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What millennial wedding celebrations are all about

Hint: It doesn’t have anything to do with a trendy gown, expensive cake, or splashy location.

Like her marriage proposal, Katie McCarthy's wedding will be steeped in meaning. The 25-year-old from South Boston accepted Chris Gorczyca's proposal hand-painted inside a mug of tea, and the pair will celebrate in June at the Taj, where McCarthy marked many other special occasions, including her ninth birthday (it was then the Ritz-Carlton), with afternoon tea parties. "My grandmother would take me," she recalls. "I remember being awestruck that there were chandeliers in the bathroom."

Weaving sentimental moments and other details from her past into her modern-day wedding is a must for McCarthy and for many other millennial brides looking to add personal significance to their big day. "Just a few years ago, it was dream weddings and all about the bride," says Amy Kimball, owner of the Boston-based event planning company that bears her name. Millennials care less about opulence and more about incorporating elements of nostalgia and emotion, she says.


"Clients are now saying to me: 'I want our guests to walk in and feel that is really [us],' not 'Wow, did you see that floral arrangement?' . . . Of course, the details are still very important, as that is how you are telling the story, but the desire is for the wedding itself to be an extension of the couple, their history, what is important to them, and who they truly are to the people that really know them, not their 900 friends on Facebook."

For McCarthy, the connection to tea and her grandmother became a natural wedding theme when Gorczyca proposed during breakfast last May. As she sipped from her mug, the words "Good Morning, Beautiful. Will you marry me?" appeared inside. "He knows I don't finish my tea, so he didn't put the words at the bottom of the mug," says McCarthy, who plans to give her 200 guests mugs as a wedding favor.


Lauren Kay, senior style editor at The Knot website, says personalizing weddings in the age of Instagram is about "theming a moment" for a unique experience. And with couples taking on more of the financial load of their weddings, they feel more empowered to customize the events, she says. "Maybe there's a themed party at the Friday night rehearsal dinner or a Star Wars-inspired after-party, a favorite dish or a family dish as part of the wedding menu. Even the music — now it's very reflective, incorporating favorite songs into the wedding processional, or unique performances, a choir, marching band, things that are a little nontraditional or surprising."

To welcome family, Jean Wang and Nick Nelson arranged for a version of the traditional Chinese wedding tea ceremony as part of their celebration at the Lenox Hotel last June.Katch Studios

It was the traditional Chinese wedding tea ceremony that Jean Wang and Nick Nelson wanted to include in their nuptials, but the Boston couple arranged for a modified version for their celebration last June at the Lenox Hotel. "We made it a little bit shorter, and we didn't wear red brocade silk [the color representing luck and prosperity]. We just took our own spin on that," says Wang, who wrote about the event on her fashion blog, Extra Petite.

Wang, now 28, wore a customized convertible dress with removable mandarin collar while Nelson, 30, sported a suit. The couple served tea to both sets of parents as well as Wang's grandparents and aunts and uncles who had traveled from China.

Kimball says that keeping the larger celebration in mind and not getting lost in the details is important. She remembers Boston clients who had fallen in love in Vermont and wanted to hold their October wedding there. "It meant so much, but honestly the logistics — guests flying in from California and New York — it ended up being such a nightmare," she says. "We spent a long time trying to make it work, but we changed it and went urban, having it at Mooo [in Boston]. It ended up working out, and it did still have meaning."


Annie Schneidman and Matt Coleman of South Boston eventually gave up on the idea of including Lucky, their chocolate Lab/basset hound mix, in their September 2014 wedding. "We love her so much, but she's pretty naughty," the now Annie Coleman says. "We couldn't figure out a way to have her at the Chatham Bars Inn. She's honestly such a handful."

The investment management analyst, now 29, eventually settled on the next best thing. "We had this genius idea to have her picture as the table numbers, so we went to Carson Beach and took photos," Annie says. "She was on our save-the-date as well. Everyone knows how crazy and particular I am about the dog. They thought it was so funny and so sentimental."

The Knot's Kay says the Colemans' creative but practical solution illustrates perfectly how couples can balance nostalgic moments with being guest-friendly. She advises a less-is-more approach. "If you walk up or down the aisle to a rock song, guests will remember that. Do not go overboard," she says. "If you have too many details, they will go unnoticed. Realize you don't have to have everything. It's a flaw of Pinterest."


Annie Schneidman and Matt Coleman took photos of their dog, Lucky, for the table numbers at their Chatham Bars Inn

Jennifer Pabian and Jonathan Wirt will be following Kay's advice at their July wedding at the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston. Pabian, who grew up in Sharon and now lives in Brooklyn with her fiance, plans to celebrate her close family ties with small details built into the ceremony and reception. She asked her 83-year-old grandmother, Marcia Bigney — who had cancer when Pabian was born and vowed to survive it so she could dance at her granddaughter's wedding — to tell her story at the pre-ceremony signing of the ketubah (the Jewish marriage contract). A jazz group will play during cocktails in honor of Pabian's grandfather, a saxophonist who died in 2000. Wirt will wear Pabian's grandfather's wedding ring during the ceremony, and Pabian will wear her great-grandmother's gold ring.

"I like the traditions," she says. "The people who should appreciate them will notice them."

Some details will be barely visible. Most of the 175 guests, for example, won't see that the bustle on Pabian's wedding dress includes a piece of her mom's wedding veil. But they will notice a wall of photographs featuring wedding pictures from the bride and groom's parents and grandparents.

"My parents are middle school sweethearts, married 37 years. That's rare, and I met somebody whose parents are married 35 years. We have a charmed family background," Pabian says. "It's not something I'll be broadcasting. It's not a spectacle. It's just little things that mean a lot. Even though it's a big wedding, it's family."


Jill Radsken is a fashion writer in Boston. Send comments to