Your First Slice of Wedding Cake

As with all wedding traditions, cutting your first slice of wedding cake together is meant to represent something.  Do you know what it represents? Do you know why you have that fancy silver knife and cake server? Do you know why the slicing of the cake is such a popular photo opportunity?  Do you plan to smash that first slice of cake into the face of your new spouse?  Perhaps once you learn more about this tradition, you’ll re-think that plan…

Cutting your wedding cake together, hands together on the knife, is the first domestic act you will perform together.  You have ordered a huge, beautiful pastry, big enough to serve all of your family and friends. Just as you will offer hospitality to friends and family in your new home together, cutting and serving your cake is the first act of hospitality you and your spouse will perform together. It is a ceremonial representation of the hospitality you will show to others, together as a new family unit.

The second part of the cake cutting tradition involves the husband and wife feeding each other a piece of the cake they’ve just cut together.  This too, is a very important ceremonial act.  When the husband takes a piece of cake and feeds his wife, he is showing the world how he will take care of her. It is a ceremonial representation of his intention to provide food for his wife and his family. Likewise, when the wife feeds her husband, she is also ceremonially showing everyone gathered how she will take care of her husband, and provide for him as well.

The ritual has nothing to do with who makes the money or who does the cooking. It is a visual representation of the vows the couple made to each other only moments before the cake was cut. It is the couple’s first opportunity provide for each other – ritually, yes, but no less importantly.

Some of our traditions and rituals are so old we have forgotten the reasons behind them. Ritual, though, is an important part of every culture. The wedding ceremony itself is one of our culture’s most significant rituals. Taking vows, making public declarations, and serving your guests and each other are all important parts of our culture’s wedding ritual.  You will spend a lot of time and money preparing to perform these rituals. Understanding the meaning behind each one will make your wedding day even that much more meaningful and memorable for both of you. 

The Third Vow

Most wedding guests are unaware that they have an obligation beyond bearing gifts when they attend a wedding. What most don’t realize before they arrive, is that their participation at this age-old, sacred ceremony is not as observers, but as participants. 

Did you know that three vows are made during a wedding ceremony? The first and second are those the bride and groom make to each other.  After those vows, during most wedding ceremonies, the Minister then asks this question:  “Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?”   They are expected to respond, with vigor: “We will! ”

Just as we expect the bride and groom to uphold their vows to each other, the third vow, made by the witnesses, bears equal weight. Even beyond that expectation, there is an unspoken understanding that we hold this same responsibility to all married people within our community.   

But how do we uphold a vow to keep our friends married?  How can we “uphold” people in their marriage? Do we have a responsibility when a marriage is stressed, as every marriage inevitably is?   How do we help each other stay married?

In order to answer this question, it helps to understand your community as a web: Imagine that your community is a web is made of clasped hands, where “clasped hands” can be any kind of connection between the people you know. Every time we get to know someone, the web grows another channel, and expands a little more. The stitches in the web are closer for some, more far apart for others, but are all still connected. 

When someone leaves your community, a hole opens up where there was once a connection. When the loss is sudden or painful, as with a death or a difficult divorce, the resulting hole is ragged and chaotic, and the entire web jiggles for some time, leaving your whole community feeling insecure and a little helpless. When holes appear in our web, we instinctively reach across the gap toward each other, and pull a little more tightly, a little more closely, until our community is stitched back together. It’s a lot of work, and repairing holes tends to take a toll on the whole community.

For one reason or another we all at some time loosen our grip on each other. Sometimes we lose connections as friends, and sometimes our married friends loosen their connections with each other.  It is during those times that the rest of us have to reach farther and hold on tighter. It is in these moments that we pull our friends’ weight and uphold our vows to each other.  If we allow the connections to go slack, the web blows wildly in the breeze, leaving us all feeling queasy and insecure. It is for our own benefit, as well as for the benefit of those we have vowed to support, that we do whatever we can to keep the connections in our web strong. Instinctively we know that one weakness in our web could mean another hole, and we need each other - so much we exist as a web.

