maggi dawn

Royal Weddings and Real Weddings

I remember, in my youth, watching the first hour or so of Charles and Diana’s wedding before, I have to confess, getting bored with sitting in front of the telly (it was a lovely hot sunny day) and taking my bike out for a ride along the coast road. And in my very tender years, it was footage of Princess Anne’s wedding where I first heard Widor’s famous Toccata.
Royal Weddings are like fairy tale fantasies – no expense spared. The dress will be amazing, unique, a closely guarded secret until the day; the guests will be expensively dressed, the transport will be golden coaches and smooth limos, the food – which the hoi polloi won’t get to see, of course – will no doubt be out of this world, and the champagne will flow like rivers. Lucky them. I wish them well.

But I hope that this vision of excess is recognised to be a rarity, not a model to imitate. I officiate at quite a few weddings each year. I see some couples who have waited five years to get married while they save up for the dream day, and some who are having a wedding to die for knowing they’ll be adding another fifteen grand to their already creaking student loans. But a lot more who – rather apologetically – get married within budget. Don’t apologise! It’s the only sane way to do it. Of course you want to celebrate – marriage is important and wonderful and you want to do all you can to give it the grand seal of approval. But it doesn’t have to cost you a fortune, and really shouldn’t leave you in debt.

At the wedding rehearsal I sometimes encounter stressed out brides or grooms who are worried about all the details coming together on the day. I have a mantra for them. “All I really need is my partner, the vicar and two witnesses. Everything else is extras.” I remind them that although the flowers will no doubt be lovely, no-one will actually mind if the freesias are left out – because all eyes will be on them anyway. But I often mention the mantra further back in the process, when the plans are being laid. You don’t need to have a wedding feast that breaks the bank, I tell them. Simple food is OK. Even just cake and bubbly is OK. There’s no need to feel obliged to lay on what you can’t really afford. The guests come to see you get married, not have the dinner of their dreams.

One of the best weddings I ever went to had bangers and mash for the wedding breakfast; everyone instantly relaxed, took off their jackets and started laughing and chatting. It was a fantastic party. Another couple I married decided that they already had enough towels and cutlery between them, so they asked everyone to buy them a goat, a well or an education package from Oxfam. The groom’s speech included an announcement as to how many goats they had given away, how many wells would be dug, and how many children would go to school in celebration of their marriage. It was a golden moment. Her dress, incidentally, also came from Oxfam – not second hand, but one of the end-of-range dresses that big companies donate to Oxfam’s bridal shops. The dresses are cheaper than usual, and the profits go to Oxfam. And the top tip for cutting the costs is not to get married on a Saturday. Reception venues are way cheaper on a Friday or a Thursday. The lowest budget wedding I ever attended was in the Church Hall (a very smart one!) and all the guests were asked to bring a dish for the reception instead of a gift. The couple were both on their second marriage; they had two houses full of stuff and they wanted to invite ALL their friends. Bring-and-share took on a whole new meaning. It was fantastic.

God bless Kate and Will. I hope the sun shines on their day; I hope even more that they have a long and happy marriage. But for the rest of us – don’t let’s get sucked into the idea that you have to spend a fortune to get married. All you really need is the couple, the vicar and two witnesses. Everything else is extra.

triumphal entry? or pilgrimage?

A couple of years back, researching for my book Giving It Up I read a fair few scholarly tomes on the gospels, particularly those parts that relate to Lent and Holy Week.
One interesting idea I came across was that Mark’s account of the Triumphal Entry – if you read between the lines – seems to suggest that Jesus and his disciples were joining a pre-planned march that was -at the outset at least – nothing to do with Jesus, but was a regular pilgrimage. He was joining everyone else on a pilgrimage to look forward to the hoped-for Messiah, the coming “Son of David”. It was only on the way down the hill that attention focused on Him – or perhaps even it was only in retrospect that his followers looked back on that day and put all the pieces together, realizing that the Son of Man and the Son of David were indeed one and the same.
Triumph and humility are ideas that flow in and out of the gospel accounts. But on the whole Mark didn’t tend to write about triumph; he wrote about Jesus from a very human point of view. Jesus’ feet seem to touch the ground properly in Mark’s writing; he eats real food and drinks real wine. Nothing ghostly about him. So was he riding in triumph? If he was, I guess he wouldn’t have chosen a baby donkey to ride on…  It makes more sense to think he was – with everyone else – looking forward to a day when God’s peace and justice would triumph over the chaos and pain of the world. I wonder how clearly he saw on Sunday quite how much that hope would cost him by Friday?