Wedding costs, and benefits

What does it mean that weddings these days are more traditional and more lavish than ever? Scoff not.
Modern weddings: bring back the tradition

Modern weddings: bring back the tradition San Diego County

Perhaps you have noticed that weddings have become a rather big, and often quite expensive deal these days. There are full-time wedding consultants and wedding planners, caterers and photographers whose entire business is hitched to lavish nuptials. And there's a relatively new phenomenon, “the destination wedding,” which means the entire wedding party and guests going someplace like Mexico or Tahiti for a multi-day celebration.

A lot of money is involved. The most recent figures I saw put the average American wedding in the neighborhood of $33,000 in cost, which is more than my parents paid for a home in the 1960’s.

In recent months, we’ve been enjoying a wedding tour of sorts. The daughter of close friends was married in Honolulu in June, and we all went. In July one of our sons and his bride were married on Whidbey. And the wedding of our other son and his intended is near at hand, taking place later this month in Seattle.

So I’ve had a chance to think about weddings a good bit of late, and to do so from the vantage point of a father of the groom(s). All of these weddings have been lovely — and elaborate. The wedding parties, grooms' and brides' attendants, are large groups, six to nine on each side. There are a lot of run-up and corollary events, bachelorette and bachelor parties. There have been recreational activities for out-of-town guests and other dinners. There’s the clothes part of it (no small matter), the flowers, the food and drink, and today of course each couple has its own wedding website.

Not only have weddings become extensive and extravagant, but they seem to have become more traditional as well. From the carefully choreographed wedding processions and receiving lines, to the giving of the bride, and the order and import of the toasts given at the dinner/reception following, traditions are not being, as in my day, flaunted so much as they are carefully observed.

As you may have guessed, I’ve been a little (maybe more than a little) critical of the cost and extravagance of today‘s wedding. And I have observed the return to tradition with interest, curiosity and sometimes, puzzlement. But my own son’s wedding in July took me by surprise and has led me to re-think my prejudices.

In some ways, it may only be that things are different when its your own kid involved. I recall that as a young clergyman I regarded the traditional church Christmas pageant, with shepherds in bathrobes, angels draped in tinsel, and wise men with shoe-polish beards, as pretty much of liturgical outrage and an aesthetic travesty. Then one year my own daughter was up there in the cast. Suddenly the Christmas pageant seemed to me the most wondrous, awe-inspiring, and deeply meaningful event in the church year.

My conversion, so to speak, with regard to the contemporary wedding hasn’t been quite that momentous, but almost. These recent and family experiences have led me to different thoughts about today’s wedding. Perhaps the beautiful, lavish, extravagant, elegant, and more traditional contemporary wedding is a way in which this generation is saying, in the best way they know how to, that marriage is a big deal, a really big deal. Possibly, this is their way of saying to themselves and to the rest of us, “This matters. It matters a lot.”

And it does. If you’re religious marriage has to do with holy things, with God. Whether you’re religious or not, weddings and marriage have to do with the heart and soul and future life of two human beings. In fact, weddings have to do with many more people than the two principals. That’s one of the many paradoxes of marriage. In some ways, intensely private, marriages also have public impact and significance. For good and ill, their effects ripple out to touch all sorts of people.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Oct 7, 10:31 p.m. Inappropriate

How timely! I just got married this September 13. It was a bigger and more expensive affair than my wife and I had planned, but I wouldn't call it extravagant, lavish, or elaborate. Traditional, yes, in a sense — though it wasn't in a house of worship, there were many traditional elements. In fact we strove to include elements of all four of our ethnic/religious traditions (Korean Confucian, Russian Jewish, Italian Catholic, British Protestant). And choreographed, very — we had a wedding planner, who we found to be quite worth it, considering we were otherwise putting together the wedding ourselves. As the bills came in, we took to thinking of it as our own stimulus package for the region's economy.

