Posts Tagged ‘Ceremony’

Thank you to Elaine Martin Petrowski (check out her blog: Working Writing Woman ) for putting me in contact with Celia Milton, New Jersey Wedding Ceremony Officiant and Minister.


When I talked to Celia, it was obvious that she loves what she does and works closely with couples to create a ceremony that fits them exactly. Read below for advice on crafting a ceremony and finding the right officiant.



 Celia Milton in a Wedding Photo Booth


What three points would you stress to a couple planning their ceremony?


1.  The ceremony is not just the gateway to the reception; it’s the reason for the celebration.  Nothing is worse than having 100 people  enthused with the grandest, happiest expectations of a poignant moment only to be rewarded with the same old ceremony that’s been recited by rote over and over again.  Yawn.  Every ceremonial  choice a couple makes, from the way they arrive at the ceremony space (Will they walk together?  Will the bride be escorted by her dad or other significant relative? Will she walk alone?) to the readings (biblical? poetry? hand written?), to even their placement  (together facing their guests? facing each other?  on each side of the officiant?) expresses a subtle  window into the individuality to their relationship. All these choices should be woven together, by a competent officiant, into a joyful and individual service that really expresses the personalities of the couple.


2. Remember  the settings that surround the ceremony; it does not exist in a vacuum. If you’re in a beautiful garden, the ceremony should refer to the bounty and beauty of nature.  If it’s in the fall, in a winery, it should refer to the harvest of effort, time and growth.  At a beach?  The nature of shifting sand and the reliable comfort of our anchors; our family, our partner, our friends.  There are reasons that each couple picks their setting, and the ceremony should at the very least, present a nod of understanding to that setting and give their audience another way of insight into their particular partnership.


3. Get an early and firm grip on the fact that something will not go as you planned. The three year old flower girl will have a nuclear, face down on the aisle runner  tantrum. The chuppa will list sharply to one side.  The musicians will start playing  the recessional as your officiant is still talking. The photographer will fall into the fountain.  (Not that any of this has happened to me……’: -)   All of these occurrences are events that are uncontrollable, and in many cases, add a note of fresh reality and welcome humor  to the tableau. With the expectation that something is going to surprise you, try to plan out everything that can be planned not to surprise you. Allow plenty of time for your guests to find the site and get comfortable. Take into account that stiletto  heels and grass don’t mix. (I almost lost a couple of maids of honor on various golf courses last year…). Don’t give the four year old ring bearer the real rings. Send clear direction in your invitations, including parking details and logistical glitches (New Jersey shore traffic during the summer…..) that may factor into your guests’ plan.


What is a “must have” in a wedding ceremony?


Well, legally, that is kind of a thin list. The couple needs to take vows, and the officiant needs to make a pronouncement.  Beyond that, the “must haves” are really up to the bride and groom. As an officiant, I’ll try to offer ideas that will work, depending on the family and couple’s situations, but the bare minimum would be a welcome of some sort, vows, pronouncement, and leave taking reading.


What traditional aspects of a wedding ceremony could be left out of the “unbride’s” ceremony?


All of them, really. I almost never see, “Who gives this bride on this day?”  although sometimes, I will say “Who presents Angela on this glorious day?  Who presents Gary on this glorious day?” Kind of levels the playing field, and adds a note of tradition. 

I don’t think I have ever, ever used the phrase, “honor and obey”. My clients just are not into that. There are other ways to promise cooperation and partnership with more gracious wording.


What was the most novel aspect of a wedding you’ve participated in?


Novel…  wow….there are so many; vow renewals at Yankee Stadium; a wedding at a dairy farm where the entire wedding party and 100 guests walked down a dirt road to  the ceremony space; a giant spreding elm in a cow pasture (accompanied by  several free range cows and the farm dog…..). It’s really hard to pick one.  One of the most interesting, however, was a wedding between an American man and a Chinese woman.  Her mother had done the Chinese astrology and decided that they needed to get married on March 23d, before noon, south east of Secaucus.  We found a beach in the right location, (without a permit of course) and at ten minutes to noon we all stormed down to the sub zero beach front and did the ceremony with a Sake sharing, keeping an eye out for park rangers…..in the photos we all look really,really happy but really, really cold!


What questions do you recommend asking the celebrant before making a final decision?


1.How long have you been doing this and what is your training. In this day of internet ordinations, not everyone has the skills to do this work well. It is a combination of people skills, writing, performing, and a maniacal devotion to details. You should be working with someone who is dedicated to their work and your ceremony.


2. How are you legal in my state? (you’d be amazed how few people ask me this, and it is becoming an issue in many areas…)


3. Can we meet with you in person? (if this is geographically possible….you will get a vibe from the officiant’s personality and get to see whether they show up on time, whether they are prepared for your meeting, etc.  One of my trainers says that the way you do anything is the way you do everything, and the meeting or long initial phone call can tell you a LOT about the way your ceremony will be…)


4. Why do you love doing this work?  Your officiant should sound like they really,really want to be present at  your celebration and make it a memorable occasion.  If they don’t sound enthusiastic and fun during your phone conversation, (which is really the easiest part of the process), they are NOT going to be any more enjoyable at the ceremony, and it is really important to be surrounded by people you like that day.


