Wedding Day, Part 2: The other stuff
Jeff grew up in Chicago, went to college in Michigan, and now lives in Baltimore. His family is from Detroit. I was born in Nara, a small city in Japan, then lived in Tokyo, Kuwait, Toronto, and Los Angeles before going to college in Connecticut, and ended up in Baltimore. All of my family lives in Japan. Needless to say, we had a lot of out-of-towners for our wedding, coming in from Tokyo, London (they were on the very last flight out of Heathrow when this happened), San Francisco, Los Angeles, Toronto, Chicago, Detroit, North Carolina, and Florida.
In the end, much of what we did was structured around two goals: we wanted to spend as much time as possible with our families and friends who had traveled from near and far, and we wanted them to be part of our wedding day, as much as they had been part of our lives so far.
Even though we had explicitly planned to spend a lot of time with our guests, it wasn’t really until the rehearsal dinner that I understood what it was like to be in a room filled with so many people you love. We’d spent the day running around town getting ready for the next day (pick up speakers! drop off speakers! check in with ceremony site and reception venue! rehearse!) that we hadn’t really had a moment to catch our breath yet. I was overwhelmed by everybody’s presence, and we felt extraordinarily lucky to have so many people who love us join us for the weekend.
The first goal was achieved through several concrete decisions about having multiple events throughout the wedding weekend. We invited everybody from out of town who had already arrived to our rehearsal dinner on Friday night (~50 people). We hosted Sunday brunch at our apartment and had bagels and lox (and leftover food and cupcakes from the reception!). Everybody was invited to stop by if they could (~75 people did). We had a pre-ceremony cocktail hour, so we could see everybody and relax before the ceremony. In addition to maximizing the time we spent with our guests, this also allowed them to meet each other, a consequence we hadn’t really considered but ended up loving. I think our parents especially enjoyed meeting our friends, and gained some insight into our “grown-up” lives far from home. My father came up to me at some point and said that meeting Jeff’s friends really made him confident about what a great guy he was. Aww.
The second goal was a little less concrete, and I don’t think we ever really saw it as a specific goal during the planning. Things just happened to work out nicely. We wanted to involve our people (families, friends, communities that have shaped who we are today) in the wedding as much as possible. Looking back, a couple of things helped make this happen. First, we involved our family in the ceremony; Jeff’s father officiated, my mother did a reading, we didn’t process with our parents, but we hugged them instead at the very beginning. Jeff’s grandfather wrote us a piece of music that Jeff’s cousins played. The ceremony was packed with things that recognized our loving, supportive families.
Second, we did a ring warming during the ceremony, where we passed around our wedding rings around the entire group. We were worried that it would take too long to pass through 100 guests during our 20-minute ceremony, but it worked out great, and everybody could be a part of the wedding ceremony.
Third, we had a guestbook where everybody was all on one page, as one giant community – one of Jeff’s groomsmen made a print for us of a tree silhouette. (idea borrowed from here.)
People had a lot of fun with the guestbook, and it turned out beautifully – it’s a gorgeous visual reminder of the lives that surround us. Last, our seating card display involved lots of pictures from our past – many of the guests were featured in pictures from 5, 10, 20 years ago, and everybody had a hilarious time seeing themselves and other guests in the pictures. (Two days before the wedding, I almost scrapped this idea as my parents and I scrambled to put 70 seating cards and just as many pictures on ribbons. My parents flew in from Japan, and this was what I was doing with them? I’m so glad that we went through with it – my parents had fun laughing at pictures of me and Jeff as kids, recounting old stories about various trips and comparing pictures of our friends from 20 years ago and now. And everybody at the reception loved the display!)
(Editor's Note: The middle picture may be the cutest picture I've ever seen in my life.)
