By Michele Schwartz
While other girls dreamt of the elegant wedding gowns they would someday wear, when I was young, I dreamt about my chuppah. To me, the chuppah represents the doorway into the heart of the couple married beneath.
The chuppah is the most recognizable symbol of a Jewish wedding. Meaning “covering” in Hebrew and open on all four sides as Abraham’s tent was to welcome strangers from all directions, the chuppah represents the future home of the bride and groom. Unlike many other Jewish ritual objects such as the tallit or mezuzah that follow Biblical commandments, the only rule about the construction of a chuppah is that it be a temporary structure made by human hands. Other than that, it’s yours to create. Symbolic or fun, adorned or simple, it represents who you are, or aspire to be, as a couple.
Whether the chuppah is small and intimate holding you, your groom and your officiant, or roomy enough for the entire wedding party to join you underneath the canopy, you have the freedom to decide. It can be freestanding or held over you by honored family and friends – the chuppah symbolizes you and those you hold dearest.
It is a mitzvah to beautify all Jewish ritual objects (hiddur mitzvah), and the chuppah is no exception. For example, a bride who was an artist by trade sent square fabric pieces to all of her wedding guests asking each to write or draw a blessing for her and her soon-to-be husband. The pieces were stitched together forming their wedding canopy, and it now hangs as a piece of memorable art in the couple’s home alongside their ketubah.
Of course, there are practical considerations before you get too far down the path of personalization.
How tall is your venue? Are there any height restrictions? Do you want a freestanding chuppah or a hand-held one? Or do you want it suspended from above?
If it is going to be hand-held, do you have four honorees with the stamina to hold the chuppah over your heads for 35 minutes or more? Are the poles made of a material easy for your honorees to hold? Are the poles a sufficient height to go over the head of the tallest person standing under it?
With the practical questions answered, let’s move to the fun questions. These will help you create a chuppah that represents your union.
Do you want to have a tallit as the canopy of your chuppah? If so, do you own one with sentimental value or do you want to borrow a family heirloom? For my wedding, we used my future stepson’s bar mitzvah tallit, which helped make him feel included in our new home and an important member of the new family we were creating.
I am fortunate in my work to see many beautiful chuppot every day! I’ve seen chuppot completely covered in sunflowers and one made of simple branches but standing under a stunning indoor tree. From exotic fabrics to tallitot to an array of flowers and even one adorned with colorful kites, the sky is the limit on what you might use. Add LED lights, hang a chandelier in the center, string with tea lights or stand underneath a skylight for natural lighting. It’s all up to you!
Dream about your fairytale dress, but take time to dream about your chuppah as well. Imagine the magical moment when you stand underneath it with your beloved, then let those feelings drive your creativity.
Michele Schwartz is a Jewish life cycle event expert and publisher of Modern Jewish Wedding planner and website. This story originally appeared in Modern Jewish Wedding (themodernjewishwedding.com) and is reprinted with permission. It has been edited to fit Jewish Life’s style.