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Breaking With Tradition: Reinventing Wedding Customs for the Modern Marriage

If you’ve been to one wedding, you’ve been to all of them, right? Definitely, thankfully, wrong. 

While some wedding traditions and patterns hold strong, it’s ultimately up to each couple to decide which wedding traditions to keep, which to reinvent, and which to relegate to the cultural history books. I decided to dig into some ideas of how to mix up the big day to kick off a modern marriage, because your unique relationship deserves an equally unique celebration.

It’s 2023, and the days of robotically conforming to one specific cookie-cutter mold of what a wedding looks like are long since in the rearview. Happy couples are incorporating more traditions from their unique cultural backgrounds and scrapping gender stereotypes that don’t serve their relationships. But that doesn’t mean you have to unsubscribe from all of the wedding traditions of yore.

In fact, we totally support it if there are older-school wedding traditions that you are married to — if you’ll pardon the pun — as long as those traditions aren't actively harmful. For example, maybe your relationship with your dad is super special, and you’ve been dreaming of the father-daughter dance since you were a little kid. Or, maybe your bridesmaids told you that they’re already training to catch your bouquet, in an effort to nudge their respective partners to the jewelry shop. Personally, because of my ultra-specific family history, I opted to take my husband’s last name after we got married. That doesn’t make me a bad feminist.

The point is, it’s your wedding (and your marriage), and you get to celebrate it however feels right for you. Consider this a brainstorm for how to square what your gut is telling you with what your parents are expecting.

Losing Religion?

Photo Credit: Key Notez via Pexels

Buckle up, baby, because we’re diving right in with the touchiest of all the wedding topics — religion. How do you pick an officiant? Is a religious wedding the one and only way? You’ll find the answer when you ask yourself the question: What is important to you as a couple?

One of the first times this question will come up is when you’re searching for a wedding venue. If you do decide that you want to get married in a house of worship, those ceremonies will usually require the leadership of a religious representative.

But what if you don’t want to get married in a religious venue? What if you don’t have a religion at all?

You’ve definitely been to at least one wedding where a friend of the couple, and not a religious leader, performed the wedding ceremony. The popularity of secular wedding officiants is not exactly breaking news.

And we get why. There are loads of reasons why a couple may opt to have a non-clergy pal become certified to officiate their I-Dos. Many couples simply feel like their ceremony will be more authentic or more intimate when performed by a friend or family member. LGBTQ+ couples may not feel particularly welcomed by religious groups at large. 

Often, partners will come from different religious backgrounds, and that steers them away from picking one flavor of ceremony over the other. Or, maybe you and your intended are both active in your house of worship, but your religious leaders won’t do a ceremony outside of the church, and you want to be married in a forest. Like everything else re: your wedding: It’s up to you to decide.

Legally speaking, it doesn’t make you any more or less married if your rabbi or your college roommate performs your wedding ceremony, as long as that person meets your state’s certification requirements to sign the paperwork. Some states, like California, don’t even require an officiant at all. I attended a wedding ceremony last summer in which each piece of the ceremony was read by a different family member.

Not Binary: Gender in Weddings

Photo Credit: @taylorraeframe and @susannah_kathryn

Picture it: A bride wears a white dress, linked arm in arm with her father who is giving her away. A groom wears a suit. They are each flanked by their same-gender friends, and their families are seated on opposite sides of the room. The bride dances with her dad. The groom dances with his mother. There’s a bouquet toss, a garter fling, and a whole lotta binary-gender energy. 

Guess what. You can keep or (bouquet) toss as much or as little as you want. All of these concepts — including gender — are invented anyway, so have fun with them. 

Different cultures have different customs as it pertains to how a marriage is initiated, and the gender roles in wedding traditions from around the world aren’t as predefined as you might expect. Even the aisle itself is a fairly Western concept. 

In the Jewish wedding tradition, both parents walk with both partners as they make their way to the altar. In traditional Muslim and Chinese weddings, there is no aisle, and the marriage is made official in a smaller family setting. Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh weddings each have traditions involving the groom and his pals arriving in a parade, occasionally on horseback. The internet is a magical place filled with a bottomless well of ideas around how to celebrate your beautifully multicultural marriage.

