The Concealed Bride

Throughout marriage folklore history, there has been a continual underlying theme regarding the concealment of the bride, and her safe delivery to her groom at the altar.

It is often challenging to determine where such folklore originates, and why it was deemed that the bride required concealment in the first instance. However, given that the bride was perceptively under threat from the forces of evil, it is surprising how many folklore traditions have become a main stay of the modern ceremony.

In fact, marriage folklore literally underpins the entire modern ceremony, from the entrance of the bride, to the recessional. So how has this manifested in the secular ceremonies of today?

The Tradition of the Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids, according to marriage folklore, were simply decoys. Their primary task was to confuse the evil spirits, tricking them into believing that they were the ‘real bride’. In years gone by, they would even dress in a similar fashion (to the bride), although this latter tradition seems to have all but vanished.

The evil spirits, confused by the procession, would (theoretically) pick-off the bridesmaids, thus leaving the bride to safely reach the altar.

The Bridal Veil

Once again, the bridal veil was designed to conceal the identity of the bride. The theory was, that if the bridesmaids were unable to successfully confuse the evil spirits, then it would require the wearing of a veil to provide adequate concealment.

The real bride was safely hidden behind her veil, which was worn over her face until she reached the altar, at which point she would traditionally take her place together with her groom, wearing the veil over her face for the entire ceremony.

Even though many brides today wear bridal veils, they often wear them ‘back’ during the entrance. This is largely because the draconian belief in evil spirits has been surpassed by the importance of wedding photography.

However, if a bride does choose to wear a veil over her face (for the processional), there are several moments at which she may decide to remove it.

The first is when her father (or parents) ‘give her away’. A bride may decide to invite her parents to draw-back her veil, thus revealing the bride to the groom.

The second moment is when the groom has taken hold of the bride’s hand (after her parents have given her away), and has brought her into the ‘marriage position’. The groom may draw-back the bride’s veil, just prior to the commencement of the ceremony.

The third moment is just before the the bride and groom share their first kiss. This is generally after the declaration, when they have been announced as husband and wife.

The father of the bride

The father of the bride acted as a quasi ‘3rd line of defence’ in the ‘evil spirits’ scenario. The theory was that if the bridesmaids and veil were unsuccessful in confusing the evil spirits, then it was up to the father of the bride who, with his left arm hooked around the bride s right arm, would ‘draw his sword’ and ward-off the baddies.

The other important point here, is that the father of the bride would (as all gentlemen would), draw his sword with his right hand. It was not traditional to draw a sword with the left hand.

The Tradition of the Bridal Bouquet

In years gone by, sanitation was often an issue. In fact, it’s only in relatively recent times that we have access to fresh running water, and even more recently, fresh hot water.

As a result, the bride and her bridesmaids would carry a fresh bunch of flowers, designed to compensate for any lack of sanitation, thus enticing the awaiting groom.

As we meander along the pathway of the modern secular marriage ceremony, it is perplexing how (or why) many of the old folklore traditions are still practiced today.

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Children at Weddings

As a civil celebrant, I am often asked whether children should be invited to a wedding. There is a range of factors that must be taken into consideration, before the ultimate conclusion can be drawn.

How young is too young?

The first question that needs to be pondered, is how old are the children attending?

In my experience, children under 4 years of age, can be often become quite restless during a ceremony, especially very young boys. The word restless needs to be explored, because it varies in intensity.

For example, I have experienced parents with 1-2 year olds verbally interrupting (constantly) during a ceremony, as well as 2-4 year olds performing antics at the front of the ceremony, providing (on one hand) entertainment for the guests, but detracting from the overall meaning of the ceremony (on the other).

Managing young children in a ceremony

Once a bride and groom have made a decision on a final guest list, they then must ensure there is a contingency plan to help manage any unexpected interruptions, if young children are going to successfully partake.

As a celebrant, I often commence a ceremony with a preamble (prior to the entrance of the bride and procession), thus empowering parents to move away from the ceremonial spectrum, should their children become restless. Difficulties can arise when children become restless, and parents fail to take their children out of the ceremonial space.

It stands to reason that since very young children have limited ability to make rational decisions regarding social correctness during a ceremony, then the question of management falls to the parent or guardian. This in turn redirects the argument from managing children, to managing parents.

