Q. My fiancé and I would like to have our group photographs outside but my mum is against the idea as our wedding is in February and she thinks guests will get cold. How long do group shots usually take?
A. Clive Blair says: On average I find that each group shot takes about three minutes to gather, organise and photograph. So for a winter wedding, concentrate on making sure the essential people are in at least one photograph, without insisting on every possible combination. This allows all the formal shots to be completed in 20 minutes. If possible, I ask everyone to wait indoors by the exit nearest to where the photos are being taken. That way, with the help of an usher who has the list of required images, each group can be gathered indoors waiting to be called outside to be snapped.
If other images are required, ask whether your photographer can capture them throughout the evening in an informal, reportage style, while your guests are relaxing. This mix of formal and informal images will also add a nice variety to your big-day album.
Q. I'm on the lookout for some stylish and festive bridesmaid dresses, but I want to steer away from traditional red, burgundy or dark green shades. What other hues would work well?
A. Joanie Dillon says: There are many colours that will look great during this season without being overtly 'Christmas'. Navy and black are classic, stylish and quite formal – combine with lots of sparkles and crystals, feathers and fur for a festive touch. One of my favourite colours for gowns is chocolate; teamed with deep aubergine it gives a feeling of opulence and luxury and works with most skin tones.
This particular hue is also a great theme for winter – offer spiced or boozy hot chocolate for your reception drink, have a chocolate 'station', and lighten the overall look with gold or bronze accents. Softer colours can also work well for a winter wedding but choose wisely. Pale blue, pewter, silver, champagne and gold can work, but be careful with pale or wintry skin tones. Again, add feather or faux fur wraps to keep your maids from feeling, or looking, cold.
Q. We'd like Christmas music to set the scene for our winter wedding but definitely want to avoid tacky festive tunes. What sort of song choices would help to create a seasonal yet tasteful atmosphere?
A. Christopher Langdown says: In years gone by families and friends loved to gather together around the piano to sing Christmas carols. Today, the piano can still create a magical sense of nostalgia and romance at this time of year. Timeless songs such as White Christmas, Winter Wonderland, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and The Christmas Song work brilliantly on the piano and are perfectly suited to its improvisatory style. Mix in some arrangements of traditional carols such as Silent Night, The Holly and The Ivy, Away in a Manger, Jingle Bells and perhaps one or two children's favourites like the theme from The Snowman, Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer and Sleigh Ride and you'll cover all bases.
Q. We want to include some warming winter dishes on our menu alongside some festive treats to keep our guests cosy. What seasonal food and drink would you suggest we serve?
A. Karen Kemp says: Greet your guests with a shot glass of colourful soup: try roast butternut squash with sage and honey, drizzled with parsley purée. Then for a starter serve traditional potted shrimp with the festive flavour and smell of mace, or a warm salad of winter leaves with apples, walnuts and melted camembert dressing. For the main course opt for a slow sticky braise such as blade of beef au poivre'in red wine and crème fraîche sauce, or a pot roast pheasant if you're feeling adventurous. Serve with colourful roasted root vegetables tossed in olive oil and thyme, braised red cabbage, apple and onion, deep green curly kale and steamed cabbage with roasted chestnut and pancetta. Winter is perfect for hearty puddings, so finish off with damson and sloe gin crumble with homemade Madagascan vanilla custard, or little steamed toffee puddings with salted caramel. If you prefer to keep dessert light, go for poached pears with Marsala sauce, or a light clementine syllabub finished with Florentine biscuits.
Q. We'd like a seasonal bouquet for our winter wedding but we're on a shoestring budget. What types of flowers won't break the bank?
A. Jo Knight says: Cut roses can be associated with big budget, luxury weddings, but they're also a great choice for couples who're looking to keep costs down. With their blousy heads it only takes a few to create the wow factor. For a full bouquet, blend them with some seasonal flowers and foliage – in-season blooms are always more reasonably priced. Brides are often surprised by how many companion flowers are available during the winter months. Some of my personal favourites include tulips (pictured), anemones, orchids – just a stem or two – narcissus, ranunculus, eustoma, brunia berries, brassica and hypericum. With so many flowers to choose from, you can have a bouquet that reflects your style – and your budget.
This mini chalk board place setting by Gisela Graham is adorable, not to mention handy for last-minute seating plan changes! You could use these cute signs to label the offerings on your cake table or sweetie bar too. Priced £2.25 from The Contemporary Home, www.tch.net
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