Wedding Ceremony Guide
Check out the basic parts of a wedding ceremony and many options
If you wish, family members and other VIPs may be formally escorted and seated just prior to the entrance of the wedding party. This is a good cue to guests that the wedding is about to start!
The entrance of the wedding party can be as grand as you want...or as simple as you wish. Consider your venue and the number of wedding party members when deciding how best everyone should process.
The Welcome is a time for everyone to settle down following the adrenaline rush of the start of your wedding. The officiant should acknowledge the guests not just as observers but as people who will celebrate with you on your wedding day and support you in days to come.
Prayer or Introductory Words
If you are having a religious or spiritual ceremony, you may wish to include a prayer. If you are having a civil ceremony, you may want your officiant to say a few introductory words to set the tone.
In this part of the ceremony, the officiant or one or more of your friends or family members read writings focusing on love and commitment. Some couples choose to include a reading that is not directly marriage-related but holds a special place in their hearts.
The Declaration of Intent
The Declaration of Intent (aka, the "I do's") is one of the key parts of the wedding--you make public your desire to wed. In many states, the Declaration of Intent must be included in order to make the marriage legal.
The Exchange of Vows
Your vows are not only the promises you publicly make to one another but the heart and soul of your wedding ceremony. In addition to your vows to one another, you may also include a Vow of Support in which your guests promise to encourage, guide and support you in your marriage.
The Exchange of Rings
Symbols express the inexpressible. The pledged faithfulness of a couple to each other is symbolized by the unending circle of a ring.
A Blessing or Final Words
These words may be religious or spiritual; they might simply be wishes for your future; they may be connected to your family heritage. Whatever their origin, these final words celebrate your new lives as a married couple!
“By the power vested in me….” The Pronouncement may be just a short statement but it is required to make your marriage legal and it is the moment when you are officially married!
The Kiss and Presentation
Walk down that aisle and get ready to celebrate.
But wait...there's more!
Additional Options for Your Ceremony
The Unity Candle
The bride and groom each take a lit candle and simultaneously light a “unity candle” which represents their love and marriage. The individual candles are left lit symbolizing that the bride and groom have not lost their individuality.
The Sand Ceremony
The bride and groom each have a small container with a distinct color of sand. The bride pours some of her sand into a large glass vase. The groom does the same. The two layers of sand represent the individuality of the bride and groom. When the couple pours their sand in the vase simultaneously, a lovely sand design emerges and the officiant says, “Just as these grains of sand can never be separated and poured back into their individual containers, so may your marriage be.”
The Unity Wine Ceremony
This comes from an old French tradition in which the daughter of a vineyard owner married the son of another vineyard owner. Each would bring a bottle of their family’s best wine which would be combined to create a new wine celebrating the new union. In today’s Wine Ceremony, two carafes of wine are placed next to an empty glass. The bride and groom each pour some of their wine into the glass and then drink the new wine.
An alternative to the Wine Ceremony is the Unity Cocktail Ceremony. Same idea--just different ingredients! A favorite is the Love Potion made with Chambord liqueur and vodka.
The Unity Tree Ceremony
Rather than lighting a candle or pouring sand or wine, the couple pours water into a planter containing a tree. The Unity Tree Ceremony focuses on strong roots of love as well as the much-needed nurturing necessary for a long marriage. Variations of this ceremony are possible using any type of plant.
Honoring Your Families
The Parents’/Families’ Blessing
Whether they simply rise from their seats or they stand at your side, it is touching to have your parents or families give their blessing to your marriage.
The Rose Ceremony
Presenting a rose to mothers during your wedding shows your gratitude for the contributions they have made in your lives. Roses may also be presented to anyone you wish to honor (fathers, grandparents, sisters, brothers, godparents, etc.).
If you wish, you may remember and honor friends and family members who have passed away. This may be done by:
- Placing a rose beside a photo of the deceased loved one or on an empty chair.
- Lighting a candle in honor of those who you are remembering.
- Having the officiant read the names of those who you are remembering and invite the guests for a moment of silence in their honor.
And yet, more ideas
A Celtic/Scottish ritual, handfasting symbolizes the binding together of two lives. Ribbons, rope, strips of cloth or various types of materials can be used to visually demonstrate your unity and diversity.
The wedding rings (secured together with a ribbon or in a small bag) are passed from guest to guest who are asked to offer a prayer or make a wish for you as they hold the rings. In this manner your rings are “warmed” with the love of your family and friends before you exchange them with one another.
Blessing of Hands
In the Blessing of Hands, the bride holds the groom’s hands in hers, palms up. The officiant tells the many ways in which the couple will be strengthened by their partnership. (For example, “These are the hands that will work alongside yours as you build your future, as you laugh and cry, as together you share your secrets and dreams.”) In the same way, the groom holds the bride’s hands. The Blessing of Hands may be one of the Readings; it also works well just before the Exchange of Rings.
