I was not what you’d call the marrying type. I never wanted a big day with a white dress. As a non-practitioner of any faith, the idea of walking down an aisle and standing in front of a person who had some magical authority to bind me to someone felt foreign and disingenuous. For a long time, even after I met the man I knew I’d be happy with for the rest of my life, getting hitched wasn’t a terribly pressing matter. That changed after a friend lost her partner of 10 years.
I was not what you’d call the marrying type. I never wanted a big day with a white dress. As a non-practitioner of any faith, the idea of walking down an aisle and standing in front of a person who had some magical authority to bind me to someone felt foreign and disingenuous. For a long time, even after I met the man I knew I’d be happy with for the rest of my life, getting hitched wasn’t a terribly pressing matter. That changed after a friend lost her partner of 10 years. They’d never married and I saw how that affected her, including the way in which her community processed her grieving. I realized that standing up before your community, in essence performing an act of union and including others in your commitment as witnesses, has a profound effect on everyone, not just the engaged couple.
No one could tell us how our wedding would look. It was a deeply personal matter. Over the course of a year, we moved through the planning process. At times, it was as mundane as choosing the color of napkins and picking the perfect wine—we also brewed our own beer —but most of our time was spent deliberating what exactly we wished to celebrate and what we wanted our ceremony to communicate to those who stood with us. We knew that, as two people brought together by place—both born in Salt Lake, rooted and enriched by a lifelong community—our harvest wedding would hold enormous amounts of meaning for us and our guests.
The afternoon of our wedding, the October sun touched the autumn leaves with gold. Lights hung across our backyard like luminous garlands. Long tables were set with bright patterned tablecloths and bouquets of dried wildflowers I had spent long happy hours picking in wild fields the summer before. Under the apricot tree, a bear skin rug and an altar of candles awaited us.
We exchanged rings carved from wood cut from our property. We served food harvested and grown by us and our friends. We had no officiant, but asked those gathered to offer words and memories and blessings. For us, it was certainly a culmination of everything we had woven and created together over the years.
Since our wedding, I’ve developed an appreciation for other people’s wedding stories. As more people make their wedding day something that embodies them as individuals, taking tradition and spinning it into something new and personal, these stories are becoming increasingly magical. They are snapshots, clips from a single day that reveals a person’s innermost being.
For inspiration, or simply for pleasure, here are four stories of four weddings. Enjoy.
JODI & TYLER
A wedding as performance: every element—the words, the colors, the setting —infusing the moment with meaning, reflecting the character and ideals of the couple that stands before friends and family. For Jodi and Tyler, no building could house such a moment. Both photographers, the engaged couple had been to the Bonneville Salt Flats many times. For them, the pristine, white expanse, the remnant seafloor of ancient Lake Bonneville, became a blank canvas waiting to be filled.
“It’s a place that holds such energy, life and hope,” says Jodi.
Sunrise, the symbol of new beginnings, was their chosen time. Using a sun trajectory calculator and a GPS, they determined the exact location where, on the day of their wedding, the sun would first peak over the long white crystalline horizon. Near mid-summer, sunrise on the salt flats happens really early.
“It seemed ridiculously obscene to ask people to get up so early,” recalls Jodi. Nonetheless, on the morning of July 26, at 5:35 a.m., the wedding party gathered in the parking lot of a hotel in Wendover where the caravan began, a trail of headlights winding out into the darkness.
A wide circle of candle lanterns defined the designated site where guests gathered, pinch of salt in hand. “We wanted our guests to see each other,” Tyler explains, “and for us to see all of them. It was important to make that connection. In such a vast expanse, it put everybody close, very intimate.”
In the half-light, holding her father’s arm, Jodi stepped toward the waiting circle, barefoot. They took a single turn around the circle and joined Tyler.
The ceremony started late and there was a moment of doubt that it would all go off as planned. But they spoke their words, never rushing. Finally, they turned toward their friend and officiant, Greta deJong, to receive her blessing. At exactly 6:24 a.m., the first slice of sun rose over the horizon, bursting light across the salt flats, and Greta pronounced them married.
