Wedding Series: Finding Your Dream Wedding

or, The Wedding We Ended up Having was Not the Wedding We First Imagined.

Ah, the Dream Wedding. What a hefty title. For some it's a picture that's existed since childhood. For others, it only comes after obsessively pinning ideas to a secret wedding board (hands up for those who've done that!) Anyone who's planned a wedding will tell you that the event they pictured initially is not the event they ended up with. It sounds like a cliché but it's true. Wedding dreaming and scheming is entirely different from wedding planning. But that doesn't mean you don't end up with a Dream Wedding in the end. Just a different version - version 2.0 (or 11.0 or 17.o).

Dream Wedding - the Original

I didn't exactly fall into that category of little girl wedding dreamer. I'd never really thought about what the dress would look like or what kind of cake we would have. I only ever had one wish, one pipe-dream. That wedding would have gone something like this:

Surrounded by only closest friends a family, we gather at my family cottage on a warm fall day. The dress code is relaxed and my bridesmaids help me do my hair. At sunset just the two of us stand on the end of the dock and profess our love for each other. A friend officiates, my grandpa and maid of honour take the photos, and we retreat back up from the water for homemade sandwiches, champagne, beer out of a cooler and bbq.

Above: Dream venue 1.0

Once we got engaged (and actually before getting engaged) we had talked about this pipe-dream vision. Caught up in the Romanticism of it all, we actually, carefully, started to plan that wedding. We were nervous about bringing it up to our blended and divorced families. Example: The family cottage belongs to my Dad's side. How would my Mom's side feel about going to her ex-husband's cottage? We did breech the subject with a couple choice family members to gauge their reaction. Some were positive, others skeptical. (We also had sworn them to secrecy, only to find out weeks later that they had all blabbed. But maybe that's another story). Could we accommodate all the people we wanted to invite? What about a bridal party? And their spouses? What qualifies as "closest family"? The questions continued to build, but for a brief while we did continue to plan this wedding. Wedding 1.0.

The main change we came to while discussing the cottage was how to include a wider circle of friends and family. We decided we wanted to go ahead with the intimate cottage ceremony, with about 30 people, and then host a big reception in the city. We could even play video and pictures from the cottage ceremony so our guests could feel included. Our reception would be cocktail style only, with bar tables, lounge furniture, open bar, food stations and a live band. We went ahead and booked our venue quite soon after we got engaged, the deposit was paid, and the date was set.

Questions & Compromises

Date was booked for mid-October. Event coordinator knew our plan. Now onwards to tell family.

This is where things started to get complicated. (Oh, it was just the beginning...)

As we began to tell family we got some pretty serious backlash. And some very relevant questions. Our cottage is water-access, how would everyone get there? Where would everyone stay? What about elderly family members - would they be comfortable in a boat, then on a rocky island, back on the boat? How would my grandparents feel about hosting? (It was their cottage after all). My mother-in-law's family all lives in Florida and Montreal - how would they get there? Would they even at all? All of these logistics started piling up. What if it rained? What if it was cold? What if the power went out? Would we have a back-up date? Who would make the cut on the guest list? We started really weighing the pros and cons. Would it even be worth it?

Then one conversation pushed me over the edge.

So all the people who've seen you grow up, who've nurtured you as a child and supported you, don't get to witness you getting married? The ceremony is what makes it a wedding. To invite them to a party and show them video would feel disrespectful.

That point was in reference to all the important people who would be excluded from the small, intimate ceremony. The extended family, the family friends, the neighbours. Did I want to start my marriage off with exclusion?

No, I didn't. No, we didn't

And so Wedding 2.0 was born.

The Evolution of the Event

From a lake-side ceremony with 30 guests to a formal indoor event with 200 guests.

How did that happen?!

Early 2014 - Engagement. Intimate cottage ceremony & reception in the city. Venue & date booked for Fall 2014.

9 months out - No more cottage ceremony. Ceremony at the venue. Casual cocktail-style reception. I have my dress already and it's not exactly casual...

8 months out - Potential guest list is getting out of control - we still want to keep in intimate. Talk (and talk, and talk) with family about guest list. Bridal party ends up in very formal attire: Bridesmaids in floor-length dresses, Hubby in a designer silk tux.

7 months out - Acquiesed to a much larger guest list than we wanted: 200+ guests. (Still smaller than family would have liked.) Dress code is formal. All the blended/divorced families want lots of posed photos - we hire two photographers.

5 months out - Considering demographics of guests (elderly, young children) we go with traditional table after all. No more cocktail-style. Traditional centrepieces. Fighting constantly to not have flowers. (Budgeting post to come!)

2 months out - So many musicians are playing that they get added to guest list too. Ok fine I'll get my hair done professionally.

1 month out - RSVPS are in and we sit around 180 guests. No we don't need a limo to drive five minutes from the hotel to the venue.

Actual wedding - 180 guests. 20+ tables. Everyone wearing formal attire. Two photographers, four sets of posed family photos to take, a professional comfortable company, ceremony musicians, dinner band, party band, and sooo many spreadsheets to coordinate all of this (which I of course did myself).

Wait a minute, is this my Wedding?

Reading that timeline makes me a feel a few things: One, that it comes across ungrateful and as if I didn't get my dream wedding (spoilers: not true). Two, that we compromised too much. (Potentially true, post to come).

What I wanted to get across is how easily things can evolve when you are considering the feelings and expectations of loved ones. I am one of many brides to have a similar story, I'm sure. The wedding we ended up having was not at all the wedding we first imagined.

Turns out, it was better.

