I am thinking about weddings because that’s the business my new client is in. Weddings are not the sort of thing I normally think about.
Some of the best weddings I’ve been to, the marriages didn’t last long; so I have no real illusions about the significance of weddings in this secular age. Weddings are something we do for ourselves, if we want to; or for other people, like our mothers perhaps. Today, weddings may have relatively little to do with marriage itself. Which may be obvious from the statistics.
But I thought I’d do a little research, refresh my thinking on this wedding thing. 🙂
Long before Romeo and Juliet, human beings seem to have been consumed with questions of marriage and its celebration. Even in the most joyless places, we have learned (think concentration camps, refugee camps, Aleppo Syria in 2016), humans are compelled by our very nature to bond with each other, fall in love, mate, and marry. And to celebrate.
In the America of the 1960s, the advent of television, we were spoon-fed on the notion of the fairy tale wedding. For my generation of late Baby Boomers that was fueled by Barbie – and Ken.
But the wedding industry in America only began to resemble what it is today during the Great Depression. For most of the 1800s and up to the turn of the 19th century free citizens got married at home, wherever that happened to be. The size of the wedding depended largely on the size of the house. Point is, weddings were mostly private affairs. As for attire, brides got married in the best dress they had, regardless of the color.
The so-called “white wedding” seems to have been kicked-off by the splashy marriage of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert in 1840. Her lavish white gown set off a craze that has endured to the point we now consider it American “tradition.”
In the wartime of the 1940s and ’50s the wedding boom would lead to the subsequent “Baby Boom,” the juggernaut of a population born between 1945 and 1956 that has fueled various sectors of the American economy since it came along. (Interestingly, it is this largest-ever Baby Boomer generation who have tossed aside the notion of marriage as a norm. After all, we were raised to “question everything.” Why? we ask incessantly! And there had better be an answer. Not to get too heavy, deep, and real, but women have choice now. The Pill gave women some control over reproduction, and choice around marriage followed fast on its heels.)
In the past few decades America has been obsessed with the grand weddings of the British royal family. Prncess Di’s was the first in deacades; I guess that’s part of what made it such a big deal. A generation had not seen a royal wedding? Maybe it’s all that Walt Disney and Masterpiece Theatre.
For the Windsors, I wonder if weddings aren’t a bit of a product. We on this side of the pond are still confused about what their true function is, and I understand they’re pretty expensive. But the weddings provide massive entertainment and the British seem quite attached to them. I’ve come to like the weddings (Below, Elizabeth and Prince Phillip in 1947, Princess Diana and Prince Charles in 1981, and Prince Edward and Princess Catherine “Kate” Middleton, now Duchess of Cambridge, in 2011.
I didn’t get onto Princess Diana until after she died, but have caught the fascination since and have watched the memorabilia tapes over and over again. (What a cluster that marriage was, as it turns out. Tragi-comic. The guy was in love with someone else the whole time. Poor, poor princess.)
I’ve also now read most of the Phillipa Gregory books and have stitched together the random bits of English history we were taught in primary school, ever so long ago. The saga of the British royals, from this safe vantage point of 2016, is pretty entertaining.
Though customs and traditions vary from culture to culture, weddings across the world are remarkably similar.
In many places they are still more mergers of families than they are romantic alliances. In those cases, brides may not have much say. Or none at all. But they are always cast as celebrations, characterized by the most marvelous adornments, food, flowers, music, and fanfare!
They are one of but few rituals left in American society (the others being funerals and, less and less, baptisms and such). In places like West Africa, the rituals are endless – but weddings rank right up there among the most prominent, most anticipated, most iconic.
There’s no denying that the very thought of a wedding lightens the heart a little. The pictures that pop, unbidden, to mind, evoke joy. Lofty ideas like Destiny.
In all cases they are about commitment. And despite all our various other tendencies, human beings are essentially mating creatures.
I suppose one can’t talk weddings these days without calling out the biggest SHIFT that’s taken place in the culture in the past decade: same-sex marriage. The joke, to me, is that as the institution of marriage is crumbling in the rest of American society, gay people clamor for the right to get on board. Go figure. Who knew there was this pent-up demand? But hey! Go for it. Never enough love in this world.
In our culture – in virtually every culture – a wedding is one of the most iconic celebrations in a person’s life. Even crotchety old me can appreciate the luminescent, almost mystical, hopefulness of a bride or groom; in love, committing to a mate, embracing a new future.
What’s not to love about that?