Weddings return to full bloom
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Weddings return to full bloom

Observations on the joys and perils of the new-old normal

Esther and her daughter, Elana, stand together at Elana’s wedding.
Esther and her daughter, Elana, stand together at Elana’s wedding.

Trees are budding, winter snowbirds are returning from down south, and weddings are back in full bloom.

Over the last few years, when everything changed, so did the nature of weddings. During the pandemic, they often were kept to a bare minimum, with just family and a few friends. Now, though, we’re back to larger-scale weddings, bringing together friends and relatives from many places.

East meets west, north meets south. People attend from all locations and directions. It’s a wedding melting pot.

We’ve missed the joy and drama of weddings, the pleasurable and intense several hours, starting with the reception and badeken, then the chuppah, followed by the meal, dancing, and dessert.

For me, there’s nothing more exciting than the badeken, the Jewish tradition where the groom covers the bride’s face with her veil. He is ushered into the room by friends and family with great fanfare, and led up to the bride, who is awaiting his approach. Musicians are blaring horns in the background, guests are smiling, clapping, shedding tears of joy, and straining to get closer to watch the drama unfold. As the groom reaches the bride, the atmosphere in the room exudes much excitement, hope, and good wishes for the new couple. It all builds to a crescendo when the groom covers the bride’s face with the veil, whispers into her ear, and turns around to prepare for the chuppah.

But it’s been awhile since we’ve seen that, and we’re rusty preparing for dress-up ceremonies. Before even stepping out the door, critical decisions need to be resolved.

What will I wear?

We’ve been wearing casual clothes for so long. There hasn’t been anywhere to go that’s even close to fancy. Now, though, it’s time to cast aside those cozy clothes and the durable, warm, and strong-like-bull black tights.

A few months ago, I bought a new dress for no particular occasion. I bought it just because the colors were so beautiful, and I hadn’t bought a dress in a while, and it fit. A rare combination. The dress hung in my closet for months, waiting for an opportunity to be worn.

Finally, I took it out, cut off the tags, and got ready.

At the reception, there’s a definite reunion vibe, with groups of people seeing one another again, catching up as we crawl out of our turtle-covid shells. Weddings are places where light chitchat and small talk reign supreme, along with a minefield of potential faux pas remarks. It’s so easy to step in it.

Mingling in a sea of people while balancing a food-laden plate is not a simple feat. I pass various smorgasbord stations, searching for sushi and familiar faces, and trying to stay stain-free.

Alas, I finally found familiar faces in the crowd, but I haven’t seen those people in some time. There’s some hesitation. How do you smoothly initiate light chitchat with people you haven’t seen in several years?

After the mandatory hellos and how-are-yous, though, the conversation gets off to a fine start.

Clothing is a very neutral topic.

“I couldn’t find my stockings or my makeup,” someone said. “I don’t wear either for my job.” “I’ve been working at home on Zoom, and dress casually,” said the other.

Then we proceeded to talk about our families, which also is relatively safe territory.

All around there are clusters of people, shiny, polished, and put together. Men wearing dark suits and ties, some in tuxedos, and looking just so dapper. Women in sparkly dresses and chunky jewelry are strutting in high heeled shoes.

May I say a word about those spiky shoes? Although I prefer feeling safe and near the ground, I know that some women wear heels gracefully. I tip my hat to them. And I look up to them — literally — while craning my neck to have a conversation all the way in the stratosphere.

I’ve tried wearing high heels because they’re just so darn pretty, and they give an outfit a sleek look. But I just haven’t mastered the art. I’m also afraid that someone will yell “timber!” at the sight of me wobbling along. Opting for low pumps, I wonder how these high-heeled ladies aren’t grimacing in pain as they walk, and how they even smile, like they’re actually enjoying themselves.

When it’s time to welcome the new couple, however, and the wedding guests form circles for dancing, it’s not so pretty being stepped on by a high heel. It’s utterly painful. I saw stars when it happened to me, and not the good kind. Someone said her mom had a serious foot injury from being stepped on during dancing, and that she required antibiotics.

So I change from my low pumps to flats to be able to dance comfortably. The trend of changing into flat shoes is picking up, and I’ve seen women wear sparkly sneakers too, although plain sneakers also work well. Because when we’re dancing, everyone just wants to relax and have a good time.

If you enjoy watching people, weddings are perfect playgrounds. There have been many beautiful moments from the weddings I’ve recently attended. There was a family dancing around a mother who had been ill, and there were friends showing pictures of new family members. Reunions with friends from long ago were filled with bittersweet thoughts. Why haven’t we kept in touch? Can we resume our friendship?

Awkward moments also were in the mix. As I looked for a seat at the chuppah ceremony, I saw that a few people were saving places by laying shawls across several chairs. Now, I don’t have a problem with saving one seat, but four or even five? At the least, it’s poor wedding etiquette. Where’s Emily Post, the etiquette guru, when you need her?

It was annoying, and although I was itching to say something, I moved on. Sometimes, it’s best just to let it go, and move further down the aisle.

After the chuppah, finding the table for the main meal was challenging. I knew my number, but because I had left my reading glasses at home, it was hard for me to match the actual table. I kept wandering around, poking my head close to tchotchkas displaying table numbers, which are printed in unrecognizable fonts. (Party planners, can you please use normal and readable ones?). Finally, a sympathetic waiter pointed in the direction of my table, where my husband already was seated.

“Where were you?” Mark asked.

“I took a walk. Where’s the wine?”

Then there’s the bride and groom walking hand in hand, greeting the guests at the various tables. Sharing their first few hours together as a newly married couple, they’re glowing with love and happiness, and you just smile watching them.

Mazal tov to all the couples!

Esther Kook of Teaneck is a reading specialist and a freelance writer.

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