A Christmas-Themed Wedding in Washington, D.C.

celina rob wedding virginia bells favors
Photo: Abby Jiu Photography

This couple's winter celebration was full of love and holiday spirit.

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Celina and Rob

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Abby Jiu Photography

Most couples avoid politics on the first date, but not Celina Parker and Rob Engstrom. The two met in Florida, during a heated special congressional campaign—she was on the press team for one of the candidates; he, the political director of a national organization endorsing him. "I had been working like mad on this event," recalls Celina, who was living in Tallahassee. "I was that crazy press person with her hair on fire, holding a mountain of folders—and as I'm rounding the corner, I practically run right into a tall man in a suit." As Rob (the tall man in the suit and a seasoned political pro) recalls, "This race was being watched across the nation. I'm about to walk out in front of five television cameras. We almost ran smack into each other, and now I'm completely distracted because Celina is absolutely gorgeous and standing there in the back of the room."

Determined to keep in touch, Rob emailed Celina two days later, asking for a campaign yard sign—a pickup line he admits was not one for the record books. After a month of emails and texts, the two finally met for lunch when Rob was passing through Florida for work, and they bonded over bourbon and gingers, shared interests, and politics, of course. Two months later, Celina—who grew up in El Salvador and had gone to Florida for college—moved to the D.C. area and, in December, took Rob to meet her family. "When we first visited them over the holidays and everyone got along, I realized this was all falling into place." For Rob's part, he was as smitten with Celina's family as they were with him.

Some six months later they moved into a house in historic Old Town Alexandria—a Virginia neighborhood that the couple adore, especially at the holidays—and they were engaged six months after that.

The pair had their hearts set on a formal Catholic ceremony, which they had on December 2, 2016, officiated by Rob's friend Kieran Harrington, a monsignor for the Diocese of Brooklyn, at a church just blocks from their home. Afterward, guests were treated to carolers and hot cocoa. Then it was off to the Hay-Adams hotel in D.C., for a winter-wonderland setting that was both elegant and full of surprises, starting when a curtain was pulled back to reveal a cloud of seasonal greenery, candles, and bells hovering over the dance floor. The evening finished with a "carnival hour" (a Salvadoran wedding tradition), as partygoers donned masks and danced to a lively Latin playlist. "We wanted everything to genuinely reflect who we are and whom we love," says the groom. "It just felt right in every way."

Watch Celina and Rob's wedding film by Socialart Cinema by Lorena Cabrero and Eduardo Linares.

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The Stationery Suite

celina rob wedding virginia stationery suite
Abby Jiu Photography

Slate gray and gold added sophistication to the white- and-green color palette. The invitation, by Cheree Berry Paper, was wrapped in a custom-dyed ribbon, and vintage stamps nodded to the season and the pair's political ties. The menu's shape echoed the oval crest on the program. Reception cards were tucked into gold envelopes. The suite was mailed in a verdant green envelope calligraphed by Laura Hooper.

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Welcome to Town

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Abby Jiu Photography

Welcome boxes showcased local treats, plus a White House Christmas ornament.

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Historic, Holiday Spirit

celina rob wedding virginia couple house
Abby Jiu Photography

The newlyweds pose in front of their discreetly decorated home, just a stone's throw from the wedding chapel in Old Town Alexandria. "Our house is on the Historic Register—and it's also haunted, for real," says Rob.

Celina adored how her Amsale wedding gown felt like two styles in one, with a sparkly Chantilly-lace bodice topping an elegant full taffeta skirt. Rob's tuxedo was from Brooks Brothers.

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All in the Family

celina rob wedding virginia ring jewelry
Abby Jiu Photography

Rob went to the same person who helped his brother-in-law pick out the ring for Rob's sister, Amanda, "so they already had a strong connection," says Celina. "The diamond watch was my "something borrowed" from that same sister, who was one of my bridesmaids." The vintage purse (her "something old") was handmade, a gift from the bride's grandfather to her mother on her fifteenth birthday.

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Going Green

celina rob wedding virginia bridesmaids
Abby Jiu Photography

Celina's bridesmaids, a mix of friends and family members, picked their own dresses in a range of emerald tones. "I wrote each of them a special note of thanks for enduring the chilly weather," the bride says.

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The Bridal Bouquet

celina rob wedding virginia bouquet
Abby Jiu Photography

"The white and green felt very simple but also very in keeping with the timing of the wedding and the rest of the look that we had designed," says Celina about her bouquet by Sweet Root Village.

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On the Cuff

celina rob wedding virginia cufflinks
Abby Jiu Photography

Rob has a vast collection of presidential cufflinks; these are from 1982 and have Ronald Reagan's signature on the back. "We find the love story between Ron and Nancy so inspiring," he says.

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A Fairytale Touch

celina rob wedding virginia kids banners
Abby Jiu Photography

Nieces and nephews carried paper banners that formed a verse from "Storybook Love," the theme song from The Princess Bride—Celina's favorite film.

