand!

And why not think outside the box even more?  It doesn’t have to just be sand!  My fiance and I were having trouble finding a ritual that really resonated with us, but knew we wanted to include something… lately, we’ve been throwing around the idea of doing a “sand” ceremony with salt and pepper!  We’d get colored salt (probably grey or pink gourmet sea salt) and colored peppercorns (leaning towards green or pink), and do the typical sand ceremony actions, with a bit of a twist on the wording.

Are you planning on including a sand ceremony?  Are there any other unity rituals you’d like to learn more about?

I was a theatre major in college – and when I would stage manage, I was often the voice that told you to turn off your cell phones and pagers and unwrap your candy before the performance would begin.

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Groomsmen at the rehearsal before the ceremony (via melissa blemur)

(And, yes, both of the photos in this post were taken at recent weddings I officiated… before the ceremony!)

Now, I’m often the voice that asks guests to turn off their cell phone and other noisy electronics prior to the wedding ceremony.  I like to say, “Other noisy electronics” in addition to cell phones because many cameras make sound now, too, and you never know who’s going to bring a portable gaming system and just play Mario Kart quietly through the ceremony.

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There’s a small controversy about this in the wedding world.  Some officiants believe that it truly should be the guests responsibility to make sure their cell phones are off, and prefer not to make an announcement at the beginning of the ceremony.  Every time I’ve done that – I’ve had cell phones ring!

Some officiants will suggest putting a basket out that all guests can place their phones in and collect after the ceremony – I’m not a fan (I’m not putting my iPhone in that basket!).

Some officiants will ask their couples to put a note in the program (may not get read, no matter how beautiful your program is), or will go from row to row just before the ceremony begins asking everyone to make sure their cell phones are off (my second favorite option).

Whatever you do – mentioning it in some way is a great idea.  Because nothing ruins a nice wedding ceremony than your cousin’s cell phone singing “All the Single Ladies” during your vows.

Funny story: At my stepbrother’s bar mitzvah, a cell phone rang from the back row during the ceremony – and the ringtone? Hava Negila.  I guess if a cell phone needs to ring during a joyous event – that’s the only appropriate ring tone!

I have my final beach wedding of the season this weekend (please send us good weather vibes!!).  If you’re planning your beach wedding for next spring or summer, here are some great tips that I’ve culled from my beach weddings this year!

Jess & Kenny exit their ceremony, at Seven Presidents Beach, Long Branch, NJ

Jess & Kenny exit their ceremony, at Seven President's Beach, Long Branch, NJ

Amplification is a must! There is something about the sand / water / wave crashing combo that just SUCKS sound.  Even if it costs a little bit extra to have your DJ set up a separate sound system – it is worth it so your guests can hear every word of the ceremony.  I recently purchased a new sound system, specifically because my portable system was not going to cut it for a beach wedding.  Check with your venue to see if there is power at the beach as well, to let your DJ / band / musicians / officiant know what kind of plugs / power they need to bring.

It’s windy! Veils will blow around, and so will your hair.  It’s a good idea to tie rings securely to any ring pillows (if they’re not safely in the honor attendant’s pockets).  If you have a structure or altar with a cloth, make sure everything is attached securely.

Let your guests know it’ll be on the beach! They may want to bring a pair of flip flops or go barefoot for the ceremony, but bring a nice pair of heels for dancing later.  It also helps any older or disabled guests know they may need to allocate extra time to make it down to the water.

Dyana & Vinnie's vow renewal - very windy, fabulous weather!

Have a rehearsal AT the space AT the same time as the ceremony! This is helpful to get an accurate feel for the space, as the sun will be in the right space AND the tide will be about the same.  You can know for sure how long the “aisle” is going to be, and where the bridal party will be entering.

Bring the location into the ceremony! Including a mention of why the beach is so special to you and your fiance or a poem about the beach into the ceremony is a lovely way to really personalize.  Another option I love is to include part of the beach sand in your sand ceremony (either mixed in with the colored sand, or as an additional layer the officiant can pour over the top).

Expect to start 5 minutes late! A combination of the location, parking, and communication (your officiant, coordinator, and guests will all be running around in sand, which makes everything take a bit longer) often means that beach ceremonies may not start exactly on time – beach traffic can be not fun at all.  If you expect to start a little bit late, or give an earlier start time on the invitations – you can help alleviate this stress.

Helen & Zubins beautiful gazebo, with sand ceremony

Helen & Zubin's beautiful gazebo, with sand ceremony

Have a plan after the ceremony! Know where you and your fiance and bridal party will end up after the ceremony.  Receiving line?  Farther down the beach to take photos?  Make sure you end up out of the way of exiting guests (unless you’d like to do a receiving line), as everyone will want to hug you and congratulate you, and if there is only one exit from the ceremony site, it can create a bit of a back up and an unexpected receiving line may occur!

Be flexible! Of course, we all want to have this wedding on the beach – but if it rains, and we’re inside, your ceremony will be just as beautiful and memorable.  And, hopefully, the clouds will clear for a few minutes so you can get some great photos!

Helen & Zubin pour the sand for their unity ceremony

Helen & Zubin pour the sand for their unity ceremony

If it’s a public beach, communicate EXACT locations and make sure it’s scouted out before hand! Public beaches can have multiple entrances – setting up signs from the parking location or entrance is a great idea to make sure your guests make it to the wedding!