DEREK & MOUDI
Few couples have been in the public eye, recently, as much as Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity. Key plaintiffs in the case Kitchen v. Herbert that challenged Utah’s constitutional ban on marriage for same-sex couples, their work was instrumental in extending the right of marriage to all Utah couples, straight and gay. Yet, when the final verdict cracked opened chapel doors and government offices, and as gay couples rushed to declare their union, Derek and Moudi held back.
“We’d spent a lot of time [over the course of the trial] talking about why marriage is important and about wanting access to that right, but we didn’t consider what an actual ceremony would mean or what makes it so powerful,” says Derek. When given the chance to actualize their own commitment, Moudi and Derek decided to take their time. This month, the grooms will say their vows in a celebration as public as the process that allowed them to reach this point. Standing together in the Gallivan Plaza before friends, family and the community that has sustained and supported them in their long journey, Derek and Moudi will close the circle that began when they filed their suit in March 2013.
Earlier this spring, as I sat with Derek and Moudi in their commercial kitchen where they create Laziz hummus and spreads, Derek shared details of the upcoming event. Including who would walk them down the aisle. “I haven’t asked my Mom yet if she’ll walk with me,” admitted Derek. “I just assumed she would, but I should probably let her know.”
Moudi, whose mother in Lebanon will be unable to attend, has asked the couple’s lawyer, Peggy Tomsic, to do the honor of accompanying him to meet his groom. “She’s been our legal advocate and like a mother to us,” says Derek. “It seems appropriate.” Many of the players in the wedding have a strong connection to the trial, even the officiant who, as a close friend of the couple, and a writer and poet, kept detailed diaries and records during the months of trial.
The two have found the process of planning their farmer’s market-themed wedding—”kind of a Taste of the Wasatch style but without the sitdown dinner part”—a consuming experience. “We’ve tried to incorporate all the parts of our lives that hold power and meaning for us,” says Derek. Balancing the finances of a 1,000 person guest list—the ultimate result of giving an open wedding invitation to an entire city—has been stressful. Dreaming of all the possibilities, says Moudi, has been unimaginably fun.
“The fact that we had to fight for our right to marry makes this a victory worth celebrating with our community,” reflects Moudi. “Lots of people have a vested interest in this moment. Our ‘I do’s’ are certainly a symbol of something bigger.”
Okay, this isn’t a local couple, but this is a story with, I think, a lot of great metaphor and personal style. Making the guest list is one of the toughest parts of wedding planning. It’s cliché, but true. Limited budgets, large families, lots of friends you don’t want to leave out—many factors can complicate this part of the deal. And, didn’t you say you wanted to keep the wedding “small”?
MANDY & BRIAN
Mandy and Brian found the perfect way to keep their wedding party small. This super outdoorsy, unbelievably cute Wyoming couple turned their wedding into a mountain sports triathalon. Within 24 hours they completed a 14-mile bike ride to a trailhead, 24-mile hike into the Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River Range, executed a 9-pitch, 5.8 grade climb to the top of Pingora Peak and exchanged their vows—complete with rings, a white dress, mini bottles of champagne, and chocolate cupcakes. Then, they reversed it all and ended the adventure in 45-hours.
The journey was filmed and posted online, Tying the Knot on Vimeo. It’s a great little film with beautiful scenery and natural humor—like when Mandy shows us their “honeymoon suite,” a tent the couple shares at base camp with their officiant.
For those who just don’t get why you would do such a thing, ever, especially for your wedding: Check out the part where they climb Pingora Peak before dawn. Watching Mandy and Brian summit the 11,884-foot peak together, supporting each other literally with ropes and harnesses, working together, overcoming obstacles together, taking turns shouldering the tough parts (they each lead climb different pitches), enjoying each other’s company, and then finally coming out on top elated and in love—well, I don’t think there’s a better active metaphor for the perfect union.
TAYLOR & ELLIS
Tradition, for Ellis and his wife Taylor, is a complicated matter. There are the traditions they grew up with, and then there are the traditions they created, high in the mountains above Provo with their closest friends. While some chose to meld divergent traditions and faiths on their wedding day, Taylor and Ellis chose not to. Instead, they got married twice.
