Royal wedding: No gift, but good luck!

Millions of Americans, long post-Colonial and averse to caste systems, will nevertheless rise early Friday morning to watch the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. We can't help it — we love ourselves some royalty.

And what's not to be enthralled or appalled by, depending on your point of view? The bride will walk an aisle the length of a football field at Westminster Abbey, before about 1,900 invited guests. Meanwhile, in Kate's hometown of Bucklebury, there are plans for a four-hour bell-ringing in the couple's honor. A British royal wedding is like a cross between Masterpiece Theater and Monty Python.

We've done this before — 29 years and 9 months ago to the day, we groggily planted ourselves in front of the TV to watch William's folks get married at St. Paul's Cathedral. We all know how that turned out. But we're up — literally, before dawn — for taking another look at another couple giving it the royal try.

Much like the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, the British monarchy has endured its share of tumult: badly behaving royals, Diana's tragic death and public denunciation of the House of Windsor as an unnecessary, expensive burden on the British public. For years, some Britons have questioned why a democracy needs a monarch in this day and age. The Guardian newspaper, for example, editorialized in 2000 that "in time we will move — by democratic consensus — to become a republic."

But unlike the marriage of Charles and Diana, the monarchy has survived, arguably its main value being for tourism. Its finances are complicated: There are public sources intended to support the royal family's duties, and there is the queen's private wealth as well. But having acquired some political savvy in her 59 years as queen, Elizabeth volunteered to pay taxes, wisely got rid of the royal yacht and booted some relatives off the "civil list," as the royal gravy train is known.

That hasn't stopped this wedding from being ludicrously expensive. (Some reports say $40 million.) Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth are supposedly picking up most of the tab, with Kate's parents — who made their fortune in a party supply business — making a six-figure contribution. The couple has said "no gifts please," asking people to donate to charities instead. Too bad they didn't take a page out of the Dodgers' playbook and just sell television rights.

On the face of it, William and Kate — university-educated, nearing 30, already living together — seem practical and modern enough to survive as a couple and future monarchs. (He is second in line to the throne, behind his father.) We just have two words for them: mazel tov.

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