Category Archives: Alternative Weddings

Solange Marries in Serious Style!

So the blogging world is currently all caught up in the details of Solange Knowles recent marriage to Alan Ferguson, which took place in New Orleans this passed weekend. Knowing Solange and her previous fashion statements, as well as the music she has released, one could have guessed her wedding would be super cool. However, recent photos and reports from the big event have surpassed the expectations of many.

solange and alan

Fun facts from the day include the wedding couple arriving together on matching bicycles, the bride wearing a jumpsuit before changing into a dress (with a cape!) and of course the more predictable but no less exciting fact that Solange wore her hair natural! I’m no fan of the Knowles/Carter branding empire or anything associated with it (that *ish is so contrived..), but I wouldn’t be representing “invisible” brides if I didn’t promote the shear elegance and beauty demonstrated here by a sister so completely at home with her natural self. Additionally, from the sound of it, the wedding was as unique, quirky and special as Solange has proven herself to be in spite of her sister’s constant fakery.

With all that said, congratulations Solange and Alan! I really hope you go on to have a beautiful and long life together.

 

Our top 20 tips for planning a low maintenance wedding!

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Two weeks after our beautiful wedding day, which (apart from an especially cretinous registrar) went incredibly smoothly, we have had some time to reflect on what really made the day a success. Without giving too much away on what we actually did for our special day, we’re here to offer 20 tips to couples following this blog and finding that its message resonates with them.

Beauty Tips for Brides (by Bel)

So much of the media is dedicated to telling brides how they should look and feel on their special day, be it through television shows, magazines or advice columns on wedding blogs. Although much of this “advice” marginalises non-white, non-Western, non-Christian and so-called “plus size” women, as well as anyone who isn’t prepared to break the bank to plan a wedding they picked out of a magazine. In short, unless the bride is a skinny, white European, in a long A-line, Queen Victoria inspired wedding dress, she is not represented very often in wedding media, sending the message that “alternative” brides’ experiences do not matter. There has been some resistance against this however, and a large part of this blog’s aim has been to highlight those efforts as well as provide some sort of antidote. So without further ado, here are my own personal bridal beauty tips, based on what I found worked for me!

  1. If you are not the type of person to wear a lot of make-up on a regular basis or on special occasions, don’t feel pressured into changing it up on your wedding day. People from left to right will begin questioning you on whether or not you have a make-up artist booked, if you’ve bought your wedding make-up yet as well as what kind of “look” are you planning on going for. The thing is, no one thinks to ever ask the groom these questions and I became increasingly stressed about needing to mask my imperfections, especially when a colleague pointed out to me that a professional wedding photographer would be able to pick up everything with their camera. After a mild panic attack in a Boots with my best lady, I realised I had been putting to much pressure on myself and especially after watching this video was inspired to go (almost) make-up free on my wedding day. Instead I opted for a “tinted” face moisturiser before applying the same amount of eye make-up that I would for any other special occasion. I was very happy – and comfortable – with the look!
  2. There was a bit of walking and dancing at our wedding, so I opted to wear flats instead of heals. This was much better for my feet as I was able to keep partying all night long, blister free. Also, I have a beautiful pair of shoes I can keep and continue to wear for the rest of my life! You don’t need to wear sky-high heels to look like a princess ladies, so if you don’t normally like wearing heels or your outfit would look better without them, then just don’t!
  3. Linking in with the above point, I also opted to wear a short (knee-length) and manageable dress. You can read more about my wedding dress dramas here, the main point was in the end I didn’t look like every other bride – I looked like me. It was exactly the kind of really special dress I would have picked out for a really special event rather than something I’d been programmed to want. Also, all through the day, I didn’t have to worry what I was dragging the dress through or if I would trip over it. Finally, I didn’t spend a bomb on it (because it wasn’t labelled as a wedding dress) and due to its style, I’ll be able to wear it again! So if you intend to be quite active on your special day, think about this when picking out a dress and be sure to choose something that reflects you as a person.
  4. Once you’ve figured out what you’re going to wear, choose your bouquet (if you’re having one of course). This way you can choose the flower(s), arrangement and colour(s) to fit in with your outfit. This hadn’t actually occurred to me before ordering my bouquet, until my florist asked me what kind of dress I was wearing. When explained the dress was quite short and colourful, she advised me to keep my bouquet small so as to not take away focus from the dress. In the end, this was really great advice!
  5. Last but not least, if you’re not big on manicures and/or can’t find the time during your busy wedding week to get one, you can do a quick buff & file at home. It’ll give your nails a really healthy and natural look, save you time and money!

