Jesse & Ben's potluck backyard hippie handfasting

August 16 |  
Photos by: Va Nilla (Victoria Charko)
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Photos by Va Nilla (Victoria Charko)

The Offbeat Bride: Jesse, Artist, Nanny, and Doula (and Tribesmaid)

Her offbeat partner: Ben, Musician studying Classical Guitar

Date and location of wedding: The bride's mom's backyard, Ontario, Canada — June 22, 2013

Our offbeat wedding at a glance: Ben and I created our ceremony to be exactly what we each felt represented the two of us, so in turn a lot of traditional elements got cut. The biggest one being the legal part of it. We decided that our ceremony must be five things for us to be happy with it: fun, simple, true to us, participatory, and as environmentally friendly as we could realistically manage. So we set off to accomplish those things, and we (for the most part) did.

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Our invite was a video of the two of us singing a mashup of some of our favourite songs together with a link to our website at the end. We took to calling it a "love celebration" rather than a wedding in order to manage expectations.

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UntitledHaving chosen to have the entire thing outside in my mother's backyard left us little to worry about in regards to decorating, at least not in the way of things that would not become a permanent addition to her backyard. We did buy a couple more hanging plants and solar lights that were on sale last-minute, but that was sort of a gift to my mom as well, seeing as she let us have our hippie potluck celebration (with fifty of our closest friends and family) take over her backyard for the day. We also used colourful fabrics laid out as a mismatched tapestry on the grass for people to sit on, and some beaded eggshell strings that I made (symbolizing fertility and strength) hung from the canopies.

While Ben and I are typically super casual, Ben had two conditions for his attire: he wanted to get as dressed up as he could stand to in the heat, and he wanted to wear a vest. His mom found the perfect fabric (white and all) with musical notes on them and had a vest made for him by his aunt. Then Ben took some of his dad's vintage punk pins and pinned one on each of his friends standing in the ceremony, as well as his brother and one on himself to complete the personalization of his outfit.

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As for my own outfit, I had a beautiful threaded necklace that I got from a local fair-trade shop in downtown Sudbury. I went barefoot so that I could be in touch with the earth during the ceremony, and besides the hemp headpiece and matching bracelet that I made the night before, I wore the rest of my wooden jewelery and beads that I wear on a day-to-day basis.

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I had initially planned to make my dress, but since overcoming major health issues over the last year, my body had continued changing shape and size right up until the week before the ceremony. For that reason, I had decided to forgo doing the dress myself in order to save a lot of headaches, but that also meant that with only a few days left to go I still didn't have a dress. Thankfully, three days before the ceremony, I was able to find the perfect dress in town from a handmade shop that was exactly what I was looking for, and have already worn it a number of times since the ceremony. It was made from a really light iridescent fabric, so not only was it flowy and comfortable to wear, but it changed colours depending on the light!

Since neither of us ever felt like the symbolism of the ring really represented us, we had chosen to get tattoos that incorporated meaning for the other, but that were still very much for ourselves as well. I chose to have a puzzle piece with a leaf in it done on the back of my neck, symbolizing a piece of the larger whole of myself both with nature and with Ben. Ben chose to go with two musical symbols: a fermata and a tenuto mixed with an infinity symbol to essentially say, "live life to the fullest forever."

We did a potluck to take some of the pressure off of ourselves, mostly due to the fact that Ben and I eat as vegetarian/vegan and many of our guests do not. Although we had a hard time of organizing what everyone was bringing, and were afraid that any would forget, everyone showed up with their food (great food!) and the dinner part of the night was a tasty success!

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We had chosen our date specifically to correspond with the energies of the summer solstice as well as the supermoon… which made the date pretty much the only non-negotiable part of the whole day for us. Given that Ben and I would have been happy standing in the pouring rain to be married, we decided that we would go ahead as planned when we found out rain was scheduled, but to compensate for potential showers, we bought a few extra canopies and set up a tent city around the altar for our guests, just in case. Of course, it never did end up raining, but the canopies looked nice anyway, and now we count that as our fourteenth blessing for the day.

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Tell us about the ceremony: We decided to use both a handfasting and sand ceremony to marry us. It was important to us to have both for a few reasons, but one of the main ones was the level of participation that it allowed. Given that Ben's father, Paul, had passed away the September prior to the ceremony, we wanted to have him involved as he was such a positive influence for Ben. We had already intended to have our mother's pour a layer of sand first to represent our roots of where we each came from, and then have Paul tie a cord during the handfasting. But upon his passing, we chose to sprinkle a small portion of his ashes at the bottom as well instead so that he could be represented too.

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After the ceremony was finished, we asked everyone who was present to also sprinkle in some sand of a fifth colour to represent the rest of our communities that had helped shape us. We chose to do this in a large jar that we will be adding additional thin layers of sand to each year on our anniversary. We hope to eventually incorporate any children we have into this ritual as well with their own colours.

We chose not to do a legal ceremony for many reasons, but one of the main reasons was because we did not feel fully represented in the definitions of legal marriage with our other relationships. We wanted to make sure that we clearly defined our own expectations, rather than assuming traditional roles. I read a quote from Gift from the Sea, and then Ben and I each expanded with our own writing about what commitment meant to us individually.

