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The military has a rich history of tradition for special occasions, wedding traditions being one of the most beloved and celebrated of military grandeur. Each branch has its own unique variation and protocol related to all of the exceptional bits of tradition in weddings. If you are deciding whether or not to make military tradition a part of your wedding, consider the role that military service has played in both of your lives and the lives of your families. Some of you may have only had a taste of military life so far, only beginning to enter the tight-knit community of families and the bittersweet cycle of separation and reunion. Others of you may have been raised in a military household, surrounded by friends and family in uniform and more familiar with customary practices for special occasions. No matter what your military experience, here are some of the most adored and time-honored military wedding traditions for you to consider adding to your big day.
Arch of Sabers
One of the most symbolic wedding traditions is the Arch of Sabers. This involves commissioned officers standing across from each other along the aisle outside the ceremony location as the couple exits; the officers raise their sabers or swords (depending on branch) and the newlywed couple pass underneath the arch symbolizes their welcome by the military into their new life together. Traditionally, the last two men lower their swords in front of the couple and hold them while the man on the right give the bride a little “tap” on the butt and says “Welcome to the Army” or whichever branch is appropriate. This piece of the Arch of Sabers is left out if the bride is in the military. Men incorporated in the arch should wear white gloves and be in uniform.
Both officers and enlisted military personnel should wear uniforms that match the formality of the occasion, also paying close attention to seasonal regulations. For black tie events, Dinner or Mess Dress is appropriate and guests may be invited to arrive in uniform designated on the invitation. Dress blues or greens are also appropriate for formal and informal events for non-commissioned officers. Brides may be married in a traditional wedding gown or be dressed in uniform. Boutonnieres are never allowed to be worn on military uniforms.
When seating for the ceremony, all high ranking officers and commanding officers should be seated directly behind the family. If the parents of either military bride or groom are not present, the commanding officer of the service member is often asked to sit in their place. Officers should be seated as near to the family as possible near the front of the ceremony.
Cake Cutting In some traditions, the arch of sabers is repeated prior to the cake cutting during which the couple pauses for a kiss before reaching the cake. After they reach the cake, the groom unsheathes his saber and hands it to the bride who then cuts the cake with her husband’s hand resting over top of hers. The saber that the cake is cut with must be completely plain and undecorated. (It is also recommended to clean the blade thoroughly before sheathing to prevent damage!)
Details and Things to Keep in Mind…
-Be sure to pay attention when addressing your invitations to titles and ranks that should precede names. If you want your guests to be in uniform at your wedding, you can also include “Service dress is invited” to encourage participation in military attire from friends and family.
-You never have to pay a chaplain to perform a wedding service, but you should formally invite the chaplain and their spouse and consider making a donation to the chapel where you hold your ceremony. Lots of commissioned military couples choose to get married at Academies and military bases and hold receptions at the drill hall or community area on post.
-Some suggest that buying insurance for all your vendor deposits can save you a lot of lost cash to unexpected changes in orders and deployment schedules ahead of time. Make sure that you let your vendors know that you may have to make last minute changes to your wedding plans and see if they are willing to be flexible with your needs.
Ideas to Make Your Military Wedding Unforgettable
Here are some ideas for personalizing your experience with the military and adding meaningful and memorable touches to your ceremony, reception and honeymoon.
Bridesmaid Dresses…. If men in your bridal party will be in uniform, consider having your bridesmaid’s dresses match or complement their uniforms, or choose colors similar to your related unit.
Honeymoon Plans… When planning your honeymoon, take into consideration resorts and places that cater specifically to military personnel. Many places around the country offer fantastic discounts for military couples and this is one way to save and splurge on other areas of your celebration.
Memories and Special Moments… Since many military couples go through long separations and exciting homecomings, consider sharing these moments with your guests if you have recorded them by showing photos or videos between courses at your dinner or during transitions between cocktail hour, dinner and dancing. These can be moments such as when you first met, a reunion after deployment, graduation from a specialized school, your engagement… whatever is most special in your relationship!
groom graduated, or just places you were able to share brief and special moments while separated.
Patriotic Touches… Finally, you can always add patriotic touches to your décor, favors, guestbook, etc. Choose a military design for your cake topper, incorporate flags around your reception and red, white and blue in your lighting, linens or flowers!
Make sure you take the time to research the unique traditions for your individual branch. Military weddings can be exquisitely formal affairs with grand details in the company of respected and cherished friends and family who have also served or are serving, but you have the opportunity to add or subtract tradition to your heart’s content!