Going to a Wedding in Indiana
This is in my Learning Indiana series, for people new to the Hoosier state.
Weddings are a big deal in any culture, Indiana included. However, while still important, weddings across the US have lessened in the fuss around them for a variety of reasons (e.g. couples are waiting longer to get married, the cost of hosting a marriage is more, and the size of community has shrunk significantly).
Weddings are usually private affairs, limited only to family and close friends. The average wedding size is be 50–200 people. Anything over 200 is a large wedding.
While second weddings happen, they are usually even smaller affairs, limited to extremely close family and friends.
Elements of the Wedding
There are three main phases to a wedding in Indiana.
Rehearsal and Dinner — This happens the night before and involves only the “wedding party” (bride/groom, bridesmaids, groomsmen, and family that is active in the wedding). Everyone walks through what will happen the next day and do a modest amount of practicing. The whole process takes an hour or so. Afterwards, everyone eats together.
Ceremony — This is the part where a minister or ‘officiant’ leads the couple through a series of rituals. This is what you’ve seen in movies. Ceremonies are pretty structured and usually short, lasting about 30–45 minutes. (Catholic weddings might be a bit longer.)
Reception — This is the party held after the wedding, usually at a different venue. There will be food (either served or buffet style), and often dancing and other cultural traditions.
Due to the small guest size, it’s a big honor to be invited to someone’s wedding. When deciding on a guest list, money is a big consideration, and each individual guest is calculated. So, if you make the cut it’s a big deal.
Many times you will get invited to the reception, but not the ceremony. This is typical and doesn’t reflect on your relationship at all. Sometimes, the reception will be on an entirely different day, especially if the ceremony happens in a different state or town.
Your invitation usually comes in the mail. Check for these things:
- Who is the invitation addressed to? If it is only your name, then only you are invited. If you have kids, you need to check to be sure that kids are welcome to come as well (sometimes they aren’t). If it says “and guest”, then it means you can bring a date.
- Do you need to RSVP? Usually the couple wants to know exactly who will be there. Always RSVP as soon as you can. Sometimes you can also choose your meal entree as well.
Here are some serious taboos around invitations:
- Don’t show up if you weren’t invited. If someone is extremely close to you and talks openly about the wedding in front of you, but you didn’t get an invitation, you can always ask, “Have you already sent out the invitations?”, which gives the option to either correct the mistake, or politely confirm that you aren’t invited.
- Don’t bring extra people to the wedding without asking. Let’s say your parents are visiting you at that time. Be sure to ask your friend if it is ok for you to bring them along. Mostly the answer will be yes, but you still need to ask.
Don’t take it too seriously if you don’t get invited to a wedding. Let’s say you’ve been working with your Indiana boss for five years or more. Your boss always invites you and your family to a yearly Memorial Day cookout, and has even had your family over for a private dinner once or twice.
You find out that his daughter’s wedding was last weekend, but he didn’t invite you, and your annual appraisal is next week. Should you be nervous? Did you do something wrong?
Not likely. Some people keep work and personal lives separate, or realize that if they invite one work colleague, then they have to invite 30, and they don’t have the budget for that.
Most of our major taboo rules about weddings all come back to the fact that weddings are expensive. While true across the world, very few families actively save money to put on a large wedding for their children.
If the couple is relatively young (let’s say 27 or less), then the parents are probably shouldering most of the bill. Traditionally, the bride’s family pays for all the wedding day expenses and the groom’s family pays for the rehearsal dinner, but this isn’t always the case.
If the couple is older, there is a good chance the couple is paying for some if not all of the expenses around the wedding.
Unless the family is very well-off, the wedding is usually a balance of “how much can I get for my budget”. Thus, most wedding plans start off grand and then shrink down in size (and then expand again in the last week).
Cultural Elements to a Wedding/Reception
There are a lot of traditions that surround both weddings and receptions. Some are more traditional, some are more modern. Some are religious in nature, most are not (strictly speaking). No wedding/reception will do all of them. You would have to go to about 20 weddings to see all the variety, and even then, many couples like to do unique things that no one else does.
Cultural Stuff at a Wedding Ceremony
- Sign the guest book when you come.
- If there’s an usher, sit where he assigns you. Some weddings will have you sit either on the bride’s side (often left), or the groom’s side (right).
- Stand with everyone when the bride enters the room, but don’t stand before the mother of the bride does.
- At some weddings, as the couple walks out, you may be given bubble, flower petals, or bird seed to throw at them. We used to use rice, but most don’t use that anymore as it isn’t good for birds.
Cultural Stuff at a Wedding Reception
- Bring a gift. Don’t bring it to the ceremony, but only to the reception. In your invitation, it will often list the place where the couple is ‘registered’, which means they’ve pre-selected gifts they would like from a particular store. Go to that store (or to an online link), and pick out one that matches to the price range you’d like to spend (depending on how close you are). Otherwise, get a card and put some cash in it. Don’t bring a gift they did not register for unless it has some great personal significance.
- Bring cash. Some weddings have something called a “Dollar Dance” where you pay some cash for a chance to dance with the bride or groom. The money is used on their honeymoon.
- An “open bar” means anyone can get as much alcohol as they want. “Cash bar” means you pay for your own alcohol. Sometimes you may get a ticket to get your first drink free and then you have to pay after that. More than likely someone will get at least a little drunk at an open bar.
- Learn a few dances ahead of time (more to come on this)
- There are some traditional dances that take place like the father-daughter dance, the mother-son dance, and the couple’s first dance. There’s also one where all married couples are invited out on the floor. Then the DJ will call out a certain number of years and if you have been married less than that, you must leave the dance floor. It continues until the couple that has been married the longest is left.
- Some receptions will include throwing the bride’s bouquet. Any single women (usually starting at around 15 years old) are welcome to come out and try to catch it. The folklore is that whoever catches it will be the next one to marry. Thus, most people act very reluctant to grab the bouquet, except for one person who acts very aggressively to try to get it. Sometimes, the bride’s garter (traditionally used to hold up her stockings) will be tossed for all the unmarried men. However, it’s much more common that the garter falls to the ground without anyone trying to get it.
- If people hit their silverware against a glass, they are trying to get the newly married couple to kiss.
- The couple is usually very busy greeting people, but always try to at least say “congratulations” in person before you leave, mostly so that they know you came :-).
If you get the chance, always attend a wedding, as you may never get the chance to again! Have fun, be loose, and create some great memories!