All this to say you don’t have to abide by any particular gendered tradition if you don’t feel like it. Maybe your partner’s family is from India and you both want to arrive at the ceremony on a parade with horses surrounded by drums and pomp. Maybe you’re throwing a Jewish lesbian wedding and you want to include all of your parents in the ceremony proceedings. We wanna see the pics.

If everybody wants to wear a suit, we’re here for it. Two brides both want to wear wedding dresses? We RSVPed YES.

Have a mixed-gender wedding party. Nobody can stop you! We absolutely love a bridesdude or groomsperson.

Throw a drag ball wedding reception. And please invite me when you do.

The bouquet toss is completely optional. I promise nobody will ask questions if you don’t do it.

The garter stuff is a side dish you can easily omit. Or, if you like, wrap a garter around a football and have the groom attempt a pass to his buddies, to acknowledge a shared love of fantasy football, like our fabulous Digital Marketing Director Megan Desmuke did at her wedding.

At my wedding, we didn’t do the gendered parent-kid dances at the reception. Instead, we had our emcee call all four of our parents to the dancefloor to dance with each other, a celebration of their combined nearly 70 years of marriage. We didn’t tell our parents it was happening either. It was a beautiful surprise and a celebration of two families becoming one (which is kinda the whole thing with weddings, IMO).

You should also consider your wedding guests when working gender inclusivity into your big day. Make sure you’re using everyone’s correct titles and pronouns in any signage or correspondence.

Inclusive Weddings Are Everyone's Responsibility

Another important step you can take in modernizing your wedding is considering your vendors.

You can help dismantle the systemic injustices in the wedding industry by working with vendors who are inclusive and diverse. In addition to celebrations of our personal love stories, the best weddings are also a celebration of the communities that allow our relationships to flourish, and you want your whole community to feel the love on your big day. So make sure you do the work to ensure they do.

Responsible, inclusive vendor-shopping is an important part of all of our wedding-planning journeys, not solely the responsibility of our friends of color and LGBTQ+ couples.

Read that again. Or, if you'd prefer, hear it from our expert wedding planner friend Jove Meyer.

Matters of Family

If you come from a blended family, have two moms or two dads, have lost a parent, or have any other non-Leave-It-to-Beaver familial situation, you’ve probably noticed that a ton of wedding traditions assume you have a close relationship with your one mom, your one dad, and that you’re terribly interested in involving both of them in the minutia of your wedding day, especially if you are a bride. Wave hello (now goodbye) to the patriarchy. 

From the ceremony logistics to the finances, the wedding industry still makes a lot of assumptions about your relationship with your parents and with your partner’s parents.

A generation or so ago, parents were still absolutely central to their children’s marriages. That is still reflected in the widespread assumption that the (one) bride’s family will bankroll the majority of the wedding expenses. But with the rising average age of first marriage, some couples are choosing to foot the bill, or more of it, or to spread the expenses more equitably between the two families. 

And if your folks are fronting the dough for the whole shindig, that also kinda gives them a non-zero amount of power over some of the creative decisions. This is also the reason why you’ll see so many wedding invitations addressed from the bride’s parents. I think you know what I’m gonna say next…

You don’t have to engage with that if you don’t want to.

If one or both families wants to volunteer to spend their hard-earned pennies on their (respective) kid’s wedding, that’s generous and lovely, especially if they have the means to do so, but, as the couple, you don’t necessarily have to accept. 

Or, you can put some significant bumpers on the creative and financial expectations right out of the gate. For example, we think it’s perfectly reasonable for the couple to request top billing on their own wedding invitations. 

The most important thing when managing the question of finances is transparency and communication — early and often — so that nobody is surprised in the thick of wedding planning.

Lightning Round

Here are a few other wedding traditions you can opt out of if you want.

Having a huge wedding: If the pandemic taught us anything it’s that micro-weddings and elopements are just as special as big, fancy affairs.

“A wedding color”: Wanna have your wedding colors just be all colors? You can do that. We love it for you.

Doing things because they’re trendy: For the love of all things creative, please don’t just do something because the internet told you it’s cool.

Having a feast at your reception: You can do a cocktail hour if you want, or commission a food truck to provide meals. Just make sure there is some form of snack around if you’re also having alcohol.

Cake: Alternative desserts include wedding pie, wedding doughnuts, wedding cookies, and wedding ice cream sundae bar.

Big Fancy Exit: Not really feeling the sparklers or rice aesthetic? Skip the exit entirely and close down the party with your pals.