to theme or not to theme

When my sister was planning her wedding, the venue liaison asked what her theme was going to be.

“My what?”

I’d been helping her plan her wedding every step of the way, and it never occurred to either of us that the day needed a theme. Color scheme, sure. But a theme? Isn’t the theme for any wedding simply: “Hey everybody, we’re getting married and we want to celebrate with you!” Something like that? A chance to witness the union of two souls, if you will. A good reason to drink champagne, eat cake and dance?

Little did we know. Most of the weddings we’d been to had been fairly cut-and-dried. Poofy white dress, ugly bridesmaids dresses, cranky flower girl, hammy ring bearer, a canned wedding march and all the other clichés that scream “It’s a wedding, dagnabbit!”

If only we had picked up one of those overpriced, overweight bridal mags earlier in the planning process. Then we might’ve known that a theme is so much more than a choice between church or civil ceremony, indoor or outdoor, day or night, bold colors or pastels.

I think my sister’s wedding theme emerged organically. She married my brother-in-law in a garden setting with a handful of friends drumming African rhythms before and after the ceremony. The ring bearer, my then 6 year old son, got everyone laughing as he eased his way down to the steps of the gazebo for a little nap during the ceremony, and then bolted up when it was his time to shine by passing on the ring. So I suppose their theme was playful spontaneity.

It wasn’t exactly the wedding they had originally wanted to have. (Much like my first wedding, it was the wedding my mother had decided was appropriate for the occasion. If they’d stuck to their guns, they would likely have been married in a remote campground  with an earth-roasted pig, fire dancers and my bro-in-law trying to get everyone to walk on hot coals just for fun.) Despite all the compromises they ended up making, it was a truly memorable wedding after all. Isn’t that all any couple really wants from their big day, something they and all of their guests can look back on fondly?

My first wedding was a bit of a disaster. The ceremony went well enough, but the reception was held up by an overbooked caterer who showed up without the table linens they had agreed were included in the price. When they “rushed” back to their shop to get them, the whole party was kept waiting in the parking lot of the venue for over an hour. By the time everyone was comfortably sated, they were ready to hit the road and miss the best part of the meal — the cake. (That cake was the best wedding cake I’ve ever eaten in my life, and hardly anyone tried it). Maybe it was being kept waiting so long to eat. Maybe it was the fact that my then mother-in-law was the festively belligerent lead singer of our wedding band. Whatever it was, our guests exited in droves well before our time was up. And they could’ve taken some of that amazing cake home with them instead of leaving it with a pregnant newlywed!

So now I get a do over — a second chance at marriage with a man I feel lucky to have found. And, since it’s not a shotgun wedding this go around, we have plenty of time to plan, to DIY, to figure out a wedding theme fitting of who we are as a couple, and not simply what my mother thinks our wedding should be. Mom’s already perturbed by some of our ideas. I guess that means we’re going with a rebel theme, and we’re off to a good start.

What do you think about a potluck reception? Do you agree with my mother and The Knot? Or are you down with mysterious fare?


7 comments on “to theme or not to theme

  1. Laura says:

    I love potlucks! There is always a lot of wonderful food and nobody is stressed out:)

  2. thisbirdflies says:

    Me and Clay already have it planned to contact the people we KNOW are great chefs and asking if they could cater for our wedding for a gift instead of buying us something. I think it would be more memorable and there’s no gift more romantic than food 🙂 As for themes…nah! Once you put a theme to your wedding your horizons don’t expand. You’re looking at them through a toilet paper tube. is a great site to kind of get some good ideas for weddings, colors, and if any themes, subtle ones. Happy planning and Congrats to the both of you!

    • Amber Hudson says:

      Thank you. The bonus for us is that my fiancé is the awesome chef we both know. So if nobody wants to bring food to the potluck, we’ll make sure there’s enough of a few delectable items to keep them all sated.

  3. thebitchybride says:

    Potlucks are when everyone brings a dish right? Go with the potluck! It’ll make it stressfree and informal, and I bet all your guests mingle more than at most weddings because they’ll all be like “Oooh, who made that? … I love this!”

    We considered it, but decided some of our guests had to travel too far for us to ask them to bring anything. Also, the bitchy, greedy side of me was worried we’d get no presents if we asked people to bring food. #i’mabadperson

    • Amber Hudson says:

      My family’s already big on potlucks, even when travelling is involved. However, my mother agrees with you that maybe nobody will want to bring gifts if they’re making food for the occasion. She also thinks nobody will want to bring any food and everyone will be hungry and irritable as a result. (Thanks for the added stress, mom!)

      To counter any and all possible snafus, we’re grilling some meat, making a huge gourmet salad, and a few other side dishes (enough to feed everyone). There will be cake, refreshments and spirits — so no one can say we made them fend for themselves.

      And if people don’t want to bring presents just because I asked them to bring their favorite side dish, so be it. I don’t actually need a new blender (even though my fiancé just broke our last one). Although it would be nice if people showed their appreciation for the effort that goes into putting on a wedding by offering something that lasts longer than a fruit salad.

      • thebitchybride says:

        Wow, it sounds like nobody’s going to starve at least. And I think you’re right, people will still give a little something if they’re nice. I hope people do bring dishes for you, though. It’d be pretty rude not to.

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