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ZIMMERMAN: I now pronounce you man and wingnut

WHY the current mania for lavish weddings? With the divorce rate usually hovering around 50 per cent, it's puzzling to witness North America's obsession with expensive gowns, $15,000 cakes and other pricey details that nobody but the wedding host's c

WHY the current mania for lavish weddings?

With the divorce rate usually hovering around 50 per cent, it's puzzling to witness North America's obsession with expensive gowns, $15,000 cakes and other pricey details that nobody but the wedding host's creditors will remember in a month.

Reality TV shows don't help, with titles like Say Yes to the Dress and Bridezillas encouraging horrifying temper tantrums in women who, if they keep up that nonsense, will certainly be escort-free by New Year's Eve.

But then, unlike youngsters nowadays, I didn't grow up in a culture of over-the-top nuptials. I remember being mystified the first time I went to a reception where every guest got a matchbook with the bride and groom's names emblazoned on it. I was even more befuddled when I got to an Italian reception and was presented with a gift. It was a nice gesture, but why?

They were already giving us a multi-course meal and the pleasure of seeing them beam with joy.

In my family, people kept their receptions pretty lowkey and close to home, if not right on their own property. I remember my fiance's dismay when he discovered that we wouldn't be having a sitdown meal or a live band at our modest wedding outside my parents' old house in Ottawa. Stanley came from Ukrainian stock, and his family's norm was not only a big dinner with free drinks but also a midnight buffet, and it wasn't a wedding without a live polka band.

Our compromise was tea, sandwiches, wine and Frank Sinatra tunes outdoors in the afternoon, with relatives and friends taking the pictures.

After the wedding, most of us young people went to my uncle's cottage in the Gatineau hills for an informal party with vats of homemade curry. We danced to taped music on the stereo. We couldn't have had a better time and polka was blissfully absent. That was 30 years ago as of last Tuesday.

Meanwhile, chez Kardashian: How long did that lavishly launched union last - 72 days? Here's the thing that many couples don't seem to realize: The objective of a wedding is to celebrate the start of a marriage. The reception is not itself the destination, it simply kicks off the couple's journey in the most hopeful way possible. Your friends and family, if they're worthwhile human beings, care only about your delight - not whether you or your parents are rich enough to afford lobster entrees for 600.

I used to write features for a wedding magazine. It was a fun gig, interviewing newlyweds about how they'd met, decided to marry and staged their celebrations.

These were all positive memories, of course. My favourite stories, though, were the quirky ones. What fun is there in hearing "Well, we hired a wedding planner and had a $75,000 event that went off without a hitch"? Oh, you rented a Bentley and your girlfriends turned green with envy.

Whoop-di-do.

Compare that yawn with the tale of two artists where the groom had built the recycled metal arbour for the knot-tying venue in Roberts Creek, the men in the wedding party all wore Adbusters rubber and hemp sneakers, and the couple's first dance turned them into whirling dervishes, literally, since she was a professional Sufi trance dancer. That event sounded warm, personal, and full of fun, like the weddings I've enjoyed attending most.

Another way to distinguish your event is to make sure somebody at it behaves foolishly. Years ago, I wrote a piece full of true anecdotes for Chatelaine called Weddings From Hell. From the groom who, out of habit, groped his bride's breasts in her white gown when he kissed her in front of the church congregation, to the guest who got drunk at a fancy reception, stripped down to his boxers on the dance floor, and deliberately flipped the $1,500 cake, these examples of hitchin' hitches made you realize that actually, at a wedding, perfection should not be the objective.

Which occasion is more resonant for everyone involved: the one where the bride gleams as perfectly as Gwyneth Paltrow on Oscar night and the speeches are as blandly generic as cold KD, or the one where, just after the bride and groom make their triumphant exit from the church, the best man finds he's locked the keys inside the getaway vehicle?

In my favourite tale from that Chatelaine piece, a Winnipeg bride pulls off her long white gloves to gobble down a burger between the ceremony and the reception and, in doing so, accidentally tosses her wedding ring into a field. Some 50 guests get down in the dirt to find it.

Her groom discovers the lost ring and, on bended knee, proposes to his brand new wife all over again.

This isn't even the worst of their day's many gaffes.

During the picture-taking, a seagull lets loose on the bride.

To my mind, that's a wedding, and I suspect that couples who re-tell their wedding story with good humour rather than bragadoccio are more likely to have accumulated lots of happy times together since.

kate@katezimmerman.ca