Wedding with parents renewal of wedding vows

I'm searching for information on triple weddings. My situation is a unique one. I am planning on being married, my first, my future husband's second. The twist is that our parents will be renewing their vows on the same day: my parents, 45 years; his parents, 40 years. We will want this to be an extra-special gala event. Do you have any suggestions or information for me?

When it comes to positive symbolism, yours has to be the most marvelous wedding of the millennium.

After fielding heart-breaking questions about how to handle jealous parents who are no longer married to each other, it's wonderful to hear about two families that have made marriage work.

What you actually have here is one wedding and two vow renewals. There are three basic ways to combine other events (in your case, the vow renewals) with a wedding:
◾Have the other event at some convenient time and place earlier in the day, then celebrate all the events at the reception
or
◾Incorporate the other event into the ceremony at an appropriate time
or
◾Have the other event take place during the reception.

Before trying to incorporate another event into a religious ceremony, it's wise to talk with the officiant. Some religions and denominations have very strict rules about what can and can't be done during a wedding ceremony, while others will allow almost anything that is handled in a reverent manner. Remember that the wedding is, with rare exceptions, the main event.

If I had the privilege of making all the rules for everyone, here's how I'd handle various other events:
◾If the event is a religious ritual that's ordinarily performed before the whole congregation, or before roughly the same friends and family who are assembled, and the symbolism is compatible with marriage, incorporate it into the ceremony in a place that fits the religion's specific traditions. So it will often make sense to incorporate the baptism or confirmation of the happy couple or their children, as well as vow renewals by immediate family.
◾If the event is a very important ritual but its significance is either non-religious or incompatible with marriage, hold it earlier with the appropriate ritual and participants. A family "rite of reconciliation" (this is a variation on Roman Catholic "confession") or a ceremonial re-enlistment in the Marines would be done outside the ceremony.
◾If the event is completely unrelated to marriage but is relevant to the people gathered for the wedding, and would ordinarily be mentioned during a religious service, put it at the very end of the ceremony, before the recessional. A special blessing for the bride's 100-year-old great-grandmother would fit best in this spot.
◾If the event is purely social, do it at the reception. Announcing the engagement of the groom's brother would be done at the reception.

Now let's get to the logistics of your event! If you choose to include the vow renewals in the ceremony, they should be part of the "build" to the big moment when you and your future husband take your vows. Consult with your officiant on whether the renewals should be immediately before your vows or earlier in the ceremony. It might also be appropriate to have the parents as the readers or to have them say a few words on marriage.

This would also be a perfect occasion to include all of the parents in the processional (I assume the mothers are not wearing wedding gowns comparable to yours, which would be a bit "over the top" by traditional etiquette standards). The nicest way to do this is to have the groom enter between his parents and you be escorted by both of your parents, but you can rearrange people in any way that will fit down the aisle.

Now, having three happy couples raises the question of how to manage attendants. It would be especially sweet, as well as much simpler, if you and your groom would do one of three things:
◾Plan one
Be attended only by the parents. The groom's father is the best man, the bride's mother is the maid of honor, and the other parents are arranged as convenient. The fathers dress like the groom, and the mothers dress in elegant (but not matching) dresses appropriate to the time and formality of the wedding, as well as to their ages.
◾Plan two
Be attended by the parents plus one similar-age friend each. You may arrange the official roles however you like. The ladies wear compatible dresses appropriate to the ages of each. This works best if the parents' attendants are no longer available.
◾Plan three
Each happy couple is attended by one pair of attendants. The parents have the best man and maid of honor from their own weddings (or another pair, if these are not still available), and you have your own best man and maid of honor. Your parents and their attendants stand on your side, beyond your maid of honor. Your groom's parents and his attendants stand on his side, beyond his best man. For the processional, attendants are paired in any way that will prevent them from trampling one another. This arrangement lacks symmetry by gender, but it makes it easy to remember who goes where.

At the reception, the pairs of parents can each have a small cake of their own to cut, and you should certainly have a dance for each couple (the guests don't have to stand and watch endless dances, as the emcee or DJ can simply announce the meaning of the dance and then invite others to join in after the key couple has taken a few turns around the floor). If the mothers wish to throw their bouquets, no one can argue that catching one would bring exceptional luck!

The invitations themselves are, oddly enough, the least complicated item. Issue a traditional invitation for your wedding with both sets of parents listed as hosts. Make a small addition so that the text reads:

Mr. and Mrs. Richard Clayton Bride
Mr. and Mrs. John Marshall Groom
request the honour of your presence
at the marriage of their children
Elizabeth Anne Bride
and
Jason Parker Groom
and at the wedding vow renewals
of the Brides and the Grooms
Saturday, the twelfth of October
St. Barnard's Church
112 Elm Street
Madison, Wisconsin

If this family-oriented but low-key approach doesn't quite suit, there is another route you can take, though I and most students of traditional etiquette would advise against it. If the mothers intend to wear full bridal gowns and have multiple attendants, simply pull out any good etiquette book that deals with double weddings and follow the instructions given there, adding one more bride and groom. Be sure to allow extra time for the rehearsal, as "getting right" the placement of three complete wedding parties will be complicated. Do three invitation cards, one for each happy couple, and send them in the same envelope (this is more expensive than trying to cram everything onto one card, but it's far less confusing for everyone).

In either case, remember that what makes an event a gala is the blissful expressions of the key players and the care taken to provide an enjoyable party for the guests. If you and all the parents have earned solid friendships over the years (as I'm sure is the case), you will hardly be able to prevent the day from becoming a gala.