Chuppah means "canopy" in Hebrew. And that is exactly what a traditional chuppah is: a canopy for the bride, groom, rabbi and any other special people in the wedding party to stand under during the ceremony. It represents the home that the couple will be making together after the ceremony. It is a tradition with ancient roots and can be a beautiful, yet simple, item to construct for your own wedding.
Decide which kind of chuppah you would like to have. The traditional chuppah was literally nothing more than a man's prayer shawl, or tallis, tied to four sticks and held up during the ceremony by four of the groom's friends. Now the chuppah can be made of any material you like. Many synagogues and temples have chuppahs that are much more substantial and which they will provide. If you are getting married in a place where you must bring your own chuppah, your options are endless. It can be as simple or as ornate as you would like it to be--which also makes it a reflection of the type of wedding you wish to have.
Make a simple, traditional chuppah. For this type of chuppah, all you need to find are four sticks of the same length and the groom's tallis. Go to your local hardware supply store and have the lumber department custom cut four pieces of either bamboo or cane to the length you wish. A good standard height for a chuppah is 8 feet. This makes it tall enough for those beneath it to feel comfortable, yet not so tall that it is unwieldy for those who are holding it. On the day of the wedding, tie the tallis to the four poles using the tzitzis (the strings hanging from each of the four corners of the tallis). Four of the groom's friends can then hold the poles in place during the ceremony.
Build a freestanding chuppah. To make a freestanding chuppah, start by visiting your local hardware store and having them cut 8-foot pieces of PVC piping for you. While there, also pick up four large terra cotta planters and blocks of florist's planter foam. These will be the bases for your freestanding chuppah. You can build and decorate these posts weeks before the ceremony, leaving just the final details to deal with on the day of the ceremony. Paint the PVC whatever color you like, and decorate them with flowers, branches or vines. A visit to your local craft store will open up a world of design possibilities you can choose from. A common decoration for these types of chuppahs are leaves and branches, as the tree is a symbol often associated with Jewish weddings.
Assemble and complete your freestanding chuppah. On the day of the wedding, put your four posts in place where the wedding will be. Using a ladder, tie the prayer shawl to the four corners of the chuppah posts. Or you can use another material if you prefer. Silk, died canvas and muslin are all popular choices for modern, decorated chuppahs. Feel free to be creative.
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