Why my wedding WON'T be just a party where we happen to get married

March 7 | Guest post by Whitter
Cole + Kim Wedding photo booth built by Kim's sister!
Photo by Kym Ventola. See Kim & Cole's full wedding profile here.

It seems like a lot of Offbeat Brides take the "party where we happen to get married" route when planning their wedding. I have a lot of friends who did this as well, and I completely understand why. For one, planning a party is fun. Not to mention, you've invited a hundred (or perhaps five hundred) people to watch you get married, but really, you've invited a hundred people to said giant party. You're concerned with feeding and boozing them, and in reality sometimes the caterer details demand more of our attention than personalized vows that can be written the week before. For many of my friends, the ceremony didn't seem to require that much of their attention anyway. They chose a minister, eliminated some key archaic parts, and didn't think about it again until the rehearsal.*

*This is not intended to be a blanket statement to say that religious ceremonies are blind tradition or have no thought or meaning behind them — I definitely do not believe that to be true. I am simply describing the route that my friends took with their ceremonies. They still made me cry tears of joy, they just didn't seem to have to make many choices about them — tradition had done that for them and they, as individuals, were happy to go along.

My fiance and I are atheist/agnostic, so I knew right away that our ceremony would be drastically different from other weddings we had been to in at least one key way. I've been spending some time looking at other atheists' or agnostics' weddings, and it's been amazingly helpful to see what thoughts everyone has on an atheist or civil ceremony. Primarily helpful because it's led me to the conclusion that, while I may imagine myself as many things, a "party where we happen to get married" bride I am not.

In some ways, I may be non-traditional. When it comes to many details of the weddings, such as monogrammed napkins and table linens, I really could not care less. But the more I read and research, and the more I think about what kind of wedding I want to have, the more I realize that while I can play cool, nonchalant, easygoing bride all I want about everything else, I absolutely care 300% or more what happens in our ceremony.

Organized religion, in many ways, just doesn't make sense to me. But I also struggle with the idea of marriage being something controlled by or approved of by our government. What I do understand is the speaking of vows — the promise to love each other, being stated out loud not just for us to hear, but for our loved ones to witness as well. I can't in good faith ask for God to bless our marriage, but I can ask my family and friends to support us and help us along the way. I can ask them to acknowledge our commitment to each other for what it is: a loving bond that we have chosen for ourselves, and a promise that we make to each other.

Our ceremony will certainly not last two hours, but in my eyes, it is still the main event.

I've come to realize that I'm not okay with anything less than pledging my love for my fiance out loud for everyone to hear, and I'm not okay with him doing anything else either. I will admit, in this case it helps that we are hopeless romantics. We are already the type to swoon at words of love and symbolic gestures. But it really is more than just being caught up in the romance. Perhaps it's true that you can't help who you love. But marriage is different, it is a choice. I choose my fiance. And I choose to love him, whether it stays easy or at times becomes difficult, for the rest of our lives. That's a big freaking deal, and I intend to tell the world as much about it as I can. And then I intend to put a ring on it.

So my ceremony won't include the Lord's Prayer, and it won't include a reading from Corinthians. It won't include any classical music, flower girls or a minister. It will certainly not last two hours, but in my eyes, it will still be the main event. Our guests are not being asked to attend a party where we get married. I am asking them to witness our vows, to support my fiance and me in the choice that we are making. I'm asking them to come together as a supportive community, to sit through my tears and sickly sweet readings about love and, quite frankly, to be happy about it.

The food and booze is just the icing on the cake… so to speak.

  1. Love this.

    I love that you are treating your wedding ceremony with solemnity and grace–happy future to you, Whitter!

    9 agree
  2. I'm glad you've recognized what is most important to you!

