Dreams of a winter wedding come true in Huntington
Photographed by Kendra Harper | Huntington | 12.30.17
It’s amazing how much planning goes into one wedding day. Scores of decisions loom about dates, times, tuxedos, dresses, makeup, menus, colors, centerpieces, songs, guest lists, floral arrangements, vows. But the things that make these days truly special often cannot be anticipated.
Hannah Burns always wanted a winter wedding. When she got engaged, she and husband-to-be Chris set the date for their nuptials in late December. She selected colors and floral arrangements to match the simplicity of the season. She coordinated her outfit and those of her bridesmaids to the theme.
Then, chance took over. On the day of the wedding, the skies above Huntington opened up, dusting the city with a half-inch of snow.
Although she never could have planned it, it was the perfect crowning touch for a celebration of love borne out of serendipity.
A chance meeting
Hannah first met Christopher Dickson in 2010. She was a student at Marshall University and in a long-distance relationship with a man who happened to be one of Chris’s friends. Whenever her boyfriend visited her in Huntington, they usually ended up hanging out with Chris, a Marshall grad and Barboursville native who was then living in Huntington.
Although she and Chris became fast friends, “there were no feelings at that point,” Hannah says. There couldn’t be. Not only was Hannah dating his friend, Chris was dating someone else, too.
Months passed. Hannah and her boyfriend parted ways. Then, one night, she went out to The Jockey Club in Huntington with some friends. And she happened to bump into Chris. Lo and behold, he had recently broken up with his girlfriend.
Soon Hannah and Chris were spending every day together. Before they knew it, they had been together for five years. They talked about making things officials so, in February 2017, they went shopping for engagement rings.
Now that Hannah knew a proposal was coming, the anticipation was driving her crazy. “I’m that kind of person. I have to know every detail.” She expected Chris would pop the question on their fifth anniversary that April, but then the day came and went. No ring.
She later learned that Chris had planned to propose that day, but the custom-ordered ring just hadn’t come in yet. “He played it off.”
Then, at Easter, Hannah’s family gathered at her grandparents’ house. Someone hollered for her to come outside. There was an Easter basket waiting for her. Instead of jelly beans and chocolate eggs, this basket contained wedding magazines, ring cleaner, and a ring holder by Blenko Glass. “When I turned around, he was down on one knee.”
The ring was everything she wanted—a pear-shaped diamond with a double halo. But even better than that, Hannah’s whole family was present to see her get it. Her 86-year-old grandmother, Mary Ash, who is Hannah’s best friend, was standing beside Chris as he popped the question. “Tears were rolling down my face.”
Plans take shape
Wedding planning began right away. They set the date for December 30, 2017, and it wasn’t difficult to decide where the ceremony would take place. Chris’s family are devout Greek Orthodox and have attended St. George Greek Orthodox for generations. Hannah’s mother’s family is also Greek, so they wanted a traditional Orthodox service. “We knew immediately it was going to be my big fat Greek wedding.”
Finding a reception venue was similarly simple. The Guyan Country Club was the only place in the Huntington area that both fit the classy, classic vibe they were seeking and was capable of accomodating the 200-plus people who were going to attend.
With all of that decided, Hannah made an appointment to look at dresses at Bridal and Formal in Cincinnati, Ohio. She took her mom and three of her aunts along, although Hannah says they weren’t too excited. “My family knows, I’m a diva,” she says, laughing. “They thought, ‘We’re going to be wedding dress shopping for hours with this girl.’”
Hannah didn’t know exactly what she wanted in a wedding dress, but she knew one thing for certain: She did not want a mermaid-style dress. “Everyone gets a mermaid-style dress,” she says. Instead, she tried on a series of straight-silhouette gowns with sleeves. None of them worked. “Even the manager said ‘This is so matronly.’”
So, trusting herself to the expertise of the staff at Bridal and Formal, Hannah tried on a mermaid-silhouette dress by Eve of Milady. It had a long train and beading all over. Suddenly, in one afternoon, she was done dress shopping. “It screamed to me. I just knew it was the one.” She finished off her ensemble with a Toni Federici veil covered in Swarovski crystals and pearls, ivory beaded shoes by Badgley Mischka, and, since it would be a winter wedding, a white faux fur stole she found on Etsy.
When it came time to outfit her eight bridesmaids, Hannah knew she wanted to do something different from most brides. “All the weddings I’ve been in, all the dresses are in the closet in the guest bedroom. I’ll never wear them again.” She wanted her ladies in waiting to walk away with gowns they could wear to future events, so she picked three black sequined dresses from the online retailer Rent the Runway and let each bridesmaid choose her favorite. “I got more compliments on their dresses than mine.” Her only requirement was they had to wear comfortable shoes so they could endure the long Orthodox service.