Older children at a wedding ceremony

With children over the age of 4, I often find less of an issue with interruptions and distractions. The bigger issue for children of this age group is boredom and fatigue, which is generally combated by using either electronic devices (running in silent mode) to preoccupy the child, combined with a shorter style of ceremony.

Flower Girls and Page Boys

It is always baffling why so many couples select very young children to be flower girls and page boys. Whilst it is definitely cute to witness a 3 year old flower girl or page boy making their way down an aisle, it is also rare that it happens without obvious incident.

I have witnessed the usual gamete of antics from flower girls and page boys, and have concluded that it is simply impossible to predict how they will respond on a wedding day. Often a bridesmaid (or parent) is assigned to assist young ‘bridal party children’ down an aisle, which often results in a child being carried, thus changing the entire dynamic of the processional.

It may also be worth noting, that flower girls and page boys do not stand with the bridal party during a ceremony, so it’s very important to have a guardian on stand-by, ready to look after the child.

Giving parents a break

For many wedding couples who are designing a guest list, there is an assumption that guests will want to bring their children to a ceremony. In actual fact, there may be parents who would prefer to leave their children (at home) with a relative or baby-sitter.

This could be because the children will understandably be bored or restless, but also because the parents would like a relaxing (focused) stress-free experience at the couple’s wedding.

The irony is that parents often feel obligated to bring their children (if stated on the invitation), whilst couples feel obligated to invite them. A well thought-out guest list often requires communication between the guests and wedding couple, in order to devise the optimum ceremonial dynamics.

Are there any positives when inviting children to a wedding?

The short answer is ‘yes’.

Weddings are arguably about people (and more importantly about family), and families involve everyone from the very young to the elderly.

Since children are a vital part of a family heirarchy, they in-turn become an important element of a wedding. But as discussed above, children at weddings are more about the management of the parents, and having a well thought-out contingency plan, rather than their complete exclusion.

Put simply, if children are going to partake successfully in a wedding, then they must be assisted in every way, with careful consideration given to the elements discussed above. The assistance must be driven by the wedding couple, empowering the parents to make well-planned decisions, thus creating a harmonious ceremonial atmosphere that can be enjoyed by all.

Managing a Broken Bridal Party

A wedding is a monumental event, and involves the integration and cooperation of a many people; from friends and relatives, to wedding suppliers.

It is for this reason, that it is important that every person involved in the wedding is carefully selected, ensuring that they either want, or need to be there. This is particularly important when it comes to selecting a bridal party.

But what happens when there is a rift in the bridal party, or when the bride or groom has a fallout with a bridal party member?

Is it Common?

As a civil celebrant, I have seen this happen on many occasions, and have witnessed how different brides and grooms cope when faced with such a scenario. It may be worth emphasising that broken bridal parties are more common than you think.

The reasons why a bridal party may break are numerous, but are often based on the underlying stresses and pressures of the intense and important day that lies ahead.

The Bridezilla

Arguably the most common reason for a bridal party to splinter, is due to a stressed bride, who has placed the importance of her wedding day, above the feelings and concerns of her closest friends or family. This spells immediate danger, because a bride’s support network is often the most vital element of her wedding day.

Ironically, spotting a bridezilla is normally the domain of the bridal party, since their role is to work closely with the bride; shopping for wedding suppliers, discussing decorations and colours, and assisting and supporting her every step of the way.

It may be worth noting, that I see far more female bridal party members ousted than males. This is to be expected, since groom’s often have much fewer wedding responsibilities, hence much less wedding stress. The male members of the bridal party are also limited to a few simple tasks, mainly trying on suits, and (possibly) doing a short speech at the reception.

The Bridesmaidzilla

Stress (and the notion of being unreasonable), is not just confined to brides. It can also manifest in bridesmaids, who are either dominant, reluctant, petulant, or overly keen to relive their own wedding day.

Once again, it is the management of such situations that falls to the bride and groom. In extreme cases, it is common for the perpetrator to be ousted from the bridal party, in order to maintain harmony.

Bridal Party Management Solutions

It is common-place for a bridal party to incorporate the bride’s closest friends and family. It is for this reason, that simply ousting bridal party members is not always feasible.

So how do you manage an unruly bridal party member?

The first step is to determine whether an issue can be resolved quickly and easily, and what triggered the issue in the first instance. It is also important to be subjective at all times.

