Like many of our celebrations, rituals and customs, weddings --- in some form or another --- have existed since before recorded history. We can safely assume that for almost as long as the human race has existed, there have been marriage celebrations, although history shows us that through the years, those rituals have varied widely from the wedding traditions we know today. For example, history reveals that often, wives were arranged, kidnapped or even purchased . . . and in light of all the planning that goes into the average wedding, the idea of simply stopping by the Spouse Store and picking one out some night next week after work might actually seem better than yet another trip to the caterer!
The word "wed" is derived from the Old English term weddian, meaning "to pledge, covenant to do something, marry." The word "wedding" evolved from the Old English term weddung, which was derived from the term bridelope --- literally "bridal run" --- which referred to the act of conveying the bride to her new home following the ceremony. Funny how bridelope gave way to "elope," or running away to get married without the formality of the wedding ceremony.
The introduction of organized religion into daily life ensured the sanctity of marriage, transforming the rite from begging, borrowing, or stealing into a pact between man, woman and God. Whether married in a church or a local wedding venue, it is still very typical to hear at today's weddings, "Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of God and the company of these witnesses to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony," proof that the idea of marriage as a contract between humanity and God endures.
Regardless of your personal belief system, in the state of Maryland, there are no stipulations on what, exactly, your wedding ceremony must include, meaning that there is no specific text or component required to make it "legal." It is deemed legal, official and the like by having an officiant (can be an ordained minister, a rabbi, a cantor, a legal celebrant such as a judge, a priest, or any other similarly-credentialed individual) present to witness your ceremony and thereafter complete, sign, date and submit your marriage license to the county circuit court on your behalf. For ceremonies of commitment, there is presently no paperwork to file on your behalf following the celebration.
The ceremony itself may be as long or as short, as religious, spiritual, or secular as you prefer. There is a wealth of multicultural, interfaith and contemporary rituals, prayers, blessings, readings and customs that may be blended into your ceremony to reflect who you are as individuals and who you are becoming as a couple committed to sharing a life together. Your wedding ceremony can be a wonderful combination of belief systems and backgrounds, making it uniquely your own. It is a time to gather close everyone with whom you wish to share a joyful celebration of your relationship, your pasts and your future, your families, and your wishes, your hopes, and your dreams.
Your wedding marks the end of one journey and the commencement of another. Your ceremony can and should be a celebration and public declaration of your intention to commit to and build a partnership that may include raising a family. This journey will be filled with challenges as well as joy, discovery as well as disappointment, and tests as well as moments of great achievement. Most of all, your life together is built on the knowledge that you have endeavored to share all of it with one another in an atmosphere of love, honesty, trust and respect.
Neither Astrid nor Mitchell were raised with very much "organized" religion, but when they began to plan their wedding, being married in a church became increasingly important to them both. Finding a church to accommodate their ceremony posed a challenge because Mitchell and Astrid were not members of a specific congregation. After much searching, Astrid and Mitchell settled upon a venue offering space to hold the ceremony outdoors as well as host their reception. As we worked together to craft their ceremony, we found selections that incorporated elements of a traditional Christian wedding, and we discovered contemporary readings reflecting their shared love of poetry. In all, we created a wedding ceremony speaking to their beliefs as well as reflecting their identity as a couple.
Admittedly, Laura had never even considered planning a wedding while Caroline had always envisioned every detail down to each of the flowers she would carry in her bridal bouquet. However, when they decided to declare their commitment to one another before Spirit and a gathering of their loving family and devoted friends, the first task was to find an officiant willing to work with them. Although the state of Maryland has yet to recognize same sex marriage, Caroline and Laura's ceremony is one of the most beautiful weddings I have been honored to attend. The selections they chose with which to sanctify their relationship and their devotion to one another were so appropriate to their life philosophies and experiences. Such a moving, uplifting and inspiring demonstration of love and commitment is a wonder to witness, indeed.
Interfaith Wedding Ceremony with Inclusion of Children
Three things were immediately clear upon meeting with Eleanor and Jonathan. First, weaving components of Eleanor's Jewish heritage through their ceremony was imperative. And although Jonathan had found Buddhism late in life, his faith was equally important. Finally, this was a second marriage for both, and they wanted to honor their children during the ceremony. The customs of marrying beneath a chuppah and "breaking the glass" appealed to the couple, and we found appropriate readings and rituals to reflect Jonathan's Eastern philosophy. Together, we created a ceremony that beautifully expressed who Eleanor and Jonathan were before they met . . . who they are now that they have joined their lives . . . and who they shall become as they walk the shared path of marriage and family with their sons, Alex and Gregory.
Neither Marla nor Tyler wanted a traditional marriage ceremony, and yet, neither knew exactly what they wanted their ceremony to be. In discussing their childhoods, backgrounds and beliefs, I learned that each of them had always been drawn toward more earth-based faiths. Both expressed interest in the idea of a "handfasting" ceremony. Although the tradition of handfasting is commonly linked to the Celts, research reveals that many cultures --- Buddhists, Catholics, Hindus and African-Americans, among them --- include a handfasting or binding ritual in their wedding sacraments. The terms "tying the knot" and "give his/her hand in marriage" stem from this ancient wedding custom. We worked together to write a handfasting ceremony reflecting their individuality, spirituality, and commitment to one another.
Vow renewals are among the most wonderful ceremonies to write. The couple wishing to renew their vows comes to the task with their eyes wide open, intimately familiar with the blessings and the challenges of marriage. For Leigh and Carl, celebrating their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary with a vow renewal was something they had joked about for years. When we sat down to work through their selections, I was pleasantly surprised by how thoughtful and emotional they were regarding how they wanted to express their feelings. I suggested the excerpt from The Velveteen Rabbit, unsure how they would react. It could not have been more appropriate; there wasn't a dry eye in the house.