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KATHERINE COLE: Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Katherine Cole.
MARIO RITTER: And I'm Mario Ritter. This week -- weddings in America.
(MUSIC: "Halleujah Chorus" / Handel's "Messiah")
KATHERINE COLE: A very special wedding took place on July thirty-first in a small town in New York State. Chelsea Clinton married Marc Mezvinsky.
Chelsea is the daughter of former President Bill Clinton and the current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Marc is the son of two former Democratic members of Congress -- Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky and Edward Mezvinsky.
The Clintons tried to keep the wedding top secret. Guests were not told where the wedding was to be held until a week before the event.
But word leaked out that it was to take place in the town of Rhinebeck, about a two-hour drive from New York City.
People and businesses in the town who were involved in the wedding were not permitted to talk about it. Reporters were not permitted to go near the wedding. Planes and news helicopters were not permitted to fly over it.
About four hundred people reportedly attended the wedding. It was held in a huge tent on the grounds of a famous house called Astor Courts overlooking the Hudson River.
It included traditions from both religions of the bride and groom. Ms. Clinton is Methodist and Mr. Mezvinsky is Jewish.
The wedding got an extreme amount of attention from the media. Some called it the wedding of the year – or the decade – or the century.
(MUSIC: "Here Comes the Bride")
MARIO RITTER: But many other weddings are taking place in the United States this summer. The most popular months are June, July and August.
Each year, more than two million weddings take place in the United States. More than seventy billion dollars is spent on those weddings. And that does not include honeymoon travel for the newlyweds.
Some people have big weddings and invite everyone they know. Some have small, simple weddings and invite only their closest friends and family members. And some elope. They get married first and tell people later.
KATHERINE COLE: Spending on weddings has reportedly dropped about ten percent in recent years because of the economic recession. Still, the average cost of a wedding is more than twenty thousand dollars.
However, people can find many ways to save money on their weddings. For example, they invite fewer people. Or they buy flowers from a local farmer's market instead of a professional florist. The bride may buy a used gown rather than paying thousands of dollars for a new one.
Traditionally the bride's parents pay for the wedding. But Americans now get married at an older age than they once did. So working couples might pay for some or all of the wedding themselves.
Or the two families share the costs. Many parents of brides think this is a wonderful idea.
MARIO RITTER: Many couples plan their weddings themselves. But some hire a wedding planner to organize everything for them. The planner helps the bride find a wedding dress as well as dresses for her bridesmaids.
The planner helps find a place for the reception after the ceremony. And the planner organizes all the details for the celebration, from the flowers to the food to the entertainment.
Finally, during the ceremony and reception, the planner makes sure that everything takes place as planned.
(MUSIC: "Chapel of Love" / Dixie Cups)
KATHERINE COLE: Some couples have a religious ceremony. Others have a civil wedding before a judge or some other official. And some have both.
During a wedding, the couple might read special vows or promises that they have written for each other.
Many ceremonies share common customs. For example, the bride may wear a long white dress and have a white veil over her face.
An old tradition says brides should wear something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. These four things are supposed to bring good luck.
The groom traditionally wears a tuxedo. Picture a nervous penguin if the suit is black and the shirt is white.
Usually the bride's father or another relative walks her down the aisle and presents her to the groom. Sometimes both parents share this tradition.
MARIO RITTER: Different cultures have their own traditions. For example, African-American weddings may include "jumping the broom." This is an old tradition where couples jump over a broomstick laid on the ground.
America is known as a nation of immigrants. Each group brings its own wedding customs and traditions to the mix. But one tradition at most weddings is music.
There might be recorded dance music or a live band at the reception.
At the wedding itself, many couples hire small chamber groups to play classical music before and at the end of the ceremony. One musical tradition is "Trumpet Voluntary."
Another classical favorite at weddings is "Sheep May Safely Graze" by Johann Sebastian Bach.
During the reception, the guests dance to popular music, like this song.
(MUSIC: "I Gotta Feeling" / Black Eyed Peas)
KATHERINE COLE: Some couples have a "destination wedding." Think of it as a wedding and honeymoon all in one. The bride and groom invite a small group of guests to travel someplace special for the ceremony.
Some couples want to get married in a famous place like Disneyland or Las Vegas. Others choose a place that will not be too far for all the guests to travel.
Or they choose someplace where many other people have gotten married. Many couples get married on the beach in Hawaii, in Mexico or an island in the Caribbean.
With many weddings, the celebration lasts three days. Many of the guests are invited to a dinner on the night before the wedding. Then there is the reception after the ceremony, and often another meal the following morning.
(MUSIC: "Wedding March")
MARIO RITTER: Thanks to the Internet, couples can make a lot of their wedding preparations online. One popular website, for example, is theknot.com. It provides information and tools to plan a wedding -- from dresses to invitations to cakes.
Technology has also made it easier for other people to decide what to give the couple for a wedding gift. The future newlyweds can go to stores and choose the gifts they would like to receive. The information is entered into a list on a wedding registry.
Friends and relatives do not even have to go to the store to choose a gift from the registry. They can order online. Gift registries help the bride and groom get things they want and avoid things they do not want -- like three of the same gift.
Some couples planning a wedding create their own websites so they can provide information to the people they invite.
KATHERINE COLE: With all the planning that goes into some weddings, it is easy to forget what the event is all about.
A minister in Maryland advises couples to remember one thing. The wedding is over quickly, but the feelings for each other have to last a lifetime.
(MUSIC: "At Last" / Etta James)
MARIO RITTER: Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and Shelley Gollust and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Mario Ritter.
KATHERINE COLE: And I’m Katherine Cole. Tell us about wedding traditions where you are. Go to voaspecialenglish.com or post your comments on Facebook or Twitter at VOA Learning English. You can also find transcripts and MP3s of our programs. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.