Real Wedding Challenges: Creating a Meaningful Ceremony from Scratch

Posted by Azure on July 31st, 2009
We have two great loves here at the Savvy Scoop: interesting stories and finding inspiration to help you make your wedding special.
The simple wedding dress with hair worn down and a casual bouquet of red flowers become elegant agai

Our monthly feature “Real Wedding Challenges” combines both of these loves. On the last Friday of every month we introduce you to a real married couple that worked through a challenge (or two, or three) in planning their wedding. Since these couples are no longer in the midst of planning a wedding, we think you’ll find their solutions and perspectives refreshing.

Like a lot of couples, Ashley and Thom were struggling with how to create a meaningful wedding. They wanted to acknowledge the importance of the step they were taking, but they didn’t want to rely on religious traditions that they didn’t necessarily believe in. On top of that, because of a hectic, international school schedule, this couple had to find a way to bring family and friends from around the world to a destination wedding in Spain. Names: Ashley, 26, student

Thom, 27, student Wedding Date and Location: April 11, 2009 Barcelona, Spain (Legal documents were actually signed in Gibraltar in December, 2008). How did you meet?

Ashley Says: Thom was traveling around the world starting with the UK and I was traveling the other way on a sailboat starting from New York. We met in a hostel in Quito, Ecuador, which, we recently discovered, has matched 10 other couples over the past 14 years! How did you decide on the wedding location?

Given that their friends and family live all over the world, Ashley and Thom figured it was going to be inconvenient for some people, so it might as well be convenient for them! Describe your wedding:

As atheists, it was difficult for Ashley and Thom to find a template for creating a meaningful wedding. Ashley says, “We had to analyze why we actually wanted a wedding at all. The answer, so we could celebrate this amazing and beautiful time with the people who matter the most. We wanted to ensure everything relating to it was in the spirit of fun, meaning, and value for our guests and nothing else.” Ashley goes on to describe the specifics:

In designing our ceremony, we tried to make sure every detail reflected us as people and stuck to our values. We wanted everything to be genuine and thoughtful. We also wanted to adhere to our tastes and interests and not sacrifice them for tradition.

We love nature, so an outdoor ceremony was perfect. We picked the Park Estacio del Nord for its amphitheater-like sculpture and relative emptiness. You can’t reserve parks in Catalunya for private use, so we did some research and discovered that other couples had used the “mark your territory early” technique to success at other more frequented parks, so we felt pretty safe.

We covered the benches with red cloth (curtains from IKEA) and held them down with bottles of Cava. Both my parents walked me down the aisle to Jim Noir’s “Tower of Love”. We jumped off the first step together when the song changes pace. The ceremony consisted of words by Dave (our friend and officiant) that we prompted, interspersed with readings and music.

We had made the decision not to have a bridal party for two reasons: one, we felt it was an outdated tradition that caused people to pay extra money to do relatively nothing and two: with all of our guests flying from far-off places, it seemed silly to have so many of them standing up, which would make the others feel silly as well. So we only had our Dads be ring bearers.

Next, we had a ceremonial slingshot. I really wanted some kind of action or symbolic element in the ceremony and I researched all kinds of things people all over the world had done. I started to think about this literally and came upon the idea of two paths converging. The slingshot is a symbol of two converging paths uniting and collaborating to bring things to the future, each an equal partner. Hence, we stood together and shot a rock into the park. It went pretty far, so we take that as a good sign. My dad made us a special slingshot out of PVC piping, so it’ s pretty and white and doesn’t look so much like a weapon. I thought about wrapping it in ribbon for irony, but decided against it.

To finalize the wedding, my brother Terrence wrapped us in a hammock, which is how the Waoroni tribe of Ecuador finalizes their ceremonies. We thought that was cool since we met in Ecuador. Then we had our own, “You may now high-five the bride.”

