How to Craft a Unique to You Wedding Ceremony
Writing your own vows can be difficult enough without even thinking about trying to fill 15 - 30 minutes of time for your entire ceremony. If you are opting to have a family member or friend officiate your ceremony in lieu of hiring a professional then this is for you. I'm going to tell you all about how my husband, Evan, and I managed to craft a ceremony from the processional songs to the kiss that felt true to us as a couple without any professional help. And if you stay tuned until the end (or click HERE to to you there now) there's a free planning doc for you to use so that you don't have to scour the rest of the Internet like we did - I did the leg work for you and promise you'll have the most amazingly personal and memorable ceremony ever!
How we crafted our ceremony...
Evan and I had a running playlist of music that we wanted to be included in our wedding since before we got engaged. But one night when we started seriously planning our wedding, I questioned what I could walk down the aisle to that didn't feel overdone or cliché. I mean no shade to those Christina Perri fans out there, but after hearing it wedding after wedding in every form you could think of I was ready for something new. Evan jokingly said (and I'm paraphrasing here), "You should walk down the aisle to Jurassic Park! That would be original." We had a good laugh, I threw on the theme, and immediately got the chills. This was it, the harps and violins, the build up to that powerful moment in the song where John Hammond says, "Welcome to Jurassic Park". It was the song of our drama/ movie nerd dreams. And in that moment, we realized that we were not going to have your typical wedding ceremony. It was going to be a production!
As the wedding drew nearer, it was time to buckle down and start writing the actual ceremony content itself. We had been to a few weddings together, and being in the wedding industry for many years myself, we certainly knew what we liked and didn't like about ceremonies. We personally hated when they lasted all of about 5 minutes including a quick generic vow exchange, ring exchange, kiss, and done. Despite having a slightly more intimate wedding with about 90 people who all knew us rather well, we knew that we wanted our guests to leave without a question in their minds about who we were as a couple and our unconditionally mad love for one another.
We spent hours, weeks even, researching various ceremony formats and traditions until we came up with a basic outline of what we wanted our ceremony to look like, and from there we spent even more time deciding on various readings and wording that we wanted used by our officiant. It's been almost 4 years since then, but I can assure you that Offbeat Bride has some of the best ceremony examples out there for all sorts of non-traditional, inclusive wedding ceremonies if you wish to gather some more inspiration. This is where we found some of our best ideas at the time.
What we did -
Before we even entered the theater (yes, our ceremony was in a theater) we opted to have music from some of our favorite films playing, all composed by the incredibly talented, John Williams. Continuing with that theme, grandparents and parents were escorted in to the Home Alone 2 theme (Evan watched this movie 2x the night before he proposed to me and our wedding was during Christmas season), Evan and his wedding party walked in to the Imperial March, and my wedding party and I walked in to the Jurassic Park theme. We rehearsed it at least 3 times beforehand to make sure that everyone had the timing just right, and it was only interrupted briefly at the very end when my mother tripped on our dresses and fell down the stairs of the theater. Don't worry, she was fine, and we all had a good laugh about it, which actually helped allow Evan and I to center ourselves a bit more in the moment and let out that big breath we were both holding the whole time I walked down the aisle. Thanks, mom!
What to consider -
The processional is just as important as any other part of your ceremony. For most couples, it's your grand entrance in front of your guests and for some couples, even in front of one another in your wedding attire. You want to pick a song that accurately reflects that. There are a few ways you can structure this part of the ceremony (and again, I'll get deeper into this in the guide below), but the gist of it is this: you'll need to consider what music you want to walk in to, who you want specifically escorted in, and if you want different songs for different groups or just one long one. Depending on what you decide with that bit of information will dictate your song choice(s). I also encourage you to take some time to think about the song(s) you're choosing, Is there one that has a special meaning to you and your relationship? Do you want to have a theme? Will they be played by a DJ or instrumentalists?
While you're thinking about that - here's a playlist of nontraditional processional songs to get you started and inspired!
What we did -
We opened our wedding with an inside joke. I know, I know. You must be groaning as your read this, but I promise you, we explained the joke to everyone - so I guess it became a much larger inside joke in that moment, but it had to be said! To make a long story short (you can read the whole story in our full ceremony write up below) Evan's family thought we eloped on a trip to Vegas early on in our relationship so we joked that this was our second wedding.
