I posed a question to the married folk on our facebook page recently asking what ended up being really important/memorable about their wedding day when all was said and done. So many people responded with something about their ceremony and that got me to thinking: the ceremony means so much, but in most cases, I think it gets the smallest amount of thought in the planning process.
Over the years Sean and I have had the privilege to witness many many wedding ceremonies. Our favorites are always the ones where the couple has added something of themselves, whether that be their personalities, their interests, their culture or their loved ones. You can always tell that these are favorites of their guests too. They’re so much more engaged and the enjoyment is written all over their faces.
So I’ve been going through our weddings from the past few years and writing down some of the things we’ve seen that I thought made a wedding ceremony really special and memorable. I want to share them with you in case you’re pondering ways to give your wedding or recommitment ceremony that extra something. Sean and I will be married 10 years this year so I’m sure I’ll be using some (all?) of these sometime in the fairly near future myself. :)
Cue the Speeches!
Whether it’s a poem, the recounting of the symbology behind today’s wedding rituals, or the telling of a great love story, I completely adore hearing an out of the ordinary speech given in a wedding ceremony! If the person delivering the speech can tie it back to the couple in some way, even better. In the image below, Lindsay’s father is telling the story of Mark Twain and his wife and it was one of the best wedding speeches I’ve ever heard. I loved it so much that I had to write Lindsay and have her give me more details about it. Lucky for us all, she did one better and sent me the link to where it is written down. :) With her permission, I’m sharing it here: Dr. Collin’s Speech. There are also links in the sidebar of that site to the other great speeches shared in Lindsay and Andrew’s ceremony if you’d like to read more for inspiration.
Advice for the happy couple
Courtney and Jim incorporated this into their ceremony several years ago and it has stuck with me. Whenever I think of special elements to include, this is always the first to mind. This particular couple had 4 different couples stand up and offer them advice during the ceremony: one who had been married for 50 years, a newlywed couple in their first year, a couple who had been married for around 5 years or so, and one who had been married for around 15 years and had a growing family. The very different stages of life represented offered such great insight into how a marriage changes and grows and the advice was so inspiring and meaningful. I love love LOVE this idea!
Get closer photographers!
Your photographers are going to be afraid of making a scene during your ceremony – well, most of them are. ;) On our facebook page it was mentioned that people wished they had closer images from their ceremony, but if you want those, you need to talk to your photographer ahead of time about your desires and what you’re comfortable with. Particularly in large churches with long aisles, giving them the go-ahead to get in there for the shot will go a long way.
Ceremony in the round
Obviously this isn’t possible in every situation, but when possible, I highly recommend seating your guests in a circle around you, rather than just off to one side. It allows all of your guests a more intimate view and the added bonus is that your photographer can get closer in and photograph from so many more angles without being obtrusive.
Amazing live music? Yes please.
Music can enhance a ceremony like nothing else when it’s done well and in a unique fashion. Choosing music that means something to you, not just what you’re supposed to play at a wedding, is always great. Our favorites are the amazing vocal solos delivered by someone the couple loves. If the groom sings to his bride, that’s a bonus. :)
Honoring the Parental Units
In most cases, your parents have worked really hard to get you to this place. Not only did they raise you and all that entails, but they’ve likely made huge sacrifices over the past several months to make your wedding day everything you dreamed it would be. I love it when we see couples honor their parents in some way during the ceremony. Sometimes they include them in the ceremony itself in some way. Sometimes they surprise them with flowers in the middle of things. Whatever it is, it’s always so plain to see just how much those parents are welling over when they are recognized in their child’s big moment and it’s just so sweet.
Skype ’em in!
So often we hear that grandparents are unable to travel so they won’t be able to attend the wedding. Make it possible for them to attend from their own home! We love when we see a seat of honor right up front for a laptop. :) Katie and JJ did this for their wedding last December and then someone continued to carry the grandparent laptop around throughout the entire night. Guests were coming up to say hello, they were in family pictures, they participated in the ceremony and heard the speeches over dinner. What a lovely gift!