Style Tips for Grooms/Brides wearing Suits (by Toon)

  1. To be honest, I felt a bit of pressure to try a new look for our wedding, especially since I knew that the bride would be making an extra special effort. Although not so much emphasis is placed on how the groom looks, I felt the wedding was the perfect opportunity for me to try something new. I’ve more or less had the same hair cut for the last 10 years so it was really nerve-wracking to try something new and I didn’t know where to start. It really helped me to check out the hairstyles of male celebrities with a similar face shape to mine and once I saw something that I really liked, I spoke to my barber about how feasible it would be to grow and cut my hair into a new style. It was really great for me to try something so different to have a really new and special look for the wedding, and yet it was such an easy thing to do, so I would really recommend it to others.
  2. A wedding day is one occasion to wear a really nice suit. Suits (for men) can be quite expensive so unless you’re quite wealthy or need to wear one each day at work, you – like me – might not have a closet full to choose from. Therefore, this occasion provided me with a great excuse to look really sharp in a brand new suit. A lot of wedding media advises grooms to rent their suits, usually because they want to match with their groomsmen. This wasn’t the case for me so I could go all out on a new suit for myself and not only did I feel really great on the day but I now have a really stylish suit in my closet for special occasions in the future. Additionally, for the colour scheme I would suggest trying to be a bit more adventurous than normal if you usually play safe with dark blues or black suits.
  3. When deciding on the colour or style of your outfit, you should ideally take into account what your partner is going to be wearing. This is not necessarily so that you will match, but so that you complement each other and really emphasise the pair that you are on your special day.
  4. If you are intending to get a button-hole for your suit jacket, florists may advise you to take a white rose or orchid as the stems are stronger. As a result, both flowers are now considered to be “traditional”. However, it was more important for me to choose a flower that would match the bridal bouquet and when we explained our ideas to our florist they gave us some tips on how to keep our flower of choice looking perky and happy throughout the day. Generally, you should avoid a very large flower for practical purposes – if it is oversized it is likely to get in the way or start sagging as the day progresses. In addition to choosing a flower that matches elements of the bridal bouquet, you may wish to have a little something extra added to yours to differentiate your button-hole from other guests who may also be wearing one if they are part of the “wedding party”. Finally, we would really recommend based on our experience that you ask for your florist to make you a mock-up of what your button-hole(s) will look like so you have an idea of size & sturdiness ahead of making your final order.
  5. One really good piece of advice we got from a wedding magazine was to wear our wedding shoes around the house a few times ahead of the wedding, in order to break them in without getting them dirty. It really works! Neither of us had heel or toe complaints throughout the wedding day and we were really able to dance the night away too!

Keeping Costs Down in a Tasteful Way

The first thing everyone thinks about when they start to plan a weddingis the budget. Even if this isn’t your first thought, wedding magazines and blogs will quickly remind you that you need to sit down with your intended and both sets of parents to agree on who will be paying for what. We had already decided that we would pay for our wedding ourselves and put into savings toward our honeymoon any contributions our parents made. However, even though we had no intention to splurge, our parents not contributing to the wedding itself had little to do with this choice. We wanted something simple, low-key and personal for our loved ones, rather than an event plucked out of a magazine.

