There's a song I used to listen to when I was a teenager, the chorus repeated several times in tinny, screechy ska-punk shout: "Traditions seem to stick to you just like crazy glue." It seemed as though the singer intended that line to be cutting, to be a jab at an ex girlfriend who held too tightly to anything, everything, but - as the awkward and antagonistic Athena I've always been - I could never get myself to hear it as anything other than the best kind of compliment. Traditions stick to me, too. I love everything about nostalgia and repetition, doing things that are steeped in history and ripe with story and lineage. I wear my grandfather's hat and bake with my grandmother's recipes. My winter hats and mittens are stored in my mother's cedar hope chest and my daughter's play in a replica of my Dad's old teepee. I love history - mine and the world's - yet as a thirty five year old human woman who is venturing into her own skin for the first time in, well, ever, I finally understand the cutting intention of that chorus. Traditions, while aligning perfectly with everything I love about them, are also, oddly, meant to be broken.
As a wedding photographer I see tradition every Saturday: a white dress and a fitted suit, flowers on the lapel and in hand, a walk down an aisle and back again, a first dance and a new last name. Lately, however, trends and traditions seem to be shifting. Many couples are choosing to make their own traditions; to have their wedding reflect exactly who they are and how they love rather than mirror the ceremonies that have come before them. Some opt to walk down the aisle together at the beginning of the ceremony, signifying they are entering the marriage together and neither one is being "given away," while others choose to forgo the wedding party and stand alone as they wed. When pressed, the answer is almost always the same; the couple simply wanted their wedding day to reflect the marriage they hoped to have rather than a new version of an old tradition. My couples don't plan weddings, they plan marriages, so their weddings needn't be a modern classic - it can, instead, be a festive gathering celebrating their love with the people they love most in the world (or, in the case of elopements, no one at all).
If I've learned anything as a wedding photographer, as a storyteller, it's that tradition isn't some static, constant, concrete thing. It's fluid and malleable. It can be - and mean - anything. Tradition, by its very definition, is the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation. Each person has their own lineage, their own past, their own beliefs handed down through the eons of time and space. When two people come together as a new family it would be logical for their traditions to become new to them. To become a beautiful mixture of two histories strung together to create a new whole, a new tradition, an entirely new origin story.
Your wedding doesn't have to be anything in particular. It doesn't have to meet some magazine's checklist of "should do's" or match some inherent criteria of perfection. It can be and look and feel like whatever you want it to, that's the beauty of it being yours; there is simply, profoundly, no wrong answer. So go ahead and choose a gown that isn't white. Get married in the middle of the forest somewhere. Choose herbs instead of flowers (or none at all!). Walk down that aisle together (both ways!) and dance with each other and then everyone else, too. Close your eyes and dream about your wedding day - about your marriage - and try as hard as you can to let go of the voice that tells you what you're supposed to do or have or be or feel and give in - wholly - to your heart.
Don't plan your wedding around magazine features or details or all of the things that don't actually matter in the grand scheme of you and your partner and your story. Don't worry so much about the perfect outfits or color schemes or shoes or tie clips, but about living out loud inside every ounce of your story. Your wedding is about so much more than tradition - it's about kindness and grace and spontaneity and humor and dancing and family and commitment and fighting like hell for love.
Do your best to remember that the truest beauty - the heart of your story - exists not only in what you see, but in everything you feel.
Emotion, connection, love - these are the building blocks of every tradition and are worthy of being passed on from generation to generation through all eternity.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Athena Pelton is a photographer, storyteller, motorbiker, and self-professed do-it-all-er. She creates with a fervor and zest and her work embodies a tangible, heartfelt passion. Recently her writing was recognized by NPR and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. She lives near Minneapolis with her husband and two wombfruits.