The Experts

“The wedding is about you and your partner, about your personalities. Don’t get hung up on what you think your guests want or expect. It’s about what you want to share with them.” -Jill Goldberg

| Boston Weddings |

The Bridge Builder

wedding experts

Photograph by Jörg Meyer

If you’ve parted ways with your religion or you’re merging two faiths, your wedding might call for a different kind of officiant.

By Terri Trespicio

Let’s get one thing straight: Elly Jackson is not here on a mission from God. Not in so many words, at least. And while she may be a lot of things (including a Catholic), when it comes to her work, she prefers to be called a “non-denominational minister,” “spiritually oriented celebrant,” or “secular humanist.” She’ll even take “a cross between a justice of the peace and a minister,” if that works for you. Whichever term you choose, you’ll get someone serving an undeniably noble cause—helping couples of all types tie the knot.

Do you get hired mostly by atheists, or just people with no religious affiliation? By and large, I get calls from people who have turned away from traditional religion and are interested in de-emphasizing the direct role God plays in their wedding. I’d say two-thirds of my clients are lapsed or ex-Catholics. And a third of them are Catholics marrying a Jewish or Protestant person. On the whole, they’re either bridging two different heritages, or looking to play down the focus on religion altogether.

If the affianced come from different backgrounds, how do you plan the nuptials? Ask yourselves which rituals and symbols from your culture or religion you love the most. For instance, in the Jewish tradition, the chuppah stands for the home that the newlyweds will build together. I once had a Christian woman adopt this symbol because she just really liked what it stood for. Many couples use the unity candle to signify the joining of two families, regardless of their religion. It’s perfectly fine and important to combine traditions as a tribute to who you both are.

How involved are you in designing ceremonies?
I meet with couples once at the beginning of their planning for about an hour, when I do an intense interview. Then I have them fill out a long questionnaire separately, so I get both sides of the “how they met” story and hear what love means to each of them.

If the engaged pair is having doubts, can you help?
No, this is not the same as marital counseling. I’m not trying to figure out if they should get married—they have to know that already.

Are there any ceremony rules outside of specific religions?
The heart of any wedding ceremony has three steps: the asking, the vows, and the ring exchange. The only thing you have to do is the vows, but I invite couples to improvise from there. You don’t have to use readings from scripture, either, although there are a few passages that people often use, like 1 Corinthians 13:4 (“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful…”). You can choose from classical readings, modern poetry (e.e. cummings is popular), the Apache wedding prayer, or the Irish blessing, among others. The point of the reading is that it’s classic and eternal and speaks to both of you.

What about writing your own vows?
I encourage couples to do that, but most often they’ll choose from a selection of traditional and nontraditional vows. If they choose to write their own, I often hear it for the first time the day of. I say, do whatever makes the wedding unique and special.

What’s the biggest mistake a bride and groom can make? The worst thing is to
use the ceremony to appease other people, particularly someone who’ll get their nose out of joint if you don’t say this or do that. Don’t kiss anyone’s behind. I had one couple who seemed uncomfortable with the planning process. Then one day the bride-to-be sent me an e-mail saying they’d changed their minds—they were running off to Vegas. I was thrilled for them! You should do what feels best for you.

What are the most common requests you get?
“Please make it lighthearted and fun.” “Please don’t mention God—or maybe God’s okay, but leave Jesus out of it.” And most important, “please keep it to 20 minutes.” In the end, they all want the kind of ceremony that makes them laugh and cry. They want it to be sacred and memorable.

Elly Jackson, 800-233-6460,


You don’t have to stand on ceremony to create an event that’s personal and inclusive.

DECIDE what role you want religion to play in your nuptials, if any.

CHOOSE your words carefully. Will you use the words “God” or “Jesus”? “Spirit” or “universal energy”?

THINK about the tone you want to set. When in doubt, keep it light.

INCLUDE symbols that represent your families, faiths, and cultures. If appropriate, invite family or friends to give readings, prayers, or blessings.

ADAPT the standard ceremony to reflect your values, tastes, and personalities. Remember, it’s about the two of you and no one else.

The Sharpshooters

wedding experts

Photograph by Jörg Meyer

After months of planning, brides are often left with an “it’s over already?” feeling at ceremony’s end—hence the wild popularity of wedding albums. Since you’ll want to save yours for life, it’s crucial to make every shot count.