The second part of the opening was the only part that we left up to our officiant to write and surprise us with. We went over to her house one night before the wedding to practice the ceremony with her so that she would know the overall flow of things and then asked her to write a short paragraph or two about us and maybe offer up a bit of advice. It turned out to be so personal and sweet, and we were thrilled that we asked her to keep it a surprise since we already knew the entire rest of the ceremony (yes, even our vows to one another).
What to consider -
How do you want to begin your ceremony? You might consider telling your story, but I recommend making sure that it's something new to your guests. Hopefully, everyone at your wedding already knows at least the basics about the two of you and your relationship to be invited to your big day so keep it interesting and engaging! If you want you can always start with something like, "Most of you probably already know THIS, but did you know THIS?" Remember those essay writing skills from your younger days - create a strong opening line to capture the reader's (or in this case the listeners') attention!
The welcome is also the moment where you will set the tone for the ceremony. Will it be comical, romantic, traditional, casual, formal, etc? But keep it brief. This portion should only be 1-3 minutes of your ceremony, tops, unless you have a seriously thrilling story to tell that takes a bit more time.
What we did -
Now the rest of these items can be expanded upon, put in a different order, and so on so don't think you need to jump right into a reading. What we chose to do was have 4 readings woven throughout our ceremony. The first was delivered by my mom, who was still fixing her shoe from falling at this point and went up with only one on - hilarious because I had no idea at the time. We felt this one was a perfect extension of our welcome and bridge to the next portion of our ceremony, which was our vows, because it said something along the lines of shortly you will say a few words... and you'll become husband and wife. Trust me, it was better than that, but you get the gist. Our second reading was by Evan's dad and was on the shorter side. It was more of an "advice" sort of reading and felt perfect coming from someone who had been in a marriage for nearly 40 years at that point. Next, we had our officiant do the "these are the hands" reading as the end of our handfasting ceremony. We felt it was fitting since our hands were literally tied together at that moment, but it's also one of our favorite readings. Though we've heard it a few other times at weddings, it's always a very special one to us, and you can certainly made edits to it as well! And our final reading was at the conclusion of our handfasting, delivered by my aunt. She helped us find our first house and has always been super close to both of us, and she read the "may the road rise up to meet you" Irish blessing. It felt like the perfect ending to the main portion of our ceremony and fitting considering handfasting is an old Celtic tradition.
What to consider -
Try doing what we did and intersperse your readings throughout the ceremony so that there is a sort of flow rather than just back to back speakers. It will help to break up the other elements of the ceremony, especially those that require effort on your or your officiant's part. Also, if you don't find any readings that speak to you or just don't want to have them - don't! Remember, it's your wedding day, and you can do whatever the hell you want.
If you do opt to have readings, think about whether you want to read them to each other, have your officiant do them, or have a friend/ family member read them. This is a great way to get your parents more involved in the ceremony, honor someone who isn't in your wedding party (or who you would've put into your wedding party but chose not to have one). These should be special people in your life. I also recommend thinking about this person's voice. You want the readings to sound like something that they might actually say.
My last bit of advice is to think about how these readings play a role in your ceremony more than as just a reading. "Meaghan, what the hell do you mean?" I mean that they can serve as a blessing, a toast, words of advice, a song, vows, inclusion of a little bit of tradition or religion, and more. They don't have have to simply be something someone reads off of a paper - their delivery and context within the ceremony are just as important as the content.
What we did -
Evan and I are both rather emotional people, so going into this day, we knew that our vows were going to be a struggle to get through. We'd heard so many stories from friends saying that they don't even remember their vows because they totally just blacked out up there, and we didn't want that to happen. We wanted to be as present as possible so after much research, we decided to write our vows more as a back and forth conversation between the two of us instead of one person reading a big, long set of vows then the other, and WE LOVED IT! It felt so much more natural, and we really enjoyed getting to write these together so that the timing and content felt more cohesive. We each spoke 6 times, beginning with little things that we love about each other and our relationship and then our promises/ vows to one another. It felt so much more personal and allowed us to just be up there as the two of us in the moment, as our officiant stepped aside during this part, and it presented us as a united couple. It was by far my favorite part of the ceremony - we still laugh about the moment that Evan choked up when talking about going to see IMAX movies together!
What to consider -
Vows can be delivered in SO many different ways - as hand written notes to one another, as a "repeat after me" scenario, in advance of the ceremony, as "I dos" or "We dos". You really just need to think about what's important to you. If you're terrible writers/ don't love writing then don't worry about it. Find some pre-written vows and use those. If you're super shy or private about your relationship, try reading your vows to one another before the ceremony and just having your photographer and/ or videographer capture it from a distance. In the end, this is probably THE most personal moment in the entire ceremony, so you have to do what feels right and comfortable for the two of you.