Admittedly, there are those in our web who clasp no hands, and may even work to weaken the bonds we hold between each other. In those instances, the community may benefit from the release of one link. Even that causes a hole though, and we must reach across the gap then as well, and grasp each other closer in order to restore our web.

So, how do we do it? How do we help our friends stay married? How do we help others when sometimes it’s hard enough to keep ourselves married? Can single people support married people? How do we keep the connections in our web secure? How do we help each other uphold the first vow we make to our spouse, as well as the Third Vow we make to each other?

We start by recognizing that we have an obligation to each other. We have either literally taken a vow to help our friends stay married, or we have taken an implied vow to keep our own communities strong. Recognize that you, as a married person, are a powerful example to other married people. That example alone can help others uphold their own vows. Recognize that anything you do to weaken a marriage bond affects the entire community, and recognize that anything you do to support your friends makes our entire community stronger. 

Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?  We will. 

Giving Away The Bride

In the old days, the father of the groom and the father of the bride made a deal. If they came to an agreement, the young couple was allowed to marry.  In more recent years, it is the groom himself who speaks to the bride’s father. We call that discussion “Asking for the bride’s hand in marriage.”   Even that tradition has faded for many, though, and instead a bride and groom announce together they have agreed to marry.

Regardless of the father’s role in the decision, there is a tradition in our culture’s ceremony of “giving away the bride.”  This act involves walking the bride down the aisle to meet her groom, then leaving her there to take the groom’s arm instead of her father’s.

The symbolism is this simple act is so beautiful, and is so often lost.  We cannot underestimate, however, the role our fathers – and our father figures – have played in our lives. Many a modern bride has gotten hung up on the idea that someone is “giving them away.” Women are no longer considered property, and we tend to bristle at the idea that we would be handed from one man to another.

We must, though, recognize the man standing next to the bride, at the beginning of the aisle, for what he is: Protector, Champion, Main Man, Adorer, Super Hero, Comforter and Friend. He has been that for his daughter since the day of her birth. It is because he was all of those things that she is able to stand with him and participate in one of mankind’s oldest and most sacred ceremonies – the celebration of a marriage.

At the other end of the aisle is the man who will become for his daughter all the things that only her father has been: Protector, Champion, Main Man, Adorer, Super Hero, Comforter and Friend. The act of escorting his daughter to meet that man is an act of separation for the father, as much as it is one of cleaving for the daughter. The weight of that moment for the father must be recognized in this ceremony.

In the traditional American ceremony, there is a long period where the bride stands with her father while being addressed by the minister. The groom must wait patiently beside his groomsmen as the minister asks the bride if she comes of her own free will, and if the groom is of her own choosing. Then there is the question: “Who presents this woman to be married to this man?”  At most weddings today the father will proclaim, “Her mother and I do.” It is at that point that the father leaves his daughter and sits down.

This is the moment where tradition and meaning are most often lost. It is one thing to escort his daughter up the aisle; to give her his arm as she states her wishes; to announce to the world that he and his wife proudly support this pending union. It is another thing entirely to let go of her arm and become merely an observer.

This transition should be taken very slowly during the marriage ceremony. After the father announces, “Her mother and I do,” he should take her hand, and hold it out for the groom to take.  In that simple motion he is saying to those gathered that he trusts his daughter with this man, and by placing her hand in his, he is placing the responsibility for her care with him – for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health… in all of the unconditional ways the father has cared for his daughter until that time.

Once the groom has taken the father’s place beside the bride, he steps back and takes a seat on the front row. Even in the seating there is symbolism: He has become an observer, but he has not gone far.

Nearly every moment in the American wedding ceremony is a moment of intense symbolism. Understanding that symbolism makes this ceremony more meaningful for you and those watching and participating. This part – Giving Away The Bride – is a moment not to be lost.  

Should the photographer call the shots?

How many times have you attended a wedding and felt like a prop at a day-long photo shoot? In what has become a serious case of the tail wagging the dog, one of our culture’s most sacred ceremonies has been taken over by the desire to look good in pictures.  The purpose of a wedding photographer was originally to document what happened at the event.   Now we have “fake leavings,” and staged, mock events set up by the photographers, and hour long waits for food until the portraits are taken and the bridal couple make their (well-documented) entrance.

