If we think of a wedding as a film – and it has to be said that, unless we have been drinking, we usually do not – then the bride and groom are the actor and actress in a lead role, while the positions of “supporting” actor and actress go to the best man and the maid of honor. In a wedding, these latter roles are considered highly important and choosing people to fill them can often be one of the more stressful elements of the whole procedure. When you come to choose your best man or maid of honor, you have to think long and hard about your decision.
Usually, the roles will be given to the person you consider your best friend. They can be related to you by blood or merely by a bond forged in the fires of shared experience, but for many people, the difficulty is in choosing someone without upsetting another person who feels the role should have been theirs. For the bride or groom, avoiding hurt feelings on the part of their friends is often one of the longest tightropes they will ever have to walk.
There is no steadfast way to ensure you get it right, but it is a decision you have to take by yourself. By all means seek advice, and speak to the people you are considering, but when you make that final choice it is essential that you let the people who were not chosen know that they still matter to you, and that the choice was indeed a difficult one. If, after that, they still do not accept it, then they may not realize that the day is about you and your spouse to be rather then themselves.
Given the implied importance of tradition for a wedding day, there are a lot of things that people superstitiously stick to even given their apparent inconvenience. One of these traditions is that the bride and the groom should not see one another from midnight on the day of the wedding until they meet at the altar. The idea is that, when their eyes meet in the witness of the wedding arena, they should look upon one another as if they were discovering anew the person with whom they will spend the rest of their life.
This is not, strictly speaking, a required part of the wedding and there are certainly plenty of couples celebrating major wedding anniversaries in the present day having spent the night before the wedding together. However, it is still stuck to by many, and can lead to logistical somersaults being turned by the couple in order to avoid running in to one another. In practice, this tends to mean the groom spending the eve of the wedding at the home of his best man, prior to a dash to the altar when they traditionally oversleep (this part is definitely not compulsory).
A couple who have lived together for some time prior to the ceremony may feel one of two ways – that they have seen each other every morning for a while and aren’t about to fix what isn’t broken, or that there is no point in tempting fate by breaking with tradition. In any case, it is not about what happens before the wedding, but what happens after it in the marriage.
One part of the wedding experience that is considered almost essential is the point during the reception at which, after the meal has been eaten and a reasonable amount of wine has been drunk, the best man gets to his feet and speaks from the heart (and usually from a sheaf of notes filled with juicy stories) about his friend the groom. There is some argument about the tone this speech should take. As they will often have been friends since childhood, there will be at least one story which makes the groom cringe and his new wife momentarily angry.
Often a best man will feel that it is his duty to make this speech as uncomfortable for the groom as possible, but this is somewhat misleading. Certainly, there is room for amusing stories, but the tone of a best man’s speech should be more encouraging than embarrassing. A few funny stories should be interwoven with tales of friendship, and the speech should end with warm congratulations and wishes for all the best of luck to be bestowed upon bride and groom.
For this reason, it is advisable in the case of a reception where alcohol is served that the best man should hold back a little on the consumption of such drinks until his speech is over. No-one will thank you if as a best man you drink your own body weight in wine and reel off a series of stories about past indiscretions which, seen through the filter of the day, make him appear to be a substance-abusing philanderer.
When you strip away all of the pageantry and all of the traditions which are not specifically required by law, the present form taken by a wedding is simply a short exchange of vows between two people who have decided that they want to spend the rest of their lives together. But if you ask a hundred people what marriage, and weddings, mean to them, there will be broad mentions given to the other parts of the process – the little quirks which in and of themselves are not essential, but play a major part in the story.
Think for example of the old saying “something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue”. This has formed part of the superstition around a wedding day for some time, and requires the bride to have with her one item from each category. These items will usually be worn, and often one of them (though generally not the “blue” one or the borrowed) will be the ring. Think also of the throwing of the bouquet, which when caught is said to denote who will be the next female in the congregation to get married.
For the groom, the traditions are less prominent. Indeed, on the male side it is usually the best man who follows tradition, by making a speech (which, theoretically, should embarrass his friend the groom) and by leading the dancing with the head bridesmaid. None of these things is strictly necessary and yet we feel, perhaps despite ourselves, that a wedding is not quite right without them.
Some time ago, it was impossible to get married anywhere other than the interior of a religious building, and any ceremony conducted outside of these boundaries was considered not to constitute a genuine wedding. As times have changed, and our perceptions along with them, we find ourselves in an age where it is now easier to get married than it was before – and where the option to marry is extended to people who previously could not.
There are people who argue that this is a bad thing per se. Increasingly they find themselves in a minority, but they still insist that marriage, if it is to mean anything, should be between a man and a woman, married in the eyes of the church and within a church building – or whatever place of worship they are affiliated to. These people further argue that the ease of getting married leads to unions that should never have taken place – and in the case of some quickie marriages which are followed by equally speedy divorces, they may have the beginnings of a point.
However, it should be pointed out that many of the most secure marriages in place today, and the most monogamous unions, are unions that could never have taken place were the couple required to be church-going, mixed-sex, and of a high enough social standing to be accepted into the church. It requires some strength of character on the part of the couple getting married to ensure that these unions come about and are successful, but the times have certainly changed compared with the situation of a century ago.