    My wedding was completely atheist/agnostic and my husband and I wrote the entire ceremony ourselves. This mostly consisted of reading several different ceremonies (some traditional, some atheist, some of other religions) for inspiration and then wording it to reflect our own views and feelings. We focused on our family and the fact that we are individuals who have chosen to live our lives together as opposed to "two becoming one." So, we looked at it as having a big party to celebrate the committment we were making publicly. We didn't just "happen to get married" because the getting married part was just as important as the party part, but we didn't make a big production out of either.

    If you're interested in reading our ceremony, it's on our website (starts about halfway down):
    http://www.castillo-crews.com/our-wedding/

    13 agree
    • Nikki,
      I want to tell you that I showed my FH your wording for your ceremony and we love it. We are going to use it to help us write our non-secular ceremony. Thank you for sharing!

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    • Thank you for sharing your wedding! You have tons of wonderful ideas, and best wishes to you in your marriage!

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    • Nikki, thank you so much for sharing your ceremony. I've been struggling with writing my own, and yours will help me tremendously.

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    • Thank you so much for sharing your ceremony! We've been having a hard time making our ceremony 'right for us' and this has helped a lot!

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  3. Thanks for voicing this! I feel much the same way about my wedding. My partner is much more a party with a side of wedding person, so it's been a challenge to balance our perspectives. I think you really clearly articulated why, even with a short ceremony, I can't help but feel like that's the main event.

    1 agrees
  4. I am not a atheist/agnostic bride, but I couldn't agree with you more. We are having 18 of our closest friends and family at our wedding…those that we feel will be there to witness our union, not for the party after. Your last paragraph summed up my thoughts and feelings exactly…thank you for sharing!

    6 agree
    • Us too, no more than 10-15 people closest to us, then a dinner, then a turn around the piano bar's dance floor. I don't think anyone is really coming for the dinner or dancing!

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  5. "It's true that you can't help who you love. But marriage is different, it is a choice. I choose my fiance."
    This should be in your vows! Brilliant!

    11 agree
    • This! but with the addtion of the next sentance also "And I choose to love him, whether it stays easy or at times becomes difficult, for the rest of our lives."

      5 agree
  6. I love food, booze, and the icing on the cake, but I attend a wedding to see two people I care about wed.
    while I don't disapprove of the "party where we happen to get married approach" if it's right for the couple, my reason for accepting the invitation is about the wedding and not the reception.
    personally, I find that offbeat brides tend to put thought into their lives and weddings, which is how they choose to be offbeat.

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  7. Thanks for saying this so eloquently. My husband and I are atheist, but our ceremony was SUPER important to us. It did seem like we were doing something different to not just have a really short, secular, now we're married – let's party, kind of wedding. We hired an amazing celebrant: Cindy at http://www.meaningfulweddings.com who helped us craft a beautiful ceremony with readings and vows that meant a ton to us. I was a bit worried about the length, but the guests seemed to really appreciate it, and it set a great tone for the rest of our wedding!

    3 agree
  8. Great post, I think you've got a great perspective on your wedding.

    I've definitely been guilty of throwing around the phrase "just a party", but I've always understood it to imply something different. Like, a normal random party doesn't require monogrammed napkins and a string quartet, but since it's a wedding suddenly that's necessary! I've used "just a party" to keep those silly notions in check. I think it refers mainly to the reception and is a mantra against pointless excesses, not necessarily drawing the focus away from the ceremony. (I could be wrong about the common usage of this phrase though, please enlighten me)

    10 agree
  9. My sweetie and I are writing our secular ceremony, which will be officiated by a longtime friend of my mother (who is Jewish, gay, and a legally-credentialed celebrant). He's done a bunch of weddings, mostly for non-traditional couples, so it surprised me when he mentioned something to the effect of "Well, people will be looking forward to the party, so I think it's best to keep the ceremony short."

    I hope that's not the case! We are inviting 20 immediate family members and close friends to witness this big step in our lives, and there will be cake afterward, and we hope to spend some time with everyone. The party is SO not the point. That was one reason it was so easy for us to decide "no alcohol, no dancing, simple reception with iPod music": anyone who wouldn't be up for that in exchange for participation in the ceremony and time with us as a couple wouldn't be there to support our marriage.