5. How is our ceremony created?  In my humble opinion, sending a couple 26 pages of readings and ceremony chunks for them to choose and then have strung together does not a personalized ceremony make. You should feel that your ceremony is going to be written with care, with your input, and with resources that match your philosophies and wishes.


6. Can we include a sand ceremony, ring warming, broom jump, dunk tank?  If you are interested in including ritual elements, you of course, want to work with someone who is happy to research and write them.  The process is, afterall, a collaboration.  Rigidity is a bad sign.


7. How much do you charge? Does that include travel time, parking, waiting time, extra consultations?  You want to know, ahead of time, what that number is going to be. There are so many ways for your budget to spin out of control that whatever pieces can be booked as a flat fee will be a real asset to your planning. In most cases, the only thing that may be up in the air is waiting time, and this is an important factor not only regard to your ceremony, but also to your reception planning. In some cases, your reception venue or your officiant may not be able to wait a half hour for Aunt Betty, who is always late, to show up. There are many ways and reasons to assure that your wedding happens on time, and a pro celebrant should be able to work with you on containing this cost.


8.  What is your cancellation policy (if  the couple has to cancel or move the date)?  What is your policy if you, as an officiant have to cancel? These are both important questions. If you have to cancel, timing may be all in the decision to refund your deposit or not.  (I personally, try to be as flexible as possible, but if I have turned down three other couples for that date, I may not be able to be as fluid as I’d like. In the case of family tragedies, I always refund the entire amount.)  If the officiant has to cancel (death in the family, abducted by aliens, etc….) you should make sure your contract stipulates that you’ll have your ceremony script back several weeks before the date of your wedding, and that your officiant will help you find a competent replacement. You should not incur any expenses, and you should feel comfortable with the alternative arrangement.


9. Will you work to coordinate  with my photographer, florist, banquet manager, do, band, etc?  The only answer is YES


What was your wedding ceremony like?


Oh, mine was a hoot.  It was 8 minutes long, and the photographer didn’t ever get out of the balcony in time to photograph any of the ceremony on “ground level”…..(I always let my photogs know how long the ceremony is so they can pace themselves!)  Our flowers were run over by the church secretary, the cake arrived on the dashboard of the delivery van, and the bagpiper got toasted and danced with everyone there.  Wouldn’t change a thing!





Celia Milton is an ordained inter denominational officiant  based in New Jersey and New York (though she is happy to do destination weddings on any island location, and she is certified as a scuba diver for those festive underwater occasions).  Prior to starting her practice as a civil Celebrant, officiating at weddings, civil unions and the many other milestones that punctuate our lives.  She lives in northern NJ in a tiny house with a giant dog and way too many wedding books….


Don’t miss her website or her blog.  




Read Full Post »

Here is the final installment in my fiancé’s blog on tradition. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.




Yesterday, I wrote about the value of tradition, even to a tradition-shunning couple like us. We don’t want to do anything just because everyone else is doing it. But we will be following some traditions. Why?


Yesterday’s reason was that traditions help to connect us to other people, across time and space. They build connections, and as humans, we crave connection.


The second reason I think tradition might be worth respecting is that if it stood the test of time, that might mean it works pretty well. Of course, it might “work” for some people and not others, and it might not work as well as something we haven’t tried yet. Improvement is important. But people in the past weren’t all stupid, and they often have had to try to solve the same problems that we have.


To put it in game theoretic terms, traditions are ways of identifying or even selecting an equilibrium. By equilibrium, I mean a solution to an environment of human interaction. For example, think about traffic. As we drive down two-way roads, we need to make sure that cars going in opposite directions don’t crash into each other. The solution is, as you approach an oncoming car, you move to the right. If everyone does this, we’re in great shape.


The stakes in the game of traffic are pretty high, so we don’t just rely on the tradition of passing to the right. We legislate it. But check out the sidewalk. In the United States, people tend to move to the right as they approach each other. Not always, but it’s a useful norm. And we do it because, well, it’s a tradition.


A lot of traditions help solve coordination and cooperation problems. (Thinking of tradition and culture in this way is not a new idea. It’s common in social and political sciences.) The weekend gets a large number of us to take the same days off, so we can schedule social events at a time when many people can participate. Holidays are the same thing.  Traditions identify an equilibrium solution and popularize it, so we all don’t need to figure it out on our own.


And of course, there is no reason why we have to pass on the right. The left works just fine, if that’s what we decide to do. And if we all took Tuesday and Wednesday off, that would also be a weekend. Any of those would do. There, we say there are multiple equilibria. And culture, or tradition, helps us choose.


