Frugal Weddings

Wedding ceremony

I was in town the other day and caught a piece of an Oprah Winfrey show, one in which Oprah and a currently popular financial consultant were helping couples look at their income, expenses, savings, debt load, etc. to determine whether they should, or should not, spend such and such amount on whatever it was they were wanting to do (remodel the kitchen, send a daughter to an expensive school, etc.). Watching their process was a useful educational tool for people in similar circumstances, so I was, in general, applauding Oprah for her knack of hitting the mark.

But then came the question from a young couple who were to be married in June. The bride wanted a fairly large wedding (200 or so guests) and was willing to spend the $20,000 that such an event can run. The groom was looking at something simpler – under a hundred guests, about $5,000. Looking at their finances, the experts concluded that this couple could afford the $5K, not the $20K, event, but that since there’s no such thing as a $5K wedding (even a simple, under a hundred, affair, they said, runs at least $20K), “you’d better elope.” Even when an audience member pointed out that the important thing was that these two people wanted to marry, not how fancy the wedding was, the pros stuck to their position. No wedding.

I was startled. I know that I am often out of touch with the price of things these days, but this one got to me. Has our culture really come so far down the cash intensive road that we have forgotten how to do weddings that don’t cost a fortune?

I was reminded of one of the most beautiful weddings I ever attended. I was 17, traveling with a bunch of other Quaker/Unitarian type kids thru Eastern Europe and what was then (1963) the Soviet Union. We were driving thru Rumania, under strict orders not to stop, but one of our two VW buses broke down, and we were stuck for several days in a small village. As it happened, we landed there on the day before a wedding, to which we were immediately invited. My memories of that event are by now somewhat romanticized, but the images are of an entire village full of happy, celebratory, people, wearing beautiful, ornate, hand embroidered, clothes. Music, dancing, food, and a lot of small rituals that were obviously meaningful to the people, and to the new bride and groom. I can guarantee that that wedding did not cost much money.

Preparing the wedding feast

It did, however, cost. Who sewed and embroidered all those amazing clothes? Who prepared all that food? Who were the musicians and why did they play at that wedding?

Several years ago I had a chance to try it on myself. Our daughter, Lauren, who was by then living a mainstream life out in the real world, decided that she wanted to get married at Light Morning, on the same knoll, in fact, where several decades earlier, friends and neighbors had gathered to christen her. These were her people, the “village” that had raised her. And it was, indeed, the village that sprang into action.

Months before the wedding itself, these neighbors and friends joined us for a workday to get the main living room finished enough to be ready for such an event- ceiling, insulation, interior walls. Lilly ( Lauren’s beloved Grammiddy) started working with the bride to create the dress she was wanting. Folks volunteered to prepare favorite foods, bring bouquets of flowers. There was even a team to whom I would be turning over all the co-ordination and wedding planner responsibilities, so that I could become just the mother of the bride, and enjoy myself to the max.

The last few days before the wedding reminded me of the Arden Fair, an annual event in the intentional community where Robert and I grew up. The fair officially started at 10am, but the best hours were from dawn to 10, when everyone was out there banging nails, helping each other set up their booths, pulling together to prep for the event. The energy of the fair was born in those early hours.

And so it was with Lauren’s wedding. By the time the “just under a hundred” guests arrived and the ceremony itself began, the place was already awash in magic. People had been up early, hanging signs, setting up chairs, placing flowers, and, of course, preparing, cooking, and arranging platters of beautiful, tasty food – all in a collective effort to produce a special event for Lauren and her family. It was very clear that the wedding itself, while stunning in its beauty, was only part of the specialness of the day. It was this magic that was in Lauren’s teary, ecstatic hug, as she took me aside and excitedly exclaimed, “You know, Mom, something always goes wrong at weddings, but I think this one is perfect!”

And what was the bill? After reimbursing folks for their ingredients and other costs, paying for the pieces that did need actual cash (rental chairs, wedding cakes, minister, candles, more flowers, decorations, wine glasses, etc.), the bill came to just under $2,000.

Yes, the couple on Oprah can have a wedding! They can have a wedding that confirms the whole reason for weddings in the first place, to bring otherwise separate people together to become a collective, mutually supportive team. Let families come together, and neighborhoods, to stir up a particular sort of energy that we rarely get to experience anymore. How did we let this get lost? Can we get it back?

Ready for the reception

Given that our culture has gotten so accustomed to bought-not-made weddings, it might seem too daunting a challenge to try to engage the social vortex that creates the Arden Fair, or created Lauren’s wedding. But there are other ways to produce inexpensive weddings. I think that my favorite is still the wedding of two of our friends from Delaware, who invited their unsuspecting friends and family to what looked like a regular party and then, at about 11pm, whipped out a minister and said their vows. Voila!

There are ways, plenty of ways, to gather ones family and friends together to share in an important and meaningful ceremony. Be creative, let go of the pressures that make it expensive. Remember what’s important. Break whatever rules don’t make sense. Go for the magic. Have a great time. It’s your wedding.

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You can view more photos from Lauren and Jeremy’s
Light Morning wedding here and here.