    1 agrees
    • With all of the duest respect of course, I for one just don't feel that way: we don't see this as a big step in our lives at all – maybe as a chance to flaunt eachother's awesomeness, at most – and I tell everyone who congratulates us by using words like 'commitment' as much: we're already fully committed to one another and expecting (or will at least try) to live happily ever after anyway, sickness/health/richer/poorer/etc, either WITHOUT or WITH throwing a massive bash, and we simply prefer the latter :-)
      Just my two cents, to each her own, right?

      8 agree
      • Absolutely to each their own!

        It's all about what marriage means to you. It's a big deal to us, and because of that I want the people we love to understand that, but I have friends who will probably never get married, and I in no way think that means they aren't as committed. It's just not for them.

        I think people are always going to pressure you into the opposite of what you want. You want a party, and people want you to have some emotional commitment ceremony. I want an emotional commitment ceremony, and people keep telling me that no one cares and I should just skip to the party. This post is just my way of saying no :)

        4 agree
      • I certainly think that a relationship can be serious and committed without being a marriage. Plenty of my friends and chosen family don't have the option to get married, after all. I hope that my fiancee and I will be able to make it legal in October, but if not, we still consider the event to be a big deal. If it weren't, why would we be doing it at all?

        "we're already fully committed to one another and expecting (or will at least try) to live happily ever after anyway, sickness/health/richer/poorer/etc, either WITHOUT or WITH throwing a massive bash" — and that's why we aren't throwing a massive bash. The important part to us is making our vows in public and asking for support from our nearest and dearest.

        3 agree
  10. THIS !! "Perhaps it's true that you can't help who you love. But marriage is different, it is a choice. I choose my fiance. And I choose to love him, whether it stays easy or at times becomes difficult, for the rest of our lives. That's a big freaking deal, and I intend to tell the world as much about it as I can. And then I intend to put a ring on it." AND THIS !!"Our guests are not being asked to attend a party where we get married. I am asking them to witness our vows, to support my fiance and me in the choice that we are making. I'm asking them to come together as a supportive community, to sit through my tears and sickly sweet readings about love and, quite frankly, to be happy about it." So perfectly how I feel about the whole thing. I wasn't going to buy a "wedding dress" but the Intended wanted me to have one, so yes, to the dress. Intended's mother invited us to elope and then she'd pay for a "big party" for us. We said "NO" to that. Not what we are looking for, thank you very much. Thanks for posting this. I'm glad to know it's not just me.

    1 agrees
  11. "It seems like a lot of Offbeat Brides take the "party where we happen to get married" route when planning their wedding."

    I think while this is true in some cases, I think a lot of OB's also place a lot of meaning on the ceremony but realise that not everyone who attends their wedding will, which is why some emphasis is placed on the party… I know for us, one of our biggest concerns was making sure our friends and family enjoyed themselves, but at the same time, many, MANY hours were spent poring over ceremonies from other cultures, and completely re-writing everything we could so that it suited us. Saying that, it wasn't something I put too much emphasis on in my OB profile, not to negate the effort, nor the meaning behind it, but simply because that meaning is really only there for my hubby and I… and to most other people or at least my friends, while they can appreciate a nice ceremony vs. a "preachy" one when they're not religious etc, it's still just words to them because it's so deeply personal to us…

    …if all that even makes sense…. :|

    2 agree
  12. Very well said, love this post!! My husband and I took the same route, and our ceremony was very well received–not a dry eye in the room. We made sure everything about it meant something important to us, and as it turned out, nobody got bored! Woo hoo! All that while both of us being agnostic (though me more than him) and going without many of the "traditional" wedding elements.

