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Our Big Fat Mormon Weddings

By Michelle Lehnardt

More than once over the years, my boys have asked, “Why is everyone so interested in my love life?”

“All the world loves a love story.” I told them, “Books, movies, music… all attest to the universal obsession with love. And we especially savor witnessing a love story up close; feeling like we contributed to others happiness.”

I believe this fascination with love reveals the very best in human nature. We want to feel loved, but we also want others to find joy. Few of us worry about our friends earning fame or fortune but we want everyone to discover love.

Those unselfish feelings, that unfettered joy for others, come out full force for a wedding. And not because of a naive expectation of ‘happily ever after’ or that marriage won’t offer challenges– I think people are supportive because they know married life can be hard, but oh-so-worth every effort. All these offerings of gifts and setting tables, stitching quilts and hanging lights say, “We’re invested in you; we’re here to support you.”

Over and over, I’ve heard my sons say, “I’m amazed at people’s kindness; it makes me want to work hard to be the best husband.”

By now, you’ve likely read/or heard one of the many news stories proclaiming “Want a happy marriage? Have a big cheap wedding.” based on a study, by two economics professors at Emory University. In short, the researchers found the less a couple spent on their wedding and the more people they invited to the celebrations, the more likely they are to stay happily married.

Mormons all over the world strained muscles by patted themselves on the back after reading these studies. Because who does big weddings? WE DO! And who knows how to stretch that dollar? WE DO!

Two of my sons just got married within five months of each other and I saw these principles come to life. All our friends and neighbors contributed their talents from flower arranging to baking, sewing bunting, creating wreaths and good old setting up and taking down tables. And while I wouldn’t exactly call Mormon weddings cheap– our willingness to help each other, to contribute talents and lend table cloths and to be just fine with serving dessert and no sit-down dinner certainly cut costs.

While wedding costs are tricky to determine–the supposed national average is $26,444, but most people spend under $15,000, the supposed average Mormon wedding is $15,000 but most people spend around $7,500– it’s clear Mormon weddings run about half the national average.

The lack of alcohol accounts for much of the savings, but so does the willingness of Saints to help each other. With both my sons’ weddings I was amazed by the kindness of my friends and neighbors. People sewed quilts and held showers, loaned us arches and lanterns, trays and candle holders. One exceptionally kind friend loaned us their yard for a September reception. I held wedding dinners at my house, and the day of the dinner my house filled with friends ready to cook, clean, set tables and offer love and support. Honestly, if we’d gone to a restaurant or hired a caterer, I feel like I would’ve missed out on all those happy feelings.

I’ve heard of stakes who keep a wedding book– a folder detailing who owns folding tables, cloths, candles, lanterns, easles, etc. I love the idea! I have about 100 Ikea plates I’m willing to loan out, four folding tables and several vases.

Because I’m a wedding photographer and I see all kinds of celebrations, people often expect me to have lavish wedding plans. I’d say spending up-close time at many weddings has taught me exactly the opposite– overthought and overwrought weddings only increase stress and decrease joy. No one remembers the handwritten place cards– everyone remembers feeling welcomed and loved. Pinterest can be a bride’s good friend for sharing her vision, but her worst enemy when she finds more good ideas than can possibly be executed. At one of my favorite weddings I’ve photographed, the bride folded paper cranes for decorations, her sisters made the wedding cake, grandma arranged the flowers and they passed out creamsicles for refreshments.

And there’s the beauty of big, home-grown wedding– friends and neighbors gathering to help and participate and offer support. As my new daughter-in-law AnnaSam said, “In the midst of all the wedding prep, every couple decides eloping sounds like a great idea. But gathering all these people together who love you and care about you lends power to a marriage. I know there will be hard times, but we know we have hundreds of people cheering us on, invested in our happiness and our success. And starting the first day of marriage celebrating with all those people we love is a gift to all of us.”

What are your thoughts on Mormon weddings?

Does your stake have a ‘wedding book’? Tell me about it!

What are your favorite wedding traditions?




About Michelle Lehnardt

(Blog Team) I'm the kind of mom who drives through mud puddles, throws pumpkins off the roof and lets the kids move the ping-pong table into the kitchen for the summer. Despite (or probably, because of) my immaturity, my five sons and one daughter are happy, thriving, funny people. I'll climb a mountain with you, jump into a freezing lake hand-in-hand or just sit with you while you cry. I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ will heal the earth. Founder of buildyourteenager.com, scenesfromthewild.net and rubygirl.org.

