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Don’t Fool With Traditions

Judith Martin United Features Sy

Is Miss Manners going to have to redesign the ceremonial form that much of the world now regards as an immutable standard for weddings?

As a devotee and defender of tradition, she is not eager for such a task. Ceremonies are supposed to connect people to the eternal progression of human events, not feature the trends of the moment; they are supposed to reflect the bridal couple’s heritage, not individual taste.

There is far too much fooling around with our rituals as it is. Miss Manners is always trying to stamp out those bursts of sappy creativity with which amateurs try to improve upon time-honored procedures. Why can’t they just get married the way their parents did?

What is considered to be a traditional wedding has actually developed and changed enormously over the years, sometimes for excellent reasons, and sometimes for appalling ones.

One day, people were simply putting on their best clothes, gathering their friends and relatives, walking into town for the religious ceremony and then home for a festive luncheon.

The next (or so it seems to Miss Manners, who takes a long view of history), they were donning specialized costumes, gathering their business associates, and directing hundreds to fly far distances in order to attend a series of elaborately staged events, with the wedding itself, featuring a four-hour dinner-dance with a minimum of two desserts as centerpiece.

The strange part is that the earlier, more casual wedding marked a dramatic change in the lives of the couple, who went from the protection of their parents to enjoying their first real privacy and establishing a household of their own, while the current, complicated, formal one, often the culmination of a year’s preparation, marks no real change in the life of a couple who already have freedom and privacy and not infrequently a household and even children of their own.

Yet she rather likes a few mild anachronisms, such as wedding veils for brides who would blush at nothing, and perhaps who have made their parents blush.

She has only reluctantly entertained the idea of rethinking the form now because much of it has moved so far from the original intentions as to work against them.

Retaining the idea of having the parents issue the invitation, even though the couple is doing all the planning, would be a charming gesture of respect if not for the common interpretation that parents must finance whatever others wish, whether they can afford it or not.

The specialness of the bridal dress is delightful. But the concept has spread to having different uniforms for various members of the wedding party until the wedding - typically with bridegroom in white tie, ushers in black tie, and guests (at best) in suits - has become a stylistic mishmash.

The desire of wedding guests to choose something for the new household that would symbolize their good wishes was a lovely thing until it became a demand that they purchase whatever the couple have selected.

Even the actual legal or religious act of marriage is often disassociated with the pageant of the wedding, which might be held earlier (when one party to it is not yet divorced), later (for social convenience), or repeatedly (as a road show for audiences in difference locations, or as a fancier way of celebrating anniversaries).

Miss Manners doesn’t want to mess with any social customs that have genuine sentimental, cultural or aesthetic value. But she feels something has to be done about the modern wedding’s having become so alienated from the participants’ lives as to wreak havoc with their budgets and nervous systems.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Judith Martin United Features Syndicate

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