After two years and three wedding ceremonies, Benji Damron and Paris Yuan were left standing in blinding sunlight on a dusty road in Xinxiang, China, 400 miles south of Beijing. It was May 2017, and they had just completed the most elaborate stop in a whirlwind of celebration. But, here they were all sweaty as they waited with others for a cab. The humor of the situation was not lost on them.
“Despite it not being traditionally romantic, it’s still one of my fondest memories,” said Damron, a 43-year-old architect from London, Ind.
He and Yuan, 30, had gone through an abbreviated version of the traditional Chinese wedding ceremony Yuan, who was raised in Beijing, did not recognize most of the 100 guests, but that was irrelevant. The event was an honorary gesture for her parents.
Besides, the couple had already gotten married their way — twice. Their legal ceremony was Sept. 10, 2015, at San Francisco City Hall, surrounded by close friends. They had a more formal ceremony that June with 50 guests in the tower of the de Young Museum, also in San Francisco.
Multiceremony wedding experiences are becoming more common among couples looking to accommodate different cultural and religious backgrounds, not to mention guests who may not be able to afford pricey destination weddings. (Jove Meyer, a wedding planner in New York, says that 15 percent of the couples he has worked with in the past year have had more than one ceremony.)
Nearly 60 percent of individuals these days are marrying someone with a different background, according to the WeddingWire, which tracks wedding trends and operates an online marketplace for the industry. “This means that it’s no longer considered over the top if a couple wants to host multiple celebrations,” said Jeffra Trumpower, creative director of WeddingWire.
Many of these multiple celebrations do, in fact, qualify as over the top, with some costing well into six figures. The average cost was $50,000, according to the WeddingWire, a little more than the $38,700 national average for all weddings.
Cultural celebrations may be especially elaborate and include larger guest lists. For Damron and Yuan, it was the final Chinese ceremony that cost the most, at an estimated $55,000. (Yuan’s parents footed the bill.) That ceremony included a walk through an artificial fire meant to symbolize the couple’s ability to conquer life’s adversities, along with shots of Baijiu, a white grain alcohol native to China, that they drank as they greeted the guests.
Not all multiceremonies have to break the bank. “It truly depends on how couples prioritize spending based on their preferences, how many guests they invite and how they decide to personalize it,” Trumpower said.
Some couples manage to keep their spending lower by taking a more casual, carefree approach.
Grace Sun, 46, and Miguel Blanco, 41, split their time between Sun’s home in New York and Blanco’s home in Hendaye, Spain. After getting engaged in Morocco in March 2018, the couple put together an unofficial wedding ceremony during a trip they had already planned in France that July. “We didn’t want to wait another year to get married and we just thought, ‘You know what, it doesn’t need to be traditional, it’s just a love celebration, and we can always have more than one,’” Sun said.
Their celebration included 26 people, mostly Blanco’s family and some friends, at the surfer haunt Le Restaurant C on the beach at Cenitz, a short drive from Hendaye. The biggest expense was Sun’s $1,895 Jonathan Simkhai dress, which she ordered online. Three months later, the couple celebrated again with 30 of Sun’s family members and close friends in her sister’s backyard and at a nearby beach in Marina del Rey, Calif. Expenses were limited to a food truck and bartender, as well as a Marchesa dress bought on sale by Sun. Blanco wore the same Zara suit to both events. Overall, they spent a total of $11,000.
“All of the pomp and circumstance, and stress, can make you lose sight of why you’re having a wedding in the first place, so I wanted this to be more relaxed and festive,” Sun said.
Of course, it’s not just couples who have to shore up their savings for weddings. The average American wedding guest spends $372 to $628, depending on how close they are to the couple and their direct involvement in the wedding, according to the financial services company Bankrate. Multiply these numbers by two or three events and it becomes awkward for couples to insist on attendance at each ceremony, so most try to avoid too much overlap in the guest list.
In 2017, Tim Harrison, 36, and Nick Harris, 39, held two wedding celebrations to accommodate friends and family — one was in Milwaukee and another in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, their hometowns. Only 25 guests attended both, and all were Australian family and friends of Harris who seemed happy to continue the party.
For those ceremonies that do involve a lot of invite overlap, keeping each one fresh for both the couple and their guests is key, said Jung Lee, a founder of the event production company Fête NY. “Each one should feel like a totally different experience.”
But Lee is hesitant to plan multiceremony events that extend past the one-year mark. “I think beyond that, you’ve lost momentum,” she said.
Yuan and Damron found that to be true. They contemplated hosting yet another ceremony in Indiana for his family after the Chinese wedding, but ultimately decided to shelve it. “Setting boundaries is important,” said Damron, adding that he would likely have a family dinner during their next trip instead.