April and May have been busy times around these parts, leading up to this week’s launch of my newly redesigned web site. In honor of this significant milestone, I’m starting this series of blog posts about chuppahs. Today, the first in the series: Planning Your Chuppah. The Basics!
Before I start with practical advice, I want to share with you Anita Diamant’s explanation for what a chuppah is, and what it represents:
The bridal canopy is a multifaceted symbol: it is a home, a garment, a bedcovering, and a reminder of the tents of nomadic ancestors. The fact that the huppah is open on all sides recalls in particular the tent of the biblical Abraham, a paragon of hospitality, who had doors on all four sides of his dwelling so that visitors would always know they were welcome. […]
Huppah means ‘that which covers or floats above.’ It is said that the space beneath the canopy is spiritually charged because the divine Name floats above it.
Diamant goes on to point out that, while the chuppah has a legal function, there are no specific requirements for its size or decoration: “Its appearance is entirely a matter of taste, another opportunity for personal expression and hiddur mitzvah–the beautification of piety.”
I love this explanation because it addresses a concern I sometimes hear from clients, especially those who’ve been given the task of planning a chuppah without knowing a lot about chuppahs. (And really, who knows a lot about chuppahs? Unless you’re Anita Diamant or your work involves weddings somehow, it’s not something that comes up every day.) When I’m asked if there are “rules” for chuppahs, my answer is always:
– choose something that feels beautiful to you
– everything else takes care of itself
The Practical Advice Part
That said, there are some practical decisions to be made when planning your chuppah. Here are some tips to help you make them:
1. Hand-held or freestanding?
A hand-held chuppah is hung from poles that are held up by four (or more) people for the duration of the wedding ceremony. A freestanding chuppah is supported by a frame or similar structure, often decorated with flowers or drapery.
Whether you choose to have your chuppah hand-held or freestanding is a matter of personal preference. Both types of chuppah have roots in tradition and are appropriate to a variety of situations. Here are some factors to consider when deciding which you’d like:
Advantages of a freestanding chuppah:
- With no weight or stability concerns, the chuppah can be any size, and hold any type of decoration
- Creates a beautiful focal point before and during the ceremony
Advantages of a hand-held chuppah:
- Having people important to you hold up your chuppah can be very moving and significant
- The chuppah is completely portable, so it works in situations where a freestanding chuppah isn’t possible
When opting for a hand-held chuppah, keep in mind that objects that don’t seem heavy at first can become so after a few minutes of holding them. Choose poles that aren’t weighty objects in themselves, and make them long enough that the pole-bearers can rest them on the ground during the ceremony. Many florists can provide stands or specially-adapted planters that the poles can be inserted into to help support them.
2. How big should a chuppah be?
a. Let’s start with the easy, but often overlooked, dimension: height.
It seems obvious, but it’s easy to forget about height. We’ve all seen cute wedding photos of a couple in front of their chuppah…because it’s a little too short to pose comfortably under it. A super-intimate chuppah is a valid choice, but a little headroom is nice!
Tips: If you have a fabric chuppah, factor in some drape. Getting fabric to be really tight on a frame isn’t always possible or desirable. If your chuppah will be hand-held, assume even more drape. People tend to move closer to interesting things without realizing it, and your 7′ tall chuppah can become 5′ before you know it.
(Also, don’t forget your partner’s height, if it’s very different from yours. My husband and I are both 5’7″ and our 7′ chuppah felt just the right height–but if he was 6’7″ he would have been stooping a little.)
How much breathing space you need above your heads is up to you–just don’t forget to give yourself some!
b. Square footage: how much area do you need?
At minimum, the chuppah needs to be big enough for the couple and officiant(s) to stand underneath it. Four by five feet is small, but comfortable for three to four people. If you want to have a few more people stand under the chuppah with you, dimensions from 6′ x 6′ to 8′ x 8′ will give you ample room.
With larger size comes greater weight. It can be awkward to hold a very large chuppah on poles, so if you choose a canopy 6′ x 6′ or larger I recommend a freestanding chuppah.
c. Size issues to remember:
- If your ceremony is going to be on a platform or stage, your chuppah can’t be bigger than that. If the chuppah is going to be hand-held, don’t forget to allow at least 2 feet outside the chuppah on all sides for your pole-bearers to stand on.
- If you’re getting married on a rocky outcropping in a park, in a little grove of trees, or another spot with natural limits, that might decide for you how big your chuppah can be. Don’t make a final decision on size until you know the constraints of your site.
3. Freestanding chuppahs: canopy size vs. frame size
It’s a common scenario for the size of the chuppah canopy to match the size of the frame (that is, a 6′ x 6′ canopy on a 6′ x 6′ frame), but it’s not essential.
- A canopy that’s larger than the frame can be laid over the top with the extra material hanging gracefully over the sides. (When this is done in a structured way it’s called a valance.)
- A canopy smaller than the frame can be suspended from the frame’s corners with longer ribbons or ties, or the frame can be fitted with a plain canopy and the smaller piece pinned to it.
If your chuppah frame will be provided by your florist, planner or event designer, be sure to consult them early about the available frames and their dimensions so that you can plan your canopy accordingly.
If you have questions, or other tips to share, please leave in them in the comments!