Happily Ever After
When it comes to weddings, Southerners do things a little differently
The groom’s cake! It’s awful ... it’s in the shape of a giant armadillo. Worse, the cake part is red velvet. People are going to be hacking into this poor animal that looks like it’s bleedin’ to death!” So goes one of the more infamous quotes from “Steel Magnolias,” the 1989 film that served up a hearty portion of Southern charm and familiarized the rest of the nation with the Southern tradition of oddball wedding cakes for the groom. Although modern Southern weddings can vary as widely as any region in the United States, says Danielle Flowers, executive editor of Southern Weddings & Style magazine, there are definitely a few elements that characterize a true Southern soiree, and the always personal, often outrageous – think football mascots or stadiums, golf bags, boats and duck hunting scenes – grooms’ cakes are just the icing on the, well, cake.
First and foremost for a Southern wedding are family traditions, and the rituals begin well before the big day.
“It’s customary to have a number of showers for the bride thrown by her cousins, bridesmaids and every female friend of the family, who will then expect your mother to throw their daughter a shower when it’s her trip down the aisle,” says Flowers. As for the gentlemen, they tend to forgo the stereotypical bachelor party in exchange for a day of golf or deep-sea fishing. But come the weekend of the wedding, the party once again belongs to the bride, with a bridesmaids’ luncheon, usually given by the bride’s aunts or the closest friends of the bride’s mother.
A deep connection with family, especially symbolically, then continues through the wedding. The classic Southern bride wants to honor her family with special remembrances, says Flowers, such as incorporating flowers that her grandmother had chosen for her own bouquet.
“The bride’s shoulders are covered when she goes to the church (where no one is wearing a baseball hat), the bride is married and then the couple is out the door to a big reception at the parish hall, the country club or the property of a family member or friend,” says Gayden Metcalfe, a lifelong Southerner and co-author with Charlotte Hays of “Somebody is Going to Die if Lilly Beth Doesn’t Catch That Bouquet: The Official Southern Ladies’ Guide to Hosting the Perfect Wedding” (Hyperion, 2007).
Wherever the location, the Southern wedding reception also has a flavor all its own. According to Flowers, it may be stereotypical, but it’s also typically true that Southern couples will have an extremely long guest list, including cousins, cousins’ friends, all the members of their church and anyone they went to elementary school with.
“I’ve seen couples put their wedding invitation info in the church bulletin as an open invite,” says Flowers.
And what do you serve those numerous guests?
“In the South, you can hardly have a thing without cheese straws or salted nuts,” says Metcalfe. “It’s almost as if the wedding isn’t consummated without a salted pecan.”
In addition, brides tend to opt for good, oldfashioned Southern comfort food, featuring family favorites and Southern classics, says Flowers, incorporating their deep-fried favorites like fried green tomatoes, shrimp and grits, corn fritters and crab cakes, by serving them in small bites. In fact, small bites are often the way to go for most of the meal. Rather than the plated dinners that are so popular in other parts of the country, festive Southern receptions usually are buffets or stations. (The rehearsal dinner, when all the toasts take place, is the time and place for the formal dinner.)
The basic thinking behind this meal organization is that the food really is not the focus of the celebration. “Unless you’re Baptist, the alcohol is flowing and you have a band,” says Metcalfe. “We love to dance – it’s absolutely the best part. And DJs are just a no-no.”
The band will usually start off playing old favorites and then progress to a more modern feel throughout the night. But first the bride will almost always dance with her father to a very touching song, and the entire room will have teary eyes, says Flowers.
At the end of the night, expect to see the bride and groom depart the reception in a different clothing ensemble than they were sporting earlier in the night.
“The honeymoon has begun,” says Flowers, “and it’s time to be comfortable – and cute!” Focus on family, etiquette and beauty, as Met- calfe defines it, and you, too, can have a little Southern charm when you celebrate your big day.