What we did -
To us, handfasting served as such a beautiful physical representation of the two of us joining our lives together as one. We used this moment as a way to incorporate our two maids of honor and best men, who helped to drape the cords/ ribbons over our hands after we said our "We dos" to several promises that our officiant asked us to make (that we chose, of course). We taught our officiant how to do an infinity knot, and we still have that cord inside of our ceremony book today.
What to consider -
Though this is a more traditionally old Celtic and modern Pagan tradition, many couples are opting to do their own take on the ceremony today. I have a sneaking suspicion this is because of that elopement in Game of Thrones (if you've watched it, you know the one) where the couple had a handfasting, but that's just my guess. You don't have to say any "we dos" like we did - you can simply have your officiant drape a cord over your hands and "tie the knot", but you may want to at least have them give a small blessing over your joined hands. Logistically, you'll also want to think about whether you want one or both hands joined together - if you opt for both make sure the knot isn't tied too tightly!
The Ring Exchange
What we did -
We did this as the second to last element of our ceremony. Our officiant said a few words about the symbolism of rings in a marriage and we put them on each other's fingers at the same time stating a quick promise to one another in unison (yes, we memorized this - I told you it was a production). It was short and sweet and a great way to begin the end of our ceremony. And Evan kept the rings in his jacket pocket for safe keeping and easy access.
What to consider -
Please make sure you either soap your rings or help one another push them on. Nothing is worse than struggling to get the ring on your finger at the altar - okay, maybe there are worse things, but this is up there! Otherwise, just keep it simple, and you're golden! This is probably the easiest part of the ceremony - just don't forget the rings.
The Pronouncement of Marriage/ The Kiss
What we did -
We tried our best to modernize as much of our wedding as possible. We are certainly romantics and can appreciate some traditions, but we just could not get behind the idea of having our officiant say, "You may now kiss the bride." Like, why does Evan get to kiss me? Aren't we equals in this marriage? And why does she need to tell us that it's time to kiss? We can kiss whenever we damn well please! Okay, maybe that's being a bit dramatic, but we opted to have our officiant say the legal pronouncement of us as husband and wife, and that was it. Then, we kissed. The music played (Dirty Water - if you know, you know), and we walked back down the aisle hand in hand. It was perfect!
What to consider -
If you're nonbinary, same gender, just wanting to modernize your ending a bit, don't feel like you have to have your officiant give you titles such as "husband and wife". You can go for wife and wife, husband and husband, spouses, married, legally bound to one another - whatever floats your boat and feels like it fits best! Just make sure you check the legal part of it to see if your officiant actually has to make a pronouncement of marriage or not for it to be official in your state.
Other Ceremony Elements
There are so many other elements to consider when planning your ceremony, and you can totally make it your own and come up with a fun activity or unity element that's completely original. For example, I wish I could remember where I saw this to give proper credit, but there was a wedding once where the couple were scientists and created a little "love potion" of sorts. Here are a few other elements (some religious and some non-secular) to consider:
- jumping the broom
- a toast
- breaking the glass
- vows with children involved
- family blessing
- sand ceremony
- ring warming
- unity candle
- performing a song
- cocktail mixing
- incorporating pets
- planting a tree
- surprise readings (let the readers pick their own readings)
- a fun exit (bubbles, flowers, biodegradable confetti, etc)
- a dance/ secret handshake
- have a live painter
Our Full Ceremony
And now for the moment you've been waiting for (since you opened this blog) - may I present to you, our ceremony, in its entirety. Please, enjoy!
Officiant: Good evening friends and family. At this time I’d like to ask that you all please turn off and put away your cell phones and cameras. Given the dim lighting in the theater, flashing cameras will be a distraction to the bride and groom and other guests. Evan and Meaghan have asked that you take the next 20 minutes to be present with them. The photographers will capture how the moment looks so that you all can capture how it feels without the distraction of technology. Enjoy the show!
Officiant: Welcome to Evan and Meaghan’s second wedding - didn’t you all know? Their families were all convinced that Evan and Meaghan got married while they were off on spring break in Vegas a mere four months into dating. It’s now become a running joke in the family. They even brought back a cheap ring for Evan to wear so that they could mess with people. He still wears it to this day on a leather cord around his neck as a reminder of the wedding that never happened… or did it? All jokes aside though I am pleased to welcome you all to the first official legally binding proceedings entering Evan and Meaghan into the contractual obligation of marriage. Say that ten times fast!