We also didn’t want to spend upwards of €15K simply because it is the expected and promoted cost of the average wedding, according to so-called experts anyhow. For example, wedding planners will tell you that you should pay the extra costs added onto catering, flowers, venue hire, cakes, etc because of the added quality and experience it will provide to your day. Judith Johnson claims that the “wedding markup” is due to paying for the expert or vendor’s time and attention to detail. Conversely, when we’ve been to large, expensive weddings in the past – especially ones that followed a very manufactured formula – we found the event to be staged, boring and awkward. We did things our own way and found that not only did we avoid major costs but we produced a really magical day for our guests and most importantly, ourselves.

Therefore, if you are trying to keep costs low but still achieve that very special moment, we have a few tried and tested ideas for you!

  1. Instead of going to a professional wedding florist for all of our flowers, we had the bouquet and corsages made at our local, neighbourhood florist and bought the rest of our arrangements at a local garden centre. We thought of colours and the preferred size of our arrangements and picked out what we wanted the day before our wedding. From two large, fresh flower bouquets, our mothers arranged all of our table flowers the morning of the wedding. So – we supported local businesses and provided our mothers with a no-stress role in the wedding as well as a bonding moment. For vases, we used little vases and large recycled jars we had laying around the house. It gave our reception room a cozy, natural feel and was very “us”.
  2. We did hire someone to take our pictures earlier in the day and for the second part (dinner and party) we gave a few disposable cameras to our guests. We would advise couples to only do this if they don’t mind too much about not getting many photos of their party as there is obviously a lot of risk attached to this. But we found it a lot of fun anyway and gave our party a super retro feel to go with our playlist.
  3. Instead of hiring a band or DJ, the bride (who was an award winning radio DJ in her university days!) made a playlist and plugged in an iPod. The main draw back of this in our experience was the venue didn’t have a very impressive sound system, so this is something other couples should look into. However we are still glad we did it this way. At one wedding we attended, in spite of being given a very clear playlist, the DJ played whatever he wanted, leaving the bride and groom super pissed. At another, the band took really long breaks, the lead singer read the song lyrics to the couple’s first dance from his phone and again played a lot of music that the couple hadn’t asked for while they completely ignored song requests from the bride. We – on the other hand – made our perfect playlist with all our favourite songs and had a great “Soul Train” style boogie with our friends!
  4. In addition to making our own playlist, we made our own stationary. We designed our own invitations online and used a sample picture taken by our photographer. We also order our own personalised stamps to give it an extra, quirky feel. For our place cards, the bride’s mother put in a lot of work. She had our thank you message printed on the cards by her friendly new neighbour and hand-wrote all of the names out for us to ensure they matched our invitations just enough to look familiar and not too much to seem tacky. We used them as doubles for the favours too, which the bride’s mother also put together for us the day before the wedding. In short, she was our wedding detail superwoman! Thus, there were no markup prices for ordering wedding stationary and everything looked exactly like we wanted it to.
  5. As our wedding was quite an international affair, with family and friends travelling in from all over to be with us, we had quite a few people staying at our house on the days surrounding the day. So getting a “honeymoon” suite for our wedding night was essential. We shopped around and found that many hotels will have a honeymoon package but it’s much more expensive than their other packages without offering much more in return. In the end we had a really wonderful night that was quite costly but definitely worthwhile. So we would advise other couples to scout out a good deal and ask to see rooms first before booking.

Finally, we have a few more little tips to help you keep your day truly about the two of you!

