Isn’t this a wonderful photograph? Aren’t you already there walking down the aisle or sitting in a chair watching this beautiful ceremony unfold? As a wedding officiant, almost all of the weddings I do are outdoors, rarely do I get to officiate indoors. And, I have to be honest here, none of them have looked like the romantic and stress-free pictures in Bridal Magazines. Not that they weren’t all beautiful and special in their own way, but there were significant challenges in many of them.
Based on my adventures I have to admit I both love and fear outdoor weddings.
To show you what I mean, let me take you behind the scenes of a few weddings I have been involved with:
Photo Credit: Matthew David Celbrations
The Coast at Santa Cruz, California
The ceremony was to take place on a bluff overlooking the ocean. It was part of the California State park system that could be rented for weddings so the bride was confident in her choice of venue. When we arrived for the rehearsal on the day before—the beautiful bluff was a construction zone complete with portable toilets! Tears, panic, frantic phone calls. The lumber and machinery were moved immediately down the block but the portable toilets had to stay. The bridesmaids sprang into action and created a bride hard hat with veil and flowers and a groom hard “top” hat. Cute signs were painted and hung on the doors. We then just used the toilets as part of the scenery. It added a touch of whimsy and the guests enjoyed the disaster to triumph story.
Field in Lyons, Colorado
The theme was Colorado Ranch—hay bales were used for seating and the wedding was set for 4 pm. Now for those of you who don’t live in Colorado, we have afternoon thunder showers a lot of the summer but August is usually safe. As I was driving to the wedding site a few hours before the guests would arrive-- a sudden rain storm began and it poured and poured. By the time I arrived in Lyons, the bride and groom and all the attendants have been frantically covering everything with plastic sheets and then uncovering the hay bales to dry as the clouds dispersed and blue skies returned. Shattered nerves, tears and tension. We walked around, broke out a bottle of champagne early and each had a very small class to toast the sun. Laughter returned as the grass warmed and fears abated. As for the ceremony, the weather was perfect, the bride and groom were radiant, and the slightly damp guests loved the hay bales.
Farm Wedding Venue, Niwot, Colorado
When I walked the outdoor venue site with Marianne and Doug, it looked perfect. The ceremony would take place in a lovely location in front of a barn that would be used for the reception afterwards. There were sweet arbors for the wedding party to walk through and grass where the guest chairs sat. They even had outdoor electric plugs for microphones as the ceremony included a part for the guests to come up and give a blessing to or tell a story about the couple. I was very impressed.
The wedding was set for the end of September which is usually mild and comfortable. For some reason it didn’t concern me that there was no shade.
My first hint that there might be a problem was when I arrived and realized that it was already 90 degrees and we hadn’t hit the hottest part of the day yet. Fast forward to the ceremony which is going well but it is really, really hot--over 100 degrees. Then the blessings and stories began. Marianne and Doug had seriously underestimated how much their family and friends loved them and loved them getting married. They had thought only four at the most five people would speak, well, try twelve with more lining up when I gently prodded the MC to end. By now I was seriously over-heated as were the bride, groom and guests. We finished and it was wonderful but it took us all awhile (and lots of water) to recover.
Hard Won Advice
So what have I learned from these experiences? First, when you are using outdoor venues, know that you might face unexpected situations but that if you pull together (after the tears and panic) there is usually a way through. I have never had a wedding that didn’t end up beautifully even when it looked doubtful.
Secondly, mother nature is mischievous here in the states and you never know what you may be facing. Unexpected rain, wind, hail, fog, heat and humidity top my list--have contingency plans for all of them. I always rehearse the back up plan along with the ideal plan so that we are prepared and can guide the guests calmly if we have to move to plan two.
Lastly consider everyone’s comfort—shade, program fans and small bottles of water for each guest really help all to enjoy this wonderful and timeless celebration.
A final footnote, if you have your heart set on an outdoor wedding, go for it. And if you end up facing a daunting challenge just remember that what looks like a tragedy can be turned with humor and ingenuity into unforgettable moments that everyone reminisces about with great joy.
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