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Jolly Fun

celina rob wedding virginia street carolers
Abby Jiu Photography

Street carolers lent festive cheer—a bit of the holiday atmosphere the couple treasure in their neighborhood.

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The Newlyweds

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Abby Jiu Photography

Outside historic St. Mary Catholic Church, guests tossed biodegradable faux snow from paper cones.

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Get Toasty

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Abby Jiu Photography

Custom to-go cups were a whimsical touch.

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Terrace Time

celina rob wedding virginia couple outdoor
Abby Jiu Photography

Guests could grab a breath of fresh air—and a gander of the spectacular view—from the rooftop terrace of the Hay-Adams, the hotel where the wedding reception was held. "That is a big reason why we chose it," says Rob.

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In the Spirit

celina rob wedding virginia cocktails
Abby Jiu Photography

A help-yourself bourbon bar, featuring the couple's favorite spirit, was there for the sipping during the pre-dinner cocktail hour. Rob made sure to include Old Crow, a strong bottom-shelf bourbon that Rob remembers his dainty grandmother drinking back in the day.

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Signature Sips

celina rob wedding virginia cocktail
Abby Jiu Photography

Celina and Rob discovered a shared love of bourbon and ginger on their first lunch date, so Moscow Mules—a classic concoction of bourbon, ginger beer, and lime—felt like an appropriate (and warming) choice on their wedding day. Here, the drinks are served in the traditional copper mugs and garnished with seasonal-appropriate sugared cranberries and fresh bay leaves.

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Luxe Lounging

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Abby Jiu Photography

For their winter nuptials, the bride and groom wanted a nod to the coming holidays, without being overly Christmas-y. Here, the rich emerald green velvet sofa and gold ottomans created an inviting area for guests to relax with a drink—and echoed the overarching green-and-gold palette to sophisticated effect.

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With Bells On

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Abby Jiu Photography

Place cards were vintage bells with calligraphed die-cut paper "ribbons"—a (surprise) homage to Celina's mother's vast collection. "Every time I see a bell, I think of my mom," she says. This Currier & Ives porcelain bell was for the bride and groom.

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Ring the Bells

celina rob wedding virginia bells favors
Abby Jiu Photography

The vintage bells (sourced from Etsy and eBay) doubled as wedding favors.

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Hanging Around

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The Lauryn Prattes Styling and Events staff, in shimmering gold dresses, helped guests retrieve their bells.

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Festive Flair

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In lieu of centerpieces, lush floral "chandeliers" were suspended over the dramatically long tables.

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Merry and Bright

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Cedar wreaths around every other place setting added an element of greenery to the reception tables; white candleholders, a frosty glow.

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Dancing with Dad

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Celina chose the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" for her father/daughter dance. "He was my rock, so that song was the easiest choice I made."

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Carnival Hour

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Abby Jiu Photography

Guests donned props for carnival hour. "People really started dancing after that!" says the bride.

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Fun Fare

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Two Salvadoran specialties—pupusas (cheese-filled corn cakes) and palomas (tequila-based cocktails)—were passed, adding to the celebratory mood.

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A Gilded Cake

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The cake's tiers were covered in slate-gray fondant and gold leaf courtesy of Buttercream Bakeshop.

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Flavors to Savor

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Abby Jiu Photography

Each slice revealed two cake flavors: spice cake and devil's food.

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celina rob wedding virginia couple walking leaves
Abby Jiu Photography

Ceremony location, St. Mary Catholic Church

Event design and coordination, Lauryn Prattes Styling and Events

Reception location and catering, The Hay-Adams

Flowers, Sweet Root Village

Photography, Abby Jiu

Cinematography, Socialart Cinema

Stationery, Cheree Berry Paper

Calligraphy, Laura Hooper Calligraphy

Cake, Buttercream Bakeshop

Music, 42nd Street Singers (carolers); Cherry Blossom String Quartet; the Bachelor Boys Band

Rentals, DC Rental; La Tavola Fine Linen

Décor, BD3 Design; Fabrication Events

Bride's gown, Amsale from Carine's Bridal Atelier

Bride's accessories, Peter Langner veil; Bhldn faux-fur jacket; Badgley Mischka shoes

Hair and hair clip, Bridal Hair by Remona

Makeup, Carl Ray of One80 Salon

Bridesmaids' accessories, Bhldn hair combs; Alex Bridal faux-fur wraps

Flower-girl dresses, David's Bridal

Groom's tuxedo, bow tie, shirt, and studs, Brooks Brothers

Groom's cufflinks, Just Cuff Links

Menswear and groom's shoes, The Black Tux

Ring bearer's tuxedo, Men's Wearhouse

Ring bearer's bow tie, Little Boy Swag

Transportation, Limousines, Inc.; Regal Limousine Service, Inc. (classic car)

Hot chocolate, Bev-Rage (catering); Revolution Event Design and Production (cart rental)

Cigars, Castañeda Cigars

Silk ribbons, Honey Silks & Co.

Wedding rings, Tiny Jewel Box

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