WINTER WEDDING IDEAS (EUREKA SPRINGS, AR) – One of the happiest days of any year is Christmas Day. It’s a special family day. One of the happiest days of specific year is the day you and fiancé become a family, the day of your wedding. Many couples are combining the merry enjoyment of both holidays this year with a winter wedding in the “Wedding Capital of The South”, Eureka Springs AR.
Brides flock to Eureka Springs throughout the entire year to hold their special occasion in a very special place. The event is special even if it is just the two of you, a handful of family and friends, or more than a hundred guests to wish you well as you share your vows. It is an event that is unique to all others; truly unique if you plan it just that way.
“We are astounded at the creativity of today’s brides,” said Jodie English, chairman of the Bridal Committee of the Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce. “They are coming up with ideas that make their wedding an event that will talked about for generations to come. Special themed winter holiday weddings seem to the be trend this year.”
English explained that brides are choosing the winter months to give themselves a better selection of dates; prices that are lower than in the spring, summer or fall; and a time when family and friends tend to get together traditionally anyway. With the essentials like event room rental and sleeping rooms for family and friends costing less, it gives the bride additional discretionary funds to “spice up” her event.
“For example, we have one bride that is planning a Christmas themed wedding,” explained Dacre Whitaker, sales manager for Eureka Springs’ Landmark Hotels: 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa, and 1905 Basin Park Hotel. “Her chosen colors are green and red. Her flowers will include green holly with red berries. Her ring bearer and flower girl will be dressed like elves. Her cake will have red and green adornments. Eggnog will be their punch. Each guest will receive a special present from the couple: a Christmas ornament adorned with the couple’s name and the wedding date. The reception is going to be a holiday dinner with family-style seating and served by our wait staff wearing Santa hats. The deejay will have several Christmas carols to play for a group sing-a-long. And right in the middle of reception, a surprise visit from Santa to have his photo taken with the children as well as those big kids of all ages. “Many of these friends and family members may not be able to get together during the holidays, so this way they can share two special events at the same time traveling only once.”
“One couple, planning a smaller event, is making sure one of their guests drives to Eureka Springs in a convertible so the newly married couple can sign up and be in Eureka’s annual Christmas parade to the throngs of their cheering guests as they drive by,” Whitaker continued. “To prepare their guests for standing outside, the couple has chosen a hot toddy of mulled cider to be served to their guests along with holiday cookies during the reception that includes the parade.”
English was quick to point out that there are many winter wedding days beyond December 25, “You cannot imagine the couples that are planning their wedding either on New Year’s Eve or at the strike of midnight or the next day on January 1.” Susan Dickson, also a sales manager for Eureka Springs’ Landmark Hotels, explained, “It is not uncommon for us to have several brides each year to use the Basin Park Hotel’s New Year’s Eve Ballroom Blitz as their reception party.”
Dickson went on to say, “But perhaps the most creative bride is the one planning her event around a Winter Wonderland theme in late January complete with snow machine for the reception’s crowning touch juxtaposed by a faux fire fireplace. The couple follows that up with a carriage ride through downtown to the recognizable jingle of sleigh bells on the accommodating equine.”
Some brides that opt for a more conventional setting for a wedding will choose the 1901 Gavioli Chapel, a limestone church turned wedding-chapel, that sits just a few blocks from the Crescent Hotel on Eureka Springs’ Historic Loop. This quaint chapel with its magnificent collection of stained glass windows looks much like the church many had in their Christmas village collection as a child. Following the traditional ceremony, brides choose from a reception at either the Crescent or Basin Park hotel with a limousine ride for the newlyweds.
“She hasn’t set the date yet, but I have heard of one bride-to-be that is considering a winter wedding and bringing the Caribbean to Eureka Springs,” concluded English. “Her entire wedding will be in a recreated beach motif in of Eureka Springs’ reception venues. Her guests will be encouraged to wear beach resort attire. Top that off with Reggae music, lots of fruity cocktails complete with umbrellas and so on and so on… you get the picture. ’”
OTHER UNIQUE IDEAS
For an outdoor wedding, it was a typical scene: the groom appeared slightly nervous, the bride glowed, and everyone avoided getting too close to the bridesmaid, who looked like she might bite-literally. Then again, perhaps not so typical. The bridesmaid was actually Loretta, a 500-lb. white tiger, and the wedding was taking place at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, close enough to the big cat's habitat for Loretta to show up in the wedding pictures.
While 80 percent of weddings still take place nationally in a church or synagogue, the number of unique and offbeat weddings is quickly rising, and attractions in Eureka Springs, one of the top vacation and wedding destinations in the mid-South, see more than their fair share of nontraditional weddings. "We get lots of calls about weddings," said Phyllis Jackson, wedding and event coordinator for Turpentine Creek. "People like having their ceremony out here because it's something different, and also because they're fans of the big cats." More » While getting a lion or tiger to be your ring bearer is out of the question for safety reasons, couples still like to exchange their vows on the plateau overlooking the valley, or near one of the big cats' enclosures. "Loretta and Vada, the Indian black leopards, are the most popular," added Jackson.
