. . . Second Weddings: Etiquette, Tradition and Planning

Written by Judy Lewis, Web Mistress
This article is courtesy of Hudson Valley Weddings.

Almost 50% of marriages today involve someone who has been married before, so it's no wonder that attitudes toward remarriages have changed greatly over time. What once was considered no cause for celebration, in the light of a past "failure," has become, appropriately so, cause for celebration of what everyone hopes will be the start of a long, happy and lasting relationship. For the purposes of this article, we do not address second marriages which follow the death of the previous spouse.

Years ago it was appropriate to celebrate a second wedding in a quiet civil ceremony which might have been followed by a small luncheon. The keyword for second marriages was "quiet." Today, it is very much the norm for couples who have been married before to plan weddings just as elaborate as first wedding celebrations might be. Which is not to say that there are not some rules of etiquette and, usually, several dilemmas specific to second weddings. This is where guidelines may be helpful.

Announcing your engagement and impending marriage to the people who love and care about you will, hopefully, evoke the joyful response which is appropriate. There will, however, be some people for whom the announcement will be less than pleasant or even unpleasant, so sensitivity is the key. You will, of course, need to tell your ex-husband. Do this in as matter of fact away as possible, without sharing details. If you have children from your first marriage, be prepared for mixed reviews when you make your announcement. Leave time for questions. Leave time for them to be able to vent their concerns. Try to explain the logistics involved and how things will change for them. If you can put their mind at ease, the transition and the wedding itself will be more pleasant for all of you.

If recently widowed or divorced, etiquette suggests that the actual announcement be made after, not before the wedding. Formal, printed invitations may be sent when there are more than fifty guests. With less than fifty, a phone call is more appropriate. As for an invitation to an ex-spouse the guidelines of etiquette say "no." Many divorced men and women maintain a "relationship with their ex's and in such cases the "rule" is theirs to "break."

Part of the joy of celebrating a forthcoming marriage is the pre-wedding parties. There is no reason to forego either an engagement party or bridal shower for second marriage. If most of the guests at your engagement party attended the engagement party for your first wedding, it's appropriate, but not a hard and fast rule, to indicate "no gifts please," on your invitation. Alternatives to "no gifts please" are a suggested donation to a charity or Promissory coupons such as "one night of baby sitting or dog watching."

Should a member of your family or a close friend offer to throw you a bridal shower, as a second-time bride you may gracefully and gratefully decline. If you feel uncomfortable about having a shower, then, by all means, you shouldn't have one. If, however, you accept, you might consider the possibility of having a non-traditional party. It's likely that you already have the china, linens and housewares that you need. It's perfectly acceptable to hold a gourmet food, wine, library (books) or garden shower. These variations on the theme, will provide a bride with items she can enjoy and doesn't already own. The only thing which is unacceptable is to ask for gifts of cash.

One of the most pleasant aspects of a second-time wedding is the ability of the couple themselves to do it "their way." There are far fewer restrictions on the couple because, it is most likely, that they are paying for the wedding themselves. Not having to take into consideration the wishes of parents and the control that holding the purse strings bring, allows the couple to have their taste, their creativity and their character reflected in this style of the wedding. Second weddings still tend generally to be more informal than first weddings, but certainly that's not rule. The sky's the limit with regard to the type of wedding that's appropriate. Consider all the options: a brunch, a theme wedding, a barbecue, an at-home wedding, a beach party or traditional wedding. Probably the only thing to which to pay close attention in the planning of a reception is children, yours and/or his. In the interest of future family harmony, your wedding should be a shared family event. It's most difficult to do this if your reception is informal one, especially if they're young children involved. It's wise to plan a reception in which the children may participate joyfully. If you have your heart set on formal wedding, consider the possibility of hiring child care and have a mini-reception for the children, along with child-oriented entertainment, in another room.

With regards to the wedding ceremony , the second is much like the first. You will need to take into consideration any legal or religious logistics such as a prenuptial agreement, an annulment or a special dispensation. Leave yourself sufficient time to take care of these issues. You will want to discuss the content of the wedding ceremony with your clergy person or wedding officiator, because you may not be comfortable with some of the text. This is an ideal time to create your own special wedding vows, which can incorporate special meaning to both of you. If there are children involved, it's especially important to have them participate in an active way. Junior bridesmaids and groomsmen, a flower girl and ring bearer are to positions of honor in which children can be made to feel an important component in the wedding ceremony. There have been special ceremonies written (check your library and bookstore) specifically to incorporate the melding of families and you may wish to use one of these or write your own. One custom for second marriages with children is to have all the children from both sides participate in a unity candle ritual or a prayer of family blessing. Another custom involves the presentation of a family medallion to each child as a symbol of the new couple's commitment to create a family bond amongst all the children. This is much like the symbolism of the wedding ring for the couple and involves designing and creating a specially inscribed medallion which is presented to each child. The medallion may be accompanied by a recitation which describes a commitment of continued love and family bonding. The ceremony may be followed by joining hands and a prayer of blessing for the entire family.

One last comment about children . . . second marriages can be a really difficult time for them and, in the rush and excitement of the day, they may get lost in the shuffle. It's a nice idea to set up a "buddy" for each of the children, perhaps a favorite aunt or friend they know. Having someone with whom they can share the day in a positive way can be an advantage for both the new couple and the children.

A second wedding is an opportunity for the bride to purchase or borrow something lovely to wear. A tailored suit, an evening dress or a wedding gown are all appropriate attire. Wedding consultants and etiquette experts advise the second-time bride against wearing pure white unless her first marriage was short, or she eloped. Brides who choose white for their second marriages tend to make their choice a less formal, less traditional gown. Most second-time brides are uncomfortable about wearing pure white. If that's how you feel, a shade of off-white or almost any flattering color is fine. Many brides opt to choose a dress which they can wear again after the wedding. A suit or cocktail dress are most appropriate, but pretty much all the borders can be stretched, except . . . etiquette consultants advise that orange blossoms, a symbol of virginity should not be included in the bride's bouquet and a long train or veil are "no-no's." The bride's attendant (just one is most appropriate) should dress similarly and the groom and his attendant should each wear a suit (dark suits or tuxedos for evening weddings). If guests ask, dressy business clothes for daytime and cocktail-type attire for evening are fine. Only a small percentage of second-time brides go all out with a formal gown, train, and "blusher" veil.

What's most important in a second wedding is not so much what you don't do, as what you do! Keep in mind that this is a joyful celebration of new beginnings. Keep in mind that this is an occasion to celebrate with your friends and family. Keep in mind the delicate balance of old and new relationships and levels of comfort and sensitivity. Planning your second wedding with an open mind and an open heart will result in an event that creates special memories for everyone participates in it with you.

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