“The wedding ceremony is unquestionably one of the most spiritually moving and profound of life’s rituals.” So reads a page in the social manual of Amy Vanderbilt, the American etiquette-goddess of the 20th century. And because we hold weddings to such an epic standard, they also have every chance of failing miserably in their quest reach it.
Despite the recession, this summer still laid claim to plenty of the 2.2 million-odd weddings taking place in the United States each year. Some of them doubtlessly ascended to that life-changing bar, whereat all involved showed up ignorant in disbelief and went to sleep converted, having seen the light as Paul on his way to Damascus. Others, I, seasoned wedding guest, can attest, were not quite so chock full of glory.
As the wedding-heavy summer season ends, now seems a good moment to reflect on a few reasons why. Here follow some of Vanderbilt’s trademark instructions about how to organize that special day, as well as some personal footnotes gleaned from the various celebrations of love I witnessed over the past few months.
In Vanderbilt’s book, the writers advise thorough budgeting in the run up to the event: “If the total comes to more than you planned for, you’ll have to decide how and where to cut expenses. Maybe you can do with fewer musicians in the orchestra or a less expensive caterer.” Or perhaps the very idea of having an orchestra makes you want to laugh out loud and throw a pie in someone’s face — as when Vogue highlights a “Steal of the Month,” and it turns out to be a $300 bikini.
But no matter what the budget, avoid settling for a reception at one of those hotel convention centers. (You know the ones I mean, those soulless caverns with fake-wood linoleum dance floors and no windows.) No matter how many times the DJ tells guests to celebrate good times, the place will still feel haunted by name tags and workplace-safety lectures. Eschewing them doesn’t mean you need to rent out the palace at Versailles; the light would shine much more if the reception were in pretty much anyone’s backyard.
Discussing the role of attendees, the writers begin by explaining that many people “tend to forget from one event to the next certain formalities that go with being a wedding guest. These formalities are not difficult to understand or follow. They are all based on practical procedures and common courtesies.” One particularly important piece of advice that follows is this: If you have young children, think twice before bringing them because young ones are likely to become cranky and restless.
Clearly, that rule makes sense. Yet there is almost inevitably one baby that starts wailing during the ceremony and one parent who hesitates or fails to take said cherub out of the room. And there is nothing that ruins the profundity of an eternal vow like a human fire-engine siren going off in the middle of it. Nugget being, people who must bring lovely little poop machines to weddings should run — run like the earth is being torn asunder at their very heels — the moment that child makes a fuss.
The Vanderbilt tome also contains advice on wedding photography. “Whatever amount of time you put into finding the right photographer for your wedding, it will have been well spent,” the writers begin. “Since you can only take the pictures once, you want to do your best to find someone who will do the occasion justice.”
A wedding is about as historic of an event that the average person is likely to be the star of. Wanting to have pictures is only natural. But oftentimes it seems ceremonies cross a line where the wedding becomes a series of photo-ops, where the photos take precedence over the wedding itself.
Guests pretend they don’t see the black-clad photographer trailing the bride down the aisle like a ninja. Guests, many of whom have traveled to be there, wait for hours as the photographer takes every conceivable group photo before the reception. Guests remain disconnected from the bride and groom as the couple rushes, camera in tow, from cutting the cake to the car that will whisk them away. Meanwhile, romance and camaraderie get sidelined.
The basic goal at a wedding is that everyone has the best time possible while that spiritual, moving quality of the ceremony remains. People should laugh, people should cry and people should be courteous. Hopefully somewhere outside of the Parliament Expo II meeting room at the Holiday Inn Select.
Katy Steinmetz is a columnist for the Missourian and an editor for Vox Magazine. She moved to Columbia after spending two years teaching in Winchester, England, and one year in Edinburgh, Scotland. Her work has been published by a variety of outlets, including The Guardian and Businessweek.com. Katy plans to complete her MU master's degree in 2010.