Although you can, if you like, ignore the need for a wedding list and perhaps even survive the resultant chaos, the same cannot be said of the need to write thank-you letters. It is so obviously discourteous and hurtful not to thank people who sent you presents that you should be especially careful not to leave anyone out. Whenever possible gifts should be delivered well before the date of the wedding itself and thank-you letters sent personally and promptly, making mention of the gift and something complimentary about its appearance and usefulness.
A methodical approach to the letters is the only answer. Whenever you receive a present, make a note of what it is, who sent it and when it arrived. Write to the person concerned as soon as possible, thanking them for the gift and put a tick against their name when the letter is in the post.
This task traditionally falls to the bride, but if the bridegroom has received any personal gifts, he should reply himself.
Displaying the Presents
It is natural for the guests to want to see the wedding presents, and a display may be arranged at the reception or in the bride's parents' home. There are certain risks involved, however. If the display is to be at an outside reception, perhaps at a big hotel, there may be a chance of some petty thieving from uninvited 'guests'. Moreover, you will be effectively advertising the contents of your future home to anyone who happens to be in the vicinity.
For that reason, it is usually safer to stage the display at a private house. The only snag is that some guests feel embarrassed to see their own relatively inexpensive presents ranged against other more valuable items. It will help if you dispense with the usual custom of using name tags to accompany the presents; if cheques have been received, you should set out cards stating simply 'cheque from ...' without divulging the amounts. The same applies to a display set up at the reception.
THE ENGAGEMENT RING
The giving of an engagement ring is an ancient custom; it is the token of the pledge the couple make and announces to others that the woman's affections are already engaged. It is always worn on the third finger of the left hand. It used to be the practice for the man to present the girl with an engagement ring if she accepted his proposal; today, as mentioned earlier, most couples choose the ring together.
THE WEDDING RING
The act of giving a wedding ring or the exchange of rings is at the heart of the church marriage service and is a part of its ritual and tradition. The wedding ring does not have to be a new one; it can be a family heirloom, an old or antique ring. Wearing the wedding ring before the ceremony is considered unlucky and there is a superstition which says it is unlucky to buy engagement and wedding rings on the same day. Even so, when buying the wedding ring it is a good idea to see if it looks well alongside the engagement ring.
You can follow fashion when choosing the wedding ring, but often a simple, traditional style proves to be the best choice, never looking old-fashioned even after many years.
It is not necessary for the bride to give the groom a gift, but a ring or some other item of jewellery often forms part of the ceremony these days.
DRESSING FOR THE OCCASION
The Bride's Dress
For a church wedding, the traditional dress is white with a train; the dress covers the bride from neck to wrists and ankles, though it may have a see-through net area from collar to bust. A veil is traditionally worn for modesty. There is no ecclesiastical objection to women marrying in trousers but most ministers (and brides) probably prefer to see a dress. Older and second-time brides are entitled to wear white if they wish, though cream is a more usual choice.
It is a custom that the bride's dress is kept a secret before the wedding for good luck.
Choosing a wedding dress that will look and feel absolutely right on the day is one of the most important (and enjoyable) decisions the bride must make during the run-up to the ceremony. The long wedding gown is still very popular and many brides marrying in a register office or on approved premises choose a traditional wedding dress, though probably without a train or long veil. White is still the main choice of color, even for some brides who are pregnant or when the bride and bridegroom have been living together before the wedding.
Wedding dresses can be hired, bought ready made or professionally made for you by a dressmaker. Alternatively, a close friend or relation may offer you the use of her wedding dress. This may be a very good proposition if the style suits you and if any necessary alterations are minimal.
The eventual choice will largely depend on the significance you attach to the dress itself and the sort of wedding you want. You may opt for a traditional white silk or lace dress with headdress and veil, or choose a different color such as cream or oyster, or a patterned dress.
Whichever kind of dress you choose, give yourself plenty of time to look around and try on different examples. You should also allow time for the dress to be altered, if necessary, or made, if you are having one specially designed.
Outfits for Women Attendants
A matron of honor is a married woman attendant; a maid of honor is an unmarried woman attendant. If there is a matron or maid of honor as well as bridesmaids, she will not wear the same dress as the younger attendants.
Dresses for the Bridesmaids
It used to be the bride's privilege to dictate entirely the style of dress worn by her bridesmaids and it was traditional that she or her family paid for them. Today they have a say in the matter and most bridesmaids at least contribute to the cost.
After consulting the bridesmaids, the bride chooses their dresses (and the pages' outfits), the main criteria being that they should complement her own wedding outfit. A dramatic contrast in color, for example, will do little to enhance the bridal procession - or the wedding photographs. It might also look a little odd if the bride appeared in a plain dress while the bridesmaids were adorned with frills and lace. Bear in mind, too, that bridesmaids vary in size, shape and coloring. You are trying to find something to suit them all, so avoid too much finery, or colors that are too strident.
Outfits for the Mothers of the Bride and Groom
In order to avoid disappointment and embarrassment, the mothers should liaise. The bride's mother has first choice.
Male members of the wedding party include the bridegroom, the best man, the ushers and both fathers, all of whom should dress with the same degree of formality. When the bride wears white traditionally the groom should wear morning dress, and other male members of the wedding party should follow suit. Theoretically, all male guests ought to do likewise, although in practice it is usually only the immediate members of the family who wear this costume.
Generally, morning suits are either all grey, or consist of a black tail coat and pinstripe trousers. They look good in the wedding photographs with traditional accessories such as hats and gloves, although these can be rather a nuisance with more time spent carrying them and getting them mixed up than actually wearing them. The groom and his party are not actually required to wear their top hats, although morning dress is considered incorrect and incomplete unless hats are carried.