For couples who love natural beauty and history, Blue Spring Heritage Center is quickly becoming a hotspot for weddings of all sizes, mainly due to 33 acres of lush native gardens, and Blue Spring, a cold-water spring that pumps 38 million gallons a day from deep within the earth. Just standing by the spring, it's easy to see why Native Americans considered this a sacred site, and even warring tribes would lay down arms while camping by the spring. Pre-historic artifacts have been found at the bluff shelter near the spring, and Native American writing can still be seen on the bluff's rocky surface. The site was also a brief rest stop for the Cherokee people during their forced relocation in 1839 to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears, adding a bittersweet note to the holy healing past of Blue Spring. The area's mystical and spiritual history inspires couples, according to Johnice Cross, heritage director for the Blue Spring Heritage Center. "Some weddings will honor a couple's Native American heritage, with tribe elders performing the ceremony," she said. "Others have been truly unique, an expression not only of love but of the bride and groom's personalities and beliefs." One such wedding held by Blue Spring recently was an homage to a Japanese tea ceremony, presided over by local nondenominational minister Barbara Harmony. "They prepared the tea and drank it together, pledging their love to each other and also their dedication to making the world a better place in healing and service," said Harmony. "It was a very touching, spiritual ceremony, and they made it completely their own." Other wedding parties substitute handfuls of trout food for rice, tossing it past the happy couple to the waiting fish in the lagoon, said Cross. Dozens of well-fed trout swim lazily past the gazebo, and they won't see a hungry day for quite some time, since the number of weddings at Blue Spring continues to rise. "We had 40 weddings last year, and we've already had 26 this year, so 2006 will definitely be up," she said. "The average wedding for us is around 60 people, and we've noticed that they're spending more on the details." In addition to the natural beauty and serenity of Blue Spring, there's one more perk that brides really enjoy: they can have their bouquet picked fresh from the massive garden, giving them more than just memories to take home.
The appeal of Eureka Springs continues to grow as a wedding destination; each year, more than 4,000 wedding licenses are issued from the local courthouse. Overall, Arkansas can expect a 2 percent rise in weddings this year, while both Oklahoma and Missouri face decreases in the business of matrimony. And while June is thought of as the biggest month for weddings, the numbers tell a different tale regionally. In Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri, July is in first place, followed by August, September, and then June, according to data from Shane McMurray and theweddingreport.com. Some Eureka Springs attractions, like the Great Passion Play, have long been popular sites for unique weddings. "People love to be married at the foot of the Christ of the Ozarks statue, and they love the outdoor setting because you can see out over the valley," said Kay Peterson, wedding coordinator for the Great Passion Play. The Christ of the Ozarks statue, a seven-story fixture overlooking Eureka Springs for 40 years, often represents something special to the bride and groom, added Peterson. "It's a place that has been set apart unto the Lord, a special place to begin their marriage," she said. Couples can also be married in the Church in the Grove, an historic country chapel moved to the grounds twenty years ago and refurbished with stained glass windows. More than 100 years old, the chapel has a quaint, small-town feel to it that appeals to many people and brings back memories of a simpler time, said Peterson. The inspirational power of the Great Passion Play often reverberates through visitors' lives, and many young people who attended the Play during a summer youth trip or with their families will come back again and again through the years, often culminating in a wedding at their favorite attraction. "Even after they're married, people come back year after year and look us up," said Peterson. "They share their lives with us, and tell us how thankful they are. We had one couple that got married here and has been back many times, each time renewing their vows." Only basic ceremonies are held at the Great Passion Play: a wedding package will offer a nondenominational minister, flowers, music and the site rental, although Peterson often arranges larger packages with tickets to the Play itself. There is a buffet restaurant on the grounds, but she recommends to couples looking for a rehearsal dinner or reception to contact one of the nearby hotels or restaurants, such as the Best Western Inn of the Ozarks, the 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa, or the Bavarian Inn Lodge and Restaurant. "We want people to have a nice celebration, and there's already so much activity here on the grounds, so I encourage them to visit some of Eureka Springs' wonderful businesses," she said. "Our area is such a lovely place to start your new life together." Year after year, thousands of couples agree: the memories of an unusual wedding, held in an unusually beautiful destination like Eureka Springs, stay strong for a lifetime. Other locations popular with wedding receptions are the Best Western Eureka Inn and the 1905 Basin Park Hotel, and even entertainment options like Pine Mountain Jamboree and the Ozark Mountain Hoe-Down will provide venues for large gatherings as well. Sites for more traditional ceremonies include Thorncrown Chapel and the newly reopened 1901 Gavioli Chapel on the historic loop. Lodging options also include Holiday Inn Express and the 1886 Crescent Hotel.