Weddings are a tricky thing. There are traditions. There are expectations. Bridezillas. Long-winded ceremonies. Gifts. Cake. Flowers. Rings. Vows. Toasts. The list goes on. And on. At the end of the day, the average couple has spent $30,000 on their wedding day. That's half the annual income for the average household in the United States. If you put that entire sum into an index fund, you would be $100,000 richer in 18 years. But we all want to have a nice, memorable wedding that goes smoothly and is preserved in an immaculate photo book to share to our grandchildren in the decades to come. So let's break down a traditional wedding, extract the essence of it, then rebuild it from the ground up.
In this post, I will be speaking very subjectively about my own opinions of weddings and how I would create an affordable and enjoyable wedding. I have photographed over a dozen weddings, so my experience comes from an observational point of view. I get to see the engaged couple before anyone else on the big day. I am right there with them before they walk down the aisle. I get to taste every flavor of every moment; from the stress of preparation to the joy of unity. So let's get started by breaking down an average wedding.
The Day Of
It's surprising to me that almost all weddings follow the same formula. For some reason, tradition usually seems to trump creativity. I don't know if it's for fear of offending grandparents or for religious reasons, but the day usually goes like this:
- Hair and makeup for the bridesmaids
- Groomsmen waiting around drinking beer
- Photographer arrives and captures every moment, all day
- Bride and groom see each other for the first time
- Guests arrive
- Family photos
- Bridal party photos
- First dance
- Father daughter dance
- Mother son dance
- More toasts
- More food
- Cake cutting
- Bouquet and garter toss
- "Just Married" drive off
Phew! What a day. Ten hours of running around, talking to people, eating, drinking, standing, and dancing. If you went for the $30,000 wedding, you're spending $3,000 per hour or $50 every single minute.
But what is it all for? Does the sum of all those items above justify the cost? Let's think about the reasons behind it all.
The Value of a Wedding
At its most fundamental level, a wedding is held to legally and emotionally unite two people. Plain and simple. But obviously things don't stop there. With this titanic decision comes need for celebration. Relationships don't exist in a vacuum, so friends and family are invited to join in on the momentous occasion. Now that you have an audience, you need to feed them and entertain them. It keeps adding up until you've filled every minute of your wedding day. But what if you step back and think about the truly important parts of a wedding? I polled my friends to help find out.
- Bringing family together
- The first dances
- Sharing stories
From all the responses I got, love was a common thread through most of them. Being surrounded by love. Expressing love. Sharing stories of love. Promising to love forevermore. So let's base our wedding redesign on that. But how do you show a crowd of 100 people that you love each other? Do you write a speech, memorize it, then recite it in front of all of them? Do you spend $2,000 on a ring to prove your love? Do you spend hundreds of dollars so all your friends and family get to eat a tasty meal? All these traditions are so commonplace that no one ever seems to diverge from them. Yet what are the most memorable things about most weddings? I always hear people talking about how beautiful the wedding venue was. Or how stunning the dress was. Or how big the ring is. Then, after that, they'll mention how cute the couple is together.
What I'm getting at with all of this is that weddings are getting more and more expensive, but for what end? Why must there be such a financial investment in something all about love and togetherness? Let me daydream of a wedding day not dictated by tradition.
The headline is insanely clever, I know. I even have the URL for my wedding photography business. Check it out and book me if you want! But anyway, back to this minimalist wedding day.
At the start of the day, the bride and groom invite the wedding party over to their home to get ready. This "wedding party" includes any close friends or family that you particularly get along with really well. It doesn't have to be limited to four guys and four girls. There is also no "best man" or "maid of honor." Just people that are close to you and want to spend extra time with you on the Big Day.
The guys put on their suits and maybe slick their hair one way or another. The ladies help each other with their hair and makeup. The focus for this part of the day isn't just becoming extra beautiful. Music will be playing. Maybe a few board games or drinking games will be set out. Everyone will be encouraged to their own cameras or fun things. I would even bring my juggling balls, because everyone loves a juggler...But you get the idea. Good people having a good time.
- Fast Forward Six Bottles of Champagne -
After enough funtimes have occurred, it's time for the ceremony. The wedding party piles into a handful of cars and drives to the Seattle Arboretum (or anywhere with tons of nature). Once there, some folding tables are set up for all the potluck dishes to be placed on. Guests will have been encouraged to bring a blanket to sit on while eating and drinking. There's no need to have tables with fancy forks and center pieces. Instead, guests can sit on their blankets on the grass and take any sorts of photos they want with their phones and cameras. Naturally, a specific hashtag will be announced for anyone who wants to share the photos online.
Once people are fed and have drinks in hand, everyone will gather in some sort of circular shape around the bride, groom, and officiant (who happens to be a good friend of the couple). While most traditional weddings are set up like a theatrical performance where the audience is seated in front of a stage area, in this wedding, everyone is a participant, so forming a circle allows the couple to be surrounded by the love of their friends and family.
The bride and groom then tell everyone the story of how they met. Or when they fell in love. Or the first time they overcame a massive struggle together. Whatever it is, the story shows how much love is shared in the relationship. From there, the conversation is opened up to anyone else who wants to tell a quick story. No one is required to. The stories should be genuine and brief. This is also where people are allowed to shed tears and hug a bunch.
Finally, the bride and groom get to kiss and become married. Almost immediately from there, music gets turned on so people can dance and mingle. More hugs will ensue. In addition to dancing, yard games will be set up to play for those who need a break from dancing or aren't drunk enough to muster up the courage to cut a rug.
At this point, the sun is just going down (because summer days are long and warm). The celebrations wrap up at the park and everyone departs. For those who are still energetic, a house party will be held to keep the festivities going. At this house party will be music, lasers, games, and a bit more food and drink. Anyone willing to crash on the couch or floor will be encouraged to stay the night if they please.
Boom! Wedding day over. Grand total: about twenty thousand happiness and maybe $1,000 in drinks, some supplies, clothing, yard games, etc.
Finding the Happy Medium
Yes, I realize this wedding day is very simple and not at all traditional. I wanted to describe a day where the focus was on love, fun, and creativity, not on following what every other wedding before it was. I know even my own wedding won't be quite that minimal, but it's fun to dream about.
So next time you're involved with helping plan a wedding, try thinking outside of the box. Think first about the reason for the whole day, then make decisions around that.
Do you have any specific wedding ideas or traditions that are particularly enjoyable/strange? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!