My wife and I “jumped the broom” at our wedding reception (a dark side to the tradition is that the spouse who touches the broom will be the first to die). As an interracial marriage, we wanted traditions from each of our cultures and this was one of mine. As were the African dancers. And the live reggae band. (Yeah, I was in charge of the reception). Having been to some bad white weddings and some bad black weddings, and this being wedding season, I’ve been thinking a lot about weddings.

What’s the point of huge weddings? Actually, they don’t even have to be huge, but that doesn’t make them any less stressful. Rehearsals. Wedding coordinators. Bridesmaids dresses. Hair. Make up. Weather (for outdoor weddings). Cakes. Toasts. First dances. Parent-child dance. Reception food. Music. Ending with people saying “whew! Glad that’s over.” And this is for a simpler wedding. Did I mention the stress? The stress that turns the woman you love into a “bridezilla.” The stress that pits family member against family member (who’s paying for what; who does what; who’s responsible, or supposed to be responsible, for what?). The stress stemming from women planning their dream day from when they are little girls.

It becomes about the spectacle.

Part of this comes back to the downside of our ideas of romance. However, sometimes I wonder if we’ve missed the point of what wedding ceremonies are supposed to be about. It’s about coming together with your community – friends, family, church – to swear before them and God to become husband and wife. The community is both witness and participant (not gift givers and food consumers), pledging to be a part of the couple’s lives and to support the marriage. The ceremony symbolizes God’s relationship with us, a mystical union. And it’s about celebrating with friends and family as the couple begins a new life together.

We’ve turned them into these stuffy affairs that many (okay, yeah, me) dread going to. We run around, expending all of this energy for one day, forgetting that marriage is a marathon. All to gear up for one day, the easiest day at that. For those striving to keep their marriage bed pure, we place a needless obstacle of temptation as we take six months to a year to plan a one day event. No wonder many are left with the confusion of “today I can’t have sex, but tomorrow I can. And the only thing that’s changed is a piece of paper?” The piece of paper is important, but more important is the covenant sworn between man and wife. The ceremony includes rituals that point back to the story of this covenant.

There is good ritual and there is empty ritual. Good rituals help us to tell and remember the story being ritualized. It is a symbol meant to point us back to what is being symbolized. Empty ritual is strictly for show. Done to please others or because others want you to do something. We have no idea why we’re even doing them, so we’re just going through the motions. Since there is power in ritual, it’s important to get the ritual right.

I still look back on my wedding reception with fondness. It was a party, pure and simple – and it took six weeks to pull together. Still a bit of a spectacle, but we wanted our friends and family to celebrate. And we left an hour into it. We love our community, but the day and the party weren’t the point. We had the rest of our lives to attend to.