My future husband and I went to the first of three weddings we will attend before we are wed. It was a delight to sit back and enjoy someone else's big day, rather than fussing over our own.
Obviously I was paying attention to the choices that were made and how they compared to ours. But rather than breaking that down bit by bit, I'll mention some of the lessons I took away from the whole thing…
1. You can have a no-frills wedding and people will absolutely still enjoy it
This wedding was held on a campground in the mountains. The couple was married in a small amphitheater and the 40-50 guests sat on logs surrounding them. There was no bridal party. The bride did not carry flowers. Dinner was Mexican food in the lodge, the cakes were pre-made by a beloved local bakery. They served good beer and wine and bottles of hard liquor appeared later on. Dancing took place on a basketball court (complete with nets) and a bonfire was held later with marshmallows and savory snacks for the drinkers. I think the sole decorations were blue and white plastic table covers in the lodge, a single string of colored Christmas lights around the basketball court, and a simple photo booth.
And guess what? No one missed any of the extras. Everyone was happy to catch up with old friends, dance crazily, laugh at drunken antics, bask in the glow of the bonfire, and crash in their tents at the end of the night. All that mattered was that the bride and groom brought their friends and family together in one place and made sure they were relaxed and comfortable. That was more than enough.
2. You can dispense with traditions at your wedding and people will still enjoy it
Once and for all, I've decided to never again listen to those who say, “It'a not a wedding if you don't have [thing that the speaker wants you to have]!” A wedding is a wedding because two people get married and that is all there is to it. This bride and groom had no cake cutting, no first dance, no bouquet or garter tosses, and no toasts, and no one missed any of these things because they weren't things that fit this bride and groom's style.
It's awesome to have these things if you want them, and it's great to let them go if you don't. I've been married before, and I learned from my first wedding that people know when you're doing something just because you thought you had to. I'm finally feeling pretty secure about making similar decisions for our wedding.
3. Be gracious and don't shy away from being of service
The bride and the groom made a small speech thanking everyone for coming, took it upon themselves to make sure their guests knew what was happening next throughout the night (there was no MC; they did all the announcements themselves), and helped clean up the lodge themselves in between dinner and dancing (guests pitched in, too).
I think we've been sold this idea that the bride and the groom shouldn't have to lift a finger and should be completely catered to on their big day, and while that's fine, it's not always necessary. I really felt like I was personally welcomed and hosted by this bride and groom, and there was a real sweetness to that that I haven't experienced at a lot of weddings.
But lest I sound too preachy, I'll report this exchange between me and my partner while we helped clean up:
Him: See, this is nice. Don't be surprised if I do a lot of this at our wedding.
Me: No way, dude, that's why I hired a coordinator!
We chatted later about it and I pointed out that I wanted us to have time to focus on one another and on our guests, not on cleanup, and he said that seemed like a good idea. Still, this wedding got me thinking about how I can take it upon myself to make sure our guests feel welcomed by us.
4. Provide what entertainment you can, and your guests will take care of the rest
People who want to have a good time don't really require much to do so. They will take what you are able to give and run with it. At this wedding, we didn't particularly care for the DJ, but then I began to worry a bit: at least this couple was offering dancing, which is something we won't be able to do at our wedding! (Venue doesn't have space for it.) My fiancé then pointed out that when the songs were no good, people weren't dancing, but they were still excitedly talking to one another on the dance floor. “They really just want to catch up with their friends,” he said, and I think he was right.
You don't have to worry about the DJ being good enough, or the games being the right selections, or the exact number of chairs around the bonfire or whatever. Pick things that will likely work for your people and let them make their own fun after that. I watched a whole group of people enthusiastically sing Raffi songs around a bonfire at this wedding because they overheard the bride singing. You can't plan for that kind of goodness!
5. The emotional stuff is the real takeaway
My favorite moment of this wedding was when the groom's father teared up during his reading. I'll take feels over frills any day.