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
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."