After the ceremony, we took everyone, by chartered bus to Tibidabo and the Park de la Ciutadella and had wine and chocolate. After that, we ended at a nice restaurant with a view of Barcelona and the sea, for dinner and dancing. We were pretty adamant about having good food, so we chose a restaurant with a nice atmosphere and awesome view instead of catering a place. I liked the look of a wedding cake, but Miramar has the best dessert in the world. So we had this chocolate dessert with orange gelato. People became violent over leftovers.

The reception was awesome. Thom’s dad gave a hilarious and touching speech and my dad gave a very sweet one. Then my brother Terrence and my best friend, Michelle gave speeches that were very funny and very moving. We hadn’t expected so many, but it was really great. Then, we had a few hours of dancing.

For favors, we made CDs of songs that had meant a lot to us in our relationship and designed a CD cover from a picture we took on a trip together and the back was a stylized map of Barcelona with song titles for street names. We handed them out together at the reception so we could talk to people at the same time. What kind of feedback did you get about the wedding:

I think the best feedback was a friend saying, "You know, I always just assumed I’d have a regular wedding and it’d just be kind of boring and typical, but now I realize you can do it your own way and still make it meaningful."

Ashley mentioned that a few people were a little snarky about the ceremony, but since she, Tom, and their families were all happy with the day, she wasn’t concerned. What’s the best wedding advice you were given?

My sister-in-law said to remember that it’s about us and not to worry about anyone on the day because it goes by so quickly. That was hard to put into practice, but it was excellent advice and it was also really cool to know that she understood the unique mix of pressure and excitement that one has to juggle. What would you do differently if you could do it again?

We should have arranged some way to manage people better. I still felt like I never spent quality time with some of my best friends just because it was short and there were many people. I would have maybe had someone be designated ring leader to herd people in the right directions at the right times so we could relax.

We’re not big on staged pictures and are firm believers that it’s more important to live moments in them, not as though you are more concerned about documenting them than experiencing them. However, I think we should have given our friend/photographer and the guests with cameras, a little more direction. As a result, we don’t have many good photos of us with our friends or all of our family members together. I had heard about people writing a list of moments they want captured and I had thought it was a bit much at the time, but now I think it makes a lot of sense. Any advice for other couples in your situation?

I think this was Ashley’s favorite part of the interview! She had a lot of advice to share, all of which is excellent. I’ve paraphrased it below:

If you’re worried about people flying across the world to see you married – show them by caring for them.

Don’t lose sight of your own tastes and interests. Do things that matter to you, not an obscure idea of what should happen. I’m always astounded by weddings where the people otherwise have perfectly normal tastes and suddenly go for poetry they never read in real life and barely care about, or pick ugly bridesmaids dresses. You can honor and value traditions, but stick to your own interests. It’s okay to do things your way.

If you are doing things differently, a fantastic way to avoid criticism is to keep the details a secret. People have ideas about the way things should go and good intentions about discussing them. It’s a girl-thing to want to talk about [planning], but keep in mind that you’ll always run up against other people’s opinions or ideas that you may not want to hear or deal with.

Finally, no matter what, people can’t argue too much when it’s clear how much you care about one another. There are so many weddings that are full of appearances and you look at the bride and groom on their “special day” and they don’t even look happy. Remember that your wedding marks a meaningful decision in your life and that is the focus of your celebration. Don’t be afraid to be weird and creative – it’s fun and the people who care about you only want to see you happy. Besides having a great time, you may even end up inspiring others to really think about their own personalities when they design their weddings.

Thanks to Ashley and Thom for sharing their story, and their advice.

To read the other articles in the series, click here.

The outdoor ceremony is viewed by wedding guests sitting in a circle.

Bride and groom in outside wedding ceremony kiss while wrapped in a striped blanket. The bride holds

Groom in open neck suit and bride holding a red bouquet shoot a slingshot together

A bride with long brown hair worn down stands next to her casual groom while wearing a simple white

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