Real Wedding | Stephanie & Bill

I love love love a good wedding.  But I also think that the wedding ceremony is the whole reason for the party, and sometimes that seems to almost be overlooked.  That’s what a I really like about Stephanie and Bill’s wedding.  The ceremony, its meaning and how it was performed was so important to them.  And their memories of the day are as rooted in the ceremony as they are in anything else.

They chanced reaction from their family and friends to have the ceremony they really wanted.  And the positive reaction they got made it that much more meaningful.

Stephanie & Bill | October 24, 2009 | Atlanta History Center:  Atlanta, Georgia

Real Wedding | Stephanie & Bill

How he proposed
Bill and I had talked about marriage, but not about timing. One day in early January 2009 he decided today was the day he was going to buy the ring. He went out that day, shopped around a bit, and ended the day with a beautiful ring in his pocket. He was so nervous and excited he considered going to my work and proposing to me right then and there. Instead, he asked me to stop by his house on my way home after I had dinner with a friend that evening.

“Oh, I’m really tired…can I see you tomorrow?” I said.

“What if I promise to be the best boyfriend ever?” he said.

Well, I couldn’t pass that up, so I stopped by his house. When I got inside the door we embraced in the foyer with a hug and a kiss.

“I made a really big decision today,” he said.

“What’s that?” I asked, thinking nothing of it. Then I noticed his chin was trembling, which it does when he’s nervous. I first saw the chin tremble the first day he told me he loved me.

Then he got down on one knee, pulled the ring out of his pocket, and asked me to marry him.

Real Wedding | Stephanie & Bill

The ceremony
When Bill and I started planning our wedding, we immediately knew ours would be unique. Since we met each other, we’ve delved deeply into our spirituality together and it’s become an important part of our lives both separately and as a couple. Our ceremony, too, would be a spiritual one — but without the religious elements that many people are used to seeing in weddings.

We began our wedding day taking bride and groom photos at a beautiful hotel just a mile from our venue — The Mansion on Peachtree. The classical, almost vintage film look that this venue gave to the photos we took here lent a traditional feel to the beginning of a day that was, overall, very untraditional. We like to think of ourselves as a healthy mix of old and new, classic and offbeat.

Real Wedding | Stephanie & Bill

Later that same day, our earthy, spiritual wedding ceremony was based on the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water. Three shamans who have become our spiritual mentors officiated our ceremony. Shamanism is a form of spirituality that is intended to work in conjunction with any religion. Our ceremony music was that of an African drumming group. Both Bill and I love drumming and it just seemed right for us. They played a variety of drums, a flute, and an African instrument called a balaphon (it’s similar to a xylophone.) Here’s how the ceremony itself was framed:

Earth: Bill and I washed each other’s feet to symbolize humility and dual servitude, as well as a mutual desire to serve others. This was an incredible experience. It was very humbling to wash someone’s feet in love, and very incredible to receive it in return.  It was more powerful than I imagined it would be. As the drums played we had a moment “alone” taking care of each other and promising to do that (symbolically) for the rest of our lives. This is the moment from my wedding that I will never forget.

Water: Bill and I shared wine from the same vessel to symbolize the two becoming one, the parts becoming whole…each separate, yet united in love.

Air: To symbolize the sacred nature of our words, one of the shamans read a Pueblo Indian commitment ceremony passage we had given her.

Fire: One of the shamans anointed Bill and me with oil on our feet, hands, lips, foreheads, and heads, to keep us always walking side by side, and connected to each other and to God. We also then shared our vows, which we had each written.

Real Wedding | Stephanie & Bill

I designed our ceremony program using InDesign and had a local printer print and bind them for me. It was a simple, square, 12-page design highlighting each part of the program and what it represented. Part of this was done because I thought the more our guests understood, the more they might appreciate our ceremony. The other reason I designed our programs is because I simply enjoy this type of digital DIY project. We put translations of all the drummers’ songs in the program. They meant things like: “Thank you all for coming; we are so glad you are here” and “Thank you Mother for educating me and preparing me to live my own life, separate from you and with my new husband.” The drummers played and sang as the guests sat down and as our immediate family members and we walked to the beautiful altar at the front, complete with columns, ivy, and a trickling fountain. They also played as Bill and I washed each other’s feet (which helped avoid what could have been awkward time gaps as we were taking off shoes, etc.)

Most of the details of the wedding reflected our earth/air/fire/water symbolism. For example, my bouquet had all four elements in it (symbolically): deep orange roses and other flowers to represent fire, a moss-tied handle to represent earth, a seashell detail on the handle to represent water, and an air plant to represent air. Bill’s boutonniere was an air plant to correspond with my bouquet. Our ceremony itself was a powerful 15 minutes. People laughed and cried, and it just seemed to fly by (thank goodness we had it videotaped!). As soon as Bill and I kissed and were walking back down the aisle together to share our 30 minutes of alone time, I immediately was overcome with tears (for the first and last time of the evening). It was an incredibly joyous feeling!

The reception

Each centerpiece at the reception was designed to incorporate the earth/air/fire/water elements as well, using feathers, rocks, moss, and floating candles. Our florist used a mix of both tall and low centerpieces to create visual interest. My mom and I also decorated a birdcage with flowers, branches, other earthy accents, and feathers to hold our “guest book” (pieces of scrapbooking paper fanned out in rows in front of the birdcage and left for people to write wishes on) and for any cards. In lieu of wedding gifts we had asked for donations to a local school for mentally and physically handicapped children, so many of these donations were dropped in the birdcage as well. Many of our other accents, including our cupcake cake “topper”, an earthy bouquet of feathers, stone, and moss, were created by artists on Etsy.

Real Wedding | Stephanie & Bill

One of my best friends made our beautiful and natural-looking ceremony aisle markers. For favors, we gave our family and friends Swarovski crystals wrapped in a deep purple tissue paper and stuffed inside tiny brown bags. That was a DIY project of sorts in that my family and I all sat around one day stringing the crystals on wire and including suction cups in the bags, so they were kitchen-window and rainbow ready! The whole night was laid back and fun, with four delicious food stations that encouraged mingling, an open bar, and lots of dancing. The night ended with a biodegradable eco-fetti send-off.

Real Wedding | Stephanie & Bill

What was it about her wedding dress that made it the “the one”
I did a lot of research before I even tried on wedding dresses, and I only spent one day in two bridal shops actually trying on gowns. I found what turned out to be “the dress” at the first shop, and put it on hold before going to my appointment at the second. It was nothing I originally thought I wanted in a dress after my countless hours of online research. I had pictured a mermaid gown with romantic lace details. This was romantic, but was A-line with a simple skirt, and beautiful beading and unique criss cross details across an almost corset-like bodice. To me, it embraced the fairytale side of my personality without being costume-y, and it made me feel beautiful. And at the end of the day, when I’d tried on a dozen other lovely dresses after it, it was still calling my name. I decided to go back to the first shop and buy it that day.

Saison Blanche Wedding Dress

Advice for other brides
Make your wedding yours, and don’t worry about what anyone else will think. I spent too much time and energy the day of the wedding wondering what some of our relatives would think of our spiritual wedding ceremony. In the end, while we had been a bit worried about what people might think of the ceremony, we got more compliments on it than we ever could have expected. People said that it felt so meaningful, so unique, and like nothing they had ever seen — in a really beautiful way. The people at your wedding are there because they love you and want to support you as you begin your marriage, so accept that and be yourself!

Real Wedding | Stephanie & Bill

Stephanie’s Wedding Dress: Saison Blanche 3050

All Photograhpy: Eliud Matos Photography