Thankfully, a lot about wedding ceremonies, and marriage, has changed enormously since the days of its origins in ancient Greece. Long before religion was even a part of the concept of marriage, its sole purpose was guaranteeing offspring to a new suitor by a father pledging his daughter’s hand in marriage, literally placing her hand in his as a transfer of possession, taking the risk that she might be “returned” should she fail to produce legitimate heirs. Though no country has completely mastered equity, many of the greatest countries have made massive strides in the right direction. Marriage today is more about love than it ever has been at any time in history. Individuals of all types have more freedom of choice in who, how, and most importantly, WHY they choose to commit to sharing their lives with another individual.
The tradition of “giving away” the bride, or presenting her in marriage, is still widely practiced (more so a sentimental act than as an archaic transfer of ownership), as a father symbolizes putting his faith in the new partner to love and protect his beloved daughter as he has throughout her life. Meanwhile other brides are choosing to completely abandon the practice, being escorted by their children, mother, a grandparent, any significant individual, or entering completely unaccompanied by anyone. Couples today have almost limitless options, and the days of boring, cookie cutter ceremonies have been completely transformed into personally meaningful, individualized milestones (as long as you have the right officiant).
In today’s blog, I’ll share some practices, both old and new, that can be customized or modified to add symbolism, significance, or meaning to your wedding ceremony in whatever way feels right for you. Couples have even created completely new “mini ceremonies” to include in their wedding for a variety of reasons, from including children, honoring a heritage, including an inside joke, or popular fandoms, to sentimental, touching acts of symbolism, love, and unity. My husband entered our ceremony to the Star Wars, Imperial March. One couple had all guests raise a wand to acknowledge family and friends who are no longer with us. Another couple had a “whiskey” blending to symbolize their union creating a custom blend completely different from each one separately, much like their lives before and after marriage (I would highly recommend trying your “blend” in advance though, especially if you plan to distribute “favors” of said blend)! If there is something, anything, that has significance and meaning to you and your partner, we can find (or create) a way to make it a part of your ceremony! So let’s dive in and look at some options:
Unity Candle Ceremony
In a unity candle ceremony, a representative of each partner (frequently each partner’s mother) enters and lights a candle symbolizing each partner before being escorted to their seats. The candles (hopefully) remain lit until the part of the ceremony where each partner takes their individual candle and uses it to light a single, larger candle in unison. They then extinguish their individual candles symbolizing the end of their lives as separate individuals, now having one shared life together.
“Blending” ceremonies are quite common as they allow for more than two individuals to participate (meaning any children the partners might already have, family members, and even friends can be included). Each participant has their own individual container of whatever material they will be blending. During this ceremony, the participants pour their individual containers into a single (typically ornamental) vessel of some kind that can be kept as a permanent keepsake. This blending symbolizes the individuals coming together as one, unable to be completely parted or returned to their previous states.
Blending ceremonies can include any variety of meanings the couple wishes to convey to their guests and can be easily personalized based on the substance chosen to be blended. Though sand is probably the most common substance used, creative couples have opted to use different varieties of wine, whiskey, bourbon, tequila, or virtually any other favorite spirit, or simply colored water.
Family Commitment Ceremony
During, or in addition to, the couple’s exchange of rings, some also choose to give rings, necklaces, bracelets, or some other special gift to their shared children or new stepchildren and to include promises or commitments as they individually see fit. It’s a beautiful way to acknowledge and honor the lives of all parties changing and coming together.
Jumping the Broom
During slavery in the United States the marriage of enslaved individuals was not legally recognized. Jumping the broom was a way for enslaved couples to legitimize their marriage. Conflicting information can be found on the origins of jumping the broom within African cultures, with some sources stating it ties back to 16th century African marriage rituals where brooms were waved overhead of the new couple to ward off spirits, and other sources disagreeing. Wiccans and Romanichal gypsies also have long dated traditions for jumping the broom to publicly declare their marriages. Jumping the broom has experienced a resurgence in practice in the United States following the publication of Roots in 1977 with many African American couples incorporating the practice to honor their heritage.
Creating a Ceremony Time Capsule
Some couples choose to include creating a time capsule during their ceremony. The bridal party, children, family, friends, and guests can participate to whatever extent the couple chooses. Some couples elect to write and include letters for their spouses to read only upon opening. Other items might include a favorite bottle of wine or spirits, letters from the bridal party, family, or friends, or any other items of significance, which are sealed inside to be opened at a later date, such as their 1st, 5th, or 10th anniversary, or even after their first major disagreement.
