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Special Roles for Grandparents

Martha Stewart Weddings, Summer 2004

Most immediate family members have traditional roles to play on the wedding day: The bride's father escorts her down the aisle, the groom's mother shares a dance with him at the reception, and siblings are often included in the wedding party. In some cultures, there are also customary roles for grandparents: In Jewish wedding ceremonies, they walk in the processional, entering second, after the rabbi and cantor; as part of a traditional Chinese wedding, the bride and groom may serve tea to their relatives, including grandparents. Many brides and grooms, however, are unsure how to include these special relatives. Here are some suggestions.

If you simply want to acknowledge your grandparents as honored guests, you can have corsages and boutonnieres made for them to wear. You might also arrange for the ushers or groomsmen to escort the grandmothers, with the grandfathers following, down the aisle to the front of the seating area. Writing a dedication in your program is an opportunity to let them and your other guests know just how much their presence is valued.

A written dedication is also a thoughtful way to pay tribute to a grandparent who is deceased or unable to attend the event. Or you might light a candle, or display a small arrangement of your grandmother's favorite flowers, to honor her. If you choose to make a donation in your guests' names instead of distributing wedding favors, you might choose a charity that has some connection to a grandparent who has passed away. You can let your guests know of the donation and its significance by mentioning it in the wedding program or printing up cards to pass out at the reception.

When Victoria Nymeyer married Michael Short in May 2003, in Upper Arlington, Ohio, she carried five white roses in her bridal bouquet -- one for each of her grandparents who had died. "They were such an integral part of my life, and I wanted them to be represented and to feel they're near to me on that day."

For the bride, a grandmother is a wonderful person to ask for "something old" or "something borrowed" to use on the wedding day. If you're lucky, your grandmother's dress or veil, the tallith used for your grandparents' huppa, or their cake topper might be available to use. If not, see if you can borrow something more current, such as your grandmother's pearl earrings or one of her handkerchiefs to wrap around the stems of your bouquet. When April DeVall marries Michael Ferguson in Morgantown, West Virginia, this August, she will have her grandparents' wedding bands tied to the ribbons of her bouquet. "It's a great way for me to honor their marriage and have 'something old' that's really special."

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If your grandparents have been married for decades, acknowledging their union at your wedding is a way to illustrate the meaning of the occasion. One way to do this is by displaying photographs from their wedding at your reception, on the seating-card table for example. At their wedding in Minneapolis this July, Heather Behnke and Johnny Grant plan to have their officiant offer a blessing for Johnny's grandparents to honor their 63 years of marriage. Says Heather, "We feel it's important to recognize their commitment, and we hope that doing so will bring us good luck in our marriage, too."

Your grandparents' wedding might even influence your own. Peruse their old photographs, and talk to them or other family members about the details of that day. What song did they first dance to? What flowers did your grandmother carry? These are simple, sentimental touches you can recreate at your celebration.

For their wedding this June in Columbus, Ohio, Kelly Harper and Brendan King chose to take their vows at the church where Kelly's grandparents were married in 1944. "Knowing that my grandparents saw me walking down the same aisle they descended 60 years before was so meaningful," says Kelly.

You might also think about your favorite childhood moments with your grandparents as you're planning your event -- those memories just might inspire a unique detail. At their October 2002 wedding in Princeton, New Jersey, Jeff Eder and Melanie Cutler created a huppa out of branches cut from a tree that Melanie's grandfather and father had planted together 30 years before. "They planted the tree as a sapling in the yard of the house where I grew up," says Melanie. "It always had special meaning to me, plus it is the spot where Jeff proposed."

Consider using a type of flower you remember from your grandmother's garden in your bouquet. If your grandmother's cooking is what you cherish most, ask your caterer to re-create one of her recipes to serve your guests at the reception or for the wedding cake. Your grandmother herself might even volunteer to make your favorite cookies, which you can wrap in pretty packages and give to your guests as favors; include the recipe as a way of passing on a little piece of your family history.

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