One idea, is for the bridal party to meet (if practicable), to air any issues that may have arisen. It then falls to the entire bridal party (rather than just the bride) to begin the task of negotiating a middle ground.

But what if you are dealing with a bridezilla?

Dealing with a bride who has become overly precious about her wedding day is like ‘walking on egg shells’, because there is often an element of irrationality. There are also (often) casualties, not only in the bridal party, but often in the wider guest list.

Once again, it may be useful for the bridal party to meet to provide support for the bride, and include a close family member such as a mother, father, or close sibling. If a bride has become irrational (about her upcoming wedding day) it is important to understand why?

Is she anxious, nervous, overwhelmed, poor at making decisions or too quick to reach a conclusion. Are there financial issues, or is the bride unable to get the exact colour, size or shape of a particular wedding feature?

Getting married is arguably one of the biggest days in a couple’s life, and apart from involving intricate planning (and loads of money), it also involves dealing with family and close friends. This can be intense, since families and friends have a history, and putting them all together in one place, can prove stressful for the fledgling wedding couple.

Weddings are renowned for bringing friends and families together, not the contrary. It is to this end, that offering assistance and support to bridal party members (during the stressful moments), is far more logical than ousting them.

A Look at Chapel Ceremonies

When a bride and groom begin their journey to find their perfect civil ceremony venue, the topic of chapels will almost certainly arise.

The issue for modern wedding couples, especially those who are determined not to have a religious ceremony, is that chapels are often associated with the Catholic church. The reason for this is that chapels are historically places of worship, and worship (in western society) is commonly associated with Christianity.

Whilst chapels are a regular feature of church structures, they can also be stand-alone independent structures, completely detached from any denominational parish or influence. The stand-alone (style of) chapel arguably offers modern couples the choice of either a denominational or civil ceremony.

Many stand-alone chapels are free of the usual denominational chattels, providing a fresher and more secular environment in which modern couples can get married. Having said that, the ubiquitous church pew and traditional red carpet (often) still remain, whilst stained glass windows are also a regular fixture in modern chapels.

As a Civil Celebrant, it is always perplexing why modern stand-alone chapels remain as popular as ever, however it seems that as long as their are no obvious signs of denominational content, modern couples (looking for a civil ceremony) are as keen as ever to utilise chapels.

It is possibly the fact that we (really) have no other ‘alternative vision’ of marriage ceremonies, other than that which the Catholic church has provided (for western society) over the past 2,000 years, thus perpetuating the use of chapels as an accepted ceremony space.

Stand-alone chapels provide fantastic solutions to weather-affected outdoor ceremonies, generally accommodating from 50 guests upward. Often the acoustics are better than comparable venues, whilst chapel layouts tend to lend themselves to the traditional incorporation of a bridal party, and certificate signing.

Modern reception venues have taken advantage of Gen ‘Y’s desire for chapel ceremonies, by (often) including a chapel on the reception grounds. This also shows how the modern approach to weddings has shifted (dramatically) from the bride and groom, to the guests. In days gone by, guests would attend a church ceremony, and then make their way to a separate (off-site) reception venue, the logistics of which could often present many challenges.

So the big questions is whether Chapel Ceremonies are sustainable, considering Gen ‘Y’s arguable shift away from the Catholic church. Given the arguments above, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’.

The Disappearance of the Shotgun Wedding

For many couples, the thought of standing in front of a crowd and declaring their ‘undying love’ is simply too overwhelming. But this is just one potential driver of an eloping couple.

The other driver (for many), is the stigmatised fear that the bride will be (or is) pregnant prior to her wedding day. However, it is arguable that Gen ‘Y’ has little to no affiliation with such outdated concepts, whereas Gen ‘X’ still exudes an underlying fear that a couple must be wedded prior to becoming pregnant.

Where does such folklore originate, and why is it so indelibly stamped on our social physche?

The Catholic Church and the Pregnant Bride

Without question, the Catholic church (in western society) has led the fear campaign in this area, arguably brain-washing generations that ‘it is a sin to be pregnant and unwedded’. It may be worth noting that (in days gone by), the Catholic church derived a handsome income from sinners (and such sin), not to mention the unmitigated power that could be wielded against believers.

This in-turn created a massive social stigma, filtering into the community and manifesting in the fathers of pregnant brides, who would perceivably take matters into their own hands with their preferred ‘pregnancy deterrent’; the humble ‘shotgun’.