Have you ever missed the couple’s first kiss because the photographer was standing between you and them? Have you even been distracted from witnessing the vows because a team of photographers were darting here and there throughout the ceremony? Have you ever felt like the wedding photographer was actually the wedding coordinator?

Your friends and family will spend a lot of time, effort and sometimes money in order to participate in your wedding. They will not likely spend much time, effort or money to look at your wedding album.  If getting good photos is more important to you than entertaining your guests, then you will be missing the opportunity of a lifetime. Weddings are one of the few events in our lifetime that draw friends and family together from near and far. You will treasure more a photo of you and an old friend, or you and an aged aunt, than you will the 13th pose of you and your new spouse after the ceremony.

In order to ensure your photographer isn’t calling the shots at your wedding, you may want to keep the following in mind:

  • The photographer should not be standing in the aisle, or be right in front of the couple, at any time during the ceremony.

  • Flash photography should not be used inside a house of worship during a religious ceremony.

  • Your photographer should not block the view of any of your guests during any moment in your wedding or reception.

  • You should have as many photographs of your guests as you have of yourselves.

  • Your guests should not feel that you value photographs of yourself over time spent with them.

  • There should be one person calling the shots with regard to the order of events during your ceremony and reception. That person should be providing instructions or guidance to the photographer.

There will be a lot you will want to document during your ceremony and reception. You will want to show the beauty of the place where you were married, document the wedding party itself, and of course have portraits of yourself and your new spouse while you are looking your very best. Just as important, you will want to have photos of you and your friends celebrating one of the most important events of your lifetime. Your reception will hardly feel like a celebration if you are only moving from one photo shoot to the next. You will, however, be able to have fun at your own party if you are able to simply enjoy the events you’ve been planning so long, while your photographer discreetly documents them as they happen.


Will you be queen for a day?

The answer should be no. A wedding is not a coming out party. If you want to be queen for a day, then be a debutante, or throw yourself a birthday party. A wedding is so much more complicated than a celebration of one pretty girl. 

The guests are not your audience. The groom is not your co-star. The bridesmaids are not your back-up singers. It is not your day. This day belongs to the traditions and mix of cultures that have brought two families together. This day belongs to the circle of people who have walked with you as you have matured to a point where you are ready to make a promise to take care of someone else for the rest of your life. Participants in this ancient ritual are those who, before this moment, kept your company so you were never alone. This day belongs to those who observed, tested, approved of, and finally decided to give you graciously to the one person in the world who has decided to take care of you until you die. This day is about the circle of his friends who have also deemed you worthy to make the same declaration to him; Those who think you are actually qualified to take care of him for the rest of his life.   

Have you been to weddings where the “It’s All About Me” bride puts her guests outside, in direct sunlight, at 2pm, on an August afternoon in Alabama? Have you been to that wedding where no food or drink is offered until the bride is ready to make her grand entrance?  Have you seen brides make selfish demands of her family and friends, all in order to ensure her wedding day is all about her? It’s not pretty.

A wedding is a microcosm of a marriage. During your marriage, as during your wedding, you and your husband will have opportunities to offer hospitality to out of town guests, who may only be important to other people in your life.  During your marriage, as with your wedding, you and your husband will need a lot of help from your friends. During your marriage, as during your wedding, you will have to consider what is important to your husband’s mother, brother, grandmother, best friend and co-workers.  During your marriage, as during your wedding, you will be surrounded by the people you have chosen.

On your wedding day you will look gorgeous. You will be wearing one of the most beautiful gowns you’ll ever own. You will be surrounded by people wanting to bring you what ever you need. You will feel like a queen on your wedding day!  You will not be a queen, though; You will be a bride. But like a queen, you will be part of something much larger than yourself, and you will have obligations to those surrounding you.  Obligations you will hold during your wedding and marriage alike. As romantic and rewarding as it will be, marriage will also one of the most difficult journeys of your life. It will take a lot of maturity to make your marriage (and your wedding) work.  Kids in pre-school play “Queen-For-A-Day.” Grown women realize that queens have tremendous obligations to their subjects.  Yes, you will feel like a queen on your wedding day. Make sure, though, you’re the kind of queen people lovingly talk about for centuries, rather than the kind who says, “Let them eat cake!” then gets her pretty little head cut off.