A fateful day
Hannah kept decorations inside St. George’s to a minimum. She didn’t want to distract from the church’s beauty. Holding with Orthodox tradition, the interior is filled with ornate stained glass and intricately painted iconography. She only placed a few bouquets on the pews to indicate where immediate family members were supposed to sit.
Once her bridesmaids took their place at the front of the church, the congregation got a shock—Hannah’s grandmother Mary being escorted up the aisle, as her surprise ninth bridesmaid. She was followed by seven flower girls, their dresses sewn by a family friend. That’s a lot of petal pushers for any wedding, but Hannah says she had no choice. “How can I tell one set of sisters, ‘You can be in my wedding,’ and tell another, ‘You can’t’? It was all or nothing,” she laughs.
A Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony takes about 45 minutes. “It’s a very lengthy service, but they’re very meaningful,” Hannah says. The service is quite different from the standard western Protestant wedding. Early on, white crowns are placed on both the bride’s and groom’s heads. “You’re being crowned king and queen of your household,” Hannah says.
The couple then takes communion together and walks around a ceremonial table three times to symbolize each member of the Holy Trinity. The priest pronounces the couple as husband and wife, and they kiss.
Following their ceremony, Hannah, Chris, and their wedding party headed outside to take photos with the snowy backdrop Mother Nature provided. They also took photos by the church’s gilded front doors, which were funded by a donation from Chris’s grandparents.
Meanwhile, guests went to Guyan for cocktail hour to enjoy a signature cocktail of champagne and raspberry chambord, as well as Greek hors d’oeuvres like stuffed grape leaves and tiropita, cheese pies made with phyllo dough. There was also a table filled with 25 different kinds of cookies, a wedding gift from Hannah’s mother’s best friend.
For dinner, guests could choose between prime rib and chicken, which were served with Guyan’s signature scalloped potatoes. And, because Hannah and Chris had a difficult time deciding on flavors when they visited Tipton’s Bakery in Ashland, Kentucky, each of their wedding cake’s four tiers boasted a different flavor: strawberry, red velvet, vanilla cream, and chocolate.
Tables were adorned with white linens and gold overlay as well as tall, dramatic centerpieces of hydrangeas, greenery, and winter berries created by Flowers on Olde Main in St. Albans.
BRAVO-Live DJ & Lighting Extravaganza from Hurricane provided music to get the reception grooving. But the dance that got everyone’s attention did not involve the bride or the groom. With one final nod to Greek tradition, Chris’s cousins performed a “money dance.”
“That’s a big thing at Greek weddings,” Hannah says. “They do flips and backwards dances and give each other shots. While they’re dancing and doing their performance, people throw money down. At the end, they give it to the bride and groom. We ended up getting $200.” The couple probably would have gotten even more, but Hannah says her family held back because they thought the proceeds were going to the dancers, not the newlyweds.
A new beginning
Chris and Hannah did not leave for their honeymoon right away. The next day, New Year’s Eve, her mom hosted a party for all of the out-of-town wedding guests before they returned home. Then, a week later, the couple departed for a weeklong honeymoon at a resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. They now make their home in Huntington, the city where fate brought them together, in a house that once belonged to Chris’s grandparents.
Looking back on her wedding day, Hannah can see how all of those tiny, individual decisions combined to make something special. “People say you always have so much more fun at your friend’s wedding that your own. But that was not the case. We had a blast,” she says. “The only downside was, the cookies were gone, so we didn’t get to take any of those.”
It was made even more special by the things outside her control—not just the snow, but the atmosphere that’s created when you get so many people under the same roof. With such a large family on both sides, there was some temptation to pare down the guest list. She’s glad they didn’t. “Looking back now, I’m glad we were able to have all our closest friends and family in that room. You felt all the love.”
Annette & Warren Burns
Valerie & Frank Dickson
Bridal & Formal, Cincinnati, OH
Rent the Runway, New York, NY
Flower Girl’s Dress
Handmade by family friend
Groom’s & Groomsmen’s Attire
Skeffington’s Formal Wear, Huntington
Kelley Young and Joanna Svingos-Smith, Guyan Golf & Country Club, Huntington
Flowers on Olde Main, St. Albans
Guyan Golf & Country Club, Huntington
Tipton’s Traditions, Ashland, KY
BRAVO-Live DJ, Hurricane
Andy, Stevens, Always Hope Creative, St. Albans
St. George Greek Orthodox Church, Huntington
Guyan Golf & Country Club, Huntington
written by Zack Harold