No Wedding Ceremony Is Boring if you've never been to one ... However ...

by Jennifer Cram - Brisbane Marriage Celebrant © (12/11/2020)
Categories: | Wedding Ceremony |
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Sign saying No Wedding is Boring if You've
                    Never Been to a Wedding BeforeThere. I've said it. No wedding ceremony is boring! What? Wait? But don't we modern celebrants all work hard to tell marrying couples that their wedding need not be boring? By which we strongly suggest that traditional wedding ceremonies, ordinary wedding ceremonies, run-of-the-mill wedding ceremonies that don't have the benefit of a modern celebrant are, by definition and by default, boring, boring, boring.

Umm. Yes. I have to confess I've made the "I don't do boring" statements time and again. I've even been to weddings that were, to put it mildly, ho-hum. I've watched countless You Tube videos and tutted when, for the gazillionth time I've heard the same words over and over again and watched a ceremony just repeat what we've seen in every other ceremony, both in movies and in real life. However, thanks to watching countless wedding rom-com's, and never once declaring that I'm never going to watch another one, the penny finally dropped. No wedding ceremony, even the seven minute standard Hollywood basic-with-froth ceremony, is boring.

How and why did weddings get the reputation of being boring?

Strangely enough, no-one talked about weddings in general, or wedding ceremonies in particular, being boring before marrying couples had a choice of marrying outside a religious ceremony. Those who couldn't be married in church for various reasons, sneaked off to the Registry Office where there was no expectation of anything other than a basic, bureaucratic transaction. Once the civil celebrant program hit its straps, and the wedding industry realised that hey, civil ceremonies with freedom of choice are now a thing, that the B word started to be spoken aloud and the idea that weddings (particularly wedding ceremonies) are boring became an entrenched part of of the wedding landscape.

Google boring +wedding and you will get a lot of general advice about how to make sure your wedding not boring. Most of it boils down to
  • have a theme
  • be yourselves (this one I endorse 164% )
  • hire entertainment
  • have a short, short, ceremony

In other words, nothing to be done about the ceremony, so make it as short as possible. Unless the person delivering the message is a celebrant, and then the message tends to be something along the lines of I don't do boring.

Wedding ceremonies aren't boring for the guests for a simple reason

The "cure" for boredom is curiosity. There is so much going on during a wedding ceremony that, even if the words of the ceremony aren't interesting, even if guests aren't entranced by the ceremony itself, even if they pretty much tune out, there is so much else that piques curiosity and sparks interest.

When there is plenty to look at, speculate about, take pictures of to post on social media, and possibly gossip about afterwards, the experience is hardly boring. So guests have much to keep their attention semi-occupied and wondering about, including all the details that the couple have worked hard on choosing: the bridal party, what the couple and their attendants are wearing, the styling of the ceremony space, the venue, and other invited guests - who is present, what they are wearing, who is absent, and why that might be.

Most wedding ceremonies are boringly predictable

In fact, not just the ceremony, the whole wedding tends to be boringly predictable. The predictable can be very comforting. It certainly was for the generations before us. Back then everyone you knew got married in the same church. They had their reception in one of a very small handful of venues. They used the same or similar caterers and dished up the same menu. People knew what to expect at a wedding apart from the fine detail of bride's. Though they could pretty well bet on the dress being a worthy descendent of Queen Victoria's wedding gown: white, modest, with a train, and lots of back details. After all, everyone was going to be spending the whole ceremony looking at that back view.

But then came the 21st century. Entertainment in our pockets and our living rooms. Retail and education both presented as a source of endless entertainment. Nonetheless, wedding ceremonies continue to be predictable, regardless of whether they are religious ceremonies following an age-old liturgy, or civil ceremonies that don't operate under the constraints of an authorised religious liturgy. Civil (secular) weddings are almost as predictable as religious ones for the simple reason that they follow a formula that is based on the age-old liturgy, with minor changes in order of some of the elements in the middle, and some additions such as invented unity rituals:
  • Walk down the aisle
  • A Welcome and Introduction which, in a civil ceremony, includes a mandatory legal statement
  • Giving away
  • Narration of the couple's story (or journey to marriage) by the celebrant
  • One or more poems (read by people chosen by the couple
  • A lecture from the celebrant about marriage/how to run their marriage
  • Affirmation of Intention (the I Do questions)
  • Vows
  • Rings
  • A Unity Ritual
  • Pronouncement of Marriage
  • Permission to Kiss
  • Kiss
  • Signing
  • Walk back up the aisle

The celebrant does virtually all the talking, and the most common advice given to couples by all and sundry steers them to how a ceremony is "usually done".

