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The Big, Elaborate, Showy Wedding
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So as you put down a $5,000 deposit here and a $3,000 deposit there, you feel reassured that these big checks are linking you to tradition. Throughout history, the families of brides have shelled out enormous sums of money to put on good parties. Right?

Well, no. That's not entirely right.

While the aristocratic families in some cultures have always put on expensive weddings to show their place in society, the traditional American wedding was more like a barn raising.

In fact, among frontier families, the lack of access to a preacher led to the acknowledgement -- and legalization -- of common-law marriages, where a couple who moves in together receives all the rights and privileges of marriage.

In more established communities, the bride's female family members and friends would hold special quilting circles to embroider and create her trousseau. The ceremonies, the receptions and the setting up of households were all-encompassing community events.

Then the society families started collecting gifts.

Apparently there's a whole literature surrounding the recording of gifts, the photographing of gift tables and the praising or humiliation of the gift-givers, based upon the lavishness of their donations. And, well, if it was good enough for the rich, then it was good enough for everyone else, too.

So you had to have the invitations. You had to have the catered meal. And, in more modern times, there's the tip of the hat to your donors in the party favors, which can be incredibly elaborate.

So the big wedding originates from perhaps the strangest phenomenon of all -- the consumer society. Conspicuous consumption. The mass messages coming in from advertising and going out through social networking.

But, of course, it's been going on for well over a century now. So perhaps it's only fair to call it tradition.

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