For some brides, winter is the most wonderful time of the year.
Written by Melissa Jacobs
Photography by Faith West Photography
Jessica Hill’s wedding wish is a bit unusual. “I want it to snow,” she says. Why does she want snow instead of sunshine, beach and rainbows? “I always wanted a winter wedding,” Hill says. “It seemed so elegant.”
Hill’s wish has a good chance of coming true. Her wedding is Dec. 10 at Hagley Museum and Library. Hill and her fiancé, David Noble, have incorporated chilly weather into their plans. As friends and family drive through Hagley’s winding entrance, they will see the estate’s grounds covered in snow and sparkling with Christmas lights. The ceremony takes place at dusk in the rustic wood barn that will glow with light from glass hurricane vases. Hill, Noble and their officiant will stand on a specially designed altar made of repurposed tree stumps. Following the ceremony, guests take a shuttle past trees twinkling with white lights to the Soda House, which will be tastefully dressed in rich, warm Christmas decorations.
Capitalizing on seasonal decorations is one of the best benefits of winter weddings. That’s certainly the case at the Carriage House in Rockwood Park. “The place is magnificent in winter because it practically glows with lights,” says Craig Trostle, who owns Greenery Caterers. “What makes it extra special is the Festival of Lights that happens in the park from November through January.”
While many venues in Delaware and on the Main Line are gorgeous during the holidays, the grand dame is the aptly named Winterthur. Its holiday decor is legendary, says Melissa Sapio, catering coordinator for Restaurant Associates, which runs the wedding operations at Winterthur. “Guests can get on a shuttle for a journey through the estate to see the winter gardens and decorations,” Sapio says. “It puts everyone in a wonderful mood.”
But brides don’t choose Christmas as their themes. Not everyone wants their wedding to be awash in red and green. On the contrary, many people go for white-on-white table decor, says Nicole Bailey, founder of Elevee Events. “We do a white damask tablecloth with calla lilies standing tall in a trumpet vase, then have the next table in white organza tablecloth and a floating vase with white orchids.”
People can use traditional summer colors like pink, peach and ocean blue. Guests don’t think twice about it, says Sue Davis, owner of Fresh Designs Florist and Branch Flora, the house florists for Sage Catering Events. Cold weather does not restrict what she can provide because flowers now come from all over the world. Unless a bride has her heart stuck on something really rare, the options are endless.
Those options include candlelight, which can be magical when used discretely. “They are simple, Old World-ish and create instant intimacy and warmth,” Davis says. “In spring and summer, it doesn’t get dark until later in the evening, but in late fall and winter, we can use candles at 5 p.m. or earlier.”
Fireplaces are cousins of candles, and Davis says that many estates in Delaware and on the Main Line, like Merion Tribute House and Appleford, have exquisite fireplaces. They also have outdoor patios that, with the right adjustments, can be used in cold weather. Outdoor heaters and fire pits can be brought in, as long as the venue permits that. Davis suggests placing baskets of wraps and blankets on the patio for guests to access if they get cold.
Hot toddies make for great pre- or post-ceremony drinks, Davis says. At Winterthur, mulled wine with fresh citrus is popular, as are DIY hot chocolate bars. Apple cider mimosas are the must-haves at John Serock Catering’s winter weddings. “It’s an apple cider and brown sugar reduction, topped with Prosecco and fresh thyme,” Serock explains. “Guests go crazy for them.”
Food also gets winterized. “People tend to eat a little heavier when it’s cold, so we get to offer unique takes on comfort food,” Bailey says. Last winter, Elevee’s hors d’oeuvres offerings included mini-croque monsieurs with onion soup, mini-pot pies, and grilled cheese with various tomato soups.
Grilled cheese and soup bars are on trend, Serock says. He turns clam chowder and tomato bisque into soup shooters and pairs them with grilled Brie and apples or grilled sharp cheddar and caramelized onions on rustic breads. Mashed potato bars are also very popular. Dessert is the place to really have fun. “Last year, make-your-own s’mores were all the rage at fall and winter weddings,” Serock says. “We also had caramel apple dipping stations that people enjoyed—without getting their clothes messy.”
S’mores were popular at Winterthur, Sapio says. “We call them ‘interactive s’mores’ where guests roast their own marshmallows and pick toppings,” she explains. Also popular: miniature apple spice donuts and chocolate pecan moose shooters.
And then there’s the night that everyone is looking for a party: New Year’s Eve. “They are tremendously fun because a wedding combines all of your friends and family in one place,” Davis says. “People stay until the end to bring in the new year together and it really does feel like a new beginning for the couple. Plus, everyone has off from work the next day.”
It all sounds fantastic, but what about the possibility of bad weather? Snow is never a deal breaker at Winterthur, Sapio says, because a cadre of groundskeepers clear it away. It’s the same at Hagley, says rental events manager Heather Bohler. “We own snow plows and sand trucks and a whole fleet of guys take care of the property,” she says. Still, the pros advise couples to purchase wedding insurance just in case a blizzard disables the state highways and Philadelphia International Airport.
Jessica Hill is ready for any kind of weather. “Hagley is a beautiful landscape,” she says. “Adding snow makes it even more magical.”