How To Pick A Bridesmaid

First things first, and this may shock you: If you were a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding, you are not obligated to select her as a bridesmaid for your wedding. Might she be offended? She might. Or might she be relieved at not having to buy another bridesmaid’s dress and matching shoes? She might. Might you be offended at having a non-participatory, un-invested absentee bridesmaid? You betcha.

Weddings are a lot of work. You are about to host what may just be the biggest party you’ll ever throw. Your attendants are meant to be your team, your helpers, in this ambitious endeavor.  There are a lot of reasons not to pick someone as your bridesmaid. A sense of obligation is one reason. Picking only those who will look good in your chosen bridesmaid dress is another.

You may be one of those brides tempted to select bridesmaids based on looks. (You know who you are.) You want bridesmaids who will look good in that skinny strapless dress, or who all look the same and will ensure gorgeous group photos for you to stare at for years to come. You will likely find however, that every time you look at your pretty wedding pictures, you will see only the tiny little furrow in your brow that formed when you realized during the week of your wedding that those pretty, skinny, fabulously tanned women you selected were merely acquaintances and not actually friends. That furrow will come from you having to do all the set up by yourself because your bridesmaids decided not to take off work the Friday before your wedding. The dark circles under your eyes will come from you and your mother being the last ones left at the reception, picking up trash while your bridesmaids flirt at a bar with the groomsmen. That furrow in brow will be there as soon as you realize that your wedding is not as important to them as it is to you. 

“She would never do that to me,” you think.  Well, actually her disengagement from the wedding process isn’t something to be taken personally. Her dedication to your wedding will be exactly proportional to her dedication to you. You haven’t spoken to her in eight months, but you expect her to be in tune with your needs, your relationship with your mother and your newfound appreciation for the color turquoise? She just had her second baby but you want her to be able to throw you an all night bachelorette party? She’s your brother’s new fiancé and she doesn’t even know your middle name? Pick your team carefully, girls, this is a rough show.

When you’re trying to decide who should be a bridesmaid, there are two considerations to keep in mind: Cost & Team Work

With regard to cost, it is expected that you will include your bridesmaids and their guests at the rehearsal dinner. If you decide that you simply must have eight or twelve bridesmaids, consider that you will be adding 16 or 24 guests to the bill that your future in-laws will be picking up for the rehearsal dinner. Imagine taking 16 or 24 people out for dinner. It’s a significant cost and one to seriously consider since you will be imposing it upon someone else.  Additionally, it is traditional to thank your bridesmaids with a small gift. These gifts are often presented at a bridal tea that you or your mother will host, or sometimes at the rehearsal dinner. On average, bridesmaids gifts are $20-$50 each.  For eight bridesmaids that would be a minimum of $160 for gifts, and at least that much again to host the bridal tea. A larger bridal party will actually cost you a lot more money, at a time when you are trying to stay within your event budget.

What you may want to consider even more is what you will expect from your bridesmaid team.  Typically bridesmaids assist with, or are responsible for, some or all of the following:

  • Selection of gowns, invitations, décor and wedding vendors

  • Addressing and mailing wedding invitations

  • Throwing an engagement party, bridal shower or bachelorette party

  • Accommodating out of town guests (picking up from the airport, transporting from hotel or friend’s home to wedding venue, creating and/or delivering welcome packages, etc.)

  • Attending, planning and/or coordination of the wedding rehearsal

  • Purchasing, being fitted for, and wearing the selected bridesmaid’s gown, shoes & accessories

  • Set-up and decoration on the wedding day

  • Ensuring the bride is taken care of on the wedding day (gets to the salon on time, to the wedding site on time, has an emergency kit on hand, manages small crises for the bride as they arise so the bride can stay calm, etc.)

  • Full participation in all traditional ceremony and reception events, such as the first dance, the throwing of the bridal bouquet, etc.

