It’s hard to believe that a year has gone by. I don’t remember much of the week preceding the wedding, except that I was quite sick, missing my first days of class since sometime in 2005/6 when we were in undergrad. I remember a lot about that day, from sleeping in a couple hours to the perfect warm sunny day sans humidity, to the slowly pulsating, energy-rich evening. It was beautiful. It was mystical and magical, heavy (although not emotionally) and significant. The chemistry was perfect and everything went off without a hitch, looking, feeling, and proceeding better than I ever could have imagined. I remember the candles, the dim lighting, the wonderworld of balloons, the incredible incense, and the creatively-dressed up friends and family in their costumes. It was a playground, an adventure park, a masterpiece.
One of the coolest aspects about our wedding is that several couples approached us afterward and told us that what we had done with our special night inspired them, got the wheels turning in their own minds when contemplating their own ceremonies. We broke many moulds and chucked almost every tradition out the window. We constructed our own custom-built ceremony from the bottom up and everyone, including our officiant, wondered exactly how it would all come together.
Since so many people wondered how we did what we did, I decided to demystify it here.
First, we wanted our wedding date to be significant. We decided that it should fall on a holiday, because if it did, we would always remember our anniversary and it would never slip by unnoticed or overlooked. We also knew that if we chose a holiday, we might get the day off guilt-free. We decided against Christmas or Easter because we were no longer Christian, and thus, while we celebrate those holidays with family, they’re not our holidays. We wanted to choose a holiday in which the weather would be warm, so that automatically ruled out New Year’s and Thanksgiving. Valentine’s Day didn’t speak to us either.
At first we picked July 4th, but that gave way to Halloween, as we realized my parents would still be tethered to the single busiest peak time of their summer business, making it incredibly hard to attend. Halloween solved all dilemmas; it held special meaning for both of us since childhood, it wasn’t Christian, the weather stood a good chance of being comfortably warm or mildly chilly but remaining well away from the extremes, and it was off the holiday travel peak when airlines and hotels fill to the brim, with skyrocketing prices, which makes it hard on those traveling in.
So, we set the date for 4 years away, for Halloween 2008.
Why 4 years? Because not only did we have to narrow it down by specific holidays, we had to make sure those holidays were astrologically sound. Laugh if you want, but we have ignored these concepts in the past and been burned, the funny part being that we knew in advance that we would be. Likewise, we have planned many large projects according to the stellar lineup and had terrific results. I stand by doing things this way.
OK, meat and potatoes time. First, I highly recommend two books: Bridal Bargains and Joining Hands and Hearts. Both of these books gave phenomenal advice, and I recommend both of them. Joining Hands and Hearts was our inspiration for creating our own ceremony. We intended to seamlessly blend the elements of several different traditions, and to keep it from looking choppy or forced, we needed some expert advice and good intuition. If Joining Hands and Hearts gave us ideas on designing the ceremony, Bridal Bargains was a God(dess)send for saving us money doing it.
Theme: What we set out to create was a Halloween party, but not the cheap orange plastic kind…instead, more of the velvety black kind, with mystical purple-ish accents. I was even hoping to have a tarot card reader, but that didn’t materialize, and it turned out that it wasn’t missed.
What we got instead was sort of a deep, seasonal, primal law-of-nature Fall Harvest, with Sleepy Hollow overtones, a Buddhist conversion, Wiccan, Celtic, Turkish, Arabian, Persian, and Catholic elements, all resting on a Hindu backbone.
In short, it rocked. There was not a single aspect of the wedding that did not hold significant meaning; whether it was the music selected for the ceremony, for the father-daughter dance, the bride-groom dance, or the kind of root beer we selected for the toast, or the color, number, and arrangement of the candles on the fire platform, or any second of the ceremony.
We selected sacred readings from meaningful texts, incorporated a lot of astrology, Freemasonry, and numerology at every turn, and we even made a full Buddhist conversion so subtly lifted into the ceremony like a table leaf at Thanksgiving that nobody else even knew.
Venue: We did not want a Little Chapel of the Flowers in Vegas wedding, nor did we want some big church wedding (Catholic or Protestant) that might’ve made relatives or friends happy but clearly wasn’t “us”. Nor did we want to go the budget all-purpose-but-it’s-still-undeniably-a-wedding-chapel route, either. We wanted something elegant, ambient, versatile, and all-purpose–meaning that we could have the ceremony and after-party (the reception, in most peoples’ cases) combined in one spot, without having to vacate one venue by a certain time and transport the party to a second venue by another certain time.
