At 4:30 in the morning last Sunday I was communally stuffing my face with pasta in a literal olive garden. Lowercase o, lowercase g. Unlimited everything. The pasta was buttery and cheesy and so well-timed. And as I helped myself to a fourth serving, I looked around at those doing the exact same thing. I had stopped slugging wine hours before and could really take in the scene–no judgment–more than others. There were still people dancing their asses off, still people hugging and loving and laughing, still people slugging wine, and of course, still people shoveling in Greek pasta. The scene felt like one of those in a Disney movie where there are twinkles around the edges and instead of feet, there are clouds of mystery. Lanterns, lights, and levity. And people. Just great people. Completely enjoying themselves, enjoying one another, and loving the moment. At the center were two people, one in a white dress, the other in a massive grin.
Chas and I attended 12 weddings in 2016, one of which was our own. It was a whirlwind of a year. As you know, weddings typically include more than weddings. The showers, the bachelorette parties, the tearful 2 a.m. confessions. Joking about that last one. There were definitely times when I felt like I had a bit of wedding overload with travel, finding a dress, wearing makeup, staying up late, buying a gift, remembering to get Chas to sign the card, making sure I’d tweezed my lone chin hair, but at the end of “Don’t Stop Believin'” (a song I actually loathe) none of those things matter.
Sentimental alert. What matters is tradition, friendship, and love. (And the time stamps of bridesmaid dresses and hairstyles do not hurt.)
I remember the first wedding I remember–not a typo, I like the way that sounds. I was a flower girl for my Aunt Kathy and Uncle John. I asked my mom if I could wear white because I think, in my head, I was marrying my cousin Brendan. I probably threw a fit when she explained that Aunt Kathy would be the only one wearing white since she was the bride. I think I got over it when they handed me my sweet hat. Glad they didn’t let me marry Brendan.
Also in Aunt Kathy’s wedding (I know that most of my contemporaries are thinking, “I have an Aunt Kathy too!” We really all have an Aunt Kathy.) Aunt Kathy wore my grandmother’s dress. All three of my dad’s sisters wore it in their weddings. And the event of Aub and I trying it on a couple summers ago with all of the female members of my family was pretty special.
In 1996, Aubrey and I were the flower girls for my Aunt Lynn and Uncle Michael. We wore cream. Finally, I could be bridal. I know that this was one of the first documented events in which Aubrey is my height. She soon raced past me. But this is my time stamp for when it first happened. Weddings are such great time stamps because we remember them. At least most of us, and at least the beginning of the night.
The time stamps weddings put in our lives are indicative of how memorable they are. I know when I hear my extended family talking about someone or something from the past, I almost always hear, “That was the year ________ got married.” Or “That was before ________ and _________’s wedding.” We mark time by weddings because they matter. Extraordinary things can happen any day and I can remember them or just appreciate them in the moment and then never think of it again. But a wedding in which everything is documented and slow and monumental is something we can appreciate and remember. It’s a rare chance to stop and appreciate what’s going on, something we do too infrequently these days.
I remember one particular marital time stamp that earned me $20. My grandmother married Mikie in 1999 when I was in 7th grade. Her wedding was the first time I was allowed to shave my legs. A year later, Aubrey wanted to shave her legs when she was in 6th grade. I told her that I knew I couldn’t until 7th grade because I remembered it was Gram’s wedding day. We agreed that if she paid me $20, I wouldn’t make a stink. Fair is fair.
Back to the serious, I can still picture the dress I wore to Gram’s wedding (a little yellow number, to show off some freshly-shaven leg). I can’t remember a single thing I learned in 7th grade math (aside from Mrs. Rueling’s willingness to draw chalk on her face to get us to listen) but I can picture Gram in blue and Mikie with his tinted glasses at the Knights of Columbus Hall. That event mattered. And so I remember.
We all know the wedding industry is out of control. It’s like a toddler wrist-deep in a 32 ounce can of chocolate pudding, sitting in a ball pit, under a big screen TV, staring at an iPad, while using the potty. It is unacceptable to pay the prices asked when the W word is attached. Beyond the beyond, as Renee Buettner would say. The first wedding veil I tried on cost more than the dress I tried it on with. What?!
So you can scrimp and save and ask people to make brownies (Thanks, everyone!) and do your own this, make your own that. But at the end of “Piano Man” (sung in a slowly rocking circle of humans), the traditions that keep us marrying one another are binding, lasting, and incredible.
And if Chas and Kunal are both at your wedding, expect a very dangerous and very impressive display. Traditions come in all forms.
I loved that at Kev and Angeliki’s wedding, we were able to learn about Greek culture and Greek Orthodoxy by attending their ceremony. Not only were we learning more about where our friend comes from, we are learning an entire tradition. And one that’s really old! They will always have that moment in common with everyone who came before them and got married in the Greek Orthodox Church. The ties that bind us to our wedding traditions eat the wedding industry for breakfast.
It is special that so many of us have or will at some point speak the same or similar words while pledging our lives to another. We are obviously brought together on the day of a wedding. But for centuries we are brought together by those pledges and those shared words and experiences. If they weren’t important, we wouldn’t still be doing this. Tradition is such for good reason.
In addition to the shared words is the incredible shared experience of all of the people whom you love in one place on one day. On my wedding day, I literally needed to just shake out my hands I was so overwhelmed by the joy of having all of my peeps together. There’s nothing like it.
Being in a wedding party is a collective effort. You’re a team. You work together and you support your couple. Then, you stand by one of your best friends in one of the most important moments of her life. Wow. “Maid of Honor” is such an appropriate title because it truly is an honor.
Then as a wedding guest, each wedding acts as a mini-reunion. It’s a great reason just to be with your friends and family. And as I get older, I realize that this is more and more valuable. And sadly, more rare.
I know that marriage is not for everyone. Well, it should be for everyone but it may not be right for some. To each his and her own. But I wish there were a way for all people to feel that hand-shaking feeling of having everyone you love in one room. And I think all people deserve to feel the gravity of sharing centuries-old words and traditions. I guess there are other ways to do those things. But man, weddings are fun.
So after the early morning community pasta feast, when we stumbled into our Air BnB rollin’ 9 deep in the Greek GTI, we stopped and appreciated the sunrise, and that we were together, and that Kev was married. (And some were just still drunk.)
Chas and I may have had a touch of wedding exhaustion in 2016 but when we walked out of #12 for Chris and Sara on December 17, we both knew how lucky we were. Because people wanted us there to share in the tradition, to witness their vows, and to celebrate their relationship. A trip to St. Louis, Garrett County, downtown Baltimore, Boston, Mexico, the Knights of Columbus, Michigan, Colorado, Gap, Pennsylvania, or even the island of Crete are all worth it. Because love.