Remembering Loved Ones
We also love to see couples acknowledge their loved ones who have passed on. Sean and I both lost grandfathers in the year we were married, so we had a floral arrangement placed above us to recognize them and our other loved ones who had passed. It made them feel more present to have a visual representation of them in that way and that was special to me. Some couples light a candle in their honor. Opal and Brad had framed photos hanging above them as they wed and it was both beautiful and touching.
Write your own vows
I’m torn on this one because Sean and I said traditional marriage vows to each other. We did so because I love the tradition behind it and how those words have been said by so many couples for so many generations. They are special in and of themselves. But when I think through my favorite ceremonies, I love hearing a couples unique vows to each other every time. As you hear the laughter and see the tears from their guests, you know they do too and the couple themselves visibly melt when they hear what their spouse has written just for them.
Our bride Lindsay also made a great point that in writing their own vows, she’s very aware of the things she vowed when they come up in their everyday life. So, on game days when she wants to go out, she remembers that she promised Andrew that she would make time for his favorite soccer team and stays because it means something to him and because she vowed to make it a part of their life together.
Maybe when Sean and I do our recommitment ceremony, we’ll just have to do both. :)
Borrowing from history/other cultures.
I’m sure there are others as well, but we’ve noticed that particularly Hindu and Jewish weddings are full of culture and symbolism. Many of the rituals involve their families to vow support and to publicly recognize the new family unit being created. Other aspects repeatedly physically tie the couple together, reinforcing the bond being created and the significance of their union.
One of our brides, Rupa, who had a Hindu wedding said on our facebook page “The seven steps.. taking turns placing each other’s toes on each step to initiate the vows. 7 steps, 7 vows and subsequently, 7 stones in my wedding ring, each one for each vow for a little reminder every time I look down at my hand.” I love how she made her wedding ring a reminder of her vows in more ways than one. :)
Side note: if your ceremony is going to be spoken in a language that is foreign to most of your guests, an interpreter to explain the significance of the events and narrate for them is a great addition!
A sign of humility
When I posted this question on our Facebook page, my friend Courtney mentioned the feet washing ceremony and I loved the way she described it. She said that she thought it was a great representation of Christ and how a husband and wife should serve each other and each remain humble throughout their marriage. I love that idea.
Keep it intimate.
Again I am torn because I don’t think I could possibly manage to narrow down our guest list of close personal friends enough to have an intimate ceremony and I do love a big party! I think the thing to keep in mind here is to go with your personalities and the size of wedding that you feel will be most special to you. While we’ve seen some amazing large weddings, we’ve also seen big weddings that clearly overwhelmed the bride and groom. In those cases, the small intimate affairs would have been so much more personal and so much more their speed. When the guest list is small, you really get to spend time with each guest, and because they are your closest friends and family, you can really let your guard down and enjoy the day with them. There’s something to be said for that. One option we saw a few years ago that I thought was really cool was when Michael and Greta had only immediate family at the ceremony, and then celebrated with a larger group at the reception. It was emotional and sweet and perfect for them. I highly recommend going with what’s right for you in this respect, rather than what everyone expects of you. It’s your wedding day after all. :)
If you do go the intimate ceremony route, this is a sweet ritual to incorporate that one of our brides, Ally, told me about: it’s called a ring warming ceremony. At the beginning of the wedding ceremony, the officiant instructs the guests to pass the couple’s wedding rings around the room and for each person to say a silent prayer or blessing over. By the time the rings have been placed on the couple’s fingers, they have been blessed/prayed over by every person in the room. How cool!
Put yourself in your best light!
Lighting during a ceremony seems to be the most neglected item of the day. If your union is going to go down in your personal history as the most significant part of your wedding day, why not make sure it looks good? If you’re getting married outside, choose a time of day where the light just glows (your photographer can help you determine this if you don’t already know). If you’re getting married inside, look for when the natural light is most beautiful, or talk with those brilliant lighting guys you hired for your reception and see what they can do to make you look great during your ceremony as well.
Go out with a bang!
For ceremonies taking place after dark, fireworks make an awesome and unexpected walk back up the aisle.
So there are some ideas to get your started toward planning your perfect ceremony. Whatever you choose, tailor your wedding to you in every way possible. Infuse it with personality, history, significance… whatever is very you! Everyone has seen a standard wedding ceremony. Do something that gets their attention and remains all the more special to you for years to come.