So, with the fear of being socially outcast, and the ‘all important’ father figure reinforcing his disdane, the pregnant bride would be forced to either elope, abort the pregnancy, or run the risk of being ousted.

This was an ideal situation for the Catholic church, since sinners are the life-blood of the faith, and marriage was the domain of the church, and with a dutiful community wielding the church’s cross, it proved both a powerful and profitable result. However, there are several interesting factors that have all-but seen the disappearance of the ‘shotgun wedding’.

A Change of Direction

The first of these is the obvious shift of Gen ‘Y’ away from the outdated doctrine of the Catholic church (discussed in a previous article). The second of these is the gradual defrocking of the ‘all important’ father figure, giving rise to the ‘all important’ mother figure in recent years. The final factor (and perhaps the most obvious), is the abolition of gun ownership in Australia.

Oddly, I still hear the echoes of stigma in modern-day pregnant brides, uttering the often common phrase “I don’t wan’t to be pregnant and unmarried”.

Fortunately, the term ‘shotgun wedding’ has now been replaced with the term ‘elope”, and generally refers to a wedding couple doing one of three types of ceremonies. The first is to get married at a Marriage Registry Office, the second is to get married in private (often with just 2 witnesses and a celebrant), and the third is to travel overseas to be legally married under another country’s law.

Living Together and Eloping

Apart from pregnancy and the fear of speaking in front of guests, Gen ‘Y’ is also now living together prior to marriage; another sin according to the Catholic church. However the act of living together (prior to marriage) has brought about new responsibilities for unwedded couples, most notably money.

There was a period in recent history, where it was up to the ‘father of the bride’ to fund a large portion (if not all) of the wedding. This was arguably done to ensure that the bride ‘did the right thing’, prior to marriage (ie. no sex, no pregnancy, no living together with her partner).

However, since it is now common-place for couples to buy a house and live together prior to marriage, it also stands to reason that they are more ‘money conscious’, thus prompting a need to be more frugal with wedding costs.

It is this last point, that makes the concept of eloping so attractive to modern couples. In fact, the Marriage Registry Offices are often flat-out marrying couples on a daily basis, giving enormous credence to the argument that financial considerations for many modern couples is now a major driving influence.

Technology and the Modern Wedding

It would be fair to say, that the biggest impact on the modern wedding comes from recent advances in technology.

From the moment a couple begin planning their wedding, to their departure at their reception into married life, modern technology will have played a key role. Put simply, the modern wedding is spiraling vertically through a range of exciting technological nuances.

The Internet, Social Media, & Web Security

The first and most obvious advance, is the way couples use the Internet to plan, shop, and research every aspect of their wedding day. From the comfort of their home, wedding couples literally trawl social media sites and wedding portals, gathering, comparing, and shortlisting everything from ceremony venues, dresses and flowers, to event hire companies, cars and celebrants.

The Internet has arguably empowered modern wedding couples, especially with the development of social media sites that help couples to accurately authenticate and verify particular suppliers and services.

Credit card services and online transactions have also become more secure in recent years, and are virtually second nature to the modern bride and groom. This means that securing wedding services and suppliers is dramatically accelerated, not to mention more convenient.

Wireless and ‘i’ Devices

Another major advance in technology is the explosion of wireless and next generation devices. The big plus is that couples can connect and communicate from just about anywhere; 24 hours a day, once again, speeding up the marriage planning process exponentially.

As a celebrant, I notice more and more couples supplying their ceremony music (and reception music) on ‘i’ devices or USB memory sticks. I’ve even witnessed couples read their personal vows from their ‘i’ device, which can be downloaded in realtime from a Cloud Service.

My own personal presentation method is sourced from an Apple iPad, giving me enormous flexibility as a presenter (during a ceremony) to capture images, record video, play music, expand text size, increase backlighting, or connect to the Internet (if required).

As an MC, I have witnessed couples receive ‘Telegrams’ (at their reception) via text, as well as play (previously uploaded) youTube videos through a projector, creating an entirely new reception segment.

The ‘i’ Camera

Another major advance in the modern wedding, is the ‘i’ camera. It seems everyone is a photographer, and it’s now commonplace for guests to ‘snap’ eagerly during a wedding ceremony, often keen to be the first to post an image (of the happy couple) to a social media site.

