By Kristen O'Gorman Klein
Although your wedding day is filled with significant moments, the ceremony is the pinnacle of the entire celebration. It's the reason everyone has joined together, and it's more than just a formality. Whether you're having a religious or secular service, your ceremony is your chance to express who you are as a couple; you can personalize your readings, add rituals that have significance for you, or even infuse your love story throughout the service. Here, officiants share some of the most creative touches their couples have been adding to their ceremonies lately.
Tell Your Love Story
April Beer, a contemporary interfaith minister based in New Jersey, truly tailors each ceremony to fit her couple. One of her favorite parts is telling the couple’s love story.
“Since my ceremonies are based on the couple's love, this is one of the highlights of the ceremony. Of course, I include the silliest, sappiest, and most loving moments, as well as mentioning their cats and dogs!”
Beer also loves to interview family and friends before the ceremony to get their takes on the relationship. “If the couple permits me, I don’t share the answers with them until they hear what others think and feel during the ceremony. It’s a fun time!”
Photo Credit: Choco Studio
Love Letters from Far-Flung Guests
If your families live all over the world, it can be nearly impossible for everyone to come together for the wedding. To include your distant loved ones, encourage them to write letters, which can be woven into the ceremony. At the wedding of an American-born bride and her Irish husband, New York City-based wedding officiant Sarah Ritchie read notes of encouragement and happiness from the groom’s father, brother, and several close friends who couldn’t make the trip. “The couple and all those attending the wedding felt enveloped in the blessings sent from across the Atlantic,” said Ritchie.
At another wedding Ritchie officiated, the couple’s elderly grandma and the bride’s sister -- who had just given birth in another country -- recorded video messages for the happy couple, which were played during the ceremony. “Not a dry eye could be found!” she recalled.
Create a Wedding Time Capsule
Writing letters isn't just for guests who can't attend the wedding; you can also invite any guest attending to write you a note that'll be read on your first anniversary. The letters can include well wishes, advice for married life, favorite memories of you two together, or anything else they’d like to include (you can either include a card about this with your invitations, post about it on your wedding website, and/or have nice stationery and pens available at the venue).
Pass around a box during the ceremony for your guests to drop in their notes. Then, seal it up until your anniversary! “What could be better during an anniversary than to read the blessings of loved ones at the time of the wedding?” said Ritchie.
Photo Credit: Jennie Andrews Photography
Another twist is to craft a “fight box." Before your big day, gather a wooden box, a bottle of wine (or the alcohol of your choice), and two glasses. Write love notes to each other, explaining your feelings as you prepare to start your new life together as husband and wife. Seal your letter without letting your soon-to-be read what you’ve written.
During the ceremony, place the love notes inside the wooden box with the wine and glasses. Take turns hammering the box shut, one nail at a time, until the box is sealed.
Agree to keep the box sealed until a special anniversary, like your 10th or 20th, unless you hit a rough patch. Then, break open the box, pour the wine, read the letters, and remember what it’s all about!
Photo Credit: Love Me Do Photography
New Twists on Handfasting
Handfasting, where couples bind their hands together with a ribbon to symbolize the joining of two lives, is an old pagan ritual that many modern couples have been adapting for their weddings. One of Beer’s couples used their child’s baby blanket as their ribbon, symbolizing that the child is “their knot.” Another couple had each saved the shirt they wore on their first date four years ago, so they repurposed those shirts as their ribbon. “The groom’s mom cut up the shirts and made a fantastic three-foot-long wrapping for their hands,” said Beer.
One of Beer’s grooms was in possession of a Bible that had been passed down through the generations, dating back to his great-great-grandfather in 1870. “Every couple in the family has, at some point, signed the Bible, and we incorporated this ritual into the ceremony.” Don’t have a family heirloom like that? Start the tradition now! Ask all of the married couples in your family sign a sacred book, and you’ll add your names during the ceremony.
Photo Credit: Brendon Pinola Photography
The New Vows
These days, it’s not just you and your betrothed who get to make promises at the wedding. Some couples have been asking their guests to join in on the vows. After the couple makes their promises to each other, Ritchie reads the following:
“Now that you, beloved friends and family of the couple (names), have heard them recite their vows, do you promise, from this day forward, to encourage them and love them, to give them your guidance, and to support them in being steadfast in the promised that they have made?”
Guests respond: “We do!”
Photo Credit: Douglas Benedict Photography
For blended families, making vows to each other’s children has become a heartwarming part of the wedding day. One of Ritchie’s grooms recited the following to the bride’s children:
“I want you to know that I dearly love your mother. We have become very good friends, and we have learned to love each other. As you have so graciously shared this wonderful woman with me, so will I share the love I feel for her with you. Together, we will learn more about each other. I promise also to be fair and to be honest, to be available for you as I am for your Mom, and to earn your love, respect and true friendship. I will not make attempt to replace anyone, but to make a place in your hearts that is for me alone. I will be father and friend, and I will cherish my life with all of you. On this day, when I marry your mom, I promise to love and support you as my own.”
The bride recited a similar vow to the groom’s children. The kids then each made their own vows, responding “I do” to each question:
“Do you promise to love your mother and her new husband?” or ”Do you promise to love your father and his new wife?”
“Do you promise to support their marriage and your new family?”
“Do you promise to accept the responsibility of being their children and to encourage them, support them, and accept them?”
Photo Credit: Darko Sikman Photography
One brewski-loving pair created two special ales for their wedding -- a dark beer for the groom, and a lighter beer for the bride.
During the ceremony, their officiant — aptly named Beer — described the properties of each brew and how they corresponded to the bride's and groom’s personalities “They each took their beers and blended them together to create their own blend of black and tan and shared the glass,” said Beer. “They also had personalized labels made and gave the beers as favors to their guests.”
Photo Credit: Erin Lindsey Images
Communal Blessing of the Rings
During many religious ceremonies, the officiant typically says a blessing over the rings before the couple exchanges them. But if you’re not having a religious ceremony, consider have your family and friends bless your rings (this works best at smaller weddings).
“The ritual is simple but powerful. We place the wedding bands in a lovely box or decorative pouch to be handed from guest to guest before the ring ceremony begins or during a period of music and reflection,” said Ritchie. “Each guest holds the rings and silently offers a prayer or wish for the couple. In essence, the rings are warmed by the hands and hearts of the guests.”
Reverse Unity Candle
Instead of the traditional unity candle ceremony — where each of your mothers light a candle, then you and your fiancé use these candles to light a larger candle together — Ritchie recommends switching it up: Start with one flame, and spread it to all of your guests.
Have an unlit candle passed out to each adult guest. To start the candle ceremony, the bride and groom light a single candle together. Then, they use that candle to light those of their bridesmaids and groomsmen, who then start spreading the flame to the rest of the guests.
"As light is shared among guests, the end result is a community-wide holding of the light. Especially for an evening wedding, the dim light of candles can have a stunning impact,” said Ritchie.<
Photo via BridalBuds
If you're marrying outside of your own faith, you're certainly not alone — 27% of BG brides said that they'll have an interfaith marriage. For one Jewish/Irish Catholic couple, Beer performed a wine ritual using a Kiddush Cup and an Irish Loving Cup. “The couple exchanged glasses, and I discussed the Jewish meaning of the wine and the Irish meaning,” said Beer.
In another wedding, the bride’s Jewish father blessed the wine in Hebrew, and the groom’s father read the English translation, giving the wedding an inclusive feel.
Tell us: How do you plan on personalizing your wedding ceremony? What traditions will you include, and what will you skip?