Christian and I are still dreaming about our wedding day four months ago. It feels like it was yesterday. I guess everyone feels that way, especially after re-playing in our heads the most special, fun and silly moments a gazillion times in the immediate post wedding days. What surprised Christian and me the most, however, was that we did enjoy every single minute of our big day. No lie. You always hear stories about “there will be moments that stress you out”, “you will miss parts of the wedding”, “it goes by too fast”, and “it’s hard to be truly present”. Yet, somehow, we had managed to enjoy every moment. Sounds a bit esoteric and unreal, I know. It actually surprised both of us as well because we wouldn’t claim we are specifically good at being zen and in the moment. So we reflected on specific decisions that helped us shape this unique day, enjoy it to the fullest and be truly present. Here is what we came up with:
1. We wrote our own ceremony and had our best friends marry us: Very early on, Christian and I knew that we wanted our wedding to be as personal as possible. We didn’t want a person we don’t know recite a text that we can’t relate to. So we made two decisions. First, we wrote our own ceremony. And second, we wanted our best friends to officiate the wedding. To get started, we brainstormed what we’d like the ceremony to be: traditional (at least for certain elements like the entrance of the bride), inspirational, emotional, personal but also a bit lighthearted and fun (with certain elements of surprise for us). We also wanted our family and friends to play an active role. I read through various blogs and stitched together a first draft that we iterated on together and with our two friends. Austrian law posed a minor challenge. You need an official registrar to marry you (friends can’t do that like in the US). Our creative solution was to integrate the registrar into our ceremony, limiting the offical part to the “must have’s” only. Our friends practically led 90% of the ceremony but we’d still be able to get officially married. It was a magical 45 minutes. Some highlights included: having my cousin perform the processional and recessional music on classical guitar; standing next to our best friends “at the altar”, and hearing them talk about the meaning of marriage and surprise us with thoughts from the wedding party about us as individuals and as a couple; personally thanking our parents for everything they did for us in our lives; having two married couples come upfront to give us practical advise about marriage; singing a Beach Boys group song together; saying our own personal vows; and jointly laughing over funny (and wise!) Whinnie the Poo quotes. I’m so glad we invested time in the crafting our own ceremony. The process itself was very fulfilling and it made the ceremony more meaningful and memorable.
2. We started the day separately and only saw each other “at the altar”: The idea of not spending the pre-wedding night and morning together always sounded very romantic. When it came down to practicalities, however, I preferred to take our wedding photos before the actual ceremony so that we could extend our time with guests during the cocktail hour. But Christian wasn’t very fond of this idea. So we went with the traditional path. I’m so glad we did as it made the ceremony even more special. I stayed in the hotel the night before the wedding. Christian stayed in our Vienna apartment. When I woke up, I couldn’t wait to read a personal note from Christian. We both gave each other a short letter the day before. It was early in the morning, the sun was rising, it was quiet. And here I was reading some lovely words from my husband-to-be. It was very special to have this moment to myself, being able to enjoy the serenity of it. Funnily enough, we both told each other in our letters to “enjoy every moment of our special day and be present” and “not bother about little things”. I would think about those words throughout the day and the mental framing made a real difference. Also, having some alone time in the morning with my mum, my siblings and two of my best friends created a special bond. Christian had a similar experience, spending the morning with his best friends. All together the morning created an exciting anticipation for the ceremony. And there is nothing more special (and emotional) than walking down the aisle, seeing your husband-to-be for the first time (and vice versa).
3. We made our first dance a bigger, joint project: Every Viennese Ball needs a Viennese Waltz. We needed to step up our dance routine (or develop one in the first place 🙂 ). Instead of doing a quick choreography we decided to go all in and properly learn how to waltz. Not only did we want to enjoy our first dance but also truly immerse ourselves in the classical ball part of our wedding. So we signed up for 10 dance lessons at Val Cunningham’s Dance Loft in San Francisco. What started as a tactical, goal-oriented venture turned into a really enjoyable process of learning a life skill together. And learning how to waltz was like couples therapy. Personalities shine through, moods impact your dancing. Luckily, Val is a great teacher – a therapist and dance instructor in one! It was a great learning experience about us as individuals and as a couple. And besides learning a new skill, we morphed our weekly dance lessons into proper date nights (that we protected from work committments). Being ambitious and a bit nerdy, we kept up the dance practice after the lessons were over. While we improved the dancing, we also kept telling ourselves that the main point is to have fun at our first dance. So we made the pact to call each other out and make each other smile if we’d get too serious or nervous. And that turned out to be key for our first dance. Knowing myself (I’m not a big fan of performing in front of crowds), I thought I’d contemplate about the dance all day long and get all nervous. But it was just the opposite. I didn’t even think about it for a second until it was about to happen. And I think there were two reasons for it. First, we were pretty relaxed because we knew from our practice runs that we could not only pull it off but also really enjoy it. And second, we also used our little, personal hints throughout which made it even more fun. I was so “in the zone” that I didn’t even notice anyone else. It was a magical few minutes.
