Commitment or celebration? Why do we need a wedding day?

I love weddings. I love everything about them – the misty-eyed groom waiting at the altar, that goosebumps-inducing barely audible collective gasp when the bride walks in, the most beautiful and radiant she’s ever looked or felt. I love the vows, I love the family members dabbing their eyes with a hankie, I love the first kiss…

But then I also love the canapés, the entertainment, the flowers, the cake, the little details the couple’s added, the company, the tables, the centrepieces, the first dance, the throwing of the bouquet…

I keep hearing a variation on the following, from blogs, magazines, blissful former brides:

“As long as you’re married to the one you love at the end of the day, your day went perfectly. A wedding is not a performance. The rest is just dressing. Details don’t matter. Who turns up doesn’t matter – those who love you will be there.”

Yes, I’m perfectly aware that this is a really nice way of telling brides not to stress. People have been saying it to me more and more as one by one people who have previously RSVPd yes have started to drop out of the wedding one by one – watching me get frustrated and upset every time. And they’re right, it doesn’t help me to get stressed about it. True – the one thing that will truly last from your wedding day is, of course, your marriage. In the long term, it doesn’t really matter how you got married, just that you did.

But then, if that’s completely and utterly true, if we really don’t care who witnesses our nuptials (and I keep hearing that I oughtn’t to care) if details and dressings really aren’t important, then why aren’t we all heading to registry offices or eloping? Because we do care. Of course we care.

When you strip a wedding of all its trimmings, you have the beginning of a marriage – but if all we wanted was just to say those vows, no matter where or when, this whole industry wouldn’t exist. John and I make those kinds of promises to each other every day, without everyone present. That doesn’t mean they’re less special, it just means that… well, nothing’s changed, has it? We’re not married because we privately promise to love one another.

Image © 2012 Sacco & Sacco Photography – Cake by Cake Maison, Styling by Purely Events

So why do we need a wedding day?

Why don’t we just go somewhere private with someone licensed to perform a ceremony and come back with that bit of paper? Well, to be honest every couple is different. I can’t speak for those who want a quiet, no-fuss day. It’s totally their bag, but it’s not me. I can only attest to the couples like us who chose to go down the relatively reasonably-sized wedding route.

To share with those we love

We want our friends and family there. I know deep down that the people who will be there on the big day are the ones who really care for us, but that doesn’t mean we can just shrug it off when people we really cared about suddenly can’t make it or cancel at the last minute. At the end of the day, one of the main reasons to have a wedding is to make that commitment in front of your friends and family – if it really didn’t matter who was there, would you really be doing it in public?

For a sense of occasion

Having a larger wedding makes it feel more real that something has shifted. It marks the day in a bigger way. I’m not for one minute suggesting that if you have a private wedding it’s any less real or special, but for some brides, having the big ceremony, the dress, doing it that way, can really signal the turning point in your relationship and life.

To express ourselves

For lots of brides, a wedding is almost a big shrine to the relationship. Everything is chosen or made with love, often together. It’s a big expression of your love for each other. So while those details don’t matter in the long term, I can understand why brides want everything to be as they imagined.

It’s a day for us

While a wedding is often about family, it’s also the one day where yes (shock, horror) it’s about the two of us. For one day only, it’s our day. No, it’s not a popular thing to admit – it’s not particularly enlightened, but hey, who doesn’t want their day?

Something to look back on

In years to come, I want my kids to look at our wedding album and sigh at an immortalised mum in her twenties in a beautiful white dress (and a beautiful, bearded dad too, of course). I want to be able to hang the pictures proudly, to watch our wedding video back and to remember a day in our lives where we made that big commitment. When times get tough I want to be able to re-read our Ketubah (Jewish marriage contract) to re-watch our vows and to reset to that day when we made the first big commitment.

Yes, marriage is the most important thing – but telling brides that nothing else matters is confusing. I would be a total hypocrite if I spent my days talking about the feelings behind your wedding, the guests that are coming and the details only to say none of it matters at all. It matters. But not as much as the marriage that follows. So while it’s good advice not to stress, don’t beat yourself up if you’ve stressed over details – it doesn’t mean you take your future or your vows any less seriously – it means you’re human.

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