Bridal 2000

Publication Date: Wednesday Feb. 9, 2000

Ties that bind: How local couples are honoring family ties while tying the knot

by Jennifer Desai

For some Silicon Valley bridal couples, declaring their love means declaring their independence from any tradition. Marrying later in life than previous generations and, more often than not, writing the check for the rite, modern couples are calling the shots on the big day. They create their own vows, wear whatever they like, and throw caution to the winds along with their wedding rice, rose petals or birdseed. But for others, saying "I do" doesn't necessarily mean saying "I don't" to Mom's wedding dress, the family's quirky fashion sense, or ethnic traditions ensured to bring a couple wealth and wisdom.

"Modern couples really want to bring their own selves forward in planning their weddings, but often they honor elements from their families' ceremonies, or (find ways to) remember their loved ones," says wedding consultant Annena Sorenson of Palo Alto-based Tie the Knot.

When Christie Shuchat Goodin was planning her October, 1998 wedding, she says she consciously tried to incorporate some family traditions into the day. "When my mom got married, she had the photographer take a picture of her while she was looking in the mirror and straightening her veil. The photographer said people don't choose that shot much any more, but my sister and I both did, as part of the tradition," Ms. Goodin says.

In addition to having a Catholic Mass at Menlo Park's Church of the Nativity, the Palo Alto resident followed another custom -- asking her father to put on her wedding garter. Her own mother, she says, missed out on that tradition, as her father had died some years before she wed.

Articles of clothing have found themselves the subject of family tradition with other couples as well. One groom, recently married at Gamble Garden Center in Palo Alto, kicked off his entry into married life with a Keilloresque sartorial statement: red socks. "For some reason, that was part of his family's tradition, and all the male members of the party were wearing them," says Gabrielle Gross, wedding coordinator for the Colonial Georgian estate.

With 60 to 70 weddings to plan every year, Ms. Gross says she's seen couples toast each other with antique silver chalices used by their parents and cut their cakes with knives handed down from relatives who first used them in the 1800s.

And then there is the rare couple who goes to somewhat greater lengths to honor family ties. "I had a wedding up in Napa recently where the bride's family had gotten married at the same ranch 50 years ago," recalls Ms. Sorenson of Tie the Knot. "The parents wanted the wedding to be very much like their own had been, so the couple agreed to have the tent and the swing band. But they wrote their own vows. They wanted to keep a part of the wedding strictly theirs."

For other couples, it's not family ties but cultural ones they wish to blend into their wedding day.

At Gamble Garden, Gross recalls one couple honored their families' Germanic heritage with Austrian wine and a four-tier wedding fruitcake flown in for the occasion.

For Joe and Doreen Hsy of Menlo Park, who are Asian American, it was the Chinese tea ceremony that expressed their heritage on their wedding day. In that ritual, the bridal couple serves tea to their elders and receives in return gifts of gold and money.

"We wanted to pay respects to our parents and aunts and uncles, who helped us to be the people we are today," explains Ms. Hsy, who has lived in the United States since she was 10. "There are a lot of (Chinese) traditions we didn't do because we didn't believe in them, but we chose the portions we believed in."

While a formal tea ceremony involves a number of specific rules, the Hsys felt more comfortable practicing a shorter, less formal version. For example, while couples traditionally kneel before their elders throughout the whole ceremony, the Hsys chose to kneel to their parents but stand and bow to their aunts, uncles and older married siblings.

Earlier that morning, in another nod to heritage, Joe Hsy had followed the tradition of bringing a cooked pig to the bride's family. "As an exchange for the bride," Doreen Hsy notes with a laugh.

Tosca Clark, a Daly City-based wedding coordinator whose recent clients include Atherton and Menlo Park couples, recalls an Asian-American wedding that incorporated tradition with the help of a little inventiveness. "Part of the tradition is that the bride should travel to the groom's house under a red umbrella, to introduce herself and be welcomed. But we were at a hotel, so the bride walked across the hall, knocked on her groom's door, and she was there," says Ms. Clark. "They were giggling about it, but it was sweet."

Ms. Clark notes that couples also elect to update traditions in many of the Jewish ceremonies she plans. "When they sign the traditional kituba, or marriage pact, or when in Orthodox tradition the woman is supposed to circle the man three times, it's a little different now. Both the man and the woman sign; both the man and the woman circle. It's the tradition, but made more equal," she says.

With so many options and relatively few rules, planners say, having a few traditions as a framework for the wedding can be comforting to the couple as well as the family. "A wedding is the bride and groom's union, but it's also a merging of two families," Ms. Clark says. "It's beautiful to see how different people put that idea into practice."