  1. Ditch the wedding planner, who might get on your nerves trying to act out their own vision of the day (for a hefty price no doubt). By doing (almost) everything yourselves, you will spend a lot of quality time together and practice making big decisions together. It is also really nice to sit and think about what you and your guests will enjoy and to go on a joint quest to find it. Of course, if you are really lucky like us, you’ll have friends and family who will spare a lot of time and energy to help you out. Bel’s best lady was amazing throughout the whole process, while her brother saved the day upon arrival with his charming but effective crowd control techniques. Toon’s best men were also really great and kept the whole affair fun!
  2. As soon as you do more things yourselves you’ll begin to lose the frumpy wedding formats are still being peddled throughout wedding media. Our mantra throughout was that we just wanted to host a really great party for our family and friends and that’s all we did really, making everything a lot more simple and fun.
  3. In addition to planning a party, the ceremony itself was obviously a preoccupation for us, but much like the rest of the day, we kept it as simple as possible. Having said that, we realised that in publicly declaring our love and commitment to one another, we needed to do something that was special to us. The main highlight that we added and were really focused on was our “jumping the broom” ceremony. It was especially nice for us to include something historically relevant to us and our family and it was a moment that moved our guests, mainly because it was really our moment.
  4. You should also take time during the day to do something as a couple apart from your first dance and saying your vows. This may sound a little obvious but you’d be surprised at the amount of couple who don’t think of this. It would be giving a joint speech or greeting your guests together throughout the night. The main thing is to be a united front in whatever way works for you two!
  5. Along with avoiding traditional formats, avoid themes. It’s too restrictive! We wanted to combine rural and urban elements into our day and so we did and it was great! We enjoyed ourselves and our guests were constantly caught off guard, which they loved. Furthermore, all agreed it was really “us”.

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Let them eat cake part 2: Having our cake and eating it.

naked wedding cake

Since the original Let Them Eat Cake post we have made contact with numerous bakeries across Zuid Holland, undertaken a “drive-by” to scout out pro-Piet patisseries, made visits for tastings and finally made that all important choice of baker.

To catch you up to speed: we hate the idea of having a cake covered in fondant and whilst looking up alternatives, came across the new craze of naked [celebration] cakes and thought that would be perfect for us. We began our search for a perfect wedding cake baker last autumn by debating whether or not a naked cake would be possible with a feisty Brit named Queenie. Once we did some online research ourselves, we found that while some bakers had experienced problems with naked cakes related to sturdiness and potential dryness of sponge (especially in summer months), there were also ways around it. So we continued our search and had a consultation with a representative of Perfect Pastry in Den Haag, who served us three amazing samples and explained some of the science behind keeping real cake (rather than sponge!) moist without fondant. As we were nudging each other under the table – convinced that we’d found “the one” and while trying to contain our sugar-induced giddiness, the wonderful baker chatted away about the children’s bakery workshops she would be hosting at the shop during the Sinterklaas period and when we asked, she admitted that she would make cupcakes decorated with the image of Zwarte Piet. Heartbroken and sugar-shaken, we had to let her go.

Following our early experiences with British baker Queenie and the not-so-wonderful-after-all “Perfect” Pastry baker, we decided to avoid any further futile tastings (and sugar-rush hang-overs) by simply asking bakers straight up (via email) whether or not they intended to participate in the Sinterklaas festival with holiday themed treats. We were very honest in our mission, stating that:

“We understand you have the right to make and design cakes as people request them, however we do not wish to endorse the sale of any Zwarte Piet imagery. Therefore, we kindly request that you let us know whether or not you make and sell Zwarte Piet cakes during the Sinterklaas period.”

Some bakers didn’t reply at all apparently choosing to end our tentative online consultation there and then, while other gave vague, one-word answers along the lines of “Fair enough.” There were also some non-committal responses that seemed to focus more on whether or not the business produced baked goods for children, rather than responding honestly and directly. The Perfect Pastry baker didn’t even appear to acknowledge our decision not to use her services, let alone the reason behind it, which only demonstrated further to us that we made the right choice. One baker exclaimed that due to her cultural heritage (Surinamese) she did not participate in the festival at all; we put her details to one side in order to follow up with a date later. A second bakery called Thuis and based in the nearby town of Delft sent a very long, defensive reply explaining that they had been to Jamaica and therefore understood racial discrimination since the black islanders had treated white tourists differently to non-white tourists. They also tried to rationalise their continued sale of Zwarte Piet sweet treats as well as their usage of Zwarte Piet shop decorations by claiming that the Netherlands “just isn’t ready yet” for the cultural shift necessary to get rid of this grotesque goon. They reassured us that once the country was ready, they would re-think their seasonal participation and also how they involve their business in the Sinterklaas feast. Needless to say, our response was a swift and simple: “Thanks but no thanks.”

