Some guests at weddings couldn’t care less about the ceremony (“Bring on the champagne!”) but this section of the day is more about the bride and groom and the joining of their two families than it is about the good-time guests who can’t wait to munch on hors d’oeuvres and kick up their heels on the dance floor. Of course, everyone is looking forward to the reception, but don’t underestimate the importance of the ceremony – you may not realize how special you’ll find it until you’re actually standing next to your groom, beaming from ear to ear, while the smile on his face tells you he can’t believe his luck that he gets to spend the rest of his life with you.
The whole point of a wedding boils down to two little words – “I do”. Everything else is just bells and whistles. What you need to decide is how to make the “I do” part of the day as special and memorable as possible. This section will help you to narrow down your options and offer invaluable advice. So don’t stand on ceremony, get reading!
- Ceremony Outline
- Common Traditions
- Choosing Your Officiant
- How to Personalize Your Ceremony
You’re free to make your ceremony as traditional, religious or as off-the-wall as you’d like – it’s your day after all. But often it’s good to know what the established components of the ceremony are so that at least you know what traditions you’re breaking! Below is a basic ceremony outline.
The wedding party enters the ceremony and are greeted by the officiant. Guests stand as music is played. For the traditional processional order, visit http://www.mywedding.com/blog/planning/ceremony-reception/receiving-lines-toasts-ceremony-reception-details/traditional-processional-order/
The officiant, couple or invited reader welcomes guests and announces the reason why everyone has come together today. In a religious service, blessings are offered.
Bride Is Given Away
Bride is “handed over” by a family member to her fiancé.
The couple proclaims that they are there by their own free will and that they consent to be married.
Exchange of Vows
The bride and groom promise to be together forever, in -s and bad. Readings, songs and rituals may follow. Unifying Ritual. Rings or other tokens are blessed and exchanged.
The officiant announces the union and asks for the guests’ support and love for the newlyweds.
Declaration of Marriage
The officiant declares that the bride and groom are officially wed.
The newlyweds depart, followed by the wedding party and the rest of the guests.
Below is an outline of common wedding traditions in different cultures and religions from around the globe.
The Catholic ceremony is a mass that includes Holy Communion. After the procession, the bride and groom stand, sit and kneel at the altar at various points throughout the service. Depending on the officiant’s approval, readings and additions are included.
In African-American ceremonies, several rituals are performed within the traditional framework. Sticks are crossed to illustrate the bride and groom’s commitment to each other. A libation ceremony, where water is poured on the ground, pays respect to the couple’s ancestors and asks for their blessing. After they are married, the newlyweds jump over a broom to symbolize their new status.
This ceremony incorporates 15 different rituals, including flower garlands being exchanged before the couple step onto the wedding platform and instead of vows, the bride and groom circle a candle and make seven promises (Sapha Padhi or “Seven Steps”), after which a shared recital or blessing occurs.
The ceremony can be very short and focuses around the blessing and exchange of vows, symbolized by the rings. Readings, hymns and additional blessings can lengthen the ceremony. It may include Holy Communion but, equally, it may not.
The Jewish ceremony always takes place under a canopy (chuppah), which represents the couple’s new home. There is a great deal of symbolism and tradition in such a ceremony. After the vows are exchanged, the wedding contract has been read and the announcement is made, the groom stands on a glass to signify the destruction of the temple in ancient Jerusalem. Depending on orthodoxy, the ceremony can vary.
This is a private affair performed at the office of a magistrate. The groom gives the bride a dowry (usually negotiated in advance) and the wedding contract is signed before three male witnesses. Parties to celebrate may be held in the following weeks.
For more on weddings and traditions from around the world, visit:
- Agnostic Guest at a Religious Wedding
- Planning an Interfaith Wedding
- Sealed with Love
- Wedding Customs From Around The World
- An Intro to Hawaiian Wedding Traditions
Below you’ll find some common wedding readings – split into two categories: religious and non-religious.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8a
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up. Again, if two lie together, they are warm; but how can one be warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him.
Submit yourselves one to another as the fear of God. Wives, show reverence for your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church and He is the savior of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own Husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wife, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word; that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkles or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own body; He that loves his wife loves himself.
For no man ever yet hateth his own flesh; but nourishes and cherishes it, even as the Lord the church. For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is a profound one and I am saying this as it refers to Christ and the Church; however, let husband love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respect her husband.
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give every green plant for food." And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day.
The Lord God said: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.” So the Lord God formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each of them would be its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals; but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man.
So the Lord God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The Lord God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man. When he brought her to the man, the man said: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘woman,’ For out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.
From the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and they shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord; that walketh in his ways. For thou shalt eat the labor of thine hands; happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee. Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house, thy children like olive plants round about thy table. Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the Lord.
The Prayer By St. Francis of Assisi
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, union;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, Grant that we may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Traditional Irish Blessing
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.
May God be with you and bless you;
May you see your children's children.
May you be poor in misfortune,
Rich in blessings,
May you know nothing but happiness
From this day forward.
May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be always at your back
May the warm rays of sun fall upon your home
And may the hand of a friend always be near.
May green be the grass you walk on,
May blue be the skies above you,
May pure be the joys that surround you,
May true be the hearts that love you.
God in heaven above
please protect the ones we love.
We honor all you created as we pledge
our hearts and lives together.
