Ten Ways to Have a Royal Wedding on a Commoner’s Budget

Friday, November 6, 2020

I have officiated at hundreds of weddings across the US and witnessed weddings around the world. The bride is always the Princess, and the groom is always Prince Charming; but after the fairy tale ball, few of us can draw on the royal treasury to pay the real bills. Here are a few suggestions to add enchantment without expense. 1.Location Don’t have Westminster Abby available? Consider the wonderful spaces that are a part of our urban landscape. My own son used the Eli Whitney Museum, a 19th century factory space. The antiques and high ceilings were designed to be a cathedral of invention. I officiated at an industrial loft in New York City with sweeping views of Manhattan. The lights of New York with their excitement and glamour became a sparkling fairy garden as evening arrived. A local historic house, concert hall, or meeting space will often rent for far less than a hotel or catering site and give a unique and stylish environment that will make extra decoration unnecessary. 2. Wedding Cake Princess Diana had a wedding cake that was six feet tall, but you don’t have to follow suit. The crowned heads of Europe aren’t coming, just your cousins and uncles and aunts. Still, it’s so easy to add up friends and family to top one hundred. The average three-tiered wedding cake for a party that size costs upwards of $600. That is a lot of money for a tradition that started with a loaf of bread! In ancient times, a cake or loaf of bread (the staff of life) was broken over the bride’s head to ensure fertility. In Renaissance times, refined sugar was a rare commodity. White sugar icing was put on the cake as a sign of affluence and prosperity. In Victorian times, the tiered cake became popular along with baking techniques to support the weight of multiple tiers. Keep the wedding cake; change the construction. I have always appreciated the surprise of cup cake and cream puff cakes, carrot and spice cakes, and homemade cakes, which offer a reminiscence of the days when weddings really happened in the front parlor. Even an elegant cake from a high-end baker need not be a tower. One of the prettiest cakes I’ve seen was a simple two-layer circle with a bouquet arrangement in its center. This couple used a sheath of wheat bound with ribbons recalling the origins of the cake tradition. 3. Flowers I was in Udaipur when the Minister of Aviation was marrying his daughter to a Bollywood star. Each night a different palace was strewn with banks of fresh cut flowers. The next day, the wilted stems were thrown into the trash. Whether on a Maharajah’s or a beggar’s budget, why throw money away? Flowers make a wedding seem like paradise. The ritual of a ceremony make us stop and look at the wonder that life is always renewing, and humanity is always starting again; but a garden is more than flowers. The rich tradition of the green man is found worldwide and includes in its fertility images fruits and vegetables of many kinds. Vines, grasses and leaves as well flowers can be used to create a decorative story of the life force that is celebrated at a wedding. Your wedding bower can be trees of life that will be replanted in your home garden as a living reminder of your love. A trip to your local garden store can provide pots of flowering bushes to frame your procession, and centerpieces can be bowls of annuals, perennials, and herbs to be taken home as favors. 4.Entertainment Ever see a picture of the Queen shaking hands after a command performance? We think of artistic commissions as the province of the rich and powerful, but a modest budget can often hire a wonderful musician or dancer from a local college to create an accent for your wedding vows. I have been delighted at a wedding with processional and recessional fanfares created by local brass players. I vividly remember a dance company from a local school making a wedding night special with a performance of the tango. I have used remarkable singers who are studying opera to sing for a ceremony and, then, to do a tribute performance during dinner. There are so many talented people in our communities who are delighted to have their work valued; give them the royal commission. 5.Food Tweak the royal feast! Salmon and steak are expensive wedding stereotypes. The whole world is your kingdom. Consider Chinese dumplings, Indian Dosa, Central American arapas and tamales, Middle Eastern meat and spinach pies. If you are working with a caterer, look at what they offer as an appetizer and consider if something might become a main course. Short ribs and fried chicken can be a lot more satisfying than typical banquet fare. Be true to yourself and recognize that the occasion is about love, and the wedding feast prepared with love will far outshine a standardized meal whose ingredients came from a restaurant supply company. 6. Favors Be as beneficent as a Queen. Instead of spending extra cash on favors, think about a donation to charity. Give each guest a pack of seeds and donate to a nature conservancy. Make your place cards from photos of children and donate to a scholarship fund. Share the richness of your wedding feast by donating to a homeless shelter. Give everyone a pink bracelet to fight breast cancer. Recognize the blessing of family and friends by helping a needy cause. 7. Printing If the royal castle had a computer, I bet the Queen would have sent an mp3 instead of a messenger. The format of wedding announcements and place cards dates from nineteenth century etiquette and technology. Be modern. Have fun. With computer programs, CDs, DVDs, and printers, you can create personal and imaginative wedding invitations at home. You can even send a trumpet fanfare! The cost of a guest book is between $50 and $100. Instead, print your wedding vows with a couple photo and mount this page on the cover of an album. Send blank pages from the album along with your invitations. Ask your guests to decorate each page with a personalized wish or blessing for you on your wedding day. When your guests arrive at the wedding, they can place their wishes into your album, making an extraordinary memento to cherish for the rest of your lives. 8. Dress Queen Victoria created the fashion for the modern wedding gown. She wore white because she wore English cloth, and Victorian fashion considered white an extravagance since it needed more maintenance. I realize that there is a gender gap when it comes to wedding costumes. The groom and his party rent. The women buy. I advocate gender equality. Check out the wedding gown exchange sites that you can find on the Internet. You can buy and resell wedding gowns. Adjust your thinking. Not only may you get a spectacular dress, but you will also be part of a sisterhood, sharing this special garment and its blessings with other woman. If you must have a once in a lifetime dress, go ahead. Just be aware that upon entering a bridal salon, you pay a premium amount for a dress. Don’t get stuck in the past. Go to a fine department store and see what fashions they have to offer. You may just find something in white. 9.Transportation The limo that takes you to the ceremony echoes the royal coach, but this is only a European tradition. In India, the wedding party collects the bride at her home and escorts her through the streets to the ceremony. Following this South Asian custom, consider a wedding parade using your own vehicles. If you must spend the money on transportation, consider adding style to your choice. For the same money or less, the bride can arrive in a horse and carriage festooned with garlands. I have even seen one wedding party arrive on Harleys! Even consider the limo service to wedding in Corpus Christi. Your day- have fun with it! 10.Officiant Whether you have The Bishop of Canterbury or a civil celebrant officiate, the words that you say to each other are the heart of the wedding. Make your ceremony about words, not flowers, food, cars, or dresses. Your ceremony can be as simple as two people holding hands and saying, “I love you.” Take time to find someone who will help you create the words that truly reflect this moment when your life will change -- and I becomes WE. Gerald Fierst is a civil celebrant who writes and officiates at weddings and life rituals. His book The Heart of the Wedding will be released in early 2011. Read more about the book at and more about Fierst at The Heart of the Wedding illuminates the ritual of marriage through cross-cultural history, folktale, true-life stories, and ritual, all infused with practical advice and wisdom. In a world where couples -- and the ceremonies they choose -- come in many varieties, this book celebrates the new America, respecting tradition while finding a contemporary voice to say “I do.”

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