Upon paying covert visits to two local patisseries who managed to suspiciously circumvent our line of questioning we found that both (Cupcake Chic and Stefanos) were involved in some sort of Piet-related activity, the latter far more than the former admittedly, but we chose not to take the risk with either, swiping them from our list. All of this investigating left us with just three more options: the slightly tacky and unresponsive Cake du Fortin, the fiercely anti-Zwarte Piet Caribbean Soul Food and the cheerful American Baking Company. Obviously, since we had not heard back from Fortin, our focus was on the latter two businesses, so we arranged try-outs with them both.

autumn wedding cake

I have to say, after everything we’d been through, we were quite nervous about getting our hopes up and tried to remain open-minded as we passed several Zwarte Piet decorated houses on the way to the Caribbean bakery. As she had promised, the baker’s home didn’t appear to even concede to the celebration taking place all over the rest of the neighbourhood, remaining bare and tidy. Whether or not this was because they baker was of Surinamese descent, I’m not so sure, but we were relieved to see we hadn’t been tricked. The cakes were tasty and creative and very moist, although most of what she offered us contained nuts (Bel hates nuts) and there had been no discussion what-so-ever with regards to nut allergies, so this was a bit off putting. The overall experience with Caribbean Soul Food had been quite positive so the groom was keen to just complete the entire fuss by saying yes straight away, but in the end we agreed that we should at least check the American bakers, just in case. Besides, we both agreed that we would have been happy to commit to this business if the final tasting turned out to be a disaster.

It was a very cold, almost frosty day between the Sinterklaas and Christmas periods when we cycled over to the American Baking Company workshop for our tasting with its owners. We didn’t know what to expect and hoped that it would either go marvellously well or terribly wrong so that it would be an easy choice. We were greeted by (honestly!) the most cheerful chefs either of us had ever met. Loyal Great British Bake Off fanatics and thus quite familiar with the concept of the naked cake, these guys just seemed to want to make sure we had a lovely morning with them, which took away so much of the decision-based pressure. They seemed to want to know more about us as a couple in order to gain an insight into what kind of customers we might be and it became obvious further into our consultation that they had really done their homework in order to impress us. Not only had they prepared the most delicious strawberry cupcake either of us had ever had the pleasure to sample, they actually made a minature naked wedding cake! It literally blew us away that even as they admitted they didn’t have a lot of experience with making wedding cakes, they had gone to so much effort to ensure we could truly visualise our “cake cutting” moment.

I don’t think we even need to converse about it – we were going with the Sinterklaas denouncing American Baking Company. They offered us some amazing tips on how to keep the cake moist and sturdy on the day, regardless of weather conditions, and seemed to realise that this is very much about us, not the artistic exploits of a begrudging baker.

All in all, our bakery experiences were bittersweet. Even though we set out with the ambitious aim to find an anti-racist (or at the very least non-participating) bakery, we weren’t fully mentally prepared for how to react if we met someone who was talented and yet making a living from the sale of a racist image and I don’t think we actually considered bakers attempting to engage in a debate on whether or not the Netherlands was ready for the serious cultural shift necessary to say goodbye to Zwarte Piet. We obviously didn’t think through the logistics of have the cake we are so set on and some general advice we might offer to all couples looking for a slightly unconventional cake is to look into whether or not it’s popular among mainstream bakers. Not that the potential unpopularity of a particular bakery style should guide your choice, but you should go to consultations armed with solutions and methods for getting the cake you want just in case.