Love Letter Time Capsule
A few weeks before your wedding, take some time to write a love letter to one another expressing your thoughts about the wonderful qualities of your future spouse, how you fell in love, your hopes and dreams for the future, etc. Place the letter in a sealed envelope. Do not read what your future spouse has written! As part of your wedding ceremony, you will place these letters in a box or other container (be creative) along with a bottle of wine or champagne and anything else you would like to include in your time capsule. The time capsule is to be displayed in a prominent place in your home where you can gaze upon it during good times as well as challenging times. The, on your 1st/5th/10th/25th or other significant anniversary, open the box, read the love letter from your beloved and toast your years together!
The Wedding Rug
A wedding rug is a small carpet on which you stand during your ceremony. Afterward it may be placed in a special part of your home or it may become a family heirloom used for other notable events such as the renewal of your vows or at the weddings of your children and grandchildren.
If you are having an outdoor wedding, you may consider this. The wedding couple releases two white doves, a symbol of their lifelong devotion.
Flower Petal Wishes of Love
Guests are given flower petals when they arrive. Near the end of the ceremony, the officiant asks the guests to hold their petals close to their hearts and to make a silent wish for bride and groom. As the bride and groom take their first steps as a married couple during the recessional, the guests shower them with their flower petal wishes of love.
Cultural Wedding Traditions
Including wedding traditions and customs from your cultural heritage is a great way to honor your families and ancestry. Or, perhaps you will be inspired by these traditions from around the world and adapt one or more of them for your wedding.
Jumping the Broom
The African tradition of Jumping the Broom symbolizes the sweeping away of the old, and a welcoming of the new as well as the couple’s joy in taking the leap into married life together.
Thai Water Ceremony
The wedding couple cup their hands over a bowl filled with flowers (traditionally, lotus flowers.) Two or more VIP guests come forward to pour water over the bride and groom’s hands and to offer their blessing, wishes of good luck and words of wisdom. If you wish, all guests may come forward invited to come forward and do likewise.
Bees and honey are linked with several major deities of marriage including Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and Min, the god of fertility. Even Cupid is said to have dipped his amorous arrows in honey. The Honey Ceremony is a beautiful Persian wedding tradition in which honey represents the sweetness in life. The couple takes turns dipping a pinky finger into the honey and feeding each other. It's their first taste together of the sweet life that lies ahead!
According to a Native American legend, if anyone desires a wish to come true they must first capture a butterfly and whisper their wish to the butterfly. Since a butterfly can make no sound, the butterfly cannot reveal the wish to anyone except to the Great Spirit who hears and sees all. Then, in gratitude for giving the beautiful butterfly its freedom, the Great Spirit grants the wish. As part of this ritual, the bride and groom make silent wishes for their future and each release a butterfly. A variation of this ritual is to have all guests take part in releasing butterflies.
This tradition is often included in Mexican and Filipino weddings. A large loop of rosary beads is placed in a figure eight shape on the shoulders of the couple. The lazo symbolizes the infinite bond of love which keeps the marriage strong.
Coin (Arras) Ceremony
While often included in Latino wedding ceremonies, this tradition dates back to ancient Rome. A gift of 13 coins represents the groom’s responsibility as a provider and his promise to support and care for his wife. The acceptance of the coins by the bride shows her unconditional trust and confidence in her husband as well as her dedication and prudence.
In addition to having your wedding ceremony take place under a huppah (wedding canopy), you may wish to include the traditional Seven Blessings, the Jewish Wine Ceremony and/or the Breaking of the Glass. All of these traditions, rich in symbolism and meaning, give honor to your ancestors and express your hope for the future.
One of the many Greek wedding rites is the crowning of the wedding couple which symbolizes the nobility of the marriage. This ancient tradition will give your wedding an extraordinary beauty is sure to instill a sense of awe.
When There are Children of the Wedding Couple
A wedding is more than the joining of two people--it is often the creation of a new family. There are several rituals to acknowledge and celebrate this.
The Family Medallion Ceremony
A necklace, pin, ring or other item representing the new family is given to each child. The Family Medallion Ceremony includes vows made by the couple to the children.
Family Unity Candle Ceremony
This is similar to the standard Unity Candle ceremony except that there is a candle for each child as well as for the bride and groom. The ceremony emphasizes the importance of love and respect in a family.
Family Sand Ceremony
This is similar to the standard Sand Ceremony except that each child along with the bride and groom has a different color of sand. This ceremony focuses on the traits, talents and strengths that each person brings into the new family.
Family Blessing of Hands
After the hands of the wedding couple are blessed, the child/children come up and join hands together for a family blessing, ending with the words “These are the hands that will continue to touch your heart...every day, every year, always.”
The children come forward for a touching moment in which the wedding couple makes vows to them.
You may wish to have your officiant say personal words about your story as a couple—it could include how you met, the time leading up to your engagement, your hopes and dreams for the future and perhaps a humorous tale as well.
When designing a wedding ceremony, it is crucial to keep in mind:
The flow of the various elements within the ceremony
The parts that are required by law
The length of time for the ceremony
keeping the guests engaged in the ceremony
Whether certain options are feasible considering the number of guests
Whether certain options are practical considering your ceremony site