Not so long ago, before the major technological advances of the last couple of decades, a video camera was a very rare thing to own. People who did own one quite frequently had little idea how to operate it and were rewarded for their efforts by shaky, unfocussed clips with extremely poor sound that would look out of place in anything but a “Funniest Home Videos” compilation. In the present day so many advances have been made that the amateur with a handheld video camera can make a quite watchable recording.
So it is that, where past generations look to still photographs in an album when they wish to reminisce about their wedding day, the current generation is more and more frequently recording moving pictures of the occasion, allowing them to capture not only the momentary stillness of a group, posed picture, but also the things that make a wedding what it is – the exchange of vows, the placing of the rings and the moment when the person presiding over the wedding tells them that their union is bound.
The longer that time goes on, the more advances will be made technologically, and we all wait to see what that will bring. At present we are far further forward than we could have realistically imagined in the late 1980s. What does the future hold for wedding photographs and videos? And will the married couples of 2030 look back on our seemingly advanced recordings and laugh? Only time can tell us.
So many traditions have built up around the institution of marriage, some of which are more comprehensible than others. One of the more reasonable ones is the importance of wedding photos, an issue which leads many people to debate whether there is a justification for spending big money on a wedding photographer when just about every person there will be armed with a camera. Most people decide that it is entirely justifiable, and point to the importance of having souvenirs from the day. If it seems to you that having a husband or a wife would be the only souvenir you need, then that is fine – but not everyone agrees.
The thing that matters most about photographs is that they really capture the occasion – the people, the clothes, the flowers and the rest of it. If you have a keen photographer in the family (on either side), then you may see fit to give them a bit of cash for the privilege of them taking your official wedding photographs. If you want the photographs to be presented in a certain way, though, it is often easier (if more expensive) to get them done professionally. They will be bound in a personalized wedding album and will be of a high quality, but it will cost money.
It is worth bearing in mind that perhaps no other photographs you will ever appear in will mean as much to you as these ones – so you do want to be able to look at them without cringing. If you have the money to spend, a professional is usually worth the cost.
People who are getting married can be excused somewhat if they get a little bit over-excited and lose a little of their sense of perspective when it comes to the trappings and fripperies of a wedding ceremony. Exhibit A for the defense is the wedding dress. Probably all of us can think of one dress that we have seen worn to a wedding inspiring us to think “just what is she wearing?”. If the bride likes it, however, then it is her choice, it is her day. If it makes her look like a pavlova, then at least it is her choice to look like a pavlova.
The question which arises as often as the “What does she look like?” debate is to do with money. “She paid how much?” is something that we have probably all asked, usually at the top of our voice and with an incredulous expression upon our face. Yes, people spend a lot of money on getting the right dress. They will be looking at these photographs for the rest of their lives, after all. If they instinctively feel that it was the wrong dress, it could be nagging them for fifty years or more.
If there is an accusation to be leveled, then it should not be at the bride nor at the groom, but at an industry which all too often tells you that you must look a certain way and spend a certain amount to have the wedding you really want. In the end, the decision lies with you, and nobody has any right to deny you your special moment.
A common complaint from couples planning a wedding is how much everything costs. It is entirely understandable that this should be the case – many of the things that one buys for a wedding are available at a much lower price until such time as you include the word “wedding”, at which point the price climbs steeply. Judging that a couple getting married will spend more because it is intended to be their only wedding in a lifetime, people very cynically expect them to pay higher, and in many cases absurd, prices.
One example of this would surely be the cake. Although intricate, a wedding cake does not really contain any ingredients which justify the price many bakers place on it. In fact, if the cake was sculpted out of roast pheasant, iced with caviar and topped with platinum likenesses of the bride and groom, it would still struggle to justify the price that some people end up paying. A wedding dress or suit, too, will magically triple in price the moment the possibility that it will be worn to a ceremony arises.
This is why it is important to be hard-nosed in negotiations in the run-up to your wedding. You should not be expected to spend so much, given that you are making plans for a life together – this is money which would be better spent on household necessities. Of course a bit of pageantry is fine – but don’t let yourself be mugged just because you are planning a special day.
Couples who are about to get married do tend to follow the traditions of the concept more or less to the letter. Very often, this means that on the eve of the wedding the happy couple will, separately, go for a night out with their friends, generally those friends of the same sex. For the groom-to-be this is a “stag” night, while for his prospective spouse it is called a “hen” night. As different creatures as stags and wildfowl may be, the nights that bear their names are broadly similar. Alcohol is taken, frequently a stripper is invited, and a hangover on the most important day of your life is almost inevitable.
The stag or hen night is trumpeted as the individual’s “last night of freedom”. This in itself is a description which is losing some of its relevance, as usually the couple involved will have been living together for some time. Just what level of freedom they have prior to and including this “last night” is an issue for their own consideration, but it is wise not to test the elasticity of the description too far. If you spent your last night as a technically single guy or girl with a stripper, the excuse of tradition would be unlikely to spare you a very angry revelation later on.
That said, there is nothing wrong with a stag or hen night per se. Things do become more serious after you have been married, and those who have not had a final night of independent fun prior to this often regret it. Just make sure you are in a fit state to show up at the ceremony the following day.