The offbeat bride: Amanda, Program consultant in sustainable agriculture

Her offbeat partner: John, Sustainable development project manager

Location & date of wedding: Ceremony: Yoga ashram in North East, Pennsylvania — October 5, 2008; Party: Community House in Winnetka, IL — August 7, 2009

What made our wedding offbeat: We scrapped our planned two-year engagement for a tiny ceremony six weeks later. We live in a yoga community, so we were married there in a traditional Vedic ceremony: an ancient ceremony from India that takes place around a fire. We asked friends in our community to help with setting everything up, decorating the pavilion, cooking food, and taking photographs; the whole day was extraordinarily lovely and low-key.

Nine months later we threw a celebratory square dance for our friends and family—talk about disparate cultural extremes! In the time between, we spent six months working at a community center in Cameroon, West Africa, so we planned our reception from there with crucial assistance from our stateside families. Our only requirements for the event were that the food be delicious and vegetarian, that we have kegs of good local beer, and a live string band and square dance caller. The rest we left up to our families to put their own spins on.

Friends shower them with blessing and good thoughts

The square dance was pure genius, as it got people to dance together, without anyone worrying about not being able to dance. There were many little handmade touches from our community: fruit jam for favors, quart jars of flowers, bolo ties galore. Both the wedding ceremony and the reception were immense group efforts and were that much more fun (and less stressful) since we were able to accept the creative help of our friends and family and not become attached to the details.

Amanda & John offer rice to the fire

Tell us about your ceremony: The traditional Vedic ceremony is one of the oldest wedding ceremonies in the world, dating back thousands of years and still practiced today. The whole thing was extremely earthy and relevant, focusing on our commitment not just to each other and our future family, but also to the greater world of humanity and nature.

The ceremony takes place around a fire, where the fire represents the Divine Light of knowledge and love, which resides in and unites us all; the priest conducts the ceremony, but it is the fire that acts as witness and consecrator of the marriage. There are a series of recitations (including my all-American dad chanting “Ommm!”), offerings to the fire, and symbolic actions, such as having our mothers tie together the scarves that we wore (literally tying the knot for us) to signify the wisdom and love of our elders helping to join a young new family, together. My favorite part of the ceremony was when we took seven steps across piles of rice, at each one reciting a different vow. At step six: “Together we will care for people more than possessions, for honor more than honors, for the dimensions of a home more than the details of a house.”
Offering Rice
Our own little offbeat addition to this ancient ceremony was to add a musical number. Our families stood up and sang the Cat Stevens rendition of “Morning Has Broken.” This was also a way of incorporating a familiar Christian element (a hymn), for my mom.

For anyone interested in reading the entire text from our wedding ceremony, it is written below the photos in our flickr set.

Our biggest challenge: We certainly surprised our families—not in a pleasant manner—when we announced that we were: a) Getting married six weeks from now, b) Having a tiny ceremony so we were only inviting immediate family and a few friends, and c) Having a Vedic ceremony, which they had never heard of, which seemed a little cultish to them. It didn't help that my grandparents weren't able to make it on the date we had selected. In the end, through patience and tolerance all around, these issues worked themselves out and we were lucky enough to get both the ceremony we wanted, and to have our parents behind us, loving it 100%. It took courage, though.

The biggest practical challenge was getting people to RSVP online to our reception. This was sooooo difficult for some reason! Since we were out of the country and didn't want to dump all the guest list stuff on our families (plus save some money), paper invitations with online RSVPing seemed like the perfect solution. Not so! We had to really nag people to respond, and surprisingly, it was our supposedly tech-savvy friends and peers who were the worst about it.

Each table had photos of John and Amanda at the age that corresponded to the table number. Precious.

