Its OK to say I dont — even at your own wedding

As you get ready to enter the altared state of marriage with a ceremony full of customs as old as the rite itself, consider the wedding traditions to which you'll say, "I do," and those to which you'll say, "I don't."

Or, better still, "I won't."

Some brides blush at the thought of having their garter removed in an indecorous manner, while others boil at the notion of having their first bite of cake smashed against their lips.

What to do? Don't fret. Ms. Matrimony is here to help. Dear Ms. Matrimony,

I want my wedding day to be perfect, but I am disturbed by one thought: How can I avoid a brawl when it comes time to toss my bouquet? — Troubled Dear Troubled,

So you want your wedding day to be perfect? Girlfriend, Ms. Matrimony has two words for you: E-lope.

Seriously though, carrying flowers — symbolic of fertility and everlasting love — has long been a bridal tradition. And, it seems, a pretty good tool of self-defense.

In order to escape after the marriage ceremony, the custom of tossing a bouquet of flowers came about to allow a bride a means of distracting a mob of "well-wishing" villagers eager to tear away bits of her clothing, hair ribbons or flowers to keep as good luck charms.

Today it's thought that whoever catches the bouquet will be the next to marry. So, as for avoiding an ugly scene among bridesmaids wishing to be the next bride, take some simple advice from Beverly Clark, wedding expert and author of the best-selling wedding guidebook, "Planning a Wedding to Remember."

The bouquet toss is an event for women of marrying age, says Clark. If the toss is going to be staged, Clark suggests that an announcement be made beforehand inviting single ladies only to participate. Or think about some other options.

"As you're going out the door or as you're running out to the car, toss it whimsically behind you," Clark says.

"I'm a firm believer in taking traditions and making them your own with your own style and personal touch."

Dear Ms. Matrimony,

My fiancé, Bob, and I just attended a friend's wedding where her new spouse removed her garter with his teeth and tossed it to a slathering crowd of bachelors. Bob laughed so hard champagne shot out of his nose. He said he couldn't wait for our wedding. Help me. — Horrified Dear Horrified,

My goodness. Gauche garter games? Slathering bachelors? Champagne out the nose? Ms. Matrimony isn't sure where to begin with this one. Are you sure your friend's wedding wasn't being taped for an episode of "America's Tackiest Home Videos"?

While one might hope that another's social graces would reach a higher standard during an occasion such as one's wedding, one may be hoping for, well, too much.

Perhaps some more words of wisdom from the wedding expert are in order.

"Some people are choosing not to follow some of these traditions," Clark says. "My feeling is, if you're going to do it, do it with some respect."

Usually worn in blue on white, symbols of fidelity and purity, the garter is now nothing but a leftover since the advent of pantyhose.

Historically, it's a custom that has not improved much with age. In more randy times, the garter was snatched from the bride's leg and worn as a prize. Today, the removal of this intimate item can still make brides blush when grooms are encouraged to perform the custom accompanied by bump and grind music.

Clark advises prudence.

"If you choose this tradition, do it tastefully," she says. "When it gets tasteless, it's not appropriate at a wedding."

And neither is Bob's champagne spouting. But that's another matter.

Dear Ms. Matrimony,

My wedding is next month and the best man seems to be practicing vulgar limericks instead of a wedding toast. What can I do to avoid burned toast? — Burned Toast Dear Burned Toast,

Hire a hit man for the best man? No, I suppose not. But, honey, you are in danger of being roasted instead of toasted at your reception.

You may long to hear a simple proverb, such as "The heart that loves is forever young," or even a bit of poetry, like "Grow old with me, the best is yet to be." But instead you end up with "There once was a gal from Nantucket."


"The toast should focus on wonderful memories and good luck for the couple," Clark says.

She suggests giving the best man a book of toasts or writing letters or poems to each other that you would read aloud at toast time.

Ms. Matrimony, being the literary type, likes the book idea. Try "Wedding Toasts and Speeches — Finding the Perfect Words," by Jo Packham (Sterling/Chapelle). It's loaded with quotes and speeches that are full of wisdom, humor and comfort. Or, "Toasts," by Paul Dickson (Crown). It boasts more than 1,500 toasts and blessings that are both funny and sentimental, for all occasions.

If that doesn't work, Ms. Matrimony knows a guy in New Jersey. Dear Ms. Matrimony,

My sweetheart and I have promised each other we won't smash cake on each other's faces at our wedding reception. But now my bridesmaids are trying to convince me otherwise. What's a girl to do? — Tempted Dear Tempted,

Your wedding cake, symbolic of prosperity and fertility (again with the fertility!), is the first thing you and your spouse will share as a new couple. Your first bite should remind you of the sweetness of the life you will be sharing. If you want to spoil that, go ahead. It's your call. But Ms. Matrimony will be very disappointed if you do.

Again, Clark encourages couples to educate themselves about the meaning behind the custom.

"Get back to the meaning of the tradition," she says. "You're united now and sharing what life has to offer."

Finally, Clark reminds couples they shouldn't feel bad about which traditions they choose to honor and which they choose to leave out.

"There's nothing set in stone. Come up with some traditions of your own.

"Look to your heritage and incorporate something meaningful," she says. "It's your day."

For help understanding the history behind wedding customs, try "A Bride's Book of Wedding Traditions," by Arlene Hamilton Stewart (Hearst Books), full of suggestions for filling your wedding with meaningful traditions and customs that span cultures and centuries. And the "Bride's Little Book of Customs and Keepsakes," by the editors of Bride's magazine (Clarkson Potter), provides useful background and makes a nice gift. Ms. Matrimony hopes we've all learned a little something.