The ‘i’ camera has also seen several wedding services become (virtually) obsolete, such as: the reception portrait photographer who (in days gone by), would capture couples sitting happily together at their table, and charge handsomely for the priviledge; or the humble ‘disposable camera’, that would be ubiquitously used as a bombonierre.

The video function on most ‘i’ devices, has also led to a decline in couples hiring a professional videographer, where as the advances in SLR video cameras has seen the fusion of the professional photographer and professional videographer, because the high definition quality of video can virtually be used to extract precise photographic stills.

Skype

Another fascinating feature of the modern wedding, is (arguably) the ability to Skpye. This enables guests (who are unable to attend a wedding), to watch the ceremony from afar. I have performed many weddings, where Skype has been used to transmit ‘live’ images to overseas guests, the elderly and even the unwell.

Who would have thought that you could watch your closest friends or relatives get married, from the comfort of an off-site location, for free!

3D Printers

For me, the most exciting (and daunting) of all modern technologies, is the recent development of the 3D printer (aimed at the consumer market). The mind simply boggles at the possibilities, especially for wedding couples.

Couples will be able to (and already can) print everything from their bombonierre, table centre pieces, bridal jewellery, shoes, and just about anything else that can be imagined. The effect this will have on wedding suppliers and services is yet to be assessed, but (without doubt) 3D printing technology will reshape the consumer landscape.

In a Manner of Speaking

In a recent survery, people were asked: “On a scale from 1 through 10 (with 10 being the worst), what is it that you are most afraid of in life?” At number 9, most people chose ‘death’ as the thing they most feared. At number 10 was public speaking!

In Australia there are thousands of registered civil celebrants, each with a personal or particular reason for becoming an officiant of marriage. For some celebrants, it’s the joy of meeting couples (who are excited about their upcoming wedding day), for others it’s the creation of the ceremonial event, and being involved in a finite outcome.

But (arguably) the overarching skill that is required, is the ability for a celebrant to conduct an actual ceremony with both poise, finesse, professionalism, and eloquence.

It may seem obvious, but public presentation skills and the ability to manage an event from start to finish are absolutely paramount. Above all, a celebrant is remembered for their performance during a wedding ceremony, how they speak, how they interact with the audience, and how seamlessly they deliver the programme.

The art of public speaking is more than a phenomena, it goes to the very heart of human fear, the fear of being exposed as non-credible or a fraud. Public speaking is more than just a skill, and can take many years to master. It requires the application of a simple (yet often intangible) formula:

Anxiety (on stage) = Personal Fear versus Expectation

Expectation = Audience Perception versus Personal Self Esteem

Personal Fear = A lack of Confidence versus Under-preparing for the task or Presentation

After a lifetime on the stage, I am continually learning about the varying elements of the above formula

Space & Time

For many public speakers, anxiety triggers a need to talk quickly and (sometimes) incoherrently. I have learnt that formulated (calculated) space whilst speaking, is one of the keys to effective and concise performance delivery. Hearing the subtle ‘decay’ at the end of a sentence, pausing slightly, then resuming with a measured ‘attack’ on a fresh sentence.

Listening to an Audience

A critical element of public speaking is the ability to ‘listen to an audience’. By this I am referring to the way a public speaker should watch closely an audiences natural movements. A public speaker should also be intimately tuned to an audiences general rise and fall, their chatter, laughter type, demographic appeal, and any unexpected curve-balls or nuances.

Self Esteem

Possibly the most difficult battle to win (onstage), is the battle being waged in all of us. Standing alone (and presenting) in front of a crowd exposes every chink in our social armour, so it is critical that (as public speakers) we must love who we are, love what we are saying, and embrace how we are saying it.

There must be no-doubt that the overall ‘pitch and roll’ of the content, it’s delivery, and the person delivering it are all asynchronous.

To Infinity & Beyond

Preparation is paramount.

There is an old saying: “You need to be twice as good in rehearsal, to be half as good (as you think you will be) on the day”. There is nothing that builds confidence like knowing the material.

Warming up prior to an event (or performance) is also very important. Doing yogic breathing, stretching, or doing vocal exercises are all key to essential preparation. Many public speakers miss this vital step.

Success on the stage as a public speaker is a learnt skillset, that is continually added to after each event. Watching, listening, and being open to new skills and ideas, will help mould a public speaker.