Finding the Dream Wedding

The key ingredient to finding our dream wedding was prioritization. What would make this day significant to us and enjoyable for our guests?

Being a list-maker I made a list of all the possible wedding elements. Together, through many conversations, we prioritized them. This list drove all of our decisions and helped us budget (post to come!)

1. Live music

2. Open bar

3. Good food

4. Candid Photography

5. Posed Photography

6. Decor & Flowers

7. Transportation

etc

It was mainly our top three priorities, live music, open bar and good food, that propelled us forward. Here's how our top priority, live music, shaped our entire event.

Music to us was Acquiesed We are both musicians, we met playing music. I do it for a living, as does much of my family. Neither of us are religious and instead find spirituality in music. We met the majority of our friends through music. Heck, nearly our entire bridal party was made up of musicians. This priority showed itself in our wedding in the following ways:

  • the chuppah (wedding canopy) was set up in front of the stage that was covered in musical instruments and gear (called a backline). This was literally the backdrop for our ceremony! The drums were visible behind us through the chuppah (and Hubby is a drummer).

  • the groomsman played a set as guests entered

  • the processional was a song that had personal meaning to us since our first year of dating

  • the ceremony featured my mom and friend singing a hebrew love song, members of the bridal party covering pop songs, and my friends singing and playing piano during the signing

  • the declaration of marriage and our first kiss happened while our bridal party played

  • the recessional song was a private joke from Hubby's favourite movie

  • we created a playlist during cocktail/photo hour

  • we had a "first jam" instead of a first dance, and played a meaningful song from one of our first dates

  • my Dad and the dinner band, all friends, played the Hora live

  • the dinner band were friends that I met while playing in a different band as a teenager

  • three of our friends surprised us with a performance during speeches

  • the party band was an amazing local funk band from Toronto

That example alone can sum up how prioritizing what is important to you can make your wedding the Dream Wedding. Had we gotten married at the cottage we wouldn't have been able to have nearly that amount of music and musicians be part of our day.

The True Top Priority: People

The top priority in any Dream Wedding can be music, religion, a meaningful theme or a significant venue. But the secret to a Dream Wedding? The people.

The wedding ceremony is a transformation, mind, body and soul. You need the people you love around you to make that transformation Divine. The conversation that tipped the scales for me against a cottage ceremony? People. The compromises we made? For People. The elements that made our Dream Wedding come true? People. Even our top priority, live music, would be nothing without People. Re-read the list above. Take People out of the equation. Or better yet, highlight every element that involved them.

  • the chuppah (wedding canopy) was set up in front of the stage that was covered in musical instruments and gear (called a backline). This was literally the backdrop for our ceremony! The drums were visible behind us through the chuppah (and Hubby is a drummer).

  • the groomsman played a set as guests entered

  • the processional was a song that had personal meaning to us since our first year of dating

  • the ceremony featured my mom and friend singing a hebrew love song, members of the bridal party covering pop songs, and my friends singing and playing piano during the signing

  • the declaration of marriage and our first kiss happened while our bridal party played

  • songHubby' was a private joke from the recessional s favourite movie

  • we created a playlist during cocktail/photo hour

  • we had a "first jam" instead of a first dance, and played a meaningful song from one of our first dates

  • my Dad and the dinner band, all friends, played the Hora live

  • three of our friends surprised us with a performance during speeches

  • the dinner band were friends that I met while playing in a different band as a teenager

  • the party band was an amazing local funk band from Toronto

The chuppah for Hubby's Jewish family & heritage. Musical instruments set up by people, to be played by people. Our beloved bridal party made music for us. The groomsmen entertained guests as they arrived. My parents paid tribute to my new in-laws' religious culture. My friends took part in the ceremony by making music. Our wonderful officiant solemnized the marriage (and agreed to speak over rock-playing groomsmen!). Songs are written by people. Music is played by people and enjoyed by people.

Marriage is about people - two people joining as one, two (or more) families coming together, friends standing up to support them, even more friends bearing witness and supporting the union, and all the heritage, ancestors and people that made it possible for these two to exist.

Up Next in the Wedding Series: Navigating an Inter-Faith Wedding (coming soon)

My Advice

From your bridal party, to your officiant, to your guests: surround yourself with people that support you. The people who have loved you for a long time should have the privilege of witnessing your union. You probably won't regret inviting a loved one to your wedding. You may regret not inviting them.

Life is short and precious. Only a year since our wedding two of our wedding guests have passed away. Two more are battling terminal illnesses.

Don't compromise your core values and beliefs, but don't start off your marriage by excluding. Keep your top priorities in mind and make decisions based on them. Let the small stuff and the lower priorities go. The wedding you first envisioned will not be the wedding you end up with. It will be better. Focus on the meaning of the ceremony. Focus on your partner. Focus on the People.

Vendors Etc

Wedding Venue: The Eglinton Grand

Backline: Collaudio

Chuppah: The Eglinton Grand

Processional: "Pachelbel's Canon", Hiromi Uehara

Ceremony Musicians: Mother of the Bride, Friends & Bridal Party, including members of Jail Bird Joey

Ceremony Music: "Five Hebrew Love Songs", Eric Whitacre, "Lean on Me", Bill Withers, "Many the Miles", Sara Bareilles, "Fix You", Coldplay, "The Luckiest", Ben Folds

Recessional: "The Power of Love", Huey Lewis (Back to the Future)

First Jam: "Steady as We Go", Dave Matthews

Dinner Band: The Will Stokes Trio

Party Band: Ride the Tiger

#weddingseries #wedding #marriage #relationships #weddingplanning #engagement #dreamwedding

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