Updated: Apr 23, 2019
“Deeds not words” - Emmeline Pankhurst
As anyone who’s ever had an unhappy relationship knows, loving words aren’t always enough. Love is a verb and when you really love someone, you show that through actions.
When we celebrants talk about wedding rituals, the word can put some people off. It has connotations of religion, spirituality and solemnity that don’t necessary connect with modern couples.
A ritual is really just any action that carries a bit of symbolism with it. I made you a birthday cake to show you I love you. I gave you some flowers because I’m sorry your guinea pig died. Almost all humans participate in rituals - even if we think we don’t.
A wedding ceremony itself is a ritual, containing various mini-rituals within it. Depending on how you feel about weddings, tradition, religion and being the centre of attention, the Christian rituals many of us associate with weddings (such as the bride’s entrance with her father, the singing of hymns, the exchange of vows, the giving of rings, the minister’s blessing to the couple etc) might make you feel emotional, excited, uncomfortable or irritated - or none of the above!
But even if you’re not even slightly spiritual or touchy-feely, you can still have a wedding ceremony that expresses what the two of you mean to each other - through actions, moments and little details as well as through the words you’ll speak.
Let’s not use the word rituals, let’s say actions. Find the right actions to include in your wedding ceremony and, just as we often remember a thoughtful birthday present more intensely than the words in the card, so you might find that these are the moments that come rushing back to you whenever you remember your wedding day.
If you ask me to help you create your wedding ceremony and suggest personalized rituals, I guarantee we’ll come up with cringe-free ideas that feel just right to you.
Here are a few unusual ideas that can be fun, understated and relaxed. Many of them will give your wedding guests an opportunity to feel more involved in your ceremony. They won't be suitable for all couples or all venues but they’re a starting point.
1) Creating the space
If you’re having a rustic, outdoorsy wedding, you can involve your guests by getting them to build or decorate the space where you’ll exchange your vows. For example guests could:
Create a circle for you both to stand inside - using pebbles from their gardens, flowers they’ve brought along, rose petals or any other objects that suit your theme or style.
Build an archway, canopy or naked tipi out of sticks or other natural materials (perfect for a woodland wedding).
Decorate your wedding canopy with ribbons, flowers or their own notes of good wishes or even pictures of the two of you (a great way to involve children).
2) Making an entrance
There are countless ways to make your entrance - whether you choose to come in together or separately. Remember, if you want a traditional walking down the aisle moment, you’re free to choose which of you will be the one to make the grand entrance and who - if anyone - will accompany you. You don’t have to stick with traditional gendered roles. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:
Walk in towards each other - if you’d like to emphasize the equality of your relationship, why not both walk in at the same time to your processional music? Lots of couples are now choosing to walk down the aisle together. Another lovely option, if your venue layout allows it, is to walk in at the same time but coming from opposite directions so that you’re slowly walking towards each other.
Avoid the processional altogether - you’d be surprised how many nearlyweds feel anxious about being centre of attention and dread that all-eyes-on-me walking in moment. If that’s how you feel, why not just avoid it? Both of you can be present to meet and greet your guests, just as you would at any other party and, when it’s time to start the ceremony, just walk in with everyone else and ask your celebrant to find a different way to mark the beginning of the ceremony.
Make use of your guests - for outdoor weddings or any venue with plenty of space and flexibility, a really inclusive entrance idea is to get your guests to form an aisle. Your celebrant can get them all to stand in two rows and then you can walk in down the middle - giving you a really personal and intimate processional route. You could give your guests flowers, ribbons, candles or similar to hold to decorate your own living, human aisle.
Wait for your guests to come to you - this could be as simple as having a private moment together in your ceremony room before you invite guests to come in and take their seats. Or it could be as wacky as planning a woodland wedding where you wait for your guests in your secret ceremony location while they have to follow a treasure trail to find you!
Get creative with your means of transport - if you want to make a grand entrance, the sky’s the limit. Search YouTube for unusual wedding entrances and you’ll find couples dancing, biking and parachuting into their ceremonies. I wrote a wedding script inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest in which the bride arrives by rowing boat to a ceremony held on a sandy beach on a remote island. (This was just a sample script I did for my celebrant training! Do get in touch if you want a Tempest themed wedding - it’s on my celebrant bucket list!)
3) Playing with fire
(When you’ve checked all your venue’s rules and carried out a full and thorough risk assessment…) why not get creative with fire? Lighting a unity candle (where each partner lights a taper candle and together they light a third, larger ‘unity candle’) is a tradition that comes from the Roman Catholic Church but is really catching on at secular weddings. It’s a lovely simple ceremony with great potential to involve other family members or to light candles for absent friends.
If you’re having an evening wedding, why not give a candle to each of your guests - they can pass the flame between them, lighting their neighbour’s candle from their own until everyone’s is alight. This is a lovely way to involve everyone and bring your guests together - it will also create the most gorgeous photographs.
If you like your flames warm and wild and you’re having a festival style wedding, why not kick the party off by lighting the bonfire or fire-pit together at the end of your ceremony? Same symbolism, much more exciting!