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I confess. I’ve dreamed about my wedding day every since I took my first “official” walk down a church aisle at the age of 5. I was a flower girl in my uncle’s wedding, dressed head to toe in pale blue taffeta. I remember helping to put the finishing touches on the getaway car, just before the bride and groom exited the reception through a storm of rice.

Weddings are about traditions like these, and what’s more traditional than throwing rice, a symbol of fertility, at the happy couple as they depart? Nowadays, though, it’s considered taboo – too messy and bad for the birds. The rice expands in their little stomachs, and, well, you remember the Alka-Seltzer and sea gull trick? Let’s just say that exploding birds don’t add much in the way of ambience to a wedding.

In the midst of the environmentally conscious ‘80s, those in the know began throwing birdseed, a more eco-friendly choice to be sure. But alas, birdseed is not site-friendly. It turned out to be rather ugly and, not surprisingly, to attract birds. And even though the birds were kind enough to clean up the mess, many locations did not appreciate being so swarmed.

In fact, many hotels, country clubs and other reception sites “strongly suggest against” throwing anything on their property. So what’s a modern bride to do? We asked the professional for advice.

Everything’s coming up roses

Since the no-no on rice and the administrative frown on birdseed came down, rose petals have become a popular ‘90s alternative. A cascade of petals can look beautiful – and the symbolism associated with their colors adds meaning, too. Red equals love and respect; yellow equals joy and faithfulness; white equals purity. And a red-and-white combo can symbolize the union of two people. Petals are sold at most florists for $1 to $3.50 per person. And a little goes a long way. Wedding planners Ellen Frnk and Lynn Kotz, of Celebrations Unlimited in Owings Mills, use this method: “While the newlyweds enjoy the last dance, we walk around with a basket of rose petals, passing them out to each guest. The guests then encircle the couple and, on the count of three, cast a shower of rose petals right on the dance floor,” says Frank.

Streamers, screamers

For Sherri Minkin, an 18-year veteran of the wedding-planning industry, streamers are the throw of choice. Streamers give the wedding a “cloud-like, romantic feel,” she says of this option that comes packaged in a small tube with a rip cord. Guests just give it a yank – along with a yee-haw, horray or woomp-there-it-is! – as the bride and groom hit the honeymoon trail. But beware, the streamers’ spider-web effect may have the couple grounded longer than expected.

For added drama, Minkin suggests using “spring crackers,” made of mylar or crepe paper, that shoot the streamers high into the air. Heather Klipa, of P.W. Feats on Russell Street, likens these gadgets to party poppers. “They’re shapped like tootsie rolls,” she says. “So you just point, shoot, and watch whatever’s inside (confetti, flowers, glitter) fly out.”

Jingle bells rock

Some brides – particularly December brides – forgo the throw altogether, opting instead for a little ho-ho-holiday spirit. Guests are given hand-held bells to jingle as the couple departs. Because ringing bells is a symbol of victory and rejoicing, this revised tradition can make an elegant statement any time of year. Just tie the bells together with ribbons that match your wedding colors.

Tiny bubbles

For clean old-fashioned fun, you can’t beat bubbles. Guests are handed mini-bottles with built-in wands at the end of the reception. Then they shower the departing couple a la Lawrence Welk. Kotz favors bubbles because they give the event “an overall happy feeling” and because they keep up with the growing trend of including party favors at weddings. “The leftovers go home with guests as a souvenir – plus, there’s no messy cleanup,” she adds.

But hold on, says Minkin. She doesn’t want to burst your, uh, bubble, but in her experience bubbles dissipate so fast that they make the parting photograph – a “must” in her book – almost impossible. There’s also the risk of creating your own personal Slip ‘n’ Slide. And while bubbles are eco-friendly, they aren’t so friendly to a silk dress.

Balloon animals

As for helium balloons, they make for a grand finale but releasing them can be bad for the environment. This is not so much a pollution issue, as many people assume, but a dietary one, says Mike Slattery, who directs the wildlife division of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Simply put, animals think the balloons are other animals and try to eat them. With this in mind, you’d be better off renting a hot air balloon to whisk the bride and groom up, up and away after the reception.

Butterflies aren’t free

A chic new trend for weddings – and almost any other celebration you can think of – is the butterfly release. But timing is everything, says Janet Springer, a microbiologist-turned-butterfly farmer whose 2-year-old business in Hampstead, Md. Is more than 50 percent bridal.

“Butterflies are diurnal, so they perform best during daylight hours,” explains Springer, who prefers releasing one to six dozen of the large, showy, hearty Monarch – one of nine species approved for interstate shipping by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And because butterflies are cold-blooded, it’s best to wake them when the thermometer remains above 60 degrees.

Another caveat: shipments can only go where pre-existing butterfly populations will not be adversely affected (but the East Coast states are fine). Springer, who has a USDA permit to transport “noxious weeds and pests” across state lines, ships orders (a minimum of 12 at $99 per dozen) up to two days in advance by UPS overnight pack, and requires that someone be present for the delivery. Butterflies are kept dormant in the refrigerator until the big day, when their envelopes – each inscribed with the names of the bride and grooom and the wedding date – are removed about a half-hour to an hour before show time. “Just grab them on the way out the door,” she says. Each guest gets his or her own butterfly envelope to open on cue.

A final touch: Springer recommends that a member of the wedding party read aloud the following ancient Indian legend:

“If anyone desires a wish to come true, they must capture a butterfly and whisper to it. Since butterflies make no sound, they can’t tell the wish to anyone but the Great Spirit. So by making the wish and releasing the butterfly, it will be taken to the heavens and be granted.”

When doves fly

Could there be a more breathtaking way to end a wedding ceremony than birds taking flight? Doves mate for life and symbolize all the good wishes bestowed on newlyweds: love, peace, fidelity and prosperity. And wedding doves – actually white racing or homing pigeons – are trained to return to their own coop, up to 800 miles away!

Don’t forget the religious symbolism, adds Dina Spanomanolis of Dino & Sons Live Birds in Brooklyn Park. Doves are often called “messengers of God,” says the bird lover, who also promises decorative cages and displays at your wedding.

With the help of tuxedo-clad drivers/handlers, Wedding Doves for Love in Baltimore executes a graceful series of releases – one pair for the bride and groom, one for the flower girl or ring bearer, and a dozen or more for the big lift off. Often the release is kept secret from the guests – and sometimes the bride or groom – until after the ceremony. But owner Danny Vitilio assures us there are no other surprises: “Airborne accidents are not a problem with this breed,” he says. Speaking of breed, Vitilio also has a house full of falcons, peacocks and other fowl available at your bidding.

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