Since we had already decided that this was going to be a Halloween wedding in the evening, we knew we needed to cultivate an atmosphere of electricity, ambiance, and magnetism–and for a reasonable price.
Where to find such a place, especially in sterile, socialite Dallas? We read through both aforementioned books, which, between the two themes–saving money and blending cultures, there were plenty of good suggestions. Some talked about city-owned parks and community centers. Others mentioned museums or arboretums.
Back in the earlier days of planning, we had batted around the idea of a ranch, particularly Southfork. We even considered doing it in the event rooms at friends’ apartment complexes. Or on the shores of any one of our area lakes. We thought of non-denominational chapels at area universities, including our own school. Or Unitarian Universalist churches. Or hotel facilities. Or even, certain area bars that had surprisingly cool setups. There were so many options and it was increasingly frustrating that none were panning out.
The frustration came from places who heard it was a wedding and instantly wanted to sell us their “wedding package”, which would’ve essentially doused the entire room in a blizzard of white, with perhaps some pale pink accents for good measure, serving us their pre-fab food, and then charging us thousands of dollars. No freaking way.
Luckily for us, we stumbled upon a place early in our physical legwork search (as opposed to the tiring internet research that comprised the above saga)–Celebrations Grand Ballroom in Highland Village. I don’t exactly remember how we came upon it, but it was literally the first or second place we drove to, and we felt it–it was simply perfect. It was an all-purpose ballroom with carpet and elegant light fixtures on dimmer switches. The facility was all-inclusive, with our own set of restrooms, a bar that could be optionally stocked, a stage and dance floor that could be moved and sized, plenty of stereo and AV equipment, a full kitchen with ice machine and multiple refrigerators, and a dressing room. It was easy to get to, and parking was easy. It was one of the only places we found in Dallas-Ft Worth that would allow open catering (i.e. we could choose whomever we wanted to supply our food).
Clothing: My partner’s outfit loosely resembled our own rendition of a Celt in a minor royal role. We pieced together his outfit at Scarborough Faire, a 6-week Renaissance in southern Dallas-Ft Worth, Texas, patronizing several different ye olde shoppes.
My dress was a genuine, traditional Indian wedding dress, hand-made with plenty of beadwork in India. I bought it off the shelf in the span of 4 hours, leaving it in their hands for 3 days for complimentary tailoring. It was headache-free, and I completely avoided all of the usual tricks, scams, and horror stories that today’s brides endure when bridal dress shopping.
We elected to not even have any bridesmaids or groomsmen–too much drama and potential to go wrong, too much having to select people without feelings being hurt or placing hardship on people, and it’s too hard to coordinate schedules to meet to try things on.
Instead, we put our dads and my grandfather in matching fall-colored tuxes and made blue-flowered corsages for all grandparents.
Everyone else? Was told to come in costume and by Goddess, they did.
Officiant: Usually this is a reverend, priest, minister, rabbi, monk, etc. Ours was a Reverend by title, but not in the sense of the Southern Baptist. He headed up our Unitarian Universalist church, which suited us perfectly, because the UUs are very accustomed to blending cultures with open minds and not balking at radical ideas.
If you’d like to design your own wedding ceremony from the ground up, a practitioner of an established, organized religion is probably not going to be a good celebrant candidate. They know their own playbook and they generally stick to it. It’s like they have a “wedding.exe” program stuck in their minds; say the magic word and presto: the program runs. However, if their default protocol doesn’t match what you want, that could spell trouble.
Decorations: We went to Garden Ridge for practically everything. The venue supplied the tables, chairs, tablecloths, and a few large sturdy garage-sale-style tables for holding fingerfood, the cake, and gifts around the perimeter of the room. We picked up purple Christmas lights, our helium canisters, and some other various Halloween decorations from Party City.
The lion’s share of everything came from Garden Ridge: the candles for the fire platform, tea light candles, the Unity candle on the altar, and all the flower arrangements (whether on the altar, at the tables, or along the perimeter). We got some chakra wall hangings, a Tibetan Buddhist wall hanging, some incense coffins, and other things at Silver Pyramid, a small mom-n-pop New Age eclectic boutique in Dallas.