  • Any necessary clean up after the event

So many brides use their weddings to make a public show of honoring the women that are important in their lives. We consider someone a good friend so we feel we honor her by including her as a bridesmaid. It is sometimes so difficult to draw the line between bridesmaid-worthy or not, that we wind up with a far larger wedding party than we can manage or afford.

Sometimes brides pick a new friend or nice work colleague just to make sure they have the same number bridesmaids as groomsmen.  That is another reason not to pick a bridesmaid. Even numbers are not necessary. All of the men in your party will be happy to have a woman on each arm, and the women will be just as happy to be escorted by two men. Alternately, the groomsmen and maids can warm up the isle for you by processing on their own.

One wise bride I know selected only one woman to stand up with her (her sister as maid of honor), and asked other close friends to be “Mermaids” rather than bridesmaids. The Mermaids threw her a shower, helped her pick out her gown, addressed envelopes and helped her decorate the reception venue. They and their dates sat in the front row during the wedding…and they wore what ever they wanted to wear to the wedding. It was a win-win all around.

Pick a posse of beloved sisters who will take care of you as you plan to embark on your marriage journey. Your wedding is one of life’s rare opportunities to be surrounded by only people who love you.  That alone should make it one of the best days of your life. Picking your bridesmaids well will mean the difference between a terrible, stressful day, or one of the best days of your life.


Should your cake look good or taste good?

Our wedding cake was made by an old surfer who worked at a quiet bakery across from the ocean in Southern California. His name was Wally, and for years we’d been buying his cakes for birthdays, office events and parties. We had to stay familiar with the tide charts, though, if we wanted to catch up with him. He wasn’t at the bakery in the mornings, or in the afternoons at high tide; He was out at one of the locals-only points he’d been surfing since Woodstock.

As I was preparing for my wedding, I was able to catch Wally one day at low tide. I showed him a photo of a beautiful, perfectly smooth, basket weave Martha Stewart cake. He looked at the photo and then at my mother who had come with me. I think because she was there, he kept his disdain more polite than usual, and limited it to mild mockery. Wally doesn't do fondant.  Wally only made cakes that tasted good. Fondant doesn’t taste good, so he wouldn’t do it.  His cakes were dense and moist and sometimes even a sheet cake was hard to carry because of it’s weight.  That day in his bakery Wally convinced me that he could make butter cream almost as smooth as fondant and that my guests would thank me.  Wally was right.  The cake was beautiful and there was not a crumb left. Even a year later when we de-thawed the topper on our first anniversary, that lovely cake was still moist and delicious. People remember even now how good our cake tasted.

Here at The Elms we get a slice of wedding cake nearly every weekend. It’s my children’s favorite part about having weddings in our home. Every weekend we see gorgeous, towering, confectionary displays of wealth, and every weekend we see trash cans full of whole pieces, minus that one initial bite. Not even the kids will eat most of the wedding cakes brides here have served to their wedding guests. Why bother calling it “cake” if even a kid won’t eat it?

A wedding reception is all about hospitality. Offering your guests pretty but inedible food is nothing less than poor hospitality. We sometimes forget that wedding guests are just that - guests. They are guests who are witnesses to, and participants in, one of our most sacred traditions. Because they have honored us by playing important roles in our lives, and by agreeing to participate in our wedding ceremony, it is our obligation to honor them in return with hospitality after the ceremony is complete. Wally was right: Your guests may remember what your cake looked like. Your guests will remember if it tasted good or not.  

It can cost quite a bit more to have a gorgeous work of sugary art at your reception, but it won’t cost anything more to have one that tastes good. Remember always that the wedding reception is your way of thanking your guests.  Your guests will always remember the hospitality shown to them - or not shown to them - during your wedding reception.  A pretty but inedible wedding cake is all about you, but a delicious and beautiful wedding cake is all about the hospitality of a gracious hostess.   

Who should I invite to my wedding?

Brides and Grooms head down the isle knowing they will make vows to support and love each other for the rest of their lives. Guests know they will be witnesses to these vows. But did you know that the guests make vows, too?  During a traditional wedding ceremony, this line is spoken by the officiant: Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage? The guests are expected to answer robustly, “We will!”   This vow is one you will want to keep in mind as you create your wedding guest list. Who among your friends will take this vow seriously? Who among your invitees is worthy to even answer this question? Who will be there ten years or thirty years from now, to support you and the new family you are about to create? 

