Winter has finally arrived in Ireland. It’s windy, raining and downright dreary, but we can hardly complain. We have been very lucky up to this point.

Just like over in America, homes are saturated with Halloween decorations and shops are stocking up shelves with Santa Clauses and singing reindeers. It’s dark by 6:40 p.m. and everyone is in bed earlier at night.

I like it though. I always loved winter, in the U.S. and here in Ireland.

I love when the kids go down to bed and I finish whatever work needs to be done around the house, to sit down with a cup of tea and snuggle up in a warm blanket in front of a roaring fire. I enjoy watching the latest episode of Love/Hate or Homeland. It’s a very simple routine, but it’s always the simple pleasures isn’t it?

I launched my first edition of my local bridal publication, Brides of Limerick, four weeks ago and the success has been overwhelming. We are selling like hot cakes in several shops around Limerick city and county, and we are already working ahead for the January issue.

I had a party three weekends ago with my friends and family to celebrate the launch, and a few surprises on the night got me thinking of the extreme lengths people go to now here in Ireland to entertain their guests.

A wedding in Ireland is very much the same as an Irish wedding in the U.S., but as of late people are taking extra steps to add in quirky elements of entertainment. Although it’s costly it’s definitely popular.

Maybe Irish brides in the U.S. are doing the same. It’s been about three years since I was at an Irish American wedding, but I’ll share anyway the latest fads to hit Irish weddings.

It’s become very standard now to have a dessert table.  Some people create their own, others hire in a professional sweet company to set up a cart full of sugary goodies (between €250 and €400).

It’s normally on display in the foyer of the hotel between the ceremony and the reception, although John (my husband) and I were recently at a wedding where the sweet table didn’t appear until 10 p.m. – much to the delight of those with a sweet tooth (me).

Ice cream has also become a staple at Irish weddings, and I don’t mean for dessert.  It doesn’t matter if it’s April, August or December -- everyone seems to serve ice-cream cones to their guests at the drinks reception.

One of our advertisers in the magazine actually sets up an old High Nelly Ice Cream bike outside the church, dresses up accordingly and doles out vintage ice cream cones of various flavors to guests before they embark on their journey to the hotel for the evening reception.

A new and pretty expensive fad happening at Irish weddings is the introduction of a singing chef or waiter. What is this I hear you ask?

Well, the bride and groom (or sometimes a guest buys it as a present) hire an actor/singer. They dress up either in a waiter’s uniform or chef’s attire. During the meal they float around the guests, serving food as you would expect, and then it all kicks off.

The “chef” or “waiter” drops something, causing quite a stir. Guests giggle to themselves as the actor/singer begins to give out, causing a big drama. It gets nearly embarrassing until all of a sudden the waiter or chef breaks out into a song -- something big like Joe Dolan’s version of “You’re Such a Good Looking Woman” or something down the Frank Sinatra route.

The following half hour is spent entertaining guests and the bridal party from table to table, and it always goes down a treat. The element of surprise is always great.

It’s a costly element though.  I’ve heard of people paying up to €2,000 to bring professionals in for this, but thankfully guys on the ground in Ireland have copped on that there is money to be made and can now do the exact same act for one-fifth of the price.

Since we returned to Ireland in May of 2012 we have attended eight weddings, and three of those had magicians entertaining us during the pre-meal reception. It’s up close magic.

The magician or illusionist in some of the cases goes from group to group and wows them with their magic tricks. At our party we had one of Ireland’s most famous magicians, Steve Spade. I was blown away, as were my guests, by his tricks.

We were left awe-struck at some of the simple ways he was able to fool us. Words can’t actually describe his visual movements.

And this carries right through to weddings. It’s an hour of fun to entertain the guests while the bride and groom are off having their pictures taken.

I’ve also been at weddings where a children’s entertainer has been hired to make shaped balloons, paint faces and draw picture with the little guests.

There is also a company holding silent discos at the end of the night. Wedding guests are given ear phones that stream music only the bearer of the earphones can hear. If a person doesn’t like the song being played they can turn the channel, but those without headphones are left bewildered at all these bodies dancing around the floor in what looks like silence. It looks like a lot of fun but this author has yet to try it.

Photo kiosks (booths) are also another popular plant at weddings. The drunker the crowd becomes, the funnier the pictures are.

Each guest gets a copy of their own pictures, but best of all the bride and groom get a copy of all the snaps taken on the night. Props are also used for entertainment purposes.

In terms of wedding favors, people are opting for more functional items now.  In some summer weddings the bride places flip-flops in the ladies bathrooms to ease the pain of the high-heels later in the night.  Other practical favors I’ve seen are disposable cameras and socks.

People are even getting creative with wedding cakes. Another wedding I attended in Cork this year had a three layer cheesecake.

It was literally three blocks of cheese decorated very elegantly -- and may I add very delicious -- later in the night. They also supplied the guest with a personalized cupcake to take home.

Civil ceremonies are becoming a lot more popular now too here.  From my own experiences in speaking with couples for the magazine, I would say two out of 10 couples are now opting to get married in the reception venue or an alternative venue to the church. Also a lot of couples are having smaller weddings, and some people are still opting for having their intimate wedding abroad.

Weddings in Ireland still start pretty early, usually 1 p.m. or 2 p.m., but during the summer I attended a wedding at noon.

So has the recession affected people’s wedding budgets? Well, despite all the aforementioned additional elements to Irish weddings I do think people are scaling back on other stuff. People are getting better at bargaining, spending less on dresses and flowers and reducing the guest list somewhat.

But the main thing I’m seeing is the length of time people are now engaged for. It’s very standard now for people to have a two-three year engagement, mainly to give them enough time to save up for their big day.

People are also slimming back on the honeymoons. Before it was nearly a given couples would spend between €7,000 to €10,000 on a luxury honeymoon in some exotic sun-drenched country, but now people are skipping across to Europe for a week in Italy or a two week all inclusive holiday in Lanzarote (not more than €3,000).

So that’s how the wedding trends are going in Ireland – well, Limerick and Kerry anyway. I’ve been attending various wedding fairs in recent weeks making contacts for the magazine, and businesses are getting more and more creative all the time.
It will be interesting to see what weddings will be like when my two are ready to tie the knot (hopefully not for another 30-plus years)

If anyone in New York hails from Limerick and would like to appear in the magazine (Brides of Limerick- also on Facebook) or have any ideas for columns I would love to hear from you. [email protected]