We also depended on so many people to make this day possible - as much as we strived to make everybody feel welcome and involved, our family and friends, in turn, made us feel loved and supported. My mother painted all of the pictures for our stationery: invitations, RSVP cards, programs, menus, thank you cards. Her teacher graciously printed everything for us. My mom also made lunch for us on the wedding day - when we all came back from getting our hair and make up done, I was absolutely ravenous and sat down to scarf down a delicious homemade meal with some of my favourite people in the world. Jeff's grandfather wrote a song that we could use during the ceremony (Mozart meets Klezmer), and his cousins played it beautifully for us, despite the horrendous winds. One of our professors designed and baked 3 perfect wedding cakes for us: a dinosaur cake for Jeff, a penguin cake for me (our respective favourite animals), and a small cake for the cake cutting. Oh, and she also made cupcakes in our favourite flavours, peanutbutter and carrot cake. She and a friend of ours transported it to our reception venue on the morning of the wedding. Our friends arrived early to set up speakers for the ceremony, then took them down and moved them to the reception and set them up there so we could use one set for both places. The chairs for the ceremony fell over, because of the wind - they fixed that for us, too. Our groomsmen pulled double duty and made a few announcements throughout the night, since we didn't have a DJ. Our bridesmaids stayed behind after the ceremony to make sure everybody had a ride to the reception. Someone picked up bagels and lox for us on Sunday morning for the brunch, so we could sleep in a little longer. Our family and friends all generously pitched in, and not only was this a huge financial help, it also emphasized, as we embarked on this new stage in our lives, how much we could depend on those around us.
Putting it this way makes it seem like we had an organized, grand master plan throughout the planning process, and everything was perfect - for the most part, we didn’t have a master plan (although we did have excel spreadsheets), and some (minor) things did go wrong. But we made decisions that made sense to us. Sometimes we didn’t agree with each other, even though underneath it all, I think we both wanted the same basic things. Sometimes we didn’t agree with our parents, despite the fact that they were understanding and supportive. And both of these things were rough, but it was okay. (I cried. A lot.) Something that I now feel was integral to the planning process and a successful weekend was trying to understand why particular decisions were important to each other. For example, my parents and I have essentially lived in two different cultures (they in Japan, me in Canada and America) – I’ve never been to a Japanese wedding, and they’ve never been to an American wedding. Our expectations of what a wedding should be, and what we wanted it to be, were completely different. Even more, we had misconceptions of what the other party expected or wanted! In the end, talking through these issues was a tough bonding experience. For the most part, the specific outcomes of the decisions (to do a procession? A father-daughter dance? Who gives the toast?) didn't matter as much as understanding why this particular issue was important to each of us, and how it reflected our own values and expectations.
Finally, one piece of advice, from someone who had a ridiculously fun time at her wedding: decide ahead of time when you’re going to stop planning, and at that point, let everything go. Whether it’s when the first guest from out of town arrives, or when you’re getting your nails done with your bridesmaids, or when you wake up on your wedding day – take a deep breath and just let it go. Everything will be beautiful, and everybody will enjoy themselves. All of the hard work you’ve put in so far is going to pay off.
I’m about as type A as they get, so both Jeff and I were worried about whether I could really do this, even though I so badly wanted to. But in the end, everything came together, and knowing that we were surrounded by people who loved us made it all okay. Yes, there was some unexpected sadness (Jeff’s grandparents couldn’t make it to the wedding, at the very last minute). Yes, there were inconveniences (It was a windy, windy day, and I heard that there was some kind of chair dominos right before the ceremony started). Not everything went as planned (We had some issues with our ipod at the reception. Some people may have drunk a tad too much). When it comes down to it, you just can't control the actions of 100+ people, nor can you expect everything to go a certain way.
But in the end, everything worked out – people came, surrounded us with their love as we exchanged vows, they enjoyed their dinner, and they danced – danced! – the night away. And they took some crazy fun pictures at our photobooth (props lovingly supplied by one of Jeff’s friends). So take a deep breath, and go have some fun!!!!