December is a busy time for couples. There are holiday parties, family dinners and for some, a spontaneous wedding.

December is a busy time for couples. There are holiday parties, family dinners and for some, a spontaneous wedding.

At the Jackson County Clerk's Office, 84 couples applied for marriage licenses this month, 10 of them the last business day before Christmas.

On Thursday, County Clerk Chris Walker married two couples in her office, the small wedding parties standing next to strangers searching court records or requesting property tax reductions.

Walker is scheduled to marry another couple today, but there could be more requests since this is the last day this year to apply for a license and get married on the spot.

Called nick-of-time weddings, couples across the country rush to wed by the end of the year for sentimental, legal and financial reasons. Even Las Vegas, already the impromptu-wedding capital, opened a "pop-up" chapel on the strip Wednesday to accommodate the year-end nuptial rush.

Walker says some people want to be a legal couple before the end of the year so they can file a 2011 joint tax return and be eligible for tax breaks.

She thinks the economy also has contributed to the increase in license applications this year. "People need to marry for health care coverage or because one of them is unemployed," says Walker.

But there are other reasons, too.

Last week, she performed a marriage ceremony for a couple who have been together for 40 years. The man is ill and wanted to ensure the woman's financial security.

On Tuesday, she married a young couple in the Army and stationed at separate bases. They can now live together.

But beyond the practical is emotion. "Everyone is just more sentimental this time of year," Walker says. "When families are gathered for the holidays, couples want to spread the love."

Tying the knot in the Jackson County Clerk's Office is surprisingly heartfelt. Walker stands before couple after couple, but treats each ceremony as a life-changing occasion. She says a civil ceremony could "feel like a quickie," but she takes it seriously to show her respect for marriage.

"Marriage is ... an adventure in the most intimate of human relationships," says Walker, holding a brown leather book that contains these words in a script. She doesn't need to look at the book after performing 665 weddings since 2008, but in a ceremonial gesture, she turns a page and continues. "Real love is something beyond the warmth and glow, the excitement and romance of being in love."

A door opens and closes; a phone rings.

Unnerved by the sounds of office business, she makes eye contact with the groom and asks: "Will you love and respect her? Be honest with her?"

Then she turns to the bride: "Will you stand by your husband through whatever may come and make whatever adjustments are necessary so that you can genuinely share your life with him?" Bride after bride agrees.

Tradition reigns in most of these marriages, but there is a modern twist: Cellphones and live video Skype and Ustream broadcasts allow couples to inexpensively share the ceremony with friends and family around the world. Some couples instantly change their Facebook status from engaged to married.

Throughout the year, nine out of 10 couples pay $55 to apply for a license at the Jackson County Clerk's Office, then take their paperwork to a judge, clergy or another authorized person to officiate.

The couples who want to be married by Walker pay $100 to a cashier. All fees go into the general fund and are used for elections and other county services.

At the end of the ceremony, Walker looks around at the couple, the two witnesses and many times a few children, and says: "May these two people, now married, be a blessing and a comfort to each other, helpers to each other in all the phases of life."

She pronounces them husband and wife, then steps back and claps. Every time.

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or email jeastman@mailtribune.com.