We had the very special opportunity to witness the marriage of my cousin, Esmee, to her long-time friend, Stefan. Esmee wanted the fairy tale wedding packed full of traditions and drama. It has been pretty rotten weather in the Netherlands for the last couple months, so people haven’t been too optomistic about outdoor events. However, Esmee was hopeful and she got her wish: a beautiful rainless day with sun and warmth in order to take photographs outdoors and enjoy the grounds of the castle they had reserved.
A brunch at the bride’s home
A dutch wedding begins at the bride’s family home where family and a few close friends will gather and wait for the groom to bring the bouquet and steal the bride. (I guess today the bride has input in the bouquet, but traditionally it is a surprise). Each guest receives a corsage, the men are to pin theirs upside down whereas the girls can do theirs either way.
The groom arrives Part I
Stefan arrived and all the guests hurry out to the driveway where we witness their first embrace. People take photos, the bride and groom examine each other and then off they go to the wedding. After eating some more sandwiches we, the guests, caravan off to the wedding site.
This wedding took place about 45 minutes away from their house in a small, rural town. Since the party would go until 2am and offer the guests plenty of, er, refreshments, many guests booked into a nearby hotel where the bride’s family hosted a breakfast the following morning. After checking into the hotel, we boarded the ‘party bus’ out to the Kasteel.
The Kasteel was beautiful! The guests were greeted by the MCs who presided over the whole day. We received cold and hot drinks and meandered around the Kasteel’s restored rooms.
I must make a note of the beautiful Dutch light. It makes for amazing interior and exterior photographs!
The groom arrives Part II
So we have a few drinks and then the moment arrives for the groom to make his entrance. We all pack the foyer and wave as the groom arrives in a vintage car.
We clap and then return to our drinks. Minutes later the MC announces that the bride will now present herself down the long flowing staircase. Of course, this is done to music, a country song (Esmee loves country!) I believe. We take more photos, the bride and groom embrace in front of the guests. We all take more drinks and the bride and groom run off to make final preparations for the ceremony. Several drinks later we head into the ceremony room where my mom suggested to the photographer that they ban photographs. This would keep the kind, polite, Dutch guests from ruining the photographer’s job. It seemed to work.
I must make a note about the Bridal Party. While the Dutch are generally obsessed with American culture, the bridesmaids/groomsmen thing hasn’t quite caught on. Usually the bride takes young (under aged 12) relatives as her attendants and they are primarily decorative pieces. The bride & groom had their photographer take group shots with their friends as we do in the US, but it isn’t formalized like we do. This certainly doesn’t get the bride’s close girlfriends off the hook with supporting roles. They plan the bachelorette parties, showers (also uncommon), organize gifts, skits, guests, seating charts and other tasks. The guys put on a bachelor party for Stefan (which was reported during the ceremony).
As in American tradition, the family members were escorted in, the guests took their seats and the groom took his place at the front. The bride entered, escorted by her father and then the bride/groom sat down on two chairs at the front. They had a female officiant whose assistant (?) introduced both her and the wedding couple. The officient then began a series of “this is what we’re going to do, now we’re doing it, there we’re done” instructions. Comical, especially when it’s in another language. My mom tried to translate for the three of us but didn’t want to distract the other guests. So…don’t ask me to give you a word-by-word, but let’s just say it was VERY different than our ceremony.
Officiant introduces couple (duh, we obviously know them already) then tells their back history, how they met, the proposal story and finally compliments them on how they look today (duh, we also know all of this). She then asks them how they are feeling (seriously?!) and then asks her nephews in the audience what they think of everything. She also described some details about the bachelorette/bachelor parties including having the 14 guys that showed up in Stefan’s kitchen buck-naked to take him out to please stand up. The Dutch want to make fun and then be recognized for it (and apparently the ceremony was a perfect place to do this?). Ok, back to the task at hand. Officiant describes that she will ask them if they take the responsibility and will adhere to the law. Then she discusses the Dutch law around marriage (in lieu of religious text passages). She asks them to swear by the law that they will be faithful to one another. They answer : Ja.
The ring-bearer (Benji, their poodle) forgot his cue, so they had to get the niece (the only bridesmaid) to bring the rings instead. They exchanged rings, gave a kiss, more words by the Officiant and finally the congratulations. The officiant shook hands with the couple and each of the family members before she dismissed the couple to proceed out of the room.
Now, guests could join the couple in the hall again for more drinks and finally the reception line. They brought the cake out and we all shared a piece with our champagne. A champagne toast was followed by releasing of doves/balloons and more drinks. I must say that by this time, though we thirst not, we are hungry; so having the cake helps tide us over until dinner.
(now you know why they 1. rented the party bus and 2. had everyone stay at the hotel)
After the champagne, the couple headed outside to release a pair of doves while the guests released their balloons. Not sure what this symbolizes…
We filed into another banquet room where a 3 course dinner was served (delicious). My mom went around to every table to explain the ‘make the groom/bride kiss’ game. When she returned, she and my mom started a very popular glass clinking trend that while the guests were enjoying, the bride/groom didn’t seem to catch on very well (shame on you!). There were speeches and gifts presented by the bride/groom to the family and all the people who helped out.
After the dinner, the ‘after dinner’ guests showed up for the dance party. We were encouraged to present our gifts at this time. Each person or group approached the bride/groom to give their regards and gifts.We signed the guestbook and got ready for the dance.
The band was setting up in the room next door and the kitchen was preparing the round of appetizers that would be served over the next few hours: Dutch classics like krokets, bitter ballen, chicken nuggets, salted herring, etc. During the band breaks, the bride’s friends and groom’s friends both presented skits. There were a few videos and slideshows, many with sing-a-long components. The MOB with several friends preformed a special Backstreet Boys song in costume! Everybody was having a good time and had no problems holding back all sorts of jabs and inappropriate sexual references.
Somewhere around 2:30am the party bus showed up to drive us all back to the hotel. Pretty much everyone was drunk (save the Cooleys, Donaldsons and a handful of ‘wiser’ guests) and the boys were hanging off every possible ceiling pole in the bus. At one point, his friends had shoved Stefan into the upper baggage compartment!
We fell into our beds dreading the 9am wake up call for breakfast. They made a nice spread and we appreciated being able to see everyone again and have a nice send-off. Not a single Dutch person was late to the breakfast even though rumor has it that Es & Stefan’s friends were running around the hotel drinking and breaking things until 5am. I guess that proves not much gets in the way of Dutch promptness!