By Sara Knutson
As I wrote and published a blog post on how to plan a wedding, the irony that I’ve never planned one myself wasn’t lost on me. So I sent out the draft to three simplicity-oriented, intentionally-minded friends to get their take—and they wrote back mini-masterpieces about their own wedding experiences.
The stories of Erin (mentioned in the previous post), Sarah, and Eric follow, showcasing both the benefits of planning according to one’s values and the sometimes insurmountable obstacles to doing so. I hope you find their accounts as fascinating and helpful as I did.
Peter and I began our wedding planning process by identifying some of the values that were important to us and that we hoped would be reflected in the events of our wedding day. A few examples of the ways we tried to honor these values: we held our reception at a non-profit venue, so the fees we paid would benefit their youth outreach programs; we ensured that as much of the waste from our event as possible was compostable; we invited guests to consider making a donation in our name to the organization in which we both volunteered in Honduras in lieu of a traditional gift; and we invited our community into the planning and preparation for the day.
As the months went on, one of the things we realized was that a given value can be “enacted” in many different ways. For example, “simple” was one of the characteristics we hoped our wedding would embody. We came to realize that in some cases, “simple” might mean having your friends and family set up and break down the reception, and in other cases it might mean hiring an event manager and waitstaff to coordinate and carry out these tasks. Originally, we had planned on the former option, but with the encouragement of family we ended up opting for the latter. Both choices, I think, could have been justified in the name of “simplicity” or even “hospitality” – it’s all a matter of how you view it.
I was surprised by how much the process of trying to plan a wedding in line with our values helped Peter and I articulate and even grow in these values. Before planning the wedding, I think we both knew what we held to be important to us, but the process of actually writing these things down, wrestling with them as we made decisions, and articulating them over and over to the people who were celebrating with us actually helped them become even more important to us, which was a wonderful gift as we begin our life as a family.
At our wedding reception, a co-worker of my husband Adam approached me and said, “I love this wedding! It’s focused on family and friends, instead of all that extra unimportant stuff.” At the time, I had no idea what she meant, but now I’ve thought more about that day and her comment.
I never sat down and deliberately established values for the big day. But some values were so engrained in me that they naturally led the process: frugality, creativity, and community. Frugality and creativity worked hand in hand while planning many of the details. “If I can do it myself, why pay for someone else to do it?” I thought, especially when doing it myself allowed me to use my creativity and eye for beauty.
As a result, I made my own invitations and programs, pieced together my centerpieces one sale-priced mirror at a time, and called up my college roommate for her hard-candy recipe to serve as favors for my guests. One of the benefits of doing so much on my own was that I couldn’t do it without the help of my mom, sisters, and fiancé. I’ll never forget seeing my mom’s kitchen counters covered in pink and orange candy at various stages of completion and laughing as we realized we STILL didn’t have enough!
I parted with traditions that seemed anti-community—for example, seating the bridal party shoulder to shoulder facing outward, while their dates sat awkwardly with strangers. Instead, we sat at one big, double-sided U-shaped table, and our parents, nieces and nephews sat with us as well! There were other traditions I kept BECAUSE of their emphasis on community; personally, I hate wedding cake, but I realized it was truly the easiest way to feed dessert to 200 people and was also symbolic of community, since we all ate a slice of the same thing.
I’m sure there’s a lot more we could have done to simplify our wedding. After all, I had the designer dress, matching bridesmaids, and a limo. But I believe the values I was brought up to believe in were a crucial part of the planning process, and the reason Adam’s co-worker knew something special was happening that day.
The formula of establishing joint values, letting those guide all wedding-related decisions, and informing family of this criterion may work well for some couples. My wife and I found things much more complicated, however. We knew weddings are entrapped in consumerist and patriarchal webs and would have loved to evade them. Our path became morally murky, however, when doing so threatened to damage our family relationships. What to do, for example, if refusing to wear a tuxedo made in a sweatshop would cause serious strife with one’s future in-law?
We learned there are strong emotions attached to social roles and the honor code that goes along with “throwing a wedding.” The day was not just about us but also a chance for those funding the event to meet the expectations of their peers. If the dress or decorations were too modest or the food not fancy enough, would they be thought cheap, miserly, or poor? The proposition of funding the wedding ourselves would have triggered insult and undermined the foundations for a loving future with our family. Was throwing a wedding in keeping with our understanding of the gospels worth such a sacrifice?
We decided it was not. The wedding took place 3,000 miles away from where we hoped, was extravagant rather than modest, and the reception occurred in the one place we agreed we did not want it: a fancy hotel lobby. Five years on, we still regret many aspects of how it unfolded and discuss what we would have liked to do differently if left alone to plan it. But we do not wish to be alone, and our encounter with the gospels has thankfully not been through abstract maxims but human beings and all the messiness community generates.