By Brittany Jasnoff

Turns out those seemingly effortless wedding shots require a lot of planning—and plenty of finesse to pull off. Wedding shutterbugs Jill Person and Laurén Killian of Boston-based Person + Killian Photography discuss why ring close-ups don’t work, ways to deal with divorced parents, and how to take the tedium out of group shots.

Are engagement photos necessary—or cheesy? JP: More than anything, they provide a chance for the photographer to get to know the couple, and a chance for the couple to see how the photographer works. When we show up on the wedding day after we’ve shot the engagement, there’s just a sense of ease—we don’t necessarily meet the groom before the wedding otherwise.

Does it really take two to capture every moment? LK: It’s really key to capture the moments the couple aren’t able to witness. When the bride is walking down the aisle, one photographer is snapping her, while the other is getting the groom’s reaction. Another thing that’s nice is that one photographer can line up everyone and make sure ties are straight and bouquets are in the right place, while the other is prepping for the picture.

How can a couple make group photos as fast and easy as possible? JP:
Do formals before the ceremony, when the bridal party and families aren’t running away trying to get to the cocktail hour. LK: If there’s one thing I could tell all brides—and they probably don’t want to hear this—it would be, don’t have a ginormous wedding party. When there are 11 people on each side, a big portrait is obviously going to take forever. It can get out of control.

Are there certain shots that every bride should request? LK: The big moments: the parent dances, the first dance, cutting the cake. But it’s the little moments before those things and the expressions of the people watching that really tell a story. JP: It’s always great to have some “getting ready” shots. Also, you want to get the bride before she walks down the aisle.

And which pictures just wind up being a waste of time? LK: Table shots. They’re always done during salad, and people want to eat! Another shot that makes me cringe: When couples put their hands together and want to get their rings. It never looks attractive. Fingers tend to look like sausage links.

Is snapping every conceivable permutation of the family photo really worth stressing over? LK: No. Later, when couples try to pick the pictures for the album, they get overwhelmed when they see a million shots with only a one-person difference.

Speaking of families…how can a couple keep divorced parents from making formal photos awkward? LK: I had a situation like this recently. I told [the bride], “Let it be on my shoulders. I will be directing the groups, and your parents who are divorced and don’t speak to each other are not going to look at me and say, ‘I’m not getting in the picture.’ They’re going to be polite because they’re on the spot.” You can look to your photographer to coordinate, but you have to be open. If I didn’t know the situation, I might have put them in more combinations.

Person + Killian Photography, 251 Newbury St., Boston, 617-236-1662,


Person and Killian’s tips for creating a page-turning wedding album.

USE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM  Your wedding décor may have been modern, but it’s better to go with something tried-and-true when it comes to the book that will hold your cherished memories. “We’re really honest with our clients and encourage them to go with the more traditionally matted album,” says Killian. “It’s classic, and it never goes out of date.”

KEEP IT CHRONOLOGICAL  “Doing the album in the flow of your day always works the best,” says Killian. Kick off with pictures of you getting ready and finish with an outdoor shot taken at evening’s end.

SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF  It’s not just the big moments you’ll want to remember—make sure you ask your photog to snap all the particulars, too. “The album almost feels incomplete if you don’t have pictures of the dress or the shoes or the bouquet, or even the invitations,” says Killian. “Just adding four or five details really makes a difference.”

SOMETIMES LESS REALLY IS MORE  You can do multiple photos per page—and you should, especially for close-ups and pre-ceremony shots. But each image that prominently features your surroundings—e.g., cityscapes and seascapes—should get a full page of real estate in the album. “They tend to look more artistic that way,” says Person.


The Mix Master

wedding experts

Photograph by Jörg Meyer

Maybe you love Top 40, but can’t stand cover bands. Or maybe you’re just dying to do the funky chicken. (Hey, it’s your day.) Regardless of your playlist, it’s imperative to always keep the party going.

By Amy Derjue

There’s a reason comedian Adam Sandler dreamed up a whole movie about wedding music: Most of it is totally groan-inducing. Fortunately, you don’t really have to hear an orchestral version of Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” unless you really want to. Darren Siman, whose Brookline-based entertainment company connects couples with both bands and DJs, offers sound advice.

How does a couple know if they’re a DJ or band type of couple? The obvious distinction is money. If their budget is under $2,000, they’re not looking for a band. And if the venue doesn’t allow bands, or has multiple rooms, a DJ works best. A really great band, though, adds an interactive experience, while a DJ just hits buttons.

Do you hate “must play” or “do not play” lists? If you know what you want, it’s helpful. We don’t want to play something that doesn’t fit with your theme. But if you don’t have any preferences, just let the band or DJ decide—they’ll be reading the crowd.