    As a side note, while I would talk about all this, my ex-friend (who'd been my maid-of-honor) would regularly chastise me about doing exactly what was said in this post. When I told her I wasn't doing bouquet toss/flower girl/etc, she told me, "It doesn't sound like you're having a wedding, it sounds like you're just having a big party." Then, when I told her how the ceremony was the most important part for me, she told me that the reception is the most important, and nobody likes sitting through a ceremony.

    Point is, haters gonna hate, so focus on the important stuff–love, commitment, and the joy of the moment. :)

    2 agree
  13. As for me, the ceremony is absolutely the most important part – that's all planned out – but I keep waffling about what kind of reception to have. I can't decide between the backyard BBQ with no frills, the dinner out and after-party at a club, or the full-on catered dinner/DJ/dancing bash. They all sound like fun, and I guess the budget will help decide, but clearly the party isn't the focus for me! :)

    (To clarify – I'm not engaged yet, so these ideas are all only in my head right now. OF COURSE the future husband will have his say, too!)

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  14. I haven't commented on OBB for a long time, as I have been married awhile, but what a fantastic post! For me a wedding is all about the ceremony, and I often feel people neglect to focus on that part of it.

    2 agree
  15. Same here – have been married for a while but felt exactly the same way a few years back, the ceremony was definitely the main event of the day for me and we spent a lot of time getting the officiant, guests' involvement and wording just right. Best wishes to you!

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  16. THANK YOU! I felt the exact same way. While planning my wedding it drove me crazy that almost everything online for wedding planning was about the party. I had no idea how to throw a huge party, so that was useful, but I really wanted to know how to craft a meaningful rite of passage. For us too, the ceremony was absolutely the point. Dinner and dancing was just what happened afterwards. For my husband and me, this was our chance to create the perfect embodiment of our love in one ceremony, and share it with our community. And for the rest of my life, the ceremony will be this amazing and special thing, and the high point of the day. The party was nice too. Best of luck with yours! I found the ceremony advice section of this site really useful.

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  17. This is wonderful! I definitely agree on the vows being the most important part, as well as what you said about the government. To me, the important part of marriage is nothing to do with either religion or government. It's symbolic.
    My fiance and I are also atheists and would feel uncomfortable having a pastor officiate. At the same time, I would feel uncomfortable picking out just any person who happens to be ordained to do it. After all, you only invite people to your wedding who you feel really deserve to be there. You wouldn't invite a stranger, would you? I think I'd prefer someone who we can feel some sort of connection to, even if it isn't someone we're already friends with. I just don't really have a clue how to find that someone…

    1 agrees
  18. So true– Call me an extremist but outside of just eloping, my S.O. and I have considered the posibility of just holding the ceremony and… thats it. No reception, no cake, no dancing, nada.

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    • I've thought about this, too! If you decide to do so, would love to see a wedding profile saying how it went.

      1 agrees
    • I dearly hope you'll reconsider. Not trying to start drama, but the reception is the thank you to your guests for traveling, taking off work, bringing a gift, and/or just in general going out of their way to support you on your day.

      It would be impolite not to receive your guests in some way… even if it's just cake and punch or something else low key that you host for them.

      2 agree
    • I sang at a wedding that was very "no-frills" – there were about 35 people in a lovely room that was both ceremony and reception space. There was a pianist for "before" music and my song (which came after the vows), but for the reception there was no music, only cake, coffee, punch, and the conversation of the guests. After about an hour, the immediate family went back to the house to open gifts and continue the conversation. That was it. Very low-key and lovely, and probably the next best thing to eloping :)

      2 agree
    • I think food and beverage can be very symbolic, and I think that's a reason to have a little something sweet as a shared eat after the ceremony. I guess for me sharing fire, wine and bread is so symbolic of making a community, of thanks and welcome, of hospitality, of celebration of bounty, of nourishment… Just some thoughts on this topic. In the end, I hope you will find a solution that is true to you and your partner :)

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  19. I LOVE this! It has nothing to do with belief (as far as I am concerned). I am getting married in 10 days! I am with you in the fact that I choose HIM and I would do it again and again! Seal this with a kiss, and a ring and happiness that will radiate through our hearts forever. I do not want the party, I want my groom! I only will have a small handful of people there, and then when it is over, it will be US, married!!! I am loving it! Thank you!

