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A Guide to Customized Chuppahs in Toronto

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For those of discerning taste, not just any wedding will do. There is a rapidly expanding market for customized weddings, and certainly Jewish weddings are no exception to this trend. The range of products and services fits any budget and preference, from hand crafted ketubahs (Jewish marriage contracts) to creative play lists on the dance floor. Wedding planners and vendors will do what it takes to make every bride and groom feel unique on their special day.

The centrepiece of the Jewish wedding ceremony is the chuppah, or Jewish wedding canopy. Open on all four sides, it represents the Jewish value of hospitality in the home to be established by the bride and groom. Chuppahs come in a variety of styles and materials, from ornate wooden carvings to an artistic draping of material. The main event of the Jewish wedding takes place under the chuppah, so it’s the ideal location for the bride and groom to demonstrate their creativity and unique vision for the journey they are beginning on their wedding day.

To customize a chuppah, one can start by consulting with a florist who has experience adorning wedding canopies. Florists will work with you to ensure a beautiful chuppah that is both colour-coordinated and on budget. Before the couple decides on a theme or colour pattern, it is important to consult with a florist to make sure that flowers in those colours will be available at that time of the year. Weddings often take on a seasonal theme, and it’s no coincidence. Flowers grow seasonally and a florist can guide you through the most cost-effective and appropriate floral choices for the occasion.

Often, the chuppah is used to highlight the central theme or colour pattern of a wedding, matching the decorations in the aisles, the bridesmaids’ dress colour or by using different patterns and hues to achieve an overall look for a themed wedding. Working with experienced wedding planners and designers can prove to be a valuable source of information to create a chuppah that fits a couple’s individual style.

All Toronto synagogues, such as the BAYT and Shaarei Shomayim, offer the use of their chuppah for couples using their venue to get married. Popular wedding halls, such as Paradise Banquet Halls and the Terrace Banquet Hall, both located in Vaughan and under COR kosher supervision, also offer the use of a chuppah. There is also the option, however, of renting a chuppah for the evening, and a number of local Toronto businesses rent out chuppahs, both simple and elaborate, for reasonable rental fees, and will also construct and take them down on the day of the wedding in order to minimize the hassle for the wedding planner and care-taking staff at the wedding venue.

One such Toronto-based company is chuppah.ca. It offers both free-standing and hand-held chuppahs to meet many budgets and preferences, and, once booked, these chuppahs can be further customized with flowers and other decorations. Many couples prefer hand-held chuppahs, where each corner of the chuppah is supported by a member of the wedding party or close friends in order to include more people in the wedding ceremony. The most traditional type of hand-held chuppah is to use a large tallit, prayer shawl, held up at the four corners by people close to the bride and groom. Often the prayer shawl is a family heirloom, creating a sense of sentimental value and nostalgia while the couple exchange their vows.

Searching local online classifieds, such as Kijiji, can also prove to be a valuable source for customized wedding pieces, and interested buyers can often find one of a kind creations at steep discounts as people try to re-sell chuppahs and other wedding related items from their own weddings. Buyer beware, though, since items bought and sold through online listings are not guaranteed to be free of defects and other issues. As with so many things, there are some great deals to be had by those people who don’t mind doing some of the “schlepping” themselves.

The highest end option for couples who want a truly unique chuppah, one they will keep as a memento of their special day, is to the commission the design and creation of a completely new chuppah. There are many designers in Toronto who, with enough lead time, can create unparalleled and personalized works of art that truly represent the tastes and ideas of the bride and groom. The Canopy Company, based in Toronto, Montreal and New York, creates custom chuppahs in a variety of materials and styles for their discerning customers. One of the most popular types of customized chuppah is made from paper, with elaborate designs cut into layers of delicate paper to create an incredible effect for those standing under the chuppah and those watching the ceremony.

One of the most important resources for ideas and designers for any couple with a creative wedding on their mind is the website Etsy, a marketplace for artisans of all kinds to sell their products and share ideas with one another. Many of the items for sale on Etsy are one of a kind, and the artists work collaboratively with the customers to create pieces with a genuine artistic process and a story that the happy couple will be able to share with their friends and family at their wedding and beyond.

As the backdrop for so many pictures and the centre of the action at the wedding ceremony, the chuppah provides a canvas for many brides and grooms to flex their creative muscle and create customized and memorable chuppahs for their weddings. The possibilities for the chuppah are limitless, and there are many vendors and designers in Toronto who can help create unique and meaningful chuppahs for couples of all traditions and religious backgrounds, as well as personal tastes. From the most simple prayer shawl to the most delicate paper cut out, the chuppah is the centrepiece of the wedding, and is certainly deserving of the couple’s attention and creativity, so think outside the box and find what you love!

Planning for a Jewish Winter Wedding in Toronto?

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Toronto’s cold weather snap has arrived with a bang in 2015. After a late start to the winter season, Canada’s biggest city has now endured days as cold as minus 40 Celsius. And for many members of Toronto’s Jewish community, wintertime is the season to temporarily relocate to Florida, Israel or other warmer temperatures, and return to Toronto in the spring.