However, since almost none of our friends or family present knew that we were polyamorous, we kept the wording of the readings more about respecting each others freedoms, and allowing one another to experience everything we each wanted to in life both together and apart. Both of us being activists and feminists, we also made sure to stress the ideal that it was not about possession, and that we were both equal partners making the commitment to each other. Even now we do not call each other husband and wife. We have requested that those close to us do not refer to us that way either, and instead continue to call one another partners.

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We had our friend Sammi as the acting officiant, and all of our friends offered us a blessing in the handfasting. But it was still important to us that we took an active part in the ceremony too, so we asked each other to commit to one another and the vows we were promising, and in the end married ourselves.

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Our biggest challenge: We had asked everyone to bring reusable containers and cutlery to the celebration in order to bring home leftovers and limit the amount of waste. We knew that many of the guests would forget to do so, but we also knew that we couldn't bring dishes and cutlery for everyone seeing as we were trying to pack light in order to make the trip to and from Sudbury easier for us to pack for. The solution was letting go of some of my pride, and compromising for a couple of packs of compostable dishes and wooden utensils for those that did forge. I am still happy to say that there was only one medium-sized bag of garbage by the end of it, and the rest went back to the earth.

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My favorite moment: There were two really meaningful moments for me. The first is more a series of moments rather than one single moment as it was really just all of the conversations with each of the people participating in the handfasting. We got to have a special moment to just laugh quietly with each of them privately while they were tying the cords and that made being up there feel really comfortable.

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The second was when we had our kiss after we finished with the vows. Not the kiss itself (though that was wonderful too) but rather during the kiss when we broke apart for a second to murmur our secret names for each other and tell each other once more how much we loved each other.

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What was the most important lesson you learned from your wedding? The lesson came to me slowly during the week leading up to it, and continued to make itself apparent as the night slowly came to an end. As much as we want things to be a certain way or look a certain way while we are micromanaging every detail, if you can let go of the need to control all of it and just enjoy the wave of things happening the day of, it makes the whole thing a lot more enjoyable.

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Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?

Enough talk — show me the wedding porn!



  1. Oh man, Jesse… your jewelry is just slaying me. Gorgeous!

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  2. SO beautiful! Loved all the details. But I was reading along and then the bit about your friends/family not knowing you're polyamorous and suddenly I had so.many.questions!! Like how do you keep that a secret from friends/family? Did your other partners participate in the love celebration? Will you do similar ceremonies with them?

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    • Hey there, thanks for your questions!
      I was sort of hoping this would come up so I could explain it further.

      Since moving to Sudbury over the past year, the majority of our previous relationships had ended (at least to a degree that they were not constant in our lives) so we did not wish people to misinterpret us saying that we were polyamorous as simply an excuse to sleep with whoever we wished (because as practically any poly person can tell you, that happens to be a common perception) and then undermine the ceremony. Given that we did not have current examples to show of our other loving relationships, we wanted the focus to be on the one we were having, but still not to exclude that part of ourselves. & because we were also not doing a legal ceremony, we felt that it was asking too much for some family members to wrap their heads around at one time, especially without a third or fourth kind face to introduce them to in order to shake the misconception.

      It was mostly out of respect for Ben's family that we did not explicitly state it. There have been a few times where the topic has been brought up and I advocated for it, only to be met with some rather aggressive arguments, and it was made clear that they were uncomfortable with it. However, Ben has stated that when he does find himself in another relationship again, that he will then make it clear to his family of what that means for him – and my family and friends have been brought into the loop at this point as well. Which, by the way, has been met with incredible love and understanding- love all of them to bits!

      Due to distance and time conflicts, the majority of our other lovers were unable to attend, (although a few prior relationships were present, and involved in our handfasting, which was their way of having a special contribution)
      We had our special moments with each person involved in the ceremony, and the ones that were there that I had been involved with before got my undivided attention as we exchanged jokes and quiet "I love yous" while they were tying their cords.

      To answer your question about how we had kept it a secret though, given that it is just Ben and I living in Sudbury, while our families are located in Barrie/Toronto, it was much easier for us to not have our families involved in that aspect. Although, I have always, without explicitly stating it, let the majority of my friends and family know – just on a level where they could interpret it to the point they were comfortable with, and ask questions of me if they wished. Those of my friends who were really close to me immediately understood, and I have been approached a few times since the ceremony to discuss the inner workings of our relationship because quite a few of them have also recently begun poly relationships themselves.

      As for other ceremonies – Ben and I have discussed it, and we have both agreed that it is a definite possibility if we end up in relationships that we feel would survive our life-time again. Which I am almost certain that I will – I even kept my copy of Offbeat Bride for that reason (just in case! :P )

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      • Thanks for this! I am loving the offbeat publishing of a lot more poly articles. I think it sounds like you've got some material for over on offbeat home or families, too! Totally makes sense about your family, and I love your description of those little I love yous during the handfasting!

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  3. It is great how much family was incorporated into this wedding with everything from the vest to the sand ceremony. I'm glad that you were able to create a very unique celebration that fits your polyamory and personal beliefs so well!

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