Easy Present Continuous.
Modern weddings combine English traditions with the couple’s special touches. Writer Elizabeth Nelson takes us on a tour.
Text by: Elizabeth Nelson
‘am not a wedding person. I don’t believe that a big wedding is every little girl’s dream; mine was winning an Oscar. My childhood friend’s dream was to be a clown. Each to their own, I say.
That same friend, Sarah Bergmans of Brisbane, Australia, is getting married in September and she is having an awesome time planning the wedding. She has a young son, and for her, meeting her partner and having her son are the most important things that have ever happened to her. Her wedding will be beautiful. She’s an aesthetically minded person, so she likes things to be pretty, but it won’t be the most important event in their lives or even in their relationship. It’s one of many milestones in a life together.
Many countries with English heritage share similar wedding traditions. From courting to engagement to the ceremony to the honeymoon, each stage has some form of prescribed etiquette. Weddings are so firmly entrenched in tradition that one only needs to hum the opening of “Here comes the bride” to make everyone think of a bride walking down an aisle in a big white dress. So how have traditions changed over the years?
After talking with Sarah about what choices she made in planning her wedding, I was curious about what choices other people were making. I read about various modifications to traditions that have been occurring all over the world. The walk down the aisle became a choreographed dance and later a YouTube sensation in America; a couple’s first dance became a flashmob in Toronto; and the traditional wedding cake became a tower of the bride’s favourite cupcakes in Sydney.
I asked friends from all over the world how they celebrated their weddings, and why. We concentrated on three elements of what seemed to be the most common and arguably the most important points of a wedding.
Firstly, there is the ring. There are actually three rings in a traditional wedding: The two wedding rings, one for the groom and one for the bride, and the engagement ring, which is truly the most important ring.
Sally Wyatt from the UK informed me that the bride’s family traditionally paid for all the wedding expenses, but now the costs are generally divided between the couple. Generally the groom pays for the bride’s wedding ring and engagement ring, and the bride buys the groom’s wedding ring. It is said that one month of the groom’s salary is meant to be spent on the engagement ring to show how devoted the groom is to the commitment of marriage. All the bride must do at this point is be swept off her feet and say, “Yes!”
Anna Hamer from Australia said that she was excited and exhilarated by her proposal, but not entirely taken by surprise. She and her now-husband had agreed on the three-year mark of their relationship to move to the next stage, so when she was taken to the centre of her favourite rose garden, she knew something was up.
Now, size seems to matter to some, but not to all. Sometimes sentimentality and history trump the flashy new rocks. For Anna this was the case; her engagement ring is a family heirloom passed on from her husband’s grandmother.
Sarah decided with her fiancée when to get married; they booked the hall before going to buy a ring together. And though they had bought and paid for the ring together, her fiancée still proposed to her over dinner, as is tradition. “It made it feel more official,” she said.
Then there is the dress. There are many traditions surrounding the colour of the dress. Wearing white first became popular after Queen Victoria was married in white so that she could use some of her favourite lace. The colour white has since been used to signify purity and goodness, though it was originally blue that was seen as the purest of colours. According to Sally, the bride’s parents are often responsible for the cost of the dress in the UK and in Australia, as Anna’s parents bought her dress too. Both Anna and Sarah went dress-shopping with their mothers and, in keeping with tradition, neither groom was allowed to see the dress before the big day (Sarah’s fiancé is still waiting). Sally, however, went shopping with her partner for her dress.
One of the most famous traditions linked to the bride’s clothing is wearing something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue”. In recent years, brides have spiced up some of the tradition by wearing blue nail polish on their toes, or even blue knickers. Yet none of the women I interviewed purposely followed this tradition. Sarah is wearing a keepsake of her grandmother, which is old, but she wears it so her Nan can be part of her celebration, not for the poem. All of the ladies’ dresses were new, but none went out of her way to follow the poem. Catherine Wilkinson in Canada said, “We didn’t follow many of the usual wedding traditions, like the traditional white wedding dress and the big cake, because we wanted to keep things informal.”
And last, but not least, there is the ceremony. Deciding how to have the service performed was an easy choice for Anna and her husband because they simply had a general plan lain out by the minister and then walked through “what was legally necessary, what we wanted and how we wanted it”.
Catherine also opted for a low-stress ceremony: “We had a small ceremony at city hall, followed by a reception at a local pub. We didn’t want the fuss or expense of a big wedding, so we decided to do something simple. It worked out very well for us. We wanted to have more of an intimate gathering of family and friends than large, traditional weddings often allow.”
Sally tells me that traditionally, “at the church, the family and friends of the groom stay on the right and the family and friends of the bride stay on the left side of the room facing from the door. And the bride is the only person who is supposed to be late.” However, “at my wedding I was not the only person late, in fact five people turned up after me and one person turned up half way through the service,” she laughed.
Sarah is opting for a quick, modern ceremony that should only take about 20 minutes, “so there’s more time to party!”
Wedding traditions have been changed and personalized over the years to make them even more special for those tying the knot. From church marriages to registry vows, shot-gun weddings to engagements that last years and years, everyone does it differently. Traditions are honoured, omitted, and even created. I have always been amused by the expression, “always remember you’re unique, just like everybody else”. In a way, I feel like this is the perfect proverb for weddings. Accepting and upholding traditions is a choice; in doing so we are continuing an ancient rite that is still flexible and personal as it has always been. Whatever the couple choose to do, they will be creating their own individual wedding with their own individual touches that, though they mirror many other weddings, also reflect the bride and groom’s love.