I vividly remember planning my own wedding ceremony. My husband was three thousand miles away for the year and I was mainly left to my own devices on the planning front, which was more helpful in the end than you would imagine. But for the ceremony planning, I didn't know where to start. I had only been to one wedding before, when I was sixteen, and it was a Catholic mass. At the time, that sounded awfully simple! Just walk up the aisle and someone tells you what to do for the next hour, everything prescribed and repeated as it has been for thousands of years.
Instead, I found myself Googling "What is in a wedding ceremony?" and "What does a wedding ceremony have to have?" in a desperate attempt to cobble together something that would be meaningful, would reflect us as a couple, and would include everything it legally needed. We asked two friends to marry us, and luckily they made sure we were on the right track and had a beautiful, personal wedding ceremony. But I remember thinking, who on earth would let me decide what's in my wedding ceremony? It seemed like something much too important to let me decide what it would be. But decided I did and now I only wish I had injected more fun and personality into it!
1. Choose a venue that's special for you
If you're not set on having a wedding in a church, consider choosing a ceremony venue that has special meaning to you as a couple. Anywhere that is flat enough for a few rows of chairs and has space to make a focal point at the top of the aisle can work. Also keep in mind that you don't want your guests looking straight into the sun, even though the sunset would make a beautiful backdrop behind you on your favorite beach! You still want your guests to be able to see the beautiful bride and groom. Consider parks, sea fronts, even your favorite cafe. Even if the venue doesn't typically hold weddings, you can always ask!
2. Deck the aisle
If you're having a church wedding but aren't sure how to make your ceremony look different than the thousands that have come before, consider decorating the aisle uniquely. Opt for a late-afternoon ceremony and line the aisle with candles (just make sure guests and kids are aware of them!), flower petals or confetti. Tie balloons or streamers from the ends of the pews, just adding a little extra creativity to your ceremony can set the tone for what's to come.
3. Have a friend officiate
If you aren't having a religious ceremony, you can ask a friend to officiate. Think Friends where Joey marries Chandler and Monica in the snow storm! Anyone can get certified to officiate weddings online, and lawyers are automatically able to perform weddings as well. You can work with your friend to make sure all of the parts you'd like are included, like unity candles or your own vows, and your wedding ceremony will be instantly more personal because you know the person who marries you.
4. Include friends and family in the ceremony
For our wedding, we asked my husband's aunt to play and sing two old hymns during our ceremony. Most people ask friends or family to read poetry or religious passages, but feel free to get a little creative. We also asked my mother-in-law to pray a blessing over us during the ceremony, which was a really lovely way to start our marriage. People take their roles in weddings very seriously, so you'll be surprised how meaningful and heartfelt the words your friends and family choose for you will be.
5. Choose a meaningful processional or recessional
Your processional or recessional music doesn't have to come from an approved list. And your guests don't even have to understand the meaning of your choice! You can choose a song that's meaningful to you as a couple, maybe a song that isn't appropriate for a first dance but has a beat you'd walk down the aisle to! When I was planning our ceremony, I decided I'd like to walk down the aisle to an instrumental version of Counting Crows' Color Blind because I like the piano intro. When I went looking for the music online, I was shocked at how many people had had the same clever idea!
6. Write your own vows
When my brother-in-law got married a few years ago, they decided they would write surprise vows for each other. His new wife surprised him with vows that compared their marriage to the game of basketball, since he was a professional basketball player at the time! She explained how she would be his teammates, his coach, and even the referee in all the different seasons and situations of their marriage. With all the basketball players in the audience, it was such a hit! Whether it's basketball or baking, including meaningful references in your ceremony will keep your ceremony fresh for you as a couple and for your guests.
7. Include a handfasting ceremony
Handfasting ceremonies are the new unity candle, a symbolic ritual of your partnership together as a married couple. They're more and common in European countries, and have roots in ancient Scottish and German cultures. They're becoming more popular around the world, and one nice benefit to having a handfasting ceremony in your wedding is that, like a unity candle, you have a ribbon or rope as a keepsake from your ceremony to take with you for years to come.
8. Have your guests participate in blessing the rings
Another lovely idea to include in your wedding ceremony is a communal blessing of your rings by all of your guests. Your officiant might ask your guests to stand with you and repeat a blessing over your rings before you and your partner exchange rings. It's a nice way to include your guests and have your community show their support for your new marriage.
Are you planning to include any special or unique rituals or traditions in your ceremony? We'd love to hear about them!
Emily Westbrooks is an American-born writer and blogger based in Dublin, Ireland. She is the Online Editor for Confetti Magazine, one of Ireland's top bridal magazines. She also writes her own lifestyle blog, From China Village, where she chronicles her adventures in Dublin, travels around Europe, DIY projects and Irish design. She shares her home with her husband, one cat, and four sassy chickens! Browse Emily's unique tips here.