We could have found a baker much sooner if we’d been prepared to allow someone to tell us to have fondant on our cake after all, decided that good cake was more important than revolution, or – out of mere frustration – just settled for substandard (nutty) cake. I’m glad we did our research (in more ways than one) and that we can be entirely satisfied and at peace with the decision we made. Who ever said you can’t have your cake and eat it too was lying.

naked style wedding cake

Let Them Eat Cake? The Quest for a Naked Cake

rocknrollbride

Our wedding is just over 6 months away now, so we’ve started the quest for a baker. Deciding what kind of wedding cake we would request was preceded by the dilemma of whether or not we would even have a wedding cake. I had initially suggested we serve a selection of vlaai after our wedding dinner (Toon’s family is from Limburg), however the groom had already decided that he would quite like something more traditional. As it happened, we would find out that in the Netherlands, before the US influenced wedding themes took off, couples would serves several vlaai instead of towered cakes, however by the time we discovered this we already had our hearts set on something else entirely.

fruit-fantasie-vlaaiTypical Dutch or Limburg vlaai.

We discussed a typical British wedding cake: heavy fruit cake, with a thick marzipan icing – not something either of us would be particularly keen on. Toon also admitted that he isn’t a big fan of fondant icing or chocolate cake. I have to admit, while I enjoy the odd Mr. Kipling French Fondant Fancy immensely, fondant on the scale of a large dessert doesn’t really appeal to me either, and I always think it can look a little tacky if not done properly. So this more or less decided for us that we would not be having a fruit or chocolate cake, or fondant or marzipan icing. For a little while we played with the idea of having a croquembouche cake – a typically French wedding desert, made of a tower of profiterols and coated in a caramel glaze. As a very continental and glamorous option that you don’t see very often in the USA, UK or Netherlands, as well as a type of cake that doesn’t involve dried fruits or heavy icings it was initially very appealing. I mean, who doesn’t love profiterols? However, after a while, the idea seemed a bit pretentious and maybe a bit ambitious, so we began to seek out other options.

crouquembouchebritish wedding cake

L: Typical French celebration cake, the crouquembouche; R: Typical British wedding cake, iced with marzipan.

Quite unwittingly, while browsing the online wedding website Green Wedding Shoes I came across the idea of a “naked style cake” – basically a cake with filling between the layers but no outer icing, with couples choosing powdered sugar, flowers and fresh fruit as decoration instead. This current fad has already become well known throughout the USA for couples wanting to do something different, are going for an outdoors or “rustic” theme, or for couples who – like us – aren’t fond of thick icing. I presented the idea of a naked cake to Toon who at first thought it was a bit weird and extreme, but after doing some more online research also started to become more intrigued by the idea. While seeking out a baker and choosing a cake wasn’t very high on our list of wedding planning priorities, based on our general cake related preferences, a naked cake seemed to be a natural choice.

Eventually we felt ready to begin actually searching for a bakery that made wedding cakes. Toon had discovered an English baker who seemed interesting so we emailed, requested more information about a tasting. There began an interesting, but brief exchange, which informed us thoroughly about the artistic integrity of bakers as well as another dimension of apparent wedding etiquette.

fondant naked wedding cake

L: Wedding cake iced with fondant; R: Naked style wedding cake.

We explained from the beginning that we were not interested in a cake with too much icing, especially with any fondant, and provided some examples of designs we might like. The baker – who had requested for us to be as specific as possible in describing our requirements in order to offer us a quote – declared that she would not make a naked cake as the sponge would dry out. She explained that especially in hot weather, the only way to prevent a butter cream filling from melting is to keep a cake in the fridge, which she is not a fan of, but with fondant the sponge would stay moist and the butter cream would also somehow be protected. We asked if there were any other icing options besides fondant that would work well, however she was not as forthcoming as we hoped she would be. In the end, we decided to give this baker a miss as she was obsessed with the idea of fondant, despite us making it quite clear we were not interested in it for our cake. So much for the customer is always right.

It occurred to me later that this baker might be so pushy about fondant, not because it is what she is used to working with, or because as a professional she believes it makes the best cake icing, but because she can ask a higher fee for a cake when she has to decorate it. The work that must go into ensuring the fondant is smooth and glossy shouldn’t be underestimated, and I admire anyone who has the patience, talent or inclination to even bother, but I don’t think it gives any baker the right to try and bully their potential customers into an idea they’ve already considered and declined, just because it would be worth a few euros extra.

