Almost two-and-one-half-million marriages are performed each year in the United States. June is one of the most popular months for these wedding ceremonies. I'm Steve Ember with Doug Johnson.

Today we report about weddings on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.

The music you just heard is called "Trumpet Voluntary." Every year, many Americans hear this music during their marriage ceremonies. They are among almost five-million Americans who become husband and wife each year.

Some of these people will have a traditional wedding ceremony in a religious center, a hotel or a social club. These couples may invite hundreds of people to their celebrations.

Other couples will have a simple ceremony. They will invite only close family members and friends. They may not have the money to spend on a big wedding. Or they may want to save money for a wedding trip to a faraway place or to help them buy a house.

Americans get married in different ways. But the meaning of all these weddings is the same. The wedding couple -- the bride and groom -- traditionally promise to spend the rest of their lives together.

Big weddings have created a huge business in the United States. A big wedding requires lots of special clothing, flowers, food preparation, photographs and music.

Traditionally, the bride's parents plan and pay for the wedding. Sometimes the groom's parents share this responsibility. Today many Americans are older when they get married. So they often organize and pay for their own weddings.

There are many wedding traditions in the United States. But many ceremonies share common customs. The bride often wears a long white dress and a white head-covering called a veil. Some brides wear four other traditional things: Something old. Something new. Something borrowed. And something blue. These four things are supposed to bring her good luck.

She and the groom accept each other as husband and wife. Traditionally, they promise to love and honor each other always. The groom places a gold wedding ring on the third finger of the bride's left hand. In some ceremonies, the bride places a gold wedding ring on the third finger of the groom's left hand. The person performing the ceremony declares them husband and wife. Then the bride and groom kiss.

Many couples ask for special music at their weddings. Some currently requested popular songs for weddings include "Ribbon in the Sky," written and sung by Stevie Wonder. A musician who plays the organ at a Bethesda, Maryland, Roman Catholic religious center says he is often asked to play special music. He says wedding couples at the church often request classics like "Hornpipe" from "Water Music" by George Frideric Handel.

Music by Johann Sebastian Bach also is a popular choice of wedding couples. Listen now to Bach's "Sheep May Safely Graze."

Couples planning their weddings can get advice in many different ways. They can ask their married friends. They can study magazines published especially for people getting married. Couples may hire a wedding planner to help them with their preparations. For example, the planner helps the bride find a wedding dress. The planner helps find a place for the party after the ceremony. This person organizes the food, the music and all the details for the party.

Couples also can use the Internet computer system to prepare for their wedding. The bride and groom can use the Internet to communicate with family members and friends who will take part in the celebration. They can look at pictures of wedding clothes. They can choose flowers. They can decide where to hold the wedding party, and what foods and drinks will be served. They can study where to take their trip after the wedding. This trip is called the "honeymoon." They can buy airplane tickets and decide on a hotel.

Some couples who are planning a wedding also establish their own Web sites. This way, they can provide needed information to people invited to the wedding from distant places. The Web site advises guests about places to stay and things to do in the area. It provides maps showing how to reach the place where the wedding will be. It can help them find the place where the wedding dinner will be served.

Wedding guests traditionally give gifts to the bride and groom. Computer technology also is making it easier for guests to find the perfect gift. Sometimes guests can do this without leaving home.

For example, people who are getting married can go to a store and choose gifts they would like to receive. These include things for their home like dishes and cooking equipment. The store can print a list of all these things. This list also can be found on the Internet. Guests can buy a gift at the store or on the Internet and have it sent to the couple.

Sometimes the bride and groom give gifts to their guests. These gifts may be small baskets filled with candy and little bottles of wine. The baskets may contain objects that will help guests remember the wedding celebration. For example, a bride from New York City loves chocolate candy. Her gift baskets included large chocolate candies in the shape of hearts. The couple's names and the date of their wedding ceremony were written on the candies.

There is another way that guests can remember a wedding. There are small cameras that do not cost much and are used to take only about twenty or thirty pictures. Many couples give such a camera to each group of guests at the party after the ceremony. The guests take pictures of all the other guests sitting around their table. Later, the wedding couple or their families develop the film and send copies of these pictures to all the guests.

Sometimes people have simple weddings so they can take a costly trip. Many travel companies offer trips for the wedding couple to faraway places. For example, a bride and groom can enjoy a wedding trip to a historic castle in Britain. Or they can sail to islands in the Caribbean Sea on a large ship.

Some people have nontraditional weddings. They may have their wedding at home, sometimes in a garden if the weather is nice. Friends may provide food and play music for the party after the ceremony. Other couples are married by a judge in a public building.

Still other couples choose a special place for their wedding ceremony. For example, a young American bride and her Brazilian husband were married recently in a historic home owned by the Audubon Naturalist Society. The huge home, called Woodend, is in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

John Russell Pope designed the home in the nineteen-twenties for a wealthy couple. Pope was the designer of the Jefferson Memorial and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Many couples plan weddings that include traditions from their cultures. For example, one recent bride is from Shanghai, China. She is finishing graduate studies in the United States. The groom is an American lawyer. Their ceremony honored both his Jewish religious traditions and her Chinese customs.

A Protestant clergyman in the state of Maryland has performed hundreds of wedding ceremonies over the years. He advises couples to remember that their wedding takes place in a single day.

But he says their feelings for one another must last a lifetime.

This program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Doug Johnson. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.