Whether it’s a grandparent, a great-aunt, an old family friend or perhaps even a great-grandparent, your wedding is a perfect time to express how much you cherish an elder’s presence and respect his or her achievements.
“It’s payback–due gratitude–for their investment, for raising a family and struggling economically to keep a roof overhead,” says Dr. Leo Davids, an associate professor in the school of social sciences at Toronto’s York University, where he teaches courses on family and aging. “Honouring grandparents with some kind of thank-you is like reciprocity.”
Davids says it’s important to include older relatives in a celebration because you never know if there will be a chance to repeat this acknowledgement. “It’s a happy day with everyone in a good mood and it’s a great time for photo ops, reciting a blessing or including vintage paraphernalia.”
Borrow From Another Culture
While honouring older relatives sounds like a wonderful idea, it’s actually not a common practice in traditional Western weddings, that put so much focus on the bride and groom and their respective parents. Elderly relatives don’t really have any distinctive roles or special “duties” when it comes to planning a wedding, unless you take it upon yourself to include them in a significant way.
Borrow inspiration from those cultures that do traditionally pay tribute to respected elders as part of the wedding rituals:
- In some Chinese cultures, a traditional tea ceremony, takes place after the marriage ceremony. The bride pours tea for the eldest married relative first, which, for instance, could be the groom’s grandparents, and then continues to serve down the hierarchy of oldest to youngest.
- Another example is the tribal wedding customs of the Iroquois. On the day of the marriage ceremony, the bride’s mother and maternal grandmother accompany the her to the home of the groom’s maternal grandmother. They offer her a number of wedding cakes carried in a basket–a sign that the bride’s family has approved of the marriage.
- At the end of the Sikh ceremony, the pathi (the man who reads the holy book) asks the parents and grandparents to stand as he addresses them regarding their roles in supporting the couple.
Ideas To Welcome Them and Show Thanks
Cultural traditions aside, everybody can and should show respect for elderly guests who are an important part of their lives. Here are ten more ideas to consider:
1. Ensure Their Comfort: The most basic thing to start with is to make sure the wedding site can accommodate those who may be unsteady on their feet, have wheelchairs, walkers or other disabilities. Seat guests with hearing impairments close to the front or inquire about the availability of special earphones or other amplifying devices. Provide the option of a special menu in case of diet restrictions due to health problems.
2. Play Their Song: Have the band or DJ play the first-dance song from your grandparent’s wedding–it will be a sentimental moment for them and add a personal touch to your reception.
3. Share the Unity Candle: Have grandparents from both sides pass the bride and groom each a lit candle to use to light the unity candle as a symbol of the two families coming together.
4. Enlist Their Experience: Ask an elderly relative or friend who’s been married for a long time to say a few words, deliver a speech, give a toast or recount a humorous story about the key to a successful, happy and lasting marriage.
5. Record the Moment: Ask your photographer to try to get a candid or intimate shot of bride with her grandmother or grandfather and also have a posed picture taken for posterity.
6. A Floral Tribute: Include your grandmother’s or great-grandmother’s favorite blooms in pew markers, your bouquet, corsages and centrepieces.
7. Borrow Something From Them: Fulfill the tradition of something old and something borrowed by incorporating an elderly relative’s hairpin, brooch, vintage hanky or cuff links into your ensemble. In Jewish ceremonies, the kiddush cup is often a family heirloom passed down for generations.
8. Express Your Gratitute: Leave a sentimental note for parents, grandparents and great-grandparents in their respective pews.
9. Make Homemade Bonbonnieres: Thank guests by sending them home with beautifully wrapped treats made from one of your grandmother’s famous recipes–gingersnap cookies, biscotti, cinnamon rolls, crispy chocolate squares–with a tag detailing the no-longer secret recipe.
10. Share the Day: Take a moment on the wedding day to sit somewhere private with a special grandparent. Talk about how you’re feeling, laugh together or simply relax and catch your breath while holding hands.