Can music really liven up a party, or does it totally depend on the guests? Music—done right—can definitely help. Receptions typically start with some background music, like quiet jazz. We like to start it off a little funkier and get guests dancing, or at least give them some more modern sounds, like “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol. I think the coolest way to do it is to have guests walk into something upbeat, like U2’s “Beautiful Day.”

What’s the best way to make an entrance at the reception? Nine times out of 10, our bands or DJs recommend a member of our staff do the announcing, with the couple phonetically spelling out any tricky last names beforehand. But sometimes there’s someone in the family who would like to be the master of ceremonies; it’s up to them.

When should people start dancing? It’s typical for people to think the dinner hour means jazz music, and most bands also assume this part should have quiet R&B songs, but I think that’s dated. We’ll play modern music, like singer-songwriter stuff, at a lower volume or with a slower tempo. Today’s bride and groom may not want to wait two hours to get the music going. If it’s a true party, I think it’s awesome to start the event with a bang.

Do many of your clients want to do crazy stuff like the “Baby Got Back” first dance that blew up on YouTube? A lot of them chicken out, but this season we’ve done three of them. One couple started with a ballad, then went into “SexyBack.” That happened with a band, so the instrumentalist dropped the snare drum to scratch the record like a DJ would. Still, the majority of our clientele don’t want to make a joke out of it.

A lot of fun songs don’t have the cleanest lyrics. How do you get around this? Censoring. If the
crowd likes [a certain kind of] music outside the wedding, they still want to hear it here. Just have your band or DJ edit and keep the f-bombs off the microphone.

What should you do if folks start having a little too much fun on the dance floor? If the bride and groom are okay with what’s going on, we don’t stop the event. If it doesn’t fit, we’ll make a joke about it. I’ve seen guys get hammered and aggressive with the band—you need to put a lid on that. If we have to, we stop the music for a second. When the offending party hears himself without music, he usually realizes how embarrassing he’s being.

How do you wind the party down? We prefer to end with a bang—maybe we’ll play a song like AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.” You can also go with something slower, like “Hotel California.” It’s a song people can dance to, but they can also go get some dessert.

Siman Entertainment, 617-739-5300,


Tips on how to keep your guests—grandma included—on the dance floor.

Start with the old, transition to the new.  Siman’s bands and DJs will play some older songs earlier, but won’t hesitate to transition to something more modern. “If the songs have the same beat, older guests will pick up on the energy,” he says.

Don’t be afraid to mix it up.  “We’ll play a song from the older generation, then transition into an indie rock hit,” then back again, he explains. “Then the older crowd is dancing to a whole slew of alternative music, and the crowd that thought they didn’t like the traditional stuff is up too.”

Keep the drinks coming. Some liquid courage, Siman adds, does help everyone enjoy the soundtrack. “I say, drink early and party late.”


The Partymaker

wedding experts

Photograph by Jörg Meyer


Hiring a seasoned pro to throw your big-day fete may not save you cash—but it just might save your sanity.

By Donna Garlough

At some prewedding point—usually around the time you’re putting your distant cousins on the invite B-list—every couple asks, “Why aren’t we going to Vegas, again?” Imagine if, for a few extra bucks (well, really, it’s like spit in the ocean at this point) you had your own fairy godmother to turn all your half-baked ideas into a party? Hopple Popple‘s Linda Matzkin has no magic wand, but with 25 years of event planning under her belt, she might as well. She shares how to outsource your dirty work and how to make sure the big day is what you always wanted. (Hint: Manage your expectations.)

So a couple’s planning to get hitched and looking to hire help. Is it better to gather ideas and bring them to a planner, or approach a professional with a blank slate? A lot of people come to us with specific ideas—photos they’ve found in magazines or online, or of events they’ve attended. This definitely helps us understand the couple because few people can describe exactly what they want or don’t want. We look closely at those photos to determine what’s really possible given the wedding date and size. Maybe the bouquet is just right, for example, but the flowers shown won’t be in season. Or maybe you’re both drawn to a venue, but because of your guest count, you’ll need a bigger space.

Every planner you talk to is going to insist that they can put on a great event. But how do you know who’s really right for the job? Just like finding a great doctor or decorator, when you meet the right person, you’ll know. The planner is going to make many important decisions on your behalf, so you must trust him or her implicitly. He or she will be your advocate, so go with your gut.