We honor mother-earth
- and ask for our marriage to be abundant
- and grow stronger through the seasons;
We honor fire
- and ask that our union be warm
- and glowing with love in our hearts;
We honor wind
- and ask we sail though life
- safe and calm as in our father's arms;
We honor water
- to clean and soothe our relationship
- that it may never thirsts for love;
With all the forces of the universe you created,
we pray for harmony and true happiness as we forever grow young together.
Hindu Marriage Poem
You have become mine forever.
Yes, we have become partners.
I have become yours.
Hereafter, I cannot live without you.
Do not live without me.
Let us share the joys.
We are word and meaning, unite.
You are thought and I am sound.
May the nights be honey-sweet for us.
May the mornings be honey-sweet for us.
May the plants be honey-sweet for us.
May the earth be honey-sweet for us.
How Do I Love Thee By Elizabeth Barrett Browning
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, -- I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! -- and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
Love’s Philosophy By Percy Bysshe Shelley
The fountains mingle with the river,
And the rivers with the ocean;
The winds of heaven mix forever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single:
All things by a law divine
In another's being mingle–
Why not I with thine?
See, the mountains kiss high heaven,
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister flower could be forgiven
If it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea;–
What are all these kissings worth,
If thou kiss not me?
Sonnet 18 By William Shakespeare
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate…
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Sonnet 116 By William Shakespeare
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! It is an ever-fix'd mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov'd,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov'd.
Mind buzzing with so many options? Click here for advice on how to select the readings right for you:
Choosing Your Officiant
Your officiant will set the tone of the ceremony, so it’s important to choose the right one. Be sure to choose someone who’s willing to perform the type of ceremony you have your heart set on – if you want it to be a relaxed affair, don’t choose someone who’s set in their ways and unwilling to budge from the traditional service. And make sure that whoever you go for is legally allowed to perform weddings in your state. The first decision you need to make is whether you want a religious or civil ceremony – this will go some way in determining who will marry you.
If you decide to get hitched at city hall, you’ll need to make an appointment and be willing to be married quickly. Call your local city hall and find out everything that’s involved with this kind of quickie wedding.
Justice of the Peace
The county clerk’s office where you obtained your marriage license will have a list of local justices of the peace who can perform wedding ceremonies. Phone the ones near to you to get a sense of their personality, then ask if you can meet with them to discuss the kinds of weddings they perform.
Friend or Relative
For a truly personal touch to the ceremony, many couples are now opting for a loved one to conduct the service. In certain states, like California, a friend can get a one-day designation of Deputy Commissioner of Marriages to perform weddings for $35. Or someone could get ordained on the internet through the Universal Life Church (before you go down this road, talk to your county clerk’s or secretary of state’s office to make sure it’s recognized in your state). Although this may seem an obvious point to make, be sure that you can trust the person you choose not to screw things up! You’re making one of the biggest commitments of your life and the last thing you want is for a friend to make it memorable for all the wrong reasons.
If you regularly attend a house of worship then it’s usually a no-brainer that the head officiant – such as a priest, rabbi or minister – will marry you. If, however, you want a religious ceremony but there’s no obvious choice of who will take the service, you’ll have to do your research. Depending on your religion, call local houses of worship to discuss the possibility of using the officiant’s services – or call your religion’s national headquarters for recommendations. Meet a few people who are willing to conduct you ceremony and go with the one you feel “gets” you and your vision.
Questions to Ask When Choosing an Officiant
- Do you have an objection to an interfaith marriage – or if one of us is not religious?
- Will you marry us even if we are not members of your house of worship? Should we become members? How?
- Can we customize the ceremony? Is writing our own vows acceptable? Can we include modern music?
- If either of us is divorced, is that a problem?
- Will our non-religious friends/relatives be able to participate in the ceremony – giving readings, singing and suchlike?
- Are you available on the day of the wedding? Are you open to performing multiple ceremonies in one day if you’re already booked?
- Are there any rules or restrictions that we must follow (some Catholic churches won’t allow people to show their shoulders, for example)?
- Is pre-wedding counseling required?
- Will you give a sermon or a speech? Will I be able to hear it beforehand and offer any input?
- What is the fee for the ceremony? What does this include?
- What does the site supply and what would you have to bring? Are there any extra costs involved in the site providing certain details?
- Will you offer advice on vows or readings?
- Is there a particular dress code?
- Do you allow a photographer or videographer during the ceremony?
Before you “officially” decide on an officiant, visit:
How to Personalize Your Ceremony
There are many ways to put your own stamp on your special day – just make sure you clear them with your officiant first if it’s a religious service.
- Write your own vows.
- Ask loved-ones to perform special readings (perhaps a poem or passage from literature).
- Ask a loved-one to sing or play an instrument during the ceremony.
- Walk down the aisle to your favorite song.
- Have the bride’s mother “give her daughter away” along with the father.
- Switch places with the officiant so that you are facing your guests.
- Light a “unity candle” to symbolize two people becoming one.
- Release doves after being pronounced husband and wife.
- Burn your favorite scented candle during the ceremony.
- Instead of rice or confetti, have your guests throw (or blow) something else over you to celebrate your nuptials – like petals from your favorite flower, autumn leaves, paper snowflakes, sunflower seeds or bubbles.