Wedding Guide: Alternative ceremonies

In an atomized, secularized world, it’s one of our few remaining communal rites — romance’s last refuge from the brutal mundane. But despite what the glossy bridal magazines imply, The Wedding Ceremony doesn’t have to be all organ swells, organdy veils and endlessly organized seating details. It’s your day — why not play it your way?

Here’s a sampling of ceremonies that couples have created or chosen to express alternative ideals of romance and ritual.

Princess for a day at the Renaissance Faire

Jonathan and Rebecca Ayers chose a Renaissance theme for their wedding
Jonathan and Rebecca Ayers chose a Renaissance theme for their wedding

From nine to five, Rebecca and Jonathan Ayers look like ordinary Americans in their jobs as an office manager and a cabinetmaker, respectively. But that’s where their conventionality ends.

“When I met him,” Becky laughs, “he was lying on the ground struggling to wrap himself in a great kilt.” The young couple belongs to Twilight Realms, a group of folk whom you might glimpse in the woods at the height of leaf season, dressed in elaborate historical and fantasy costumes they photograph and post on their Web site. Becky and Jon also enjoy hanging out in 16th-century garb at Renaissance fairs, such as the Mountain Renaissance Adventure Faire held every May in Asheville.

So when they started to think about getting married, the conventional tux-and-gown routine their families expected just didn’t hold much appeal.

Jon called up the organizers of the Faire and started pitching them on making a full-blown Renaissance wedding the centerpiece of the 2004 Faire. It took some convincing, Becky recalls. But their dream came true: They were legally married in authentic Renaissance costumes they’d made themselves (with the help of fellow Twilight Realms member and professional Hendersonville costume designer Dayna Wright), while their families — who also donned Renfaire garb for the occasion — beamed happily from the fore of a cheering throng.

You can even create a Renfaire wedding in your own backyard, note the Ayerses, who helped a friend do just that not long before their own wedding. The secret is to make it interactive: “You’ve got to have like four or five people that are good friends that are in costumes, that handle parts,” advises Jon.

With some inexpensive fairy wings and some baskets of favors to pass out or a long ribbon to weave through the crowd, you can keep otherwise bored and bratty young kids busy and happy.

And to get everyone rubbing shoulders, “you can always do a traditional Maypole,” Becky concludes.

Jumping the broom African style

How many couples whose marriages ended in divorce wish they could have asked their minister to look into their future before agreeing to pronounce them man and wife? That’s the very precaution couples who incorporate African traditions into their wedding ceremony usually take, says Kuumba Zuwena, an African-American spiritual teacher, counselor and artist who lives in Asheville and has participated in many African-based weddings around the United States.

Though there are many variations, “there are certain things that always kind of jell when [couples are] trying to do an African wedding,” she notes. “The first thing is that a lot of people try to get a divination on the union for approval, and also to try to get the gist of how the two people are working together, as a couple, and what their challenges might be.”

If the casting of the cowrie shells bodes well and the priest approves, the couple’s elders are the next to give their go-ahead. They lead the procession of drumming and dancing that begins the wedding ceremony.

“After the drumming and dancing, after the procession, there’s permission to start [the wedding] from whoever’s the eldest in the room,” Zuwena says.

“And then you have the two families. You know in America a lot of times, the father’s giving away the bride. But in most of the [African-based] ceremonies I’ve been to, it’s the families accepting each other — accepting a new son, and a new daughter, giving gifts, you know, ‘welcome this person into our family.’ They give approval, and the priest will be talking, kind of have us joking and everything, [as] they verbally approve the son and the daughter.”

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