Morning suits may be hired or bought off the peg, or you could have one tailor-made. For the majority, however, hiring a suit will be the best answer. Remember that the summer months are the most popular for weddings and formal social functions, so reserve your suit well in advance.
The favourite alternative for most weddings is a well-cut two-or three-piece lounge suit, which will form a welcome addition to the wardrobe after the great event. The principal men should take their cue from the bridegroom when deciding what to wear; they should not outshine him on the big day.
Clothes for Guests
The invitation wording should indicate correct dress. A reception after 6 p.m. can mean evening dress. 'Black tie' means that men wear a black dinner jacket and bow tie; women wear long or evening dress.
The rule that all women in church wear hats has been relaxed, but because of tradition most will like to do so. Similarly, the convention that only those women guests who are in deep family mourning should wear black is no longer observed.
Outfits for Double Weddings
The whole bridal party should dress with the same degree of formality.
Flowers are a very important part of every church wedding. Usually there will be bouquets or posies for the bride and bridesmaids and buttonholes for the principal men, and the church and reception area will be decorated with displays. There may also be sprays and corsages for the two mothers, and the bride may wish to wear a head-dress of fresh flowers or attach just one flower to her hair or veil.
At one time it was considered obligatory for brides to carry white bouquets, but now almost anything goes. A fairly large bouquet suits a formal long dress with a train; a neat posy complements a shorter dress. Bouquets are traditionally carried by the bride and bridesmaids.
Buttonholes are usually worn by the principal men of the wedding party who normally wear white carnations. The groom, best man and fathers sometimes have double red carnations; ushers usually have single red or white buttonholes. The men's buttonhole flowers are worn on the left.
The bouquets can be chosen from a selection of designs suggested by the florist, who will also be the best person to ask about suitable flowers for the church and reception.
If the arranging is not to be carried out professionally, the flowers may still need to be ordered several weeks in advance of the ceremony, especially if the preference is for unusual or out-of-season flowers. They should not be collected until one or two days before the wedding, when the larger displays are arranged. The bouquets, buttonholes and other dress flowers are usually delivered or collected on the morning of the wedding and the dress flowers are distributed at the church before the ceremony.
It will be necessary to get the permission of the minister to decorate the church, so arrange a time when this can be conveniently carried out. He or she may be able to suggest someone who can help in return for a small donation.
It may also be possible to combine with other couples who are getting married in the church on the same day; the minister should be able to supply names and addresses.
When choosing the flowers, remember to take into account the character and size of the church and reception areas. A large, formal display, for example, would look out of place in a small room or a country church. It is also a good idea to have a theme -of colors and/or varieties - running through from the bride's bouquet to the flowers used in the church and reception. As with the wedding dresses, aim for a sympathetic blend of color and form.
If the wedding is to take place in a register office, it may already be decorated with flowers. Check with the Superintendent Registrar. If not, you may be able to arrange for a simple display to be set up before the ceremony.
If the wedding is to take place on approved premises, the proprietor may include the provision of flowers for the register room and reception. Check with them. If not, again you may be able to organize your own displays.
Your wedding day will be one of the most memorable days of your life, so it is imperative that you have a beautiful set of photographs to remind you of it.
A professional photographer should be your first choice and you may find that some acquaintance who has recently married can recommend one. Otherwise try looking in the windows of local photographers and see if you can pinpoint anything in the display of their work that attracts you. Ask to see further examples of work and start comparing possible costs.
You will need to agree with the photographer beforehand any specific photographs that you would like to be taken before, during or after the ceremony. Check with the minister or with the proprietor of the approved premises as to whether he or she imposes restrictions on photography inside the church or register office/ room.
In addition to the official photographer, relatives and friends will want to take photographs, but they must not be allowed to interfere with the work of the official photographer. The best man or an usher should politely advise guests.
If the photography is entrusted to an amateur, he or she should be reimbursed for the cost of the film.
If you are contemplating video coverage of your wedding, you will have to make inquiries of a number of people who offer this service. It may be financially advantageous to use the same firm to take both the still photographs and the video. Once again you will need the minister's or registrar's approval, since the video team may need to visit the church or approved premises to test not only for lighting, but for angles and sound.
Even if the engagement has not been announced in a newspaper, many couples like to insert a notice (or send a card) giving the time and place of the forthcoming wedding, to appear a few days before the date, so that any casual friends and acquaintances may, if they wish, join in wishing them well at the church, register office or approved premises. Suitable wording would be:
Mr and Mrs David Smith are pleased to announce the marriage of their daughter Patricia to Mr Robert Brown at 2.45 p.m. on Saturday, 27 April at All Saints' Church, Kingsgrove. All friends welcome at the church.
Newspapers usually have their own style for entries, so check in the selected one for suitable wording.
The newspaper may also publish an account of the wedding, sometimes by sending a reporter/photographer, but more often by issuing a standard form to be filled in and returned with a photograph after the wedding.
CHECKLIST: SUGGESTED WEDDING LIST
Many of these ideas can be divided into several specific suggestions, for example, glasses can be divided into the various types you would like. You may wish to specify particular colors or styles you would prefer for many items. You will also need to consider the more personal gifts you would like to add.
Baking tins and trays
Table and chairs
Deep fat fryer
Storage jars and tins
Garage, Garden and DIY
CHECKLIST: THE PHOTOGRAPHS/VIDEO
Select and book photographer
Select and book video team (if different)
Obtain minister's/registrar's approval for ceremony video
Arrange programme of sequential items for video
Photographs may be requested of:
Bride's dressing table
Before leaving for the wedding
Leaving the house
The best man and groom before the ceremony
Arriving at the church/register room
Inside the church (with minister's permission)/register room
Signing the register (with minister's permission)
Leaving the church/register room
Bride and groom
Couple with parents
Couple with best man, bridesmaids and pages