4. We got a wedding planner (highly recommended, especially for a destination wedding): Not being from the US (where wedding planners are very common), Christian and I never thought of engaging a wedding planner. Besides it not being in our cultural make-up, it seemed an unnecessary expense. Plus, we both are good at organizing stuff so it seemed unnecessary from an organizational standpoint as well. Two months into the wedding planning things were coming along nicely, albeit slowly. The time difference between Vienna (our wedding location) and San Francisco (where we lived at that time) made coordinating with vendors incredibly cumbersome. Plus, the more we got down to the details of our “Viennese Ball” theme, the more we missed some practical and tailored advice. So we eventually decided to go for a wedding planner. We picked “Hochzeitshummel“, a well established company in Vienna, and worked directly with the owner Susanne. It might have been the best wedding related decision we made. Besides tapping into Susanne’s vast vendor network and getting additional creative advice, it was her deep experience that helped reassure our decisions and put our minds at ease. Working with us in the months leading up to the wedding she was on top of all the logistical details. We bascially just needed to sign off on decisions. More time for us to spend with family and enjoy the pre-wedding weeks to the fullest! Another key part was the day-of coordination. If we wouldn’t have taken a wedding planner, we would have definitely booked a “day-of coordinator”. For one, we didn’t want to ask a family member or friend to take on such a big task but rather have them fully enjoy the wedding and party with us. Plus, having someone professional do what they are trained to do put our minds completely at ease. We fully trusted Susanne to execute on our plan and troubleshoot where necessary. During our wedding day, Christian and I didn’t think a minute about the time or the next agenda point. Rather, we were just living in the moment, relying on Susanne to tell us what came next 🙂
5. We made a conscious decision to “be present”: Prior to our wedding, we kept asking married couples about their wedding day. Any advice they had for us thinking back to their own celebration? Almost everyone told us “You will get dragged into so many different directions. Try to take a step back, a few minutes, to take everything in because it will go by so fast”. “Don’t worry about the details.” That was some interesting food for thought. Especially for us, as we are both somewhat perfectionists and want things to go according to plan. So in the weeks leading up to the wedding we kept talking about how to be present. And we found that there is really no magical recipe. It’s all about our mental state. While we would do our best in the planning phase, we decided to not think about the execution anymore once the wedding festivities started on Friday (and left everything to our wedding planner). It was a pact. And we stuck to it. We both included a little “be present” reminder in our personal Saturday morning letters to each other. We both reminded ourselves during the ceremony (e.g., to look out over the crowd acknowledging all the people that came a long way to celebrate with us). We snuck away right after dinner for a short 5 minutes stroll around the premises to take a step back and reflect on what was happening. We had our little code words during our first dance to make each other laugh and have fun. All in all, I was really surprised by how well our “pact” worked. In the end it was all about managing expectations. I’m glad we took the advice from others on this point and consciously thought about being present beforehand.
Every wedding is such a unique celebration. There is a lot of advice out there on all the “should’s” and “should not’s”. In the end, it’s all about personal preferences and what matters to you. If I would pick only one takeaway from our wedding, it’d be to “be present and enjoy the moment”. To that end, do any preparation and engage anyone who will help you “be present” on your wedding day, and you will no doubt enjoy this special day to the fullest.
*** Special acknowledgements to all the people that helped make this day special:
- Wedding planner: Susanne Hummel & Team from Hochzeitshummel
- Hair and Make-up: Stefanie Lichtenberger from Mist Stockholm
- Photography: Endre from Birta Photography
- Flowers & Decoration: Dagmar Mair from Blumenagentur
- Classical Orchestra: Barbara Helfgott and Rondo Vienna
- DJ: Axel Becker from Becker Events
- Dance classes: Val Cunningham from the Dance Loft in San Francisco
- Classical guitar during ceremony: Gudrun Otten
- Registrar: Tanja Reifbaeck from Standesamt Moedling
- Our “co-officiants”: Shilpa Jhunjhunwala & Paul Davison
- Contributions during ceremony: Molly & Joshua Goshorn, Verena Raschke-Cheema & Bobby Cheema
- Carrying of veil: Teeba Alkhudairi
- MCs: Bobby Cheema and Martin Raschke
- Speeches: Andreas Raschke, Vincent Wong, Shilpa Jhunjhunwala, Verena Raschke-Cheema & Martin Raschke, Paul Davison, Michelle Zatlyn, Teeba Alkhudairi & Patricia Otero
- GoPro & Drone Video Footage: Basel Dahleh, Dan Abramson and Jamie Sutherland
- Photobooth: David Abramson (software), Martin Raschke (design & set up)
- And last but not least: our families and all our guests for making this an unforgettable day!