You will hear it referred to as the “big day” over and over again. It’s your wedding. Maybe you have dreamed about it ever since you were little, or maybe you never considered it at all until you met just the right person. Either way, the question has been popped, the families have been informed, and now you have a wedding to plan. Reading bridal magazines and etiquette books can make anyone go a little cross-eyed. There seems to be an avalanche of information bombarding engaged couples regarding the whys and wherefores of every tradition. But, what if none of that appeals to you?
If the thought of a palatial grand ballroom makes you cringe, or if a guest list stretching out into the hallway has you panicked, fear not! This day is about you, your partner, and absolutely nobody else. Small weddings are a lovely, low stress and intimate alternative to today’s grand celebrations. In this outline, we have a few pointers and ideas to get you started.
Breaking the News
First things first, you need to meter the expectations of those around you. So often, the word “wedding” conjures up images of huge, catered affairs with flowers, photographers and live music. If you and your partner want to avoid all that, it will help if your guests have some advance warning. Begin by telling those closest to you that you sincerely want this to be a small affair, and that you are not likely to change your mind. Being firm but friendly up front can help avoid quarrels later on with folks who always envisioned you exchanging vows in front of your kindergarten classmates, the entire neighborhood association, and everyone at the office.
Saying something along the lines of “We are planning an intimate ceremony, and a small reception,” is usually enough to get the point across. If anyone objects – something you may need to be prepared for – consider telling them why the smaller ceremony is so important to you. “We are saving for a house,” or “My partner has not yet finished school”, or “We only want the most important people in our lives there as a witness. Including you,” are typically great deflections to drawn out explanations.
Choosing the Ceremony Venue
Once everyone is on board (or at least understanding enough to let your have your day, in your way) it is time to think about where you want to have your marriage ceremony take place. If you are only planning on having 20 people in attendance, a large church, synagogue or other place of worship might seem cavernous. Many venues offer a “side chapel” or similarly pared down alternative, and this might be the way to go.
Religion not your thing? You could opt for a Justice of the Peace ceremony. These typically take place in an office at the county courthouse, and are perfectly sized to accommodate the happy couple plus a few key witnesses. Otherwise, check on the marriage certificate laws in your area, and see what is legal. Can you have a dear friend officiate the ceremony in your back yard? Can your mother oversee the nuptials right in her living room? Depending on the laws in your area, there may be far more options available than you think.
Also, with the fuss of a larger wedding out of the picture, there is more room to consider fun alternatives to the classic weding structure. Why not have the guests mingle beforehand with wine, cheese and a crudité? Why save the limo for just the bridal party? You could opt to have the entire wedding transported by trolley, horse and carriage, surreys, or another fun alternative.
Choosing the Reception Venue and Theme
This section could also be titled “Decide if You Want a Reception At All”. There is no rule holding you accountable for throwing a five-hour party afterwards, but most people do usually expect some kind of celebration to mark the occasion. The good news is that you can get creative with this too.
If “small wedding” means “very few guests” to you, then this could be an excellent opportunity to personally honor and thank them individually after the ceremony. The flash and glamor of larger receptions might be what sells, but an intimate and personalized reception might mean more to both you and your guests. You could ask each guest to make a small speech, rather than letting just the Best Man or Maid of Honor run the show. Allowing each person to have the chance to share your special occasion might go miles in terms of them feeling personally included. You could also do little things like provide each guest with a favorite dessert, or play a favorite song of theirs. When there are only a handful of people to consider, you can ensure each and every one of them is represented in your reception.
As for where to have the party, the options are as limitless as your imagination. Personally, I have attended wedding receptions which took place on brick patios, in back yards, and one under a picnic pavilion at a municipal park. In each of those unique situations, never once did I think “This would have been better in a hotel”. When you have only those closest to you sharing in your reception, you can get a little more “you” about it.
Ask me about the time I attended a “Halloween Costume” wedding, a bridal speakeasy, or the time the groom strolled past a line of classic cars, all driven by his mechanic friends. These are the ceremonies that stick out to me, because they absolutely matched up with the personalities of those being married that day. There was no obligation to keep up appearances in front of coworkers or distant relatives, because in each case, the couple had invited only those closest to them. Everyone was completely at home there.
Consider where that special place might be for you, and see about having your wedding there. You may be surprised to find that everything from your favorite hiking trail, to the beach where you first kissed might be amenable to hosting a reception – especially if it is going to be a small one.
Feeding Your Guests
One of the biggest advantages to a small wedding is that the catering bill can be small to nearly nonexistent, depending on how you want to run things. Weddings with hundreds of guests may boast everything from butlered hors d’oeuvres to chocolate fountains, but they also come with a frighteningly hefty price tag. If that isn’t what you are after for your celebration, don’t be afraid to think smaller.
A “buffet” can easily be arranged with sterno lighters and pans of lasagna. A selection of yummy, comfort food favorites in crock pots will more than fill a small crowd. While you may not want to be so bold as to request that your guests bring food, pot luck style, there is no reason to think they wouldn’t enjoy an economical, but abundant deli tray, accompanied by a homemade cake. A cookout, a fondue party, or even a table for 10 at a local restaurant are all perfectly acceptable options when you are dealing only with a small crowd.
Commemorating the Day
If you want to spring for a professional photographer, they are usually well worth the money. However, there is no reason some amateur, candid shots can’t hold the same magic when you and your partner look back on this special day. Seven or Eight years ago, you might have wanted to hand out disposable cameras and asked your guests to snap away. Nowadays, everyone has a smartphone, so why not encourage creative documenting of your ceremony and reception via the iPhone? You can even create a hashtag for your wedding, and encourage guests to tweet their photos.
Signature boards, a ceremonial tree planting, hand prints in plaster, photo booths, or even hiring a sketch artist are all fun and unique ways to commemorate a small wedding. When there are only a handful of participants to consider, suddenly your options open up, and you can get more inclusive.
What to Wear
Now for the best part: the wedding wardrobe. This may be the defining factor for a couple considering a small wedding. If there are only going to be a few of your closest friends and family there, you are probably off the hook for a cathedral length train on a 5,000 dollar gown. Let the earlier points be your guide to the perfect wedding ensemble. If you choose to get married on a beach, perhaps consider a shorter length sundress and a simple hairpiece. For the men, go with a breathable linen suit, or even shorts instead of a stuffy tux. Go barefoot, go neon, go punky, heck, go in togas if you want to!
When you have only your nearest and dearest to consider, your small wedding really can be personal, meaningful, and all about you.
Looking for some more event planning tips? Read up on some great wedding ideas on the Udemy blog!