Last weekend we eventually went for a tasting with another baker who seemed receptive to our idea of a naked cake. She served us three delicious varieties and explained that unlike sponge, “real” cake is made with so much butter it is unlikely to dry out in the way the previous baker had suggested. She said she would be happy to make the cake we asked for and gave us an amazing quote. Things always fall apart though when they’re too easy. While discussing the upcoming festivities (Sinterklaas) with our so-called dream-baker, she gleefully told us about the Zwarte Piet decorated cupcakes she planned to make later in the month. I still don’t know if it was the sugar rush or the immense disappointment that made me feel nauseous as I stood up to leave, but I knew we would have to decline the fantastic offer laid out for us on the cake tray…

As we cycled back to the city, cursing our bad fortune and jittery with the sugar taking over our blood-streams, my fiancé and I were reminded of what all this planning has been about; we are beginning a life together – a life that neither of us plan to spend promoting businesses that make money from racist images. Our wedding cake isn’t just a decadent indulgence for us to share and enjoy with our closest family and friends on one of the happiest days of our life together; it is also part of the fabric-of-the-future we are weaving together. In short, if we resent spending money in pro-Zwarte Piet establishments every other day of the week, why should our wedding day – the most significant day of our relationship – be any different.

Turning down such an amazing deal does suck though and I have to admit I should have known it would be too good to be true. And as the saying goes, you can’t have your cake …

Interested in a conference on blackface practices in Europe? Take the survey! 

Dutch version:

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/K7NS5ZG

English version:

Jumping the Broom: a Sacred Tradition

Jumping The Broom Wedding Tradition Tapestry Throw

I love Angela Bassett. She’s one of the most skilled and intense actresses I think I’ve ever been exposed to and I do my very best to ensure that I see any film she’s set to play in. One recent film I adored her in, was Jumping the Broom (2011, dir. Salim Akil), a charming wedding movie where Bassett co-stars with Paula Patton, Loretta Devine and Laz Alonso as the mother-of-the-bride. This touching film explicitly familiarised me with the old tradition of “jumping the broom” – something I’d heard about and had a vague sense of, but didn’t really understand properly.

Various sources claim this wedding tradition has its roots in both Welsh Romani and West African cultures, and all attest to the significance of this practice during the slavery era in the United States. To put it plainly, slaves could not legally marry as they were considered to be property that could be bought and/or sold at the whim of their “masters”. It is no secret that plantation owners also forced the coupling of certain slaves in order to “breed” slave types for a more handsome profit. The tradition was presumably carried over from West Africa by captured slaves who continued to practice the wedding tradition – regardless of legal constraints – as a way to show fellow plantation folk their love and commitment to their chosen soul mate. This tradition regained recognition due to Alex Haley’s 1976 book Roots and its subsequent mini-series. The popularity of the ritual of the bride and groom joining hands before hopping over the pieces of wood and straws, is evident in its contemporary usage, reflected in its depiction in African American cinema such as the wedding scene in The Best Man (1999) and more recently of course, Jumping the Broom. 

The latter wedding film depicts Sabrina and Jason, a couple in conflict over whether or not they will incorporate this timeless practice (which was observed by his parents) into their own ceremony. Sabrina (played by Patton) and her mother wants their day to be “simple and elegant” while Jason’s mother Pam (Devine) insists the couple use the same broom she and her deceased husband jumped over, in order to honour his memory and carry on an important family tradition. Meanwhile, Jason (Alonso) just wants to keep all the women in his life happy. In the drama that inevitably unfolds, the film reaffirms the importance of remembering certain elements of the past, which have brought us strength and humility.

