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What makes a great wedding?

A festive day rich with deep meaning, a ceremony grounded in faith, time-honored traditions, the celebration of two lives joining together—all these are part of a great wedding.

But does it also take the $20,000 the Association of Bridal Consultants say is now the average cost of a wedding? Does it take a $1,000 cake and a Vera Wang wedding dress?

Not necessarily.

Weddings have become spectacles, fuelled by industries that encourage people to overspend. In North America people often expect a highly decorated church, lavish flowers, a long line of attendants, and professional photography and videography, followed by a reception that includes a full-course meal, an open bar, and a deejay or band.

Those invited to and involved with extravagant weddings are also expected to spend lots of money—on gifts, tuxedoes, bridesmaid dresses, airfare, and hotel costs.

The days of modest weddings in your home church and a reception in the church basement feel long gone.

But the truth is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to create a stylish, meaningful, memorable day.

Don’t get me wrong; I believe weddings matter deeply. And I think it’s no accident that Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding. God loves us and affirms our moments of commitment to each other.

The meaning of a wedding, however, stems not from the amount of money spent, but from the quality of the planning. A beautiful wedding and a modest budget are not mutually exclusive.

Here are a few tips to make your special day truly special in the ways that matter most.

Planning the Ceremony

The ceremony is often left to tradition or to the pastor, but it deserves your careful attention. Its liturgy, vows, and pastor’s homily reflect who you are and plan to be as a couple, so do your planning as a couple too. Think about how you want the ceremony to look and sound. After all, it sets the tone for your life together!

Maybe that means having both of your parents walk you down the aisle to show a newly blended, extended family. Maybe that means writing personal vows. What is said and how it is said matters more than heaping the church with flowers and lining up 10 bridesmaids and groomsmen. Don’t be in such a rush to get to the reception that the wedding ceremony itself pales in comparison.

What to Wear

Designers and wedding consultants would like you to think that the more you spend, the better. After all, they say, it’s one of the biggest days of your life!

But there are ways to spend less and still look great. Wedding dresses can come from your mother or grandmother, a consignment shop, a discount online source such as Cathay Bridal, or your own sewing machine. I know one bride who decorated the sleeves and bodice of her mom’s 1970s gown to make it her own, another who wore a flowered silk knee-length dress, one who wore a white summer dress her sister bought for her at a department store sale, and another who wore a $50 sheath she found at a resale shop. Each one looked like a princess in her own beautiful way.

I’ve been at weddings where the groom and his attendants wore good suits that they’d later wear to job interviews, where bridesmaids wore dresses of their own choice in colors recommended by the bride, where mothers wore gowns that had served well at other weddings too.

You can also make clothing choices special by adding personal, family, or traditional elements. Perhaps your family owns a special piece of jewelry that is worn at every wedding; or maybe you will start that tradition for your own family. In our family, it’s a string of pearls. Wearing or sharing something that lasts is a wonderful tradition.

Celebrating at the Reception

Have a great reception—celebration matters!

You could plan a dessert reception, an outdoor barbecue, or a shared meal in the church’s fellowship hall. I’ve attended weddings where the guests brought desserts for a potluck, where a picnic was served under tents in a yard, and where traditional food was cooked by family and shared with guests. All were memorable because they were made with love.

If you want alcohol at the reception, you can do as a friend of mine did and serve beer and wine poured by a buddy. Things don’t need to be expensive to be hospitable.

Music, too, doesn’t need to be expensive to be just right. Maybe you could ask guests to suggest two of their favorite songs and then play those at the reception. Or maybe you know a band or string quartet that is starting up and would benefit from some exposure. Choose music that reflects your tastes, your values, and your community.

Since this is your day, encourage toasts and conversations that celebrate your union. In my hometown in Wisconsin, wedding guests told stories and read poetry they had written. They shared insights on the good qualities of the bride and groom and wished God’s blessing for them. This created a climate of love and hope that supported the newlyweds rather than poked fun at them.

On your wedding day, put the focus on the joy of the union and your hope for the future. Make it a day to remember for its meaning, not the money spent.  n

Worldwide Wedding Customs

  • Africa: Bright colors, song, dance, and music mark weddings.
  • Korea: In a tradition called kung-hap, a fortune-teller often forecasts a couple’s future to see if they are meant for each other.
  • Japan: Purple is the traditional color of love in Japan, so a bride might wear a purple-flowered kimono.
  • The Philippines: Weddings last three days, with a different ceremony each day.
  • Norway: A pine tree is planted on either side of the newlyweds’ front door to symbolize fertility.
  • Sweden: Brides receive three rings: engagement, wedding, and motherhood.
  • Western Europe: Wedding showers originated in the Netherlands. If the father wouldn’t give a dowry because he didn’t like the groom, friends “showered” the bride with gifts so the couple could still marry. Also, it is traditional to plant lilies of the valley around the newlyweds’ house, so they can celebrate the “return of happiness” every year.
  • Czech Republic: People plant a tree in the newlyweds’ yard and decorate it with ribbons and colored egg shells in the wish that the bride will live as long as the tree.
  • Poland: Parents of the bride and groom give them salted rye bread and wine, symbolizing a wish that they will never be hungry, that they will survive difficulties, and that they will experience health and happiness.
  • Argentina: traditionally the mother of the groom and the father of the bride “stand up” for the groom and bride rather than bridesmaids and groomsmen.


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