Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Here comes the bride
A few times a year I perform wedding ceremonies. There's no cleric's shingle outside my house—I do this only for relatives and friends, through a nondenominational California church.
Over the weekend I served as minister for the son of a friend and his bride. (Blank faces are used above to protect privacy!) It's a great honor to be asked to officiate on such special days, and I always take the assignment seriously.
Some couples want a rigid ceremony, without comic relief; others seem to have more fun. N. & P., for example, wore full get-up as bride and groom, but they and the whole wedding party wore Birkenstocks sandals. L., a large man, carried his bride up the stairs to the altar. J. & C. wanted me to touch their shoulders with a child's sparkly wand during the ceremony. They didn't tell me why, and I didn't ask.
Most of "my brides" choose to be "given away," insisting that their fathers walk them down an aisle and place their hands in the hands of their grooms. Given that all but one bride has lived with her groom for months or years before the wedding, I have to hold back what's on my mind: "Dear, you've already given yourself away."
There are many areas where people do symbolic things even when the meaning is no longer applicable. But it seems to me there's more of that in weddings than elsewhere, and it's largely sexist, dating to a time when the woman was the property first of her father, then of her husband.
Brides who list their addresses as the same as the grooms' still wear long white gowns with trains. Most of mine have worn veils; many have kept the veil over their faces until their hands are safely resting in the grooms'. I suppose they're too young to know the symbolism and what the white veil has implied for the last century. (Before that, brides often wore dresses that they could wear after the wedding. Marie Curie wore a dark dress that she could later wear to the lab.)
On almost every occasion, my brides and grooms have separated the night before the wedding, returning to their parents' homes or staying with friends. This past weekend the bride and groom stayed in separate B&B's across town from each other. It's for private reflection, I've been told, and I'm sure there's a lot of that. But I think it's also to keep the groom from seeing the bride's dress before the music starts.
Once in a while a couple will take my suggestion that the bride and groom both walk down the aisle, accompanied by their parents, to symbolize their equal partnership and the joining of the families, but for the most part, it's Here Comes The Bride while the groom waits at the end of the carpet with me.
The aunt of one bride still has not forgiven me for placing the bride and groom on "wrong" sides of each other. "The bride is supposed to stand on the left," she insists to this day. I checked it out, and she's right. The reason: this allows his sword arm to be free and ready to fight off other men who may want her as their bride.
Now that would be an interesting wedding. Have you ever seen that happen?