11 thoughts on “Our Big Fat Mormon Weddings”

  1. What precious thoughts! Thank you for getting to the heart of things! I'd never really thought about the "universal" (in my small universe) support for weddings. I think you've hit on something there.

    No wedding notebook in our stake, but what a super idea. Yet, we all seem to know who has what. And I keep a list in the front of my "wedding notebook" of all the English ivy, floating bowls, twinkle lights, etc…I have to lend.

    When her first daughter was married 20 years ago my super organized friend, Sherry, put together a wedding notebook. It has been a lifesaver – all the eastern protocol, good resources for invitations, ways to handle the fact that most of us troop 2 hours (except in the summer when it can be 5 hours) to the DC temple and then RACE back for the reception, and other glorious ideas. I have a digital copy of the original version if anyone wants. it's terrific.

    I love the pictures you shared Michelle! They just make the heart race faster!

    Thanks for a delightful and meaningful post!

  2. We have had two weddings in the 18 months that our family has lived in a branch. Coming from large Utah wards, I've been impressed that in both of these cases, the Relief Society has gone all out to do almost *everything* for these weddings. Someone has been asked by the RS presidency each time to be a liaison between the RS and the family to see what needs done and get the bride and her mother the help they need. Sign-ups have been passed around for the RS sisters to provide *all* the food. Sisters in the branch have made the cakes, done the flowers, provided the decorations. Basically the branch has provided everything except the dresses. In both cases, the families involved had very little money to spend, and I've been impressed with how the sisters stepped up to make sure that the families involved had a beautiful wedding to look back on.

  3. I had the unique experience of having both kinds of weddings — when my husband and I got married, he was not a member of the church, so we had a really nice wedding and reception in Utah, where everyone pitched in and we had a great time. A few weeks later, we had a reception at a country club in my husband's home town, complete with dancing, live music, the whole works. Even at that one, though, my in-laws friends came through with a variety of things — the country club was offered as a way for their friends to meet their yearly financial obligation to it, the live music was two guys they knew from their church.
    When people *offer* their help, and their talents, that's one thing, but it frustrates me when people *expect* all of the flowers and photographers to just show up, even if the couple/ families have had a little time to plan.

  4. Back in the day when it was just a reception in the cultural hall with punch, cookies, and those little cups with mints and nuts, then Mormon weddings really were cost effective. Ah, the good old days when everything was the same.

  5. I grew up outside of Utah and moved here about 8 years ago. Since moving here I have been to a ton of Mormon weddings. I love that Mormon weddings bring everyone together and I love that we are good at stretching out our money, but can we talk about how BORING most Mormon weddings are? The grand event of the reception is the receiving line. I wish more Mormons understood that it's a celebration that should be full of dancing and fun! It's a joyous occasion!

  6. M2theH: Thanks for taking me back to our very modest reception, that looked, pretty much, liked what you just described. It seemed just fine to me back then, too! My biggest regret was not spending the money for a professional photographer for the reception-chose the cheaper route of a friend in the ward with skills, supposedly. Consequently, poor quality photos and no chance for a do-over. Still, I have to smile because none of us really resemble those people in the photographs anymore-not even close! And then a huge guffaw when I think of the sisters that told me I could use my rather expensive wedding dress (expensive to me anyway!) as a temple dress. It was a simple, yet elegant gown. Unfortunately, unlike the temple, I would not remain a size 9 juniors for eternity…again, not even close! 🙂

  7. One thing that was a shock to me that I had never seen before outside of "Zion" (Utah and southeastern Idaho) at receptions, which isn't done anymore, thank goodness, was a program as part of the reception. (I always referred to it as a talent show). Sappy poetry, love songs, tributes – all from the heart, but oh my gosh. Sorry brothers and sisters: not done well and almost painful.
    One thing I'm noticing that also seems to be going by the wayside to a certain degree, which I'm not happy to see, is no line for guests to offer their best wishes. I don't care if there's bridesmaids and ushers or groomsmen or whatever the correct term is: there should be the bride and groom and both sets of parents to greet those who attend. I've been to more receptions the last few years where I've watched people come into the reception, sign the guest book, then stand there with a "deer in the headlights" look trying to figure out where they're supposed to go and who they can talk to.
    Bad manners in my world: make it easy and welcoming for those who take their time to come to immediately see and talk to the bride and groom and parents.
    Put yourself in the place of the guests and you'll get it ride.
    There's no such thing as too many manners and graciousness – which by definition is making the other person comfortable and welcomed.


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