Tree Planting Ceremony
Some environmentally conscientious couples are opting to help the planet as a part of their wedding ceremony by having a tree planting ceremony. Also called a Unity Tree Ceremony, the young sapling represents their budding marriage and commitment to love and nurture both to maturity. I highly advise staying away from “love ferns” however!
Handfasting is an ancient Celtic tradition and is where the phrase “tying the knot” originated. Many witnessed this tradition at the royal wedding of Prince William and Princess Kate. This practice historically used 13 ribbons, each with a different meaning, but has been adapted today to typically use only one. Couples can customize this tradition using any rope, ribbon or sash of their choosing, for example, in a beach themed wedding the couple might choose to use a nautical rope. Though the wording of the ceremony and what the couple chooses to use may vary, the process is essentially the same. The officiant binds the couple’s hands together to symbolize the union of their lives and ties it with a knot. Once the handfasting ceremony is complete, the officiant assists the couple out of the binding without untying the knot and it is returned to the couple to keep.
With ties to Mexico, the Philippines, and other Latin cultures, the wedding lasso is not just practiced in Catholic ceremonies. In this ritual, the bride and groom are both “lassoed” using a rosary, silk or flower garland, or whatever the couple has chosen to use. It is first looped around the shoulders of first partner, crossed between the two, and then looped around the shoulders of the second partner to form an eternity symbol. The lasso can be a gift from someone special to the couple who participates and places it on the couple during the ceremony or it can be placed by the officiant as the ceremony is performed. The lasso is kept by the couple as a keepsake after and can be passed to future generations.
Cord of Three Strands
In this ceremony, the three cords represent, the bride, the groom, and God. They are braided together and secured at the end to symbolize that a marriage takes all 3, and is based on the scripture, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12.
Use of an oathing stone is based on the Scottish tradition of setting an oath in stone. In this ritual, the couple holds the stone in their hands while saying their vows. This is said to cast their oath in stone. Some couples choose to use seashells, a stone collected from somewhere uniquely special to them, or to have etching or engravings done to commemorate the occasion.
Seashell or Stone Ceremony
Typically taking place during a waterfront event, these ceremonies are unique because all guests in attendance are invited to participate. Each person is given a seashell, stone, or whatever environmentally friendly trinket the couple has chosen. The wording and process can be customized based on the couples wishes, but essentially each guest is instructed to take a moment, hold it close to their heart, and pray or bless the object with their well wishes for the new couple’s marriage and future together. Then when instructed, everyone approaches the water’s edge and casts them into the water in unison to “make their wishes come true” just as one would cast a penny into a wishing well.
Passing or Warming of the Rings
Like a seashell or stone ceremony, a Passing or Warming of the Rings involves the participation of all guests of the ceremony. In this ritual with origins based in Ireland, the rings are passed from guest to guest, giving everyone an opportunity to hold, bless, pray over, or send good luck wishes for the new couple before they exchange the rings. There are some obvious concerns for keeping the rings safe and secure, and there can be some logistical issues with particularly large weddings, however there are many variations that can be taken to make this practice more efficient. A few options include: appointing a ring “keeper”, placing the rings with your guestbook, or with a sign explaining the purpose at the entrance to your ceremony, only having the closest family and friends or just the bridal party participate, or having those who will participate seated in a designated space (like the first 2 or 3 rows).
A quaich is a Scottish traditional cup or bowl with 2 handles. When performing a quaich ceremony, the couple drink Scotch neat from a quaich together to symbolize their trust for one another, or one after the other. Though Scotch is traditionally used, some couples choose to blend 2 spirits to symbolize becoming one before partaking. Variations can include entire wedding party or as many participants as desired symbolizing the support of community and the strength added to a marriage. *Voted most likely to get you quarantined by the Health Dept. 2020
Take the ideas presented here and make them your own. If you have something that is significant to you, but you aren’t sure where to go with it, let’s chat! If you would like to share a new idea, a variation of one of these, or something unique, please do. I would love to add it here! And finally, if you are looking for an amazing officiant to orchestrate a one-of-a-kind ceremony for you (or know someone who is) don’t hesitate to reach out to me today!
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