We got our awesome genuine handmade incense and our guestbook (unlined, hand-bound) from various Scarborough Faire vendors. A friend loaned us her black cape and the UU Reverent himself brought a Tibetan singing bowl with which to start the ceremony and a large bowl filled with earthy-salmon-colored sand in which to set some tea lights. A sterling silver sindhoor container and the accompanying powder came from an Indian grocery store.
Last but not least, my mom hand-made a tub of scarecrows with orange pumpkin faces and Sharpie-drawn expressions (courtesy of my sister, the gifted and mischievous artist), each dressed in different uniforms from the various facets of our lives: 9-1-1 dispatcher, martial artist, hippie chick, miliatary fatigues, white-coated doctor, Hindu convert, and Texas cowpoke. A bunch of us blew up about 300 balloons full of Helium (saving plenty of fun for ourselves) with long strings (the kind used for curling ribbon on Christmas presents) that dangled several feet, creating a childlike 3D wonderland.
Invitations: We had 2 kinds of invitations; one for classmates and faculty at school (beautifully crafted by a good friend), and one that we printed up and mailed to friends and family around the country. Nine people received a small box containing our printed version set on a scroll.
Photographer: We were lucky enough to have one in the family. My partner’s sister, Mandi Daws of her own Mandi Daws Images, is a gifted and intuitive professional photographer who is fun and easy to work with. Her equipment and timing are top-notch and she was on the ball all night, working tirelessly. Definitely a self-starter without the need for micromanagement. She will also not dick around when it comes to putting together the package; she’ll be timely and reasonably priced. Her photos were real, yet surreal!
DJ: I forget who we used, but that doesn’t really matter, since he was sort of our weakest link. His bright side was that he’d play anything you wanted without worrying about where you got it. He wasn’t affiliated with anyone, so he didn’t have to stick to any certain playlists or catalogues, and he wasn’t confined to his own arsenal.
This was good, because otherwise he probably wouldn’t have been able to play anything we wanted played. Our tastes run a little eclectic.
The bad news is that he was sort of a space cadet, a little deficient in the communication and comprehension department. He acted like he understood what you wanted, but then took things in a different direction.
Catering: We catered everything from Celebrity Bakery. We opted not to spend the time, money, or energy on a sit-down dinner. (We also markedly decided against any alcohol at all, because the potential for bad outweighed the potential for good in terms of outcome and ramifications.) Knowing this was an evening affair, we decided on some good finger-food sandwiches and two cakes of different flavors to choose from. Celebrity Bakery rocked – I’d use them again and recommend them to anyone. Their food was great, everyone loved it, and their prices were very reasonable. They delivered everything and set it up. They were timely and the presentation looked great. Everything was properly temperature controlled and they were able to work with us with about a week or two to spare. They even did awesome custom cake decoration, Googling images with us on the internet.
Party favors: This is an increasingly popular phenomenon at weddings and, why the hell not? It gave a little something to everyone to take away with them as a token souvenir, so to speak, from the wedding. And party favors need not break the bank. They can be every bit as special as they are inexpensive.
We decided that since music is such a big part of our lives and that since people would definitely like what they were about to hear that night and would ask about it, I decided to select a few audiological highlights and package them together in a track-listed soundtrack.
So I was up until at least 1 am, burning 60 CD-Rs and track listings carefully aligned on CD-sized inserts on Microsoft Word to slip into red paper envelopes.
We also figured it would be a good idea, with all the different unfamiliar cultures flying around, to print up a service program of sorts, that listed each item in the ceremony and in which tradition it claimed its roots. My mother sewed beautiful little velvet pouches with drawstrings in which we stuck a couple of chocolate kisses and a pumpkin spice aromatic tea light candle. Each person got a velvet bag, a CD, and a program.
The only thing they don’t tell you about your wedding is that not only will you be pulled in a million different directions because everyone wants to talk to you and get pictures with you, but also: the night goes by waaaay too fast. For us, it was 3am before we even knew it. That was one party we wished could’ve gone on practically forever. I may add more to this, because I’m sure I haven’t thought of every useful tidbit in one sitting, but I’ll leave this as it is for now because otherwise 3am would get the better of me again!