We do think it matters a lot. We don't plan to do this again. It is a big deal. To quote my wife, too, it wasn't just a large party, it was "a cultural event...and a way to say thanks to people we love...we'll have memories to last a lifetime." But, as for the party portion, "in our culture of overwork, it's good to spend some money on play." The events of last month made me realize how infrequently our friends get together, and our families get to see each other. I think I had really gotten used to the insularity of being in Seattle, and it was a pleasant surprise to see so many people I knew together at the same time. (3/4 of our families being from the East Coast probably spiced things up a bit, too.)

Oh, as for the cost of your parents' home in the '60s? $33,000 in, say, 1965 dollars, is into six figures in today's money, remember. But I can see how wedding costs can balloon even that far, though ours didn't come anywhere close to doing so (and actually know of one person who had that expensive a wedding in the '60s) — the only way to really keep costs "reasonable" are to have a small guest list, do as much as you can yourself, and basically forgo professional help. It's great if you have the time (and family and friends with resilient feelings), but time is money, and vice versa. I shudder to think what our costs would have been if we'd chosen packages even just a few notches above what we ended up with. Throw a destination into the mix and... hello six figures!

Incidentally, we exemplify the phenomenon of being older (34 and 32) you mention, as well. It's definitely not a "casual thing." Also — the wedding professionals we talked to are wholeheartedly in favor of gay marriage. Imagine the bonanza.

Thanks for a timely (for me) piece.

Posted Fri, Oct 9, 12:06 a.m. Inappropriate

What it means, for the most part isn't that young people respect the traditions of their grandparents, or anything else. It means "look at my fake tan and my stupid dress".

Weddings have never been an occasion that I enjoyed attending, but about three years ago I swore off the whole thing-when invited I just ignore the silky expensive envelope and it goes right in the trash. RSVP? Forget it.

I remember years ago hearing Emily Post say that all manners and etiquet-all of the 'correct fork' stuff-as important as it is on a certain level is washed completely away by people who use etiquet as a weapon......they don't only misunderstand it, they sully it.

"Oh! Golly! We decide not to 'choose' a 'destination package!"

What alternate reality do people live in? I can honestly say, as much as I love my sister (who is my best friend in the world) I would not pay for a plane ticket to Mexico to watch her get married. I don't think I would go if it were free.

I would however move Heaven and Earth to spend a day with her in her backyard in Indiana....unless it involved a five thousand dollar dress and a bunch of other ego-stroking garbage. If folks wanna do that sort of thing, they should play dress-up in private and stop dragging others into it.

Throw some burgers on the grill, some drinks in a tub of ice and invite your loved ones over for your wedding-the rest of it is a TOTAL waste of time and effort-those big weddings are a manufactured tradition. Fueled by an industry that has become really, really good at convincing people that you have to do this and you have to do that.

"But what if my fake tan isn't the right shade?!? What if I don't have the right photographer?!? What if everything isn't perfect?!?"

A)Your fake tan is stupid and you look like a dork.
B)Stop being such a follower
C)Nothing has ever been, nor will ever be 'perfect' not even your silly special wedding day...

Tradition is what you make of it...I just wish people weren't such sheep.

I am not at all cynical about love and commitment, nor am I cynical about sharing it with the people you love. But as soon as I smell a 'Big Wedding' in the works-I stay well away. They are generally silly uncomfortable affairs that will cost everyone involved (guests included) more than is appropriate.

mrmcoy

Posted Fri, Oct 9, 10:01 p.m. Inappropriate

I think I know the sort of wedding you're talking about, mrmcoy, but I don't think it's the same sort of wedding that I had or that the article is about. Maybe I misread the article.

As for not RSVPing, that really wreaks havoc with the organization of the event. If you're not going to go, be the first to RSVP "sorry, can't make it"! Unless you just don't like the couple.

Posted Sun, Oct 11, 7:59 a.m. Inappropriate

Congratulations to all the recent newlyweds! When we got married we made it not just about us but about the entire community of friends and family that made the day possible. We used certain traditional elements, though we found there are plenty of different wedding traditions around the world and throughout history to pick from.

joshuadf

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