Chloe’ and I are thinking we don’t like the long aisle for our wedding. We also don’t want the usually parade of people from the back of the room. But the truth is, if you are going to have an event that people will watch, it makes sense to put it at one end of the room and then point all the chairs at it. And then you need to have some way of getting all the key players to the front of the room. “Here comes the bride” is a pretty good solution. And when everyone hears that tune, they will know what is happening, and know what they are supposed to do. If we change things around, it will be unfamiliar to people. A little unfamiliarity can be fun, but we can’t count on everyone to react in a particular way.


The wedding registry is another such tradition. Typically, a wedding marks a couple’s entry into the world on their own. They need furniture, dishes, linens. That’s expensive, so we decide to help out. And if everyone in society can expect a little help when they are setting up their household, that’s great. When we get older and are in a better position to help out a new couple, well, we’ll help them out.


The problem for us – and for many couples in our generation – is that we lived on our own for several years before we got together. We don’t need a new blender. We already have two. So how do we participate in this tradition? We could be magnanimous and say we don’t want any presents. But our friends are generous. They want to do something. So we, along with many couples, need to adjust the tradition to accommodate our new situation. We need something that is consistent with the past, since many of our guests are expecting a registry with duvet covers and silver forks.



Our solution: We’re going to register for our honeymoon. A lot of couples have started doing this. We think it’s a nice approach. If you’d like a suggestion from us as to what we’d like to start our life together (which is basically what the registry is), we suggest that, instead of a gravy boat, you consider ferry tickets to Santorini.


The best thing about this solution is that it doesn’t mess with the tradition too much. Our guests will surely be able to roll with it. We are sticking with the basic equilibria – everyone helps out couples as they are starting off – but we are merging it with another tradition – couples get away alone together shortly after they marry.


Now, if we can just figure out how to get us to the stage.




I said yesterday that “tradition” can be a dirty word. And I meant it. But tradition serves a purpose. Just think about what that purpose is.


Remember: There are a million ways for a wedding to be. You won’t even be the first person not to wear white, not to throw the bouquet, not to not see each other before the ceremony. Think about wedding traditions like a cafeteria menu. Choose what you want. Think about why you want them, and what they will mean to you. Then do what you like.


Read Full Post »

I know, we should be focusing on the more major decisions first: the wedding venue, the music, someone to marry us, guest list, etc.


Still, my fiancé and I enjoy discussing the nitty gritty details. Recently, we’ve been debating whether or not to see each other before the wedding.


Some general plusses and minuses:

Not seeing each other could be very romantic. We’d be moved when we first saw each other during the ceremony. It could be symbolic of our separate lives coming together. With our friends’ help, we could have fun plotting how to avoid each other.


But, what if we need to discuss something? It might just add a layer of difficulty on top of a very busy (and important) day. Rarely do we go very long without communicating.


I’ve been asking friends their opinion. My friend Yasmin said that her sister did not see her fiancé the day of the wedding. I asked her what we would do if we had to ask the other a question. She said that we could make our own rules; for example, we could decide that text messaging is allowed. I nodded. Of course! We can transform tradition to fit our own vision of a wedding.


My friend Rasheea, who had a beautiful wedding at the Liberty House in NJ overlooking the NYC skyline, wrote the following:


As for seeing each other, we chose not to for the romance of it all. 🙂 We had that cocktail hour with the jazz band so people could enjoy themselves while we took pictures at the pier just down the way from Liberty House. I actually had individual shots done a week before at the landing overlooking the Hudson River and NYC in Edgewater, so that cut down on the number of pictures we needed to take on the day. I guess the short answer is if your photographer thinks he or she can get all the necessary shots in an hour (the cocktail hour), then I would wait to see each other until you are walking down the aisle. It’s the most amazing feeling!


As an Italian-American, I’d like to incorporate both Italian and American traditions. My Italian friend Tiziana reminded me that it is an Italian tradition for the bride and groom not to see each other until the ceremony.


Lauren, an American who married an Italian and had the ceremony at a lovely villa in Tuscany, said that she and her fiancé did not see each other until the ceremony. It sounded both romantic and a good way for each of them to spend some quality time with out-of-town family and friends the night before the wedding. She added that some friends who were getting married and already living with their partners spent the night before the wedding together but then separated to get dressed. This seems like a good compromise.


We are still deciding. You are welcome to use the comments section to add your own thoughts.



Consider your guest list, photographer, dress and available space.


Some questions to ask yourself and your love:

Would you like some “single” time with your friends before the ceremony?

Would you like to take photographs together before the ceremony? (Your outfit, hair and make up will be perfect. You may, however, decide that you’ll be more relaxed after the ceremony.)

Is the dress a surprise?

Do you have separate rooms available (family or friend’s house? hotel?) for the two of you?

What time is your ceremony? Consider how long you would potentially be apart.



Read Full Post »