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, 'êthe destination wedding,'ê 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'ês.
In recent months, we'êve 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'êve 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'ês 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'êve been a little (maybe more than a little) critical of the cost and extravagance of today'ês wedding. And I have observed the return to tradition with interest, curiosity and sometimes, puzzlement. But my own son'ês 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'êt been quite that momentous, but almost. These recent and family experiences have led me to different thoughts about today'ês 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, 'êThis matters. It matters a lot.'ê
And it does. If you'êre religious marriage has to do with holy things, with God. Whether you'êre 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'ês 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.
It also occurs to me that the present generation of folks who are now getting married have experienced more divorce in their parent'ês generation than any previous generation in American history. More than half of all marriages in my generation ended in divorce. This too may have something to do with the shape of the contemporary wedding. The frequency of divorce hasn'êt kept a new generation from getting married (though for a variety of reasons they do tend to be older when they do marry than earlier generations), but perhaps it has led them to think and to say, this requires time, planning, and investment. It'ês not a casual thing. It'ês a big deal. Marriage is a big, big deal.
If that'ês at least part of what is inspiring the more elaborate and extravagant contemporary wedding, then it may be a small price to pay.