But for others, winter in Toronto is a dream come true. Winter brings fluffy snow, ice skating rinks across the city, and skiing nearby all appeal to many people. And for many people planning weddings, wintertime offers a unique setting. Winter weddings can offer a picturesque environment, with the bride’s white dress and the white chuppah (wedding canopy) matching the snowy outside; a setting that almost feels frozen in time, and which can make any bride feel like a real-life princess, and make any groom feel like a true, old fashioned gentleman.

And while winter weddings may offer a visually appealing ceremony, it’s not all sunshine; they do come full of challenges. In the dead of winter, many prospective guests will be out of town, having gone to warmer climates. In Toronto’s cold weather, the guests who do arrive may arrive later than expected, causing delays with the ceremony. Or even just the simplest of reasons may cause problems for planning of winter weddings: December nuptials may just be harder to accommodate at wedding halls, due to other holiday-related parties taking place at the same time.

So if a winter wedding sounds like it’s just your kind of style, but you’re not sure whether it’s worth losing half your guests, and missing out on your first choice of dates, consider these five tips for planning a perfect winter wedding:

  1. Consider your size: Jewish weddings can vary wildly in size and in style. From smaller, more intimate gatherings in restaurants, to larger, more traditional affairs in synagogues or banquet halls, the first question that needs to be asked (and answered) is how many people you want to have at the event. In a winter wedding, remember that many people will be away on vacation in Florida, or simply will not be willing to travel during a snow squall to a wedding in Toronto. Even among those guests who RSVP in advance, nothing will guarantee that they will be able to make it to your big day when it comes, in case bad weather approaches, or flights are cancelled, so keep this in mind.
  2. Consider your guests: It’s easy to picture a beautiful wedding, with the bride and groom standing outside, posing for photographs as the snowflakes fall on their coats. But not everyone will be having a great time in the ice and cold outside; that may include older relatives, people with disabilities, or even small children. So if an event will be outside, look into valet parking, underground parking, or even just a covered canopy which will allow guests entry into the wedding venue without having to brave the outside elements. Also think about how you’d like to integrate your themes into the season, and whether that will mesh well with your choice of venue. For example, wintertime may be a beautiful season to look at for many, but will the chuppah also be located outside? If so, that could be uncomfortable for many guests, particularly those with difficulty moving. Many venues, like the new banquet hall at the Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Jewish Community Campus in Vaughan, offers underground parking and enclosed spaces, which are perfect for ceremonies.
  3. Consider cost: Like booking a flight to your favourite destination, sometimes the difference of a few days can make a big difference in cost. The cost difference between a Sunday or a Thursday wedding can be significant, and daytime weddings are often more inexpensive than evening weddings, but in the wintertime, the days are shorter, so there will be fewer hours available for taking photographs in the natural light, so make sure this is a factor in your decision. Additionally, in addition to the statutory holidays in December in January, where employees are paid more money, and which will cost you more, many spaces are also booked for holiday parties, making less space available for you, and potentially bringing up the cost even more. In many larger synagogues, such as Beth Avraham Yosef of Toronto (BAYT) in Thornhill, ‘Simcha Packages’ are available for a flat fee, and these packages frequently offer a fee of around $20,000 for as many as 400 guests, and include everything from the food to the venue, photographers, flowers, centrepieces, and more.
  4. Consider food: Weddings aren’t just ceremony and dancing; there’s also plenty of food to go around! In a winter wedding, many foods may not be available (or if they are available, it may be at a significantly higher cost). For example, strawberries are in season in Ontario primarily in the months of June and July, so if you’re thinking of a winter wedding, your dessert fruit platter may not be as colourful or flavourful as it could be if the celebration was in the middle of August. In Ontario, watermelons are in season during late summer, usually from August to September, so that fruit may not be as high quality or as inexpensive during the frigid winter months, either. When it comes to kosher food, it’s not just synagogues and banquet halls which may be under COR, but also other venues, including hotels like Windsor Arms, near Bloor and Bay.
  5. Consider tradition: Depending on how traditional the wedding is going to be, the venue and time of year are important to keep in mind. For instance, Casa Loma and other historic sites such as Fort York are favourite settings for weddings and other celebrations (and for good reason- they are beautiful), but in November or December, it may already be decorated with Christmas trees and lights. If you are thinking of a more traditional wedding, and many of your guests are Orthodox, then perhaps such decorations will seem out of place at your event, so it may be a better bet to consider a synagogue or a venue which will not have any such decorations in place during that time of year.

Planning a wedding – or even just choosing the season – isn’t a simple task, and if you’re taking it upon yourself to plan, or even just to take part in, then do yourself, your soon-to-be spouse, and your family a big favour, and work out all the details you can in advance of the big day. Thinking about a winter wedding requires a combination of considerations, from budget, venue, number of guests, setting, and even the specific month, among many other details.

So in order to plan your ideal winter wedding, or even to figure out whether winter is the best time for you, think about what are the biggest priorities of the celebration, and use that as a starting point. But in the end, don’t sweat the wedding itself too much, because after all, no matter how well or badly a wedding itself ends up, it’s still just a few hours or a day of your life, while a marriage (hopefully a great one) could last a lifetime, so remember to keep everything in perspective while planning your big day!