I now invite the bridal party to please take their seats as Meaghan’s mom joins us for the first reading.
*Bridal party members all take their seats as Meaghan's mom takes the stage*
You have known each other from the first glance of acquaintance to this point of commitment. At some point, you decided to marry. From that moment of yes, to this moment of yes, indeed, you have been making commitments in an informal way. All of those conversations that were held in a car, or over a meal, or during long walks – all those conversations that began with, “When we’re married”, and continued with “I will” and “you will” and “we will” – all those late night talks that included “someday” and “somehow” and “maybe” – and all those promises that are unspoken matters of the heart. All these common things, and more, are the real process of a wedding. The symbolic vows that you are about to make are a way of saying to one another, “You know all those things that we’ve promised, and hoped, and dreamed – well, I meant it all, every word.” Look at one another and remember this moment in time. Before this moment you have been many things to one another – acquaintance, friend, companion, lover, dancing partner, even teacher, for you have learned much from one another these past few years. Shortly you shall say a few words that will take you across a threshold of life, and things between you will never quite be the same. For after today you shall say to the world – This is my husband. This is my wife.
Evan: So Meg, I love the way that you will always strive to make me a better person, whether it’s just talking to me after a rough day at work to make me smile or to get me to not focus on other people when we are out together. You are always there to make sure I am being the best person I can be.
Meg: I love your passion for everything in life - your music, when we were house hunting, going to seeing the latest movie - everything to you is always the greatest ever, but to me YOU will always be the greatest ever. I also love that you share in my wicked twisted sense of humor, and even when sometimes you don’t quite understand why I’m laughing my ass off at 1 in the morning you still laugh along with me.
Evan: I love the way you support me during trying times. My last semester in law school was filled with many trials (pun intended) and I am so happy and thankful that I always had you to bounce ideas off of and help me talk through any problem, even if they were hard to understand.
Meg: I love that you encourage me to chase my dreams even when it sometimes takes me away from you. Moving across the country and back, changing majors, changing jobs - that’s not an easy thing to deal with and you never once questioned me or tried to hold me back. I know I can always come to you for advice and that you’ll be there by my side supporting whatever decision I make no questions asked.
Evan: I love that you will pretend to listen to my rants about Rocket League, the latest patch in whatever game I’m playing or when I get excited about a video game conference. I know it’s not your thing, but even just having you next to me when I’m watching a game trailer or E3 conference makes me so happy... Even if you’re sleeping from the beginning.
Meg: I love that we have our own made up language together comprised of movie quotes and words that used to be English, but now are some warped version of whatever they used to be. I also love that we can be on an a vacation to Disney a road trip to Colorado or just a late night shopping trip to Target and it always feels like the world’s greatest adventure because I’m with you.
Evan: I vow that I will always be there for you, even when it is something as simple as talking to you every day on our way home from work. I will give you your space when you need and hold you close and tell you it’s all going to be ok when you need it. I will try my best at being the best for you.
Meg: I vow to always make you the first person to talk to about everything from the latest funny dog videos to life’s biggest moments even though you’ll probably be there with me to experience those anyway. I will be faithful to you and support you and always strive to be a better person for you.
Evan: I vow to always watch the Patriots every Sunday (we are lucky it was a 1:00 game today). I vow to cheer next to you when the Sox are winning and I vow to try and not get to crazy when we are losing. Even when we are at our most competitive, I vow to always be on the same team as you.
Meg: I vow to never make you try more vegetables until you’re ready for them or at least try to make them as inconspicuous as possible when cooking dinner, and I promise to always make Sunday breakfast a priority no matter how busy our lives get. I vow to always be there to sing along at your shows and to be by your side rocking out to some of our favorite bands. I vow to never keep score except when the Sawx or Pats are on and always remember that it’s just a game and our friendship and love for one another will win over any situation life throws at us.
Evan: I vow that I will always be your best friend. We will always binge shows together, see new movies in IMAX, critique movie trailers, and go see concerts. I am so grateful every day for you and I wouldn’t know who I am without you. Thank you for choosing me, literally, you picked me from Ok Cupid. I vow that I will rub your feet when you get home from a long day at work, and I vow to always give you a kiss goodnight. I will always be faithfully yours. You are my best friend, the love of my life, and you make my heart melt in the most special way.