Between wedding websites and blogs, there are so many tools and listings online. What’s to keep a couple from throwing a wedding on their own?
The Internet plays a big role in planning these days, giving couples access to all kinds of info. But it takes time to analyze each listing, and you can’t interview everyone. Planners act as a filter. We introduce them to the venues and vendors that fit their dreams and wallets. Another benefit: There’s no need to negotiate or worry about individual deposit checks because we manage all of that. However, hiring a planner isn’t for everyone. If someone comes to me with a really tight budget, I’ll say, “You’re going to need this money for your cake and your invitations. Don’t spend it on me.” It’s about prioritizing.

If you’re short on cash, what can you leave out? I like to steer couples away from the “shoulds”—as in, we should have favors, we should have altar decorations. If having those things feels right to you, go ahead. But don’t do it just because it’s on some to-do list. And don’t take out a giant loan to pay for things you never knew you wanted. Remember, it’s only for a day. These decisions aren’t for life. Well, hopefully the marriage is.

Boston’s got so many hotel wedding venues. What if you just aren’t the hotel type? Consider museums, clubs, and galleries. Explore your options: Do you know anyone who has a great house, or has access to vacant office space? In any case, the venue doesn’t have to define your event. With the right lighting and décor, I can make a ballroom feel like a beach.

What about that one thing you can never account for—rain? What’s your go-to contingency plan?
I have a policy: No surprises on the wedding day. Before we even book a venue—indoors or out—I ask if the couple will be happy getting married there, rain or shine. This is New England, after all. As long as the bride and groom are relaxed and happy, that feeling will carry through.

Hopple Popple, Inc., 284 California St., Newton, 617-964-6550,



Matzkin’s tips for hosting a totally original affair.

BEWARE OF WORN-OUT TRENDS  This season’s “in” flowers and color schemes may look dated in a few years—or worse, fail to reflect your personal style. Worse yet, vendors can get stuck in a style rut, and your input can provide them with needed inspiration. Taking cues from the colors and themes that fill your home, your wardrobe, and your venue—are you classic? Preppy? Fashion forward?—and use these concepts as a starting point.

EMBRACE COLOR  Choosing a vibrant palette—or even one dominant hue—can luxe up any wedding, no matter what the budget. (See “Real New England Weddings” for examples of four different—but equally intriguing—color schemes.)

TAKE INSPIRATION FROM ANYWHERE  Maybe your fiancé is a vintage-car fanatic. Who says you can’t get married in an auto museum? Or maybe you got engaged in Hawaii. Why not deck your altar in orchids and hibiscus? The more personal your details, says Matzkin, the less likely that your wedding will look like every other one your venue has hosted.

The Gift Givers

wedding experts

Photograph by Jörg Meyer

The fantasy goes: It’s all about you. And it is, sort of. But what about your humble wedding party, parents, and groom? Turns out, you’ll have to give (almost) as good as you get.

By Sascha de Gersdorff

Jill Goldberg, Moria Flynn Riordan, and Elisabeth Herbert all work within a block of one another, just off the South End’s Union Park—and all married their matches in the past year. Goldberg, owner of home décor emporium Hudson, said her vows during a “cocktail wedding” at Cambridge’s UpStairs on the Square. Flynn Riordan, co-creator of preppy favorite M. Flynn Accessories, wed in front of 250 people at the Bar Harbor Club in Maine. And Herbert, founder of printing success Black Pearl Press, traded rings (and served a roast pig!) in Pittsfield, Vermont. Each ceremony was different, but the trio shared a common quandary—namely, what to buy their friends, fiancés, and guests.

What did you give your bridesmaids? EH: I popped into Holiday on Charles Street a few months before the wedding and found some pretty gold lattice cuffs. MFR: My sister Megan and I designed jewelry for the girls. I also gave them each a SeaBag (a recycled sail tote from a small Portland company), flip-flops for dancing, and a great headband. JG: We spent the afternoon at MiniLuxe on Newbury Street getting manicures and pedicures. It was pricey, but worth it!

What’s the key to the getting the maids’ gifts right? MFR: Be generous! These girls are your closest friends and family. They go to all the showers and the parties, and often wear ugly dresses with a smile. An iPod Shuffle is a great idea, and jewelry and clutches are fun gifts too. I always like to go local—the 46 Waltham Street building [in the South End] has great designers. EH: I think a mix of jewelry makes a lovely gift—you avoid the matchy-matchy trap and more likely than not give each of your girls something they’ll actually wear again.