When you hear a bride say her wedding was the best day of her life, it is not likely because the DJ was so good, or the cake was so pretty. It is most likely because she, her new husband and her family were surrounded that day with only people who loved them. Weddings are a unique opportunity to gather only those who smile at your approach, only those who have loved you since they met you. When you are creating your wedding guest list, be sure to make the most of this rare opportunity.  From your guest list weave your safety net. With your invitations, create for yourself a circle of love.

What to do at a rehearsal dinner

If you think about it, the Rehearsal Dinner has the potential to be an even more significant time for you than even your wedding rehearsal.  Think about who attends the Rehearsal Dinner:  Your best friends (bridesmaids/groomsmen), their dates or spouses, your closest family members and all those people who love you enough to have traveled from out of town to be with you on your special day.  The people who surround you during your wedding rehearsal are your life’s core.  The dinner gathering after your wedding rehearsal is your gift to them.   These are the people who have helped you to plan for, pay for and set up for your wedding ceremony and reception. These are the people who, ultimately, will help you stay married. You definitely want to take advantage of this rare opportunity for you to be surrounded by the people who are the most meaningful to you in all your life.

Typically, the groom’s family hosts the Rehearsal Dinner. It is often the one opportunity the groom’s family has to express their own personality, and their own gratitude, to those most important people in their son’s life. But what do you DO during the rehearsal dinner? How do you best take advantage of this opportunity? How do you make it more than just another dinner together? Well… here’s how:

One of the most meaningful rituals to take place during the Rehearsal Dinner is The Welcoming Ceremony. This is your moment to very outwardly welcome the bride into your family.  During this ceremony, each member of the groom’s family presents a gift to the bride that represents themselves or the region from which they come. For example, if the groom’s brother lives in California, he might present the bride with a lovely California wine. If the groom’s parents live on a farm, they might present the bride with a jar of jam made from the blackberries picked last summer.  Maybe the groom’s cousin is a world traveler. He might present the bride with a trinket picked up in Thailand that he thinks would remind her of his family.  Maybe the groom’s brother is a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan. He and his family might present the bride with a Pittsburgh Steelers t-shirt.  During this ceremony, it is also traditional for the groom’s parents, as hosts of this event, to present the bride’s parents with a welcome gift as well.

Besides the very meaningful Welcome Ceremony, there are also a lot of really fun (and funny) activities you and your guests can do during this time together…

  • Provide one bucket for the male guests and one for the female guest, with small pieces of paper in front of each. Ask each guest to write wedding advice for the bride and groom, then read the advice out loud later than evening.

  • Or, provide blue Post-It notes for the men and pink Post-It notes for the women, with markers, and let them post their wedding advice all along one open wall. All night long you and your guests will be able to read all the new advice posted as the evening progresses.

  • Take a Polaroid photo of each guest or each couple as they arrive for the evening. Using double stick tape, paste the photo into a blank notebook. Provide your guests with a box of colorful pens and ask them to write a note to the couple below their photo. Present the book to the bride and groom after the Rehearsal Dinner as a keepsake that they will treasure for years to come.

  • The Rehearsal Dinner is also an ideal time for the bride and groom to offer THEIR thanks. The bride & groom may take this opportunity provide the bridesmaids or groomsmen with gifts as thanks for participating in their ceremony.

  • Since there are likely to be a variety of family members and out-of-town friends present, after dinner the bride and groom can introduce these guests since they are likely not known by the larger group. The bride or groom can tell a story about how they know each of these far-flung friends, and why these people are important in their lives. It is very meaningful for the bride or groom to offer a toast to their guests (rather than the other way around). It is especially meaningful if those guests have traveled some distance, or if they have held a particularly meaningful place in the lives of the bride or groom.

It is so tempting to make the entire wedding weekend all about the bride and groom. Each bride and groom know, though, that they are only as good as the family and friends they pick to make up their safety net. The Rehearsal Dinner is fun, yes. But it is also a really good opportunity to recognize who the most important people in your life are…and to celebrate them!