Sunday, May 16, 2010


Since I am now embarked on planning a wedding for this September, I am struck by how standardized expectations and expenditures have become for weddings. The average expense of an American wedding, it seems, is 27,800 dollars.

In colonial times, wedding practices varied considerably. According to David Freeman Hawke’s historical survey Everyday Life in Early America, northern weddings depended on the customs of the English, Dutch, or German settlers who practiced them.

In the South, with more dispersed communities, the wedding “was usually held in the home and was an occasion for the gathering of the neighborhood and the clan. After the minister completed the ceremony, the festivities began—card playing and dancing, followed by ‘an elegant supper, a cheerful glass, and the convivial song to close the entertainment.’”

On the other hand, in New England “the Congregationalists held that nothing in the Bible designated marriage as a religious rite—even pagans got married—and they made it a civil affair officiated by a magistrate.”

In one case, a couple who were living together out of wedlock were confronted on the street by a magistrate (as recounted by Arthur W. Calhoun):

“John Rogers,” he said, “do you persist in calling this woman, a servant younger than yourself, your wife?”

“Yes, I do.”

“And do you, Mary, wish such an old man as this to be your husband?”

“Indeed, I do.”

“Then by the laws of God and this commonwealth, I, as a magistrate, pronounce you man and wife.”

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