“I come from a big family with eight kids. We’re thoroughly Mormon,” Ellis tells me while his wife tends to the couple’s one year-old niece. “The place where we held our spiritual wedding, in the mountains, transcends worldly considerations.”
“We did all the legal paperwork at the formal wedding,” adds Taylor. “We didn’t want to deal with technicalities in the mountains.”
“That,” says Ellis, “was our temple wedding.”
Three years ago this month, Taylor and Ellis hiked with a small group of close friends into the peaks above Provo to celebrate their union in nature at a special place they call The Realm. Their wedding was not the first ceremony ever enacted on that sacred ground. For years, since they were kids, the group of young Provoans had traveled to that spot looking for something greater to connect to and had created their own traditions. It became their Stonehenge where, on solstices and equinoxes, revelers blew horns, banged on drums and drank homemade mead. Back at home they celebrated Easter and Christmas, but the Realm, recalls Ellis, was where the real holidays happened.
In this youthful, pagan spirit, Ellis and Taylor exchanged their first vows in the Realm, dressed in the robes that had become the traditional dress for such occasions. Ellis wore his newly hand-sewn green robe. Taylor wore a white hand-me-down from her groom, originally an old Star Wars Halloween costume. “If my mom knew the real reason I wanted a white tunic,” says Ellis, laughing, “she’d have never made it for me.”
The wedding party stayed on the mountain for three days and two nights. There was feasting and dancing. There was a hand-fasting, when the hands of the bride and groom were bound with cloth. Vows, unwritten, were spoken straight from the heart. The bride and groom exchanged crowns of wildflowers and pine.
Two weeks after the hand-fasting in the mountains, Taylor and Ellis got married again. “We joke that we should’ve covered all the bases and had a Catholic wedding, too,” says Ellis.
This time with the families present, Taylor walked down the aisle in her long white dress. “I wanted to wear something lacy and floral, but simple,” says Taylor of her transformation from pagan Queen Bee to picture perfect bride. “I didn’t want it dragging on and on.” Complete with pearls and a silk waistband, she looked stunning. The groom wore a burnt orange cowboy suit, bolo tie, and new boots. They exchanged rings and signed papers. Ellis, Taylor tells me, cried.
They ate cake. They danced and drank —traditions shared with the revelry on the mountains. And Taylor’s mom saved to top tier of cake for their anniversary, though three years later, it’s still in the freezer.
“You want people be able to relate,” reflects Taylor. “In a way, our second wedding was for our family.” And, really, whose wedding isn’t? As Taylor so aptly says, “You already know you love each other. It’s about making that declaration for others.”
I mailed an RSVP for my cousin’s wedding the other day. The card allowed me to chose what entrée I wanted at the wedding banquet. I wrote my name next to the little chicken. My husband’s went next to the carrot. There are so many ways to do food at a wedding. Many of those I’ve been to had long self-serve buffets. There were tacos at one wedding, a whole spit-roasted pig at another.
At my own wedding, food was the centerpiece of the festivities. My husband and I wanted to give our guests the experience of a real Italian feast—my family’s mother country—complete with long communal tables, flowing wine, and plenty of time between courses to get up and mingle.
After consulting with friends, chefs at a local restaurant, we pulled together a meal fit for our greatest foodie fantasies. After vows were said and guests seated, the magic began. Plates of cheese and cured olives, fresh baked bread and bowls of tangy, grassy olive oil passed down the table rows, followed by pasta with sage pesto and grilled vegetables from our friends’ urban farms. We served Christiensen pork and Ben’s own elk – hunted from the Uinta mountains the season prior.
Our ten year-old neighbor, who couldn’t be bothered with dancing when he’d been promised cake, was finally appeased when we presented creations by local baker Courtney McDowell, cakes and pies because we couldn’t decide on one. No morsel of cake remained by the end of the night to save for our first anniversary, but for us the most important tradition, of sharing good food, had already been observed.