Don’t be upset if you have uninvited guests! Unless you are on a completely private beach, other beach goers will probably end up watching your wedding (and may even show up in some of your photos!  Venues will usually block off the space for the ceremony down to the water, so your photos will have a clear view and no speedos, but you never know…

Vinnie & Dyanas Sand Ceremony... we added a layer of white sand, mixed with the beach sand!

Vinnie & Dyana's Sand Ceremony... we added a layer of white sand, mixed with the beach sand!

Beach ceremonies are always beautiful, and always unexpected.  Working closely with anyone involved with your ceremony, especially your venue coordinator, can really help your ceremony go off without a hitch!

Follow Along Ceremony.
Part 1: Meet Sarah & John!
Part 2: First Meeting, First Outline
Part 3: Creating Rituals

Sarah and John had a lot of interesting ways to incorporate their family and friends into their wedding ceremony, but this had to be my favorite: their readers.

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The Lovely Couple enjoys hearing the first reading for the first time!

They asked six of their friends (three couples) to each choose a reading to present during the wedding ceremony.  I thought it was great that they were going to let their friends choose the readings, so they could pick something that they thought was very representative and appropriate for Sarah and John.  But here’s the big thing: they asked me to keep the readings a secret from that!

That’s right – the readers “reported” directly into me.  I placed the readings into the ceremony, based on their content, and had full veto power if something wasn’t quite right or a duplicate.  But the bride and groom had no idea what was going to be read at their wedding!

I sent the readers an email, with some of my favorite wedding reading resources, a deadline, and encouraged them to use me as a resource as well – to ask me any questions, have me offer suggestions, or simply point them in the right direction.  But all six friends did a fabulous job and picked perfect readings for the wedding!

The first reading was a selection of notes that Charles Darwin had written down in his sketchbook – the pros and cons of getting married.  It was a piece I had never seen before, and I love it!

Notes on Marriage
Made When Deciding Whether or Not to Marry

Charles Darwin

Not Marry?
Freedom to go where one liked
Choice of society and little of it.
Conversation of clever men at clubs.

Not forced to visit relatives, and to bend to every trifle…
To have the expense and anxiety of children – perhaps quarreling.
Loss of time – cannot read in the evenings.
Fatness and idleness.
Anxiety and responsibility.
Less money for books.
If many children, forced to gain one’s bread (but then it is very bad for one’s health to work too much).

Perhaps my wife won’t like London, then the sentence is banishment and degradation with indolent, idle fool.
Marry?
Children (if it please God)
Constant companion, who will feel interested in one (a friend in old age)
Object to be beloved and played with – better than a dog anyhow
Home, and someone to take care of house

Charms of music and female chit chat – these things good for ones health but terrible loss of time

My God, it is unthinkable to think of spending one’s whole life, like a neuter bee, working, working, and nothing after all.
No, no, won’t do.

Imagine living all one’s days solitary in smoky dirty London House.
Only picture to yourself a nice soft wife on a sofa with good fire, and books, and music perhaps – compare this vision with dingy reality.
Marry! Marry! Marry!

The second readers chose a selection from the Velveteen Rabbit, a dialogue between the Rabbit and the Skin Horse, discussing how love makes you real.  They each had a role, one reading the Rabbit’s lines and one the Skin Horses.  It was especially fun because there’s a line about how when you’re finally real, most of your hair has been loved off – appropriate for a bald groom!

The third reading were two love poems – a perfect way to close a ceremony.  They chose my favorite poem of all time, which I can’t even read without tearing up a bit:

Sonnet XVII from 100 Love Sonnets by Pablo Neruda

I don’t love you as if you were the salt-rose, topaz
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as certain dark things are loved,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom and carries
hidden within itself the light of those flowers,
and thanks to your love, darkly in my body
lives the dense fragrance that rises from the earth.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you simply, without problems or pride:
I love you in this way because I don’t know any other way of loving

but this, in which there is no I or you,
so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand,
so intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.

By letting their readers choose, Sarah and John’s friends felt even more included in the ceremony, as they got to share these pieces that especially touched them and spoke to them about the bride and groom.  It was a fabulous idea that really spoke to the bride and groom’s fun loving ways, and I’m so glad that it worked out in the end!

Love Sonnet

Dan X

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Jessie Blum

to Dan

show details 1/22/08
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Sonnet XVII from 100 Love Sonnets by Pablo Neruda

I don’t love you as if you were the salt-rose, topaz
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as certain dark things are loved,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom and carries
hidden within itself the light of those flowers,
and thanks to your love, darkly in my body
lives the dense fragrance that rises from the earth.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you simply, without problems or pride:
I love you in this way because I don’t know any other way of loving

but this, in which there is no I or you,
so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand,
so intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.


Jessie Blum
jessieblum@gmail.com
http://knit.jessieblum.com

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Daniel Gabriel

to me

show details 1/22/08
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that’s beautiful

– Show quoted text –
On Jan 22, 2008 11:25 AM, Jessie Blum <jessieblum@gmail.com> wrote:

Sonnet XVII from 100 Love Sonnets by Pablo Neruda

I don’t love you as if you were the salt-rose, topaz
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as certain dark things are loved,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom and carries
hidden within itself the light of those flowers,
and thanks to your love, darkly in my body
lives the dense fragrance that rises from the earth.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you simply, without problems or pride:
I love you in this way because I don’t know any other way of loving

but this, in which there is no I or you,
so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand,
so intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.


Jessie Blum
jessieblum@gmail.com
http://knit.jessieblum.com

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Dan is not available to chat

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