wedding weekend: the celebration

Planning a barn party in mid-December in Virginia is a little tricky. Would it be 70 degrees outside? Would we have a foot of snow? Would it be pouring rain? Would it be bitter cold with wicked winds? Since we couldn’t know, we braced for cold and crossed our fingers it wouldn’t be too bitter.

We rented (and borrowed) eight propane stand heaters, plus a couple other odds and ends heaters. We had boxes of handwarmers and mountains of throw blankets. Visually, we tried to create a warm, cozy vibe with sofas and a carpet, lamps, straw bales, electric candles, poinsettias, Christmas trees, white table clothes, and yards upon yards of fairy lights. (The hanging ball lights and some of the central lights wrapped around posts and crisscrossing the ceiling were already there.)

Turns out, it’s a good thing we prepared for the cold! The day prior was in the 60s, but the high on Sunday was the low 40s with a brisk, icy wind. The heaters raised the barn’s temp a good ten to fifteen degrees and, even though it was still cold, those who dressed warm and made it a point to seek out the warm spots reported they were quite comfortable.

At about 11:30, guests began flooding into the barn and, soon after, the newlyweds arrived and we all cheered.

At noon, the festivities began in earnest: my son and daughter-in-law welcomed everyone and introduced the order of events.

Her younger sister led everyone in a brief meditation, and my husband and I spoke, too: through tears, my husband expressed how incredible it was to see our children cared for, and surrounded by, such a large community, and I explained the food. And then my side of the family sang I Thank The Lord My Maker, a prayer song that we often sing at our family gatherings.  

This was my first time catering a meal (though it didn’t even occur to me that’s what I was doing until a few days after the event, ha!), and hot beverages and cauldrons of soup — Italian wedding, chili with all the toppings, split pea soup (made by my daughter-in-law’s mother and raved about by many), and sausage lentil — were key in the stay-warm plan. (That last soup was born out of a [foolish] panic that there wouldn’t be enough food, and then I rushed it and the onions didn’t soften properly, so the next day I made another 7 gallons of the soup, this time cooking the onions into caramelized oblivion, and it was perfect. The not-wedding-perfect soup we put in the freezer; my younger son labeled the containers “soup of despair” and “soup of sadness” and “soup of tears” and “soup of shame,” which pretty much summed it up, though he should’ve labeled one of them “soup of rage.”) 

Even though I was pretty darn organized and prepared — aside from that (unnecessary) last-minute soup scramble — everything kinda fell apart in the transition from house to barn. Thank goodness we had two families who agreed to do serving duty! They jumped right into the chaos and carried the party like they owned it. Whenever my husband or I walked into the kitchen area to check on things, we’d be met with, “Everything’s good. We’ve got this. Go.” Their take-charge confidence soothed my rattled nerves tremendously.

During the meal (and at every other free moment), I tried to talk with as many people as possible. Even so, there were so many I didn’t get to talk to which left me feeling a little verklempt — this, I think, must be the curse of a wedding. 

Visiting with my daughter-in-law’s extended family members, learning their names and how they were all connected, was one of my favorite parts of the whole day (and the evening before, too). What a treat to finally get to meet these incredible people! I had so much fun visiting and laughing with them so much laughing! — bonding simply because one person from their family and one person from our family had fallen in love. Which, when you think about it, feels nearly preposterous. . . or magical. 

Both the newlyweds are the oldest of four siblings (though hers are each a year or two older than mine), and watching all the siblings enjoying each other was special. Afterward my kids were like, “When can they all come over again?” Which was exactly how I felt, too.

After the meal, sharing time.

My brother was the moderator. He opened the time with an altered version of Country Roads that he’d written, sung by my brother and sister-in-law, my younger brother, our uncle and aunt, and two of their boys. I laughed the whole way through, and at the line “seems like yesterday,” I nearly shouted, “It WAS yesterday!” 

video credit: my younger brother’s partner

(Just watching that now, pre-posting, both my husband and I teared up … again.)

A few people had been tapped ahead of time to share something. My son’s mentor and his partner sang a love lullaby, they same one they’d sung to my son and his fiancé when they’d told them they were engaged. 

My parents had prepared a little talk which was quirky and hilarious and brutally honest: about how my son and daughter-in-law are not going to like each other all the time, about keeping perspective in the awful moments when teetering on the pit of despair, and how, after falling in said pit, one goes about climbing back out. They talked about coping with the other’s “revolting habits” and “hateful traits,” and how to deal with the normal romantic crushes that crop up.

Throughout, they quoted famous people: each time my dad held up a sign bearing the name of the person they were quoting and my mom scurried over to the couple to give them a corresponding gift. (I still haven’t seen them yet, but they’re framed something-or-others.)

What a riot!

We weren’t sure anyone would share during the open mic time, but we needn’t have worried. Aunts and uncles, parents, cousins, siblings, and friends streamed forward to give advice and shared appreciation.

My son’s friends talked about the time they built a zipline (and the broken butt that resulted) and about the time my son tied one of them to the clothesline pole with an entire roll of duct tape and then cut him free with a machete.

My daughter-in-law’s siblings regaled us with a hilarious story of a camping trip gone awry that ended with park rangers having to come get them. 

After the sharing, my brother and sister-in-law performed a set of their music for everyone, their wedding gift to the couple who had selected all the songs in advance.

The music was exquisite. Take the Chance made me cry, and then, during Harvest Moon, my son and daughter-in-law surprised and delighted us all by getting up and dancing.

The festivities wrapped up soon after. The temperature was dropping rapidly, some people had long drives ahead of them, and we were all pretty much whupped. We took care of the food, off-loading a whole bunch of it to friends, and went home to tackle some preliminary clean-up (we’d do the bulk of it the next day/week) before falling headfirst into our beds. 

The end.

The majority of the photo credits go to my younger son and daughter.

This same time, years previous: a Christmas spectacle, right now, balsamic-glazed roasted butternut squash and brussel sprouts, 2016 garden stats and notes, cheese ball, hot buttered rolls, dancing mice and other Christmas tales, thrills in my kitchen.


  • Becky R.

    This post made me cry, but in a good way. What a lovely way to celebrate a marriage. This whole process from beginning to end has been done in such a wonderful way and having the community come together like this is priceless. I, too, would be interested in your parents wisdom.

  • Cheryl

    Simply beautiful! From the smiles to the song to the love in the room! Thank you for sharing with us! Best wishes to the happy couple and may we all live in peace and harmony!

  • Pauline in Upstate NY

    Jennifer, I cannot imagine a more special, personal, loving wedding celebration than this… So, so beautiful. And, yes, you were all exhausted and had red eyes from crying and had aching cheeks from smiling so much. Totally worth the effort, and the bonus was that the team effort bonded the *families* as well as the couple. Well done, you ALL!

    One question: if anyone either audio or videotaped this, would your parents consent to your sharing their presentation of marriage wisdom for the newly married couple? Those of us who have been married long enough to have children of marrying age can always pick up some new ideas from others. I’d love to hear what they said.

    And one last comment… I have realized this year that three of my all-favorite bloggers are FRIENDS! How cool is that??? (You, Mavis, and Jane)

  • Mama Pea

    I don’t know how you made it through without becoming a blubbering mess. I cried through this whole darn blog post. Congratulations to all of you on this wonderful event!

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