sabrina and jason

Last year my partner and I travelled to Ghana, and while we were there, Toon proposed. We stayed at the One Africa resort, a coastal compound founded by repatriated Seestah IMAHKUS, author of He/She Who Has Returned: a 21st Century Anthology of African Diasporan Returnees to Ghana (2009). Our hostess relocated to Ghana with her family over 20 years ago and now continues to preside over her resort which is popular with backpackers just looking for somewhere to stop for a couple of nights as well as expatriates who need to get away from the hustle and bustle of Accra. Most importantly, IMAHKUS’ resort appeals to a younger generations of people of African descent, who are often travelling to Africa for the first time either on a school trip or – like us – on a romantic holiday come pilgrimage of sorts. We met many such people while we relaxed at One Africa for over a week, soaking up the sun and breathing in the coastal air, just five minutes drive from two slave forts, Cape Coast Castle and Elmina Castle. IMAHKUS effectively resolves this seeming paradox – of being a self-confessed Garveyite who originally moved to Ghana to escape the racist culture inherent in the USA on one hand and running a lively, colourful holiday resort just moments away from a slave fort on the other – with her moving and vastly chronicling “Walls of Remembrance”. These two rooms are wall to wall with pictures, artworks, old newspaper cut-outs, copies of official documents and other artefacts of antebellum and Jim Crow era USA. The rooms also commemorate the election of US President Barack Obama as well as pivotal historical moments of the continent of Africa, such as the independence of Ghana, the end of apartheid in South Africa and the extreme famine in Sudan during the 1990s.

walls of rememberance

IMAHKUS has been instrumental in encouraging African American families to make the trip to Ghana and come to terms with their ancestry, even guiding tours through the slave forts at Elmina and Cape Coast, which affected me more than I thought they would. Part of the emotional journey I was initially forced to take upon being confronted by the home-land of my ancestors and the artefacts of our history, has been my willingness to jump the broom. As the first member of my entire family to visit West Africa – and from long conversations with my father – I believe I will also be the first to partake in this wedding ritual (post slavery at least), despite being raised in England rather than the US and despite marrying someone who is not of African descent. In a therapeutic sense, to me this acknowledgement of who I am and also who my children will be, is brought full circle by also acknowledging my ancestry as well as the resilience and sacrifice it took so that I can be the person I am and enjoy so many privileges that others continue to struggle for. I want my own descendents to not only look back to Toon and I as the couple who re-initiated broom jumping into our family, but to look further.

It is very likely that had Angela Bassett not been in the film Jumping the Broom I wouldn’t have watched it. Had I not watched it, I would not have gone away and researched the tradition and been so affected by it when proposed to in Ghana last summer. To some it may seem a little corny or unnecessary for couples to continue to make use of this tradition. However, on that summer evening at One Africa, in that moment of dreaming of our future together, Toon and I were also bravely confronting the past. It is not only my history. As a white European, it is also his. The courage it takes to seriously contemplate the realities of slavery as well as its far reaching legacy – in Ghana, the USA and the Netherlands – is the courage I hope to pass onto future generations. Furthermore, I want my children and their children’s children to know that even though we made brave choices, it cannot compare to what our African ancestors already survived. Over the coming decades, I want my children to be reminded not just of the love and commitment of our family, but also of our historical strength. Finally, alongside the honouring of our African heritage, I want them to appreciate and never take for granted the privileges they have gained through their European ancestry.

I hope our broom can serve as a symbol of these sentiments to the future generations to come.

elminacastle

Rock n Roll Bride Blog for Alternative Wedding Inspiration!

rocknrollbride

I just discovered another alternative wedding blog called Rock n Roll Bride. The online magazine, which I believe you can also subscribe to features lots of pictures of real weddings, interviews with real couples as well as themes and ideas for your special day(s). Hopefully the title of the magazine (with an emphasis on “brides”) does not mean that the blog space is not also groom friendly, and/or also targeted at same-gender loving couples. In the meantime, check it out and if it’s cool (i.e. inclusive for all!) support and spread the word!

New Discovery – Check it Out!

Hello People! I just discovered (well not really “just”, but I haven’t had time to blog recently..anyways!) another blog for brides and grooms of colour/alternative weddings: Chocolatta Brides.

This tumblr blog is a beautiful archive full of images to inspire wedding themes, hair and fashion ideas as well as celebrating black beauty and love. I’ll be checking this out on a regular basis for new ideas.

Good job Chocolatta and thanks for helping to make brides of colour more visible!