My favorite moment: At the beginning of the wedding, the groom and all the men in the family wait in the pavilion with the guests, as the bride proceeds in from a distance with the womenfolk. I led The Girl Parade, flanked by John's and my moms, and followed by John's sisters, my aunt, and my six best girlfriends who had flown in from all over the country. This was the extent of a bridal party. Walking in with them, I felt so loved and so blessed to have such awesome women in my life. With them, I crossed a field to where John was waiting for me, flower garland in hand, with the biggest smile on his face.
John rocks the bolo tie
At the end of ceremony, there is a shower of blessings, similar to petal throwing at a church wedding. Instead of us walking out, we remained seated by the fire as everyone filed past us, sprinkling flower petals over our heads and sharing warm thoughts. We were able to look into the eyes of every person that was there with us.

Best part of the reception was the moment when I was finally able to stand off to the side alone for five minutes, eat a piece of pie, and gaze across the heaving sea of square dancers. I don't know if I'll see anything better than the most random and wonderful collection of people from throughout my life all ‘putting the birdie in the cage' together.

My advice for offbeat brides: I can't overemphasize how fantastic it was having the party separate from the ceremony. At first we were planning a huge wedding. But finding ourselves already stressed about tent rental, guest list, catering and port-a-potties for an event that was scheduled for A YEAR AND A HALF LATER. We realized our priorities were really warped. Having a tiny, intimate ceremony was so beautiful and luscious; it required a minimum of planning and the entire thing, from start to finish, was all about our commitment to each other, without a lot of distractions. Then, months later, we were able to have a huge rockin' party that, yes, did involve some of they typical hassles and stress, but was so much more low-pressure, since we were already married and this was just… a huge rockin' party. And while indeed a ton of fun, the party was also a big blur, due to having almost two hundred of our favorite people, from all parts of our lives, in one place, at one time. But because we did things how we did, I have crystal clear memories of what it was like in the actual moments of becoming joined with the love of my life.

I have seen the discussion on here about how to ask for money instead of things, which is what we really wanted since we travel a lot and don't have our own house yet. We debated a non-tacky way of requesting this, but in the end simply didn't register for any gifts, so most people got the hint and wrote us checks. The material gifts we did receive were mostly art and personal projects, which we loved, so I recommend this course of action. The only thing we asked of people was that they show up and bring a pie to share.

Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?

  • Ceremony photography: Primarily Maureen Cassidy, now based in Madison, WI. An AMAZING photographer!!!
  • Reception photography: John LaVere, based in Evanston, IL. Very chillaxed, easy to work with, and plays the banjo!
  • String band and square dance caller: Tony Scarimbolo and the Common Taters, based in Chicago, IL.
  • We concoted a “family logo” and ordered stickers from Sticker Robot for use on the jam jars and thank you cards. This was one of the few creative projects we could do for the reception, from the other side of the world.

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Comments on Amanda & John’s Vedic wedding ceremony and square dance wedding party

  1. i have no idea why but this one made me allll teary. the calm you can see in all these pictures is a beautifull thing

  2. Once or twice every season I get a chance to shoot a wedding as personal and inspired as this one. A little imagination goes a long way…

  3. I got to be at both sides of this wedding! Ceremony the photographer, Reception, pie eating, photo booth taking, square dancing guest. The wedding was so wonderful, as were all of their guests. Their wedding was amazing, as are these 2 people!

  4. Was this by chance at the Himmalayan Institute? Lived in Poconos when younger, grew up with ‘institute people’ 🙂

  5. OMG I am completely in agreement with you about having a ceremony apart from the party/reception. Your wedding has inspired me to put my foot down about this and make it happen. I too have had many thoughts about a square dance reception, as I happen to have good friends who have a band that plays for square dances, so I’m so happy to see that yours worked out! Here’s to swinging your partner and doing a do-si-do!

  6. Ditto on the separate ceremonies and receptions. Or rather, ours will probably be teensy tiny ceremony here in upstate NY and a small, laid-back dinner afterwards, then eventually going home to ND for a giant, food-laden, dancing-your-ass-off kind of party. 🙂

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