A reader writes:
I'd love to be rid of the "It's My Day!" foot-stomping as well, but I don't think you need to go as far as de-personalizing the wedding. I think we can distinguish between personalizing a wedding and going overboard with extravagant flourishes as some kind of symbolism about how glamorous The Event is supposed to be.
I see the wedding day as the rare time when nearly all of the people you care about (and who care about you) are assembled in the same place and get the chance to experience who you are as a couple and to see how much you really care for each other. I don't see how those two things take away from the seriousness of a marriage. There's a time and place for the couple to receive a lecture about how much work a marriage takes (and it does) -- that time is well before the wedding date, and that place shouldn't require all of your family and friends to fly across the country to sit through it.
Your post makes a great point. What I like about the common Catholic wedding ceremony is that people all make the same vows. My parents made the same vows as my sister-in-law. It is a common bond even if their ceremonies took place decades apart.
My wedding was less traditional - an Elvis impersonator in Vegas.
While it was different, we did not have an opportunity to read our own vows. Instead, 'Elvis' asked us to adopt each other's hound dogs, never leave each other's blue suede shoes out in the rain, and to never have a Blue Christmas without each other. Most everyone in attendance laughed. Yet, in the almost 10 years as a married couple, we take those promises quite seriously.Standing in front of family and friends, we promised to accept and embrace our individuality, treat each other with kindness, and never be apart for the days that matter most. That's how I see it.
I still have the vows I had hoped to read to my wife on our wedding day. (I re-read them on Saturday, in fact.) They are not as good as what 'Elvis' asked us to say. Not even close.
I went to a friend's wedding in Germany, where the civil ceremony is independent of any religious ceremony and trumps it. You can have a religious ceremony if you want, but first you have to stand before a bureaucrat and register your marriage with the state. (I think it works this way in other countries, too.) Great model, if you ask me.
So, we all met at the courthouse in their small-ish village. My German isn't great, but the civil ceremony involved reading the parts of the German constitution verbatim and outlined the social bond the couple was entering. They signed some papers; we went to lunch. (The couple is not religious, so there was no religious ceremony.) That's about as impersonal a wedding as you can get. Still, there is that deep connection to society.
Incidentally, they were presented an official family tree that stretched back ages and showed their two lines connected. And I think they got a list of approved baby names. Gotta love Germans. French friends, on the other hand, have all signed up for civil unions and foregone marriage. I suspect that here are a lot of 20- and 30-somethings in France who will never be "married." Why should they?
I got married in August of last year in a beautiful, traditional Anglican service (my parents are Anglican clergy) with ancient prayers, wedding anthems with the words from the Song of Songs sung from the choir loft, our clasped hands wrapped around my father's stole as he blessed our union. The only mention of my wife and I as a couple came in the sermon, which emphasized the importance of a lifetime of charitable love in bad and good times.
I felt for a long time very similar to Andrew Brown on the subject on the importance of a traditional, de-personalized wedding ceremony, until this summer after I attended the wedding of one of my best friends in France. On paper, the wedding had all the hallmarks of a ghastly modern ceremony: humanist celebrant, and a specially written, personalized service all about the couple.
But far from being a cheesy, cringe-inducing, egotistical "let's rub it in your face about how awesome our relationship is" wedding, the ceremony - essentially a forty-five minute speech given by the celebrant based on the sentiments of the couple themselves - featured a very realistic, sober-minded appraisal of the travails of a life lived together, and included some of the very themes Brown alluded to, especially how the "problems and difficulties of marriage are universal." The underlying theme of the service struck me as making particular the universal value of marriage alluded to in my own wedding. If anything it was more effective because it signaled just how thoroughly the couple had thought these things through beforehand.
Ultimately, the style of wedding probably doesn't matter, but tempering your expectation of what the wedding will "magically" entail certainly does.