I photographed a bat mitzvah a few weeks ago. This is not something I get to do very often, but I always relish the chance. Bar and bat mitzvahs are so fun, unabashedly celebratory, and I think that age 13 is just about the perfect time to remind a young adult that of the love and support of family and community. The clients for this bat mitzvah were particularly wonderful and I could tell from the first moment I met them last summer how much they loved their daughter and wanted this bat mitzvah to be a really affirming expression of that love.
The party was exhilarating—a whirlwind, really—and at the end of the night, after all the guests had gone home and I had packed up most of the cameras, I went to say good night to the bat mitzvah girl and her parents. Her father began to tell me how people had complained to him before the bat mitzvah, “it’s so much money to spend” and “it’s just a party” and “you’ll never remember it.” He continued on to tell me how happy he was with how the party turned out,¹ detailing how meaningful it was that his people had come all over the world for this party and he concluded, “you know, I think we will remember it.”
And something clicked.
He had paid the money and thrown himself headlong into the planning of this event not just for the daughter he and his wife love so much, for her birthday party or to honor and welcome her into a tradition, not even for the guests to have an incredible experience (which they certainly did), but so that he and his wife could have the privilege of gathering their people. From all over the world. Into one room.
What good sense. What clarity. No one has ever articulated the why of a celebration so well to me. (Also maybe it’s harder to see with weddings, perhaps because we kind of hope it’s really about ourselves when we get married). You gather your people. You gather your people at these singular moments in your life for the joy of being together, all together, all at once.
So often my wedding clients talk about how incredible and humbling and overwhelming it is to see their people all together. One of the keenest memories of my own wedding is turning around during the ceremony and seeing the faces of my loved ones all together. I think I’ve talked about that here on the blog before. But we don’t always or easily anticipate that, plan for it in the planning of the wedding.
I’ve seen some pretty crummy comments around the web, even here on this blog, about how much money people spend on their weddings. Although there are lots of reasons for not spending money on a wedding (or anything else), folks might be missing the point. It’s not about a dollar amount. It’s about why whatever money people choose to spend is worth it to them.
photo: Gia Canali