And for your groom? JG:
I bought a bottle of his favorite single malt scotch, Caol Ila, from Brix in the South End. I think a great bottle of expensive scotch, whiskey, or bourbon is always greatly appreciated. MFR: I really wanted to give him a keepsake, so I got Kevin a watch. Paul Duggan in Downtown Crossing has a great selection of vintage and pre-owned high-grade watches. EH: Get something that lasts—nothing electronic or gadget-y, unless it’s a watch. But we didn’t give each other anything—is that terrible? At some point I’ll give him one of Corey Arnold’s amazing photographs. Maybe for Christmas.

How did the three of you pull off your favors?
JG: I made them. I got a mixture of chocolate truffles from Party Favors in Brookline and put together little white boxes with ivory grosgrain ribbons and small round stickers from Paper Source. Then I stamped “J&D” on the sticker—it looked pretty cute. MFR: We gave guests sea-salted chocolates filled with caramel from ChocoLee in the South End. EH: We didn’t do favors, really, although I did buy seven different Liberty fabrics from a shop in London and made pocket squares for all the gentlemen invited to the wedding. The boys loved them! We also served doughnuts as the night was ending. I walked around the room with a great big basket and they were gone in seconds.

What’s the deal with favors, anyway? I mean, you’ve already paid for the whole wedding…
MFR: People travel a long way to celebrate with you, and favors are a great way to show your appreciation. I recently went to a wedding that had pashminas hanging over the chairs for all the female guests—it was a great touch. JG: I went back and forth about doing an actual favor versus donating money, but in the end, I decided to go with chocolates. It’s always fun to top off the night with something sweet. EH: Something delicious will always trump a knickknack. Edible favors are the best—nobody wants a trinket monogrammed with your initials and the wedding date. At least, I don’t think they do. It’s the tasty treats that go the distance.

What should you keep in mind when shopping for gifts?
MFR: Think about gifts early, especially if you’re trying to find gifts to fit different personalities. It can get very hectic  as the day approaches, and you’ll find a more thoughtful gift if you focus on it early. EH: Art—good art—is the absolute best. Experiences are great gifts as well: a flower-arranging class, wine-tasting, that sort of thing. And I’d rather be late in giving a terrific gift than on time with a mediocre one. JG: The wedding is about you and your partner, about your personalities. Don’t get what you think your guests want or expect. It’s about what you want to share with them.

How much should a couple spend on gifts for their bridal party and guests? JG: It depends on your overall budget and how many people you’re having at your wedding. We had 100 people at ours, and I think we spent $5 per favor; there’s no need to spend more than $10. Unless you’re made of money—then, go for broke! EH: I wouldn’t break the bank on favors. They might appreciate a little something, but no one is going to be miffed that they didn’t get a bar of fancy soap or a jar of sea salt. MFR: I’m a firm believer in spending at least $100 per bridesmaid, though. Remember how much they are spending on your wedding. They deserve a nice thank you!

Tell us about your favorite wedding gift spots in town. EH: Good has the most beautifully curated selection, no question. And a Swan Island blanket from Hudson would be a pretty decadent gift. I’d give a food- and wine-obsessed Boston couple an evening at [South End cooking studio] Stir. MFR: Stores like Turtle in the South End and the Beauty Mark on Charles Street always have a really fun selection.

Hudson, 312 Shawmut Ave., Boston, 617-292-0900; 61A Central St., Wellesley, 781-239-0025, Black Pearl Press, 46 Waltham St., Ste. 202, Boston, 617-922-1051, M. Flynn, 46 Waltham St., Suite 101, Boston, 617-292-0079,

wedding experts

Photograph by Jörg Meyer



Tips on showing appreciation for family (i.e. the financiers).

JG:  All of our parents helped out in their own specific ways, so we took each set for their own private “thank you” dinner or brunch at their restaurant of choice. Another good idea would be a silver frame. But be generous—don’t opt for the cheap ones. It’s your parents!

MFR:  Jewelry, jewelry, jewelry!

EH:  I’d like to send my dad and his partner to the Parker in Palm Springs for
a week, though that breaks the rule of giving something that lasts. For my mother-in-law and her husband, it’ll be a weathervane from Period Furniture Hardware in Beacon Hill for the beach cottage they’re renovating in Falmouth, Maine. For my father-in-law, banjo camp—really! I’m stumped when it comes to my mom. She was totally amazing in putting so much of the wedding together and helping me keep my cool. Maybe a weekend at the Mayflower Inn in Washington, Connecticut. Does it count as a gift if I go, too?.

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