    0 agree
  20. I love this article. Even though I am christian and want a religion based wedding and marriage, I do agree with making it special. I just really want everyone to know how much we love each other and how important the actual wedding is. My fiance is very traditional, but I want a more modern ceremony, so I'm finding ways to "twist" things, and make them our own without losing, the meaning behind the traditions. I do love making everything look good, but that's just what helps create the atmosphere and gets all the lovey feelings out there.

    2 agree
  21. I think this is my favourite post that I have read on here! It brought tears to my eyes. I love how you said that you can't help who you love but marriage is a choice, that is what the ceremony should represent and being a bride also having a non-religous wedding it is something I want the focus to be on. Thank you for this!

    2 agree
  22. I cannot tell you how awesome the phrase "a ceremony where there happens to be cake" is. I think I'm going to spend the next six months describing my wedding that way. Thank you!

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  23. I don't feel like we put more emphasis on one or the other when planning our marriage. I looked at the reception as a continuation of our ceremony, to be honest.

    The ceremony is where we got up and said our vows in front of the most important people in our lives; vows that we had already been enacting long before we decided to get married. But even so, in general guests just sit there and watch you, because a ceremony with guests is like letting others in on a private moment between you two. They may be moved or touched, but it doesn't offer them much of a way to share in your joy during that moment. That's what the reception is for, as well to give your appreciation for the blessing that you have ___ people that care about you and are willing to stand by you. And isn't that the reason you invited guests to begin with- to share in your joy?

    I think if the ceremony is the most important to you and you have no opinion either way on the reception, by all means go for it! But that doesn't mean everyone else is taking the "party where we happen to get married" approach. Just my two cents.

    Kudos to you and your FI, though! I'm sure it will be beautiful!

    7 agree
    • Actually, Jamie, your ceremony can be interactive…guests don't need to simply sit there. It really depends upon what you want. Guests, I find (as a professional celebrant), really appreciate being involved in the ceremony, in helping marry you. It's very powerful.

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  24. Noting that neither religion nor government really holds the truth to what marriage to your SO means super captures my fiance and my feelings on the manner. What an awesome post to read!

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  25. My fiance and I are very religious, and I absolutely understand and respect what you're saying here. I remember John Lennon (not a religious guy) being asked why he was gonna bother marrying his gf, and he said, "A wedding is a ritual, and rituals are important." I believe in a sacramental union, but even still, I believe something happens at a wedding whether you're religious or not, and it's more than just the boring part before you get to the booze and cake. So I applaud your decision and pray that you and your fiance will have a lovely wedding and a lovelier marriage.

    4 agree
    • I love this John Lennon quote. I am definitely going to be storing this away in my memory. Thank you :)

      1 agrees
  26. I love this post! It speaks so much to how myself and my fiance feel about everything!

    When we started to think about having a wedding, and I got online to look around, I was interested to find that weddings nowadays were so focused on the reception. While we are both atheists we knew the ceremony was more important to us because we are admittedly romantics when it comes to love, our love, so we're more excited about being able to commit to each other forever than the 'party' reception afterwards. That is also because we are straight-edge, so we knew we would not be having any type of alcohol at our wedding which would disappoint pretty much everybody we knew.

    The more we thought about it, the more we knew a traditional wedding was not going to be for us. As you said, you can't choose who you love but marriage is a choice, and we want to celebrate our choice. So we decided we are going to elope; having a small ceremony with just us, an officiant, and a photographer. Our marriage is about us; not the government, not the religion, not the party, not the gifts, not the flowers, not the centerpieces, not the anything else but our love and commitment to each other.

