The ABCs of wedding planning

Planning a wedding in Washington, D.C., is just like planning a wedding in Walla Walla, Wash., only more so. More couples in D.C.’s melting pot are religiously and culturally divided, and there are more blended, extended and scattered families than anywhere else.

Consequently, in conjunction with their clergyperson, many Washingtonians are creatively uniting interfaith and ethnic weddings. Both ceremonies and receptions may be sprinkled with Irish songs or German poems, Scotch kilts, Italian music, French colors, Dutch flowers, Hispanic drinks or Japanese food.

Blended families are often puzzled when deciding who should walk the bride down the aisle, for example. Today’s trend is for more mothers to walk with their daughters or to walk side by side with the bride and her father. Or, if mutually agreeable, a stepfather will share the honors with a biological father. Or a grown stepson or stepdaughter may serve as witness or a member of the wedding party, or the minister may include younger stepchildren during the exchange of rings in the melding of this new family unit.

Still, a wedding is a wedding, and after deciding who will perform the ceremony and setting the date, time and place, there’s the budget to consider.
Who pays for what? Please check Unless one is planning a million-dollar wedding in Dubai, it’s helpful to know that the reception costs are usually 50 percent of total wedding expenses. Yes, 50 percent!

Therefore, establishing the size of a guest list is the first order of business. Small and intimate? Large and lavish? Planning a noon luncheon with a glass of champagne, or a late afternoon wedding followed by a high tea or cocktail hour is less costly than a formal, sit-down dinner. Hiring a piano player or disc jockey is less expensive than using a band, and so on.

Scattered or extended families may take advantage of hiring a professional wedding coordinator, who can help make things run as smoothly as a state dinner. He or she has the necessary local connections to find the perfect place for the reception, help select a caterer, florist and photographer, or suggest proper wording on invitations, and assist with the rehearsal ceremony.

A word of caution when selecting a photographer: Never accept a friend’s offer, because there is no second chance. Let friends take candids, and let the pro take the keepsake pictures.

There is a new service that some photographers offer, and that is to have family and friends select pictures on the Internet. This beats waiting six months to choose photos from an album.

Three senators’ wives started a national trend in Washington a number of years ago — and for good reason. They decided to have the photographer take pictures of the wedding party before the ceremony instead of after because this avoids painful delay in getting the reception off the ground for VIP guests.

Yes, I know, there are still those who believe the groom should not see the bride in her gown before the ceremony, but in tracing the evolution of wedding customs, we learn that this idea stems from long ago when families prearranged engagements. Only after vows were pledged and the bride’s veil was lifted did the couple first see each other, face to face — and by then it was too late for anyone to back out! Not until the Council of Trent, 1563, did the Catholic Church make it mandatory for a priest to perform marriages by mutual consent and in the presence of two witnesses.

Another trend widely gaining in popularity is to mail a “save the date” notice many months before the wedding to scattered families and friends. Naturally, this helps guests plan their vacations. This announcement could merely be a personal card or letter, or it may be a colorfully designed message, giving the wedding date and stating clearly that a formal wedding invitation is forthcoming.

Finally, socially savvy Washingtonians are well aware that customs vary not only in rural and urban parts of the United States but in the rest of the world as well, and when planning an important event such as a wedding it’s key to consider the sensitivities on both sides of the blended, extended or scattered families. On the other hand, paraphrasing the words of a famous president, it’s comforting to remember that you can please some of the people all the time, and you can please all the people some of the time, but you can’t please all the people all of the time.
Gilbert is the author of The Complete Wedding Planner, now in its fourth edition. Her website is