After unparalleled fanfare, the much anticipated Royal Wedding has come and gone. As someone in the “wedding business,” I have been reflecting on what this celebration meant to the United Kingdom and what it says about weddings in American culture. Perhaps once this experience has marinated in my mind, I will have additional insights, but for now, here goes:
This wedding, like all weddings, can be a time to set aside the daily troubles of our individual lives and the chaos of the world to focus on some of the great gifts of life: the hope-filled love of a young couple on a new path to the future, as mutually supportive partners, perhaps joined by children some day. It is a new beginning, of sorts, and is treated with care and reverence not customary in daily life. For any couple, this is a most important moment that they publicly make commitments that they made to each other long before.
The wedding underscored the strength of this multi-generational family. Because of the high-profile lives of “the Royals,” we sense that these individuals are known to us. With pictures of Royal weddings from Queen Victoria through Prince Charles and Lady Diana, we see the lineage of the Windsors. As I work with all of my couples I encourage them to consider their vows as a continuation of promises made by their ancestors many times before. While not all marriages survive the test of time, one can only imagine that each couple starts with a positive vision for their lives together. When brides and grooms are blessed with parents who have tended to healthy, joy-filled marriages, noting that in the ceremony is a small, but meaningful,way to honor their families. There is no greater instruction in the methods of building and sustaining a happy partnership than seeing it at home.
As Americans, steeped in a more egalitarian culture, we usually bristle at the notion of a divinely appointed monarchy. However, the majesty of the wedding must have moved even the most democratic among us. I must admit to being a bit of an Anglophile–one who reminisces fondly about the British Empire (focusing on the grandeur rather than the atrocities of colonialism). So the wedding is a romantic vision of a times gone by. Weddings of any size or sort offer a special occasion to draw upon traditions and customs associated with our motherlands (or in some cases fatherlands), regardless of how long we have been in America. Whether it is an American bride of Australian ancestry carrying a lucky horse shoe in her bouquet or a first-generation bride from the Philippines incorporating a lasso as a unity ritual, these acts of ethnic pride can resonate with guests. The customs may go virtually unnoticed by guests or may be highlighted in the ceremony script or wedding program. But, I have found that discussions of genealogical roots is a perfect moment for brides and grooms to have meaningful conversations with parents and relatives about their common ancestry.
A wedding can most certainly include a time to honor those who have passed. The Royal wedding commenced with a tribute to the the beloved Princess Diana, which included the singing of a hymn that was part of her funeral ceremony, more than a dozen years ago. Likewise, Kate has proudly worn Diana’s engagement ring. On a more public note, now Princess Catherine placed a bridal bouquet on the tomb of Unknown Soldier as they recessed. Such gestures make known that while some are gone, they are not forgotten. We carry their memory with us, and this potent rite of passage is somehow tinged with bittersweet reminders of their absence. I notice that more and more couples integrate such remembrances into ceremony words, sometimes incorporating rituals to draw more attention to the loved ones who have passed. Counterintuitively, this choice heightens the humanity of the ceremony, rather than dampening spirits, as some might think.
The Royal Wedding was filled with beautiful music from the heralding trumpets to grand organ hymns. I try to remind couples that the processional and recessional music are a real opportunity to express themselves. I continue to be surprised to find that even among some of the most elaborate NYC weddings, the ceremony music is given little consideration. There is a standard repertoire of accepted music for weddings, and couples lack the time, energy, or desire to investigate alternative accompaniment. With the assistance of people who know more about music than I do, I am seeking to integrate music consultation into my service portfolio. Just last week, serving a destination couple from Brisbane, I decided to forego music played with my IPod and portable speaker, as we had discussed. As we held the ceremony in Central Park, I “hired” a street musician—an older saxophonist from Russia—to play music before and after the ceremony, as well as the requisite processional and recessional standards. It was a great, light-hearted touch. He played jazz standards and the most traditional processional and recessional tunes.
There is no disputing that this Royal Wedding was a feast for the eyes. Whether a wedding is a grand production or a small event, limitless ideas exist to make each and every aspect of the celebration shine. A million and one websites and books are easily available to offer up a cornucopia of suggestions for the DIY bride. Simple design programs allow the creative bride and groom to make invitations and save-the-date cards that look—but are not—supremely expensive. The crafting superstores such as Michael’s (or Hobby Lobby, popular in Oklahoma, where I am from) are filled with rows and rows of baskets, flowers, ribbons and more to decorate the event in elegant style. Websites, television shows and style mavens such as Martha Stewart provide in-home tutoring that didn’t exist a few decades ago. One need only loiter around their local Barnes & Noble bookstore for a few hours to take home some ideas that speak to their style. In some ways, I believe that a couple on a budget is “forced” to identify interesting design elements that can be more unique than standard issue options of wedding coordinators and venues. Weddings are not just about tasty food, copious alcohol and danceable music, but they should serve up visual stimulation that we don’t find in our daily routines.
To use a favorite British expression, the Royal wedding helped the English to “mind the gap.” The fact that Kate is a “commoner” was ballyhooed in the lead up to the Royal wedding. Indeed, this matrimonial pairing heralds a new era of spousal choice by the monarchs in Great Britain. It is a far cry from the earlier fixation on finding a suitable titled member of the aristocracy (ideally a virgin). As with “regular” couples in America, William and Kate were, by all accounts, guided by their hearts. Just as the union of the Prince and new Princess bridged these two parts of Britain’s relatively stratified social hierarchy, so, too, in America, marriages facilitate the joining of individuals from two (or more) faith or ethnic traditions.
Finally, in listening to the television commentary about this morning’s wedding there was a sense that this wedding met the lofty pageantry standards of the monarchy, but it did so with the couple making many choices based on how they envisioned the day, from the decision to have an adult sibling as part of Kate’s bridal party to the publicized “after party” hosted by the rambunctious Prince Harry. Moreover, even though the service followed High Anglican requirements, there were moments of intimacy and authentic joy, visible to all. In a touching moment, the Archbishop of Canterbury read a prayer crafted by the couple. This emphasis on integrating the story, customs, and ideas of each bride and groom into a fairly standard wedding framework is at the heart of what I do as a Celebrant. For, at the end of the day, there are no flowers beautiful enough….no food delicious enough….and no wedding dress stunning enough to overshadow the pure emotion of a unique ceremony that belongs to this couple and this couple, alone. I know we all wish this Royal Couple well, as somehow we pin our own hopes and fantasies on this union to provide us with a greatly desired “happily ever after.” But even in this day, there are reminders of how we celebrate weddings, and how we might celebrate weddings, that can inform us all. After unparalleled fanfare, the much anticipated Royal Wedding has come and gone.