    1 agrees
  27. Awesome! So beautifully and thoughtfully written! And exactly why I am now a full-time officiant, for couples just like you. Hearing you say all these things makes my heart sing – thank you! I came to see myself as being "the voice" for those who don't traditionally have a voice – they don't have their childhood pastor or rabbi or other clergy to whom they connect, and hiring one would feel fake to them and their relationship. Those are my couples – the ones who want something fun, personal, meaningful, and non-religious. I'm not anti-religion, and have including bits or pieces for couples who needed to satisfy Mom or Grandma, usually, but that's never my focus, and *I* don't need any of it. The ceremony, in my mind, should be able celebrating the commitment, the relationship, why this is the person for you, in front of those who matter most to you, and to therefore help everyone there understand who you are together and how they can be your cheerleaders and supporters for the rest of your lives together.

    Enjoy your ceremony – and the fun party that comes along afterward. :)

    3 agree
  28. I loved reading this and I feel the same way – and I know my future husband does too. There have been so many times when he has said he would rather spend more money on the ceremony than the reception. This is slightly impractical – feeding 50 people is going to cost more money but I love the sentiment and it means so much that he care so much about our wedding.

    1 agrees
  29. I just wanted to comment with a "squee" because I made that dress and it's awesome to see it up here. =D

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  30. Thank you for such a great post! I totally resonated with your post–and it was so cool to see someone non-religious (opposite of me and my FI)express the same feelings/attitudes about the ceremony being central to it all (if not for our believing that the public saying of vows in front of as much of our community as possible is vital, we'd have already eloped). And we're also going to be involving the guests as much as possible in the ceremony because we see marriage as not just uniting two people, but uniting two families as well.

    Thanks, again.–Beautifully said!

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  31. My husband and I felt the same way. I'd done a fair bit of reading around before we got our teeth into the planning and we both felt it was strange that so much emphasis was placed on the party and not the actual wedding- our family and friends love us dearly, but had we proposed throwing just a great party rather than a wedding for them all we'd have had a hell of a lot of leftover cake. We had a C of E ceremony- both our beliefs and the fact that his parents are both vicars, so it made a happy non-compromise decision. We booked the church long before anything else and put hours and hours of thought into our choices of hymns, music, readings and exactly which service we wanted. Don't get me wrong, the reception was AMAZING, but the real point of the day for us was the bit in the church. Several of our friends afterwards commented that they thoroughly enjoyed our wedding but that we had a long ceremony, but it was the best bit of the day for us. What it boils down to is that it's your wedding, and as a couple you decide whether it's right for you to focus on the wedding or the reception and there's no "right" way to do it. I think it's great for couples to choose what's right for them and their relationship and to go for it.

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  32. I'm with you on this one. I honestly care only about the pictures and the ceremony (I'm a religious Jew, so that encompasses quite a bit, but still) — the rest will be fun, sure, but that's not the important part at all to me.

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  33. Thank you for this! I am a Pagan engaged to an Atheist & everybody thinks that we are going to have a party where we happen to get married because we don't go to church. They couldn't be more wrong about it all & I wish I knew how to explain it; thank you for giving me a starting point.

    0 agree
  34. Thanks everyone for your support and kind words! We just got married and the ceremony, while short, was exactly how we wanted it!

    Stick to your guns, if you're getting nervous. We fit a processional, a reading, vows, ring warming and recessional and our guests loved all of it. It was important to us and we made it happen! Good luck!

    0 agree
  35. I agree 150% with absolutely everything you said. I won't give a hoot if the table linens turn out scarlet instead of cranberry, but if our ceremony is seen as just a reason for dinner to be delayed, I will grow a tail and be the worst bridezilla to ever roam the planet. This is why we are asking that no one bring a cell phone or camera. If the people we are inviting( and spending about $200 per head on) don't care about us and our devotion to each other enough to put down angry birds for a whole 5 hours, then I don't want them there. I actually want my friends and family to pay attention while I'm making the biggest commitment of my life. Absurd I know.

    1 agrees
  36. Here here! A wonderful way of putting it!

    1 agrees

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