Marriage Ceremony vs Wedding Ceremony

One of the solutions celebrants offer to ensure your wedding ceremony isn't boring, is to leave bits out.  You will be legally married as long as
  • Your celebrant recites the mandatory statement from the Marriage Act (colloquially referred to as The Monitum
  • Each of you makes the legal statement that creates your marriage (the Legal vows)

And these two things happen in the presence of two adult witnesses.

Additionally, all five of you will have to sign the register and certificates to document that the marriage has taken place.

Anything else you include is Wedding, and therefore totally optional, and the easy way to make sure the ceremony is short, short, short.

I'm not convinced, however, that just leaving things out and relying on celebrant personality and personal style to get your through, will result in satisfying memories for you and your guests. Maybe better predictable than perfunctory!

How do the guests react to a predictable ceremony?

They certainly don't go to sleep. And they don't twiddle their thumbs or look overtly bored, either. Obviously they check out the details I've listed above (Yay! for curiosity).  They may tune the words of the ceremony out - until it gets to your vows. Those they are always interested in. And because they know to expect some action at the end, they rarely miss a beat when it comes to that. But I do have a theory about smart phones and tablets. Taking photos or videos during the ceremony is a way of being engaged. But with their phone as intermediary rather than with what they see unfolding through the camera lens.

"But our wedding will be personalised"

Personalised is still predictable. Personalised is predictability with your names added, together with a few other facts and choices from a limited playbook. That great scene in the movie The Wedding Crashers, where John (Owen Wilson) and Jeremy (Vince Vaughan) were betting on what the reading the couple had chosen is a terrific example of personalised predictability.

The big challenge is ...

The challenge is to have a ceremony that is both Not Predictable and Predictable at the same time. Not Predictable doesn't mean Unpredictable. The last thing you want on your wedding day is an unpredictable (aka chaotic) ceremony that leaves the guests wondering what the hell just happened. Not Predictable means a ceremony that is, from your guests' point of you, completely recognisable and familiar, but also what they may have expected, a ceremony that surprises, delights, and engages them above and beyond.

And don't forget two things:
  • one of the reasons couples are so convinced that wedding ceremonies are boring is because they believe that they will be bored by their own ceremony
  • the drive for perfection contributes to the reputation for boring.

We humans love a good story. Whether it is a holiday, moving house, or having a wedding, we glaze over very quickly if all we are hearing is how perfect everything was. Nothing to see here. But have something go not according to plan and we are immediately engaged and interested. All weddings should have room for something unplanned and surprising that becomes the unique wedding memory, even if that something is that no-one remembered to bring the rings.

The starting point

Four things that will help you work with your celebrant to successfully design a wedding ceremony that is both predictable and not predictable, for your guests, and for you.
  • A clear understanding of what you don't want, what you would feel uncomfortable with or about. This will make the process of deciding what to include much easier.
  • A celebrant who not only understands all the elements that make up the "usual" wedding ceremony, but also has the knowledge and the confidence to tweak, delete, and innovate in a way that reflects who you are without making the ceremony all about the celebrant
  • The confidence (boosted by your celebrant) to be true to yourselves
  • Teamwork

The secret

The secret to designing a ceremony that is both predictable and not predictable is blindingly simple. It is something that works brilliantly, as the advertising industry has demonstrated time and again.  All you have to do is to come up with an incredibly obvious idea that no-one has ever done before! Generally speaking, how the advertising industry does that is to look for the unconscious bias their target market may harbour, and turn it on its head. The industry knows that it will work because it is blindingly obvious. Together we will explore all the assumptions you might have about weddings and go from there.

In wedding terms,  coming up with the blindingly obvious that none of your guests will have experienced before, requires "rethinking" the predictable elements of your ceremony. This is something I've been working with marrying couples for their weddings for many years. So I know, for sure, that it works. And, as in advertising, it works precisely because it is incredibly obvious.

Let me give you some examples around the entrance of the bride. While traditionally the bride walks down the aisle with her father, walking down the aisle with both your parents is an incredibly obvious variation. So the first time a non-Jewish bride walked down the aisle with both her mother and father, the guests would have been surprised, but comfortable. In Europe, the couple tends to walk in together. In Australia, that really didn't happen until male same-sex couples started planning their own ceremonies. The first time anyone did it, it made total sense to everyone.

Apply that sort of thinking to every predictable element of your ceremony, and you'll see how easy it is to make the magic of simultaneous predictability and novelty happen.  It starts with the planning and the script. It happens on the day as a result of the script I develop for you after lots of discussion. My job as part of our team of three.

Thanks for reading!

Jenny xxx Let's talk soon about how you can
                        have the best ceremony ever
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