Meg: I vow to always remember that first date when you reached across the booth, took my hand and told me you were going to marry me someday. It was in that moment that I knew that this was an indescribable, forever kind of love. I vow to keep you up 15 minutes later than we planned on every night because I make silly jokes so I can laugh and kiss you a few more times. I vow to call you every day on my way home from work even if sometimes we talk about nothing at all. I promise to let our love grow and evolve as time goes on and to never forget the vows we made here today. Thank you for being mine. You will always be my soulmate, my best friend and the love of my life!
Officiant: I’d like to invite Evan’s father to join us for our second reading.
Take into account that great love
and great achievements involve great risk.
And that a loving atmosphere in your home
is the foundation for your life.
Be gentle with the earth, be gentle with one another.
When disagreements come remember always
to protect the spirit of your union.
When you realize you’ve made a mistake,
take immediate steps to correct it.
Remember that the best relationship is one
in which your love for each other
exceeds your need for each other.
So love yourselves, love one another,
love all that is your life together and all else will follow.
Officiant: Meaghan and Evan have chosen to incorporate the ancient Celtic tradition of handfasting into their ceremony today. I invite the two of you to join hands as a declaration of your commitment to enter into marriage on your own free will.
*Meaghan and Evan join hands*
I invite (names removed - maids of honor and best men) to please join us as your witnesses and biggest supporters and to help me bless this marriage. Friends, family - do you promise to help Meaghan and Evan uphold and always remember these vows which they are about to make?
Wedding Party: “We do”
Officiant: Meaghan and Evan, do you pledge to help each other to develop your hearts and minds, cultivating compassion, generosity, ethics, patience, enthusiasm, concentration and wisdom as you age and undergo the various ups and downs of life and to transform them into the path of love, compassion, joy and equanimity?
Evan + Meaghan: “We do” *MOH 1 places ribbon*
Officiant: Recognizing that the external conditions in life will not always be smooth and that internally your own minds and emotions will sometimes get stuck in negativity. Do you pledge to see all these circumstances as a challenge to help you grow, to open your hearts, to accept yourselves and each other and to generate compassion for others, and do you pledge to be open-minded and accepting of each other’s views?
Evan + Meaghan: “We do” *BM 1 place ribbon*
Officiant: Understanding that just as we are a mystery to ourselves, others are also a mystery to us. Do you pledge to seek to understand yourselves, each other, and all living beings, to examine your own minds continually and to regard all the mysteries of life with curiosity and joy?
Evan + Meaghan: “We do” *MOH 2 places ribbon*
Officiant: Do you pledge to remember the disadvantages of ignorance and anger and to apply antidotes when these arise in your minds by remembering the kindness of all other beings and your connection to them? Do you pledge to work for the welfare of others, with all of your compassion, wisdom and skill?
Evan + Meaghan: “We do” *BM 2 places ribbon*
Officiant: Do you pledge to preserve and enrich your affection for each other, and to share it? To take the loving feelings you have for one another and your vision of each other's potential as an example, and rather than spiraling inwards and becoming self absorbed, to radiate this love outwards to one another?
Evan + Meaghan: “We do”
*Officiant places ribbon*
*Officiant ties knot around our hands*
Officiant: At this time, remain fully present, and as you continue to hold each other’s hands I would like to share a few words to help you remember this moment.
These are the hands of your best friend, young and strong and full of love for you, that are holding yours on your wedding day, as you promise to love each other today, tomorrow, and forever.
These are the hands that will work alongside yours, as together you build your future.
These are the hands that will passionately love you and cherish you through the years, and with the slightest touch, will comfort you like no other.
These are the hands that will hold you when fear or grief fills your mind.
These are the hands that will countless times wipe the tears from your eyes; tears of sorrow, and tears of joy.
These are the hands that will tenderly hold your children.
These are the hands that will help you to hold your family as one.
These are the hands that will give you strength when you need it.
And lastly, these are the hands that even when wrinkled and aged, will still be reaching for yours, still giving you the same unspoken tenderness with just a touch.
Evan and Meaghan please tie the knot symbolizing your infinite love that holds the two of you together as one.
I’d like to invite Meaghan’s aunt to join us for our final reading.
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.
Officiant: The wedding ring is the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual bond which unites two loyal hearts in partnership. Meaghan and Evan will now exchange rings as a reminder of the vows they committed to one another here today.
Meaghan & Evan (In unison): You were my yesterday, you are my today, you will be my tomorrow, all that I am I give to you. *while exchanging rings*
Officiant: Evan, do you take Meaghan to be your wife?
Evan: I DO!
Officiant: Meaghan, do you take Evan to be your husband?
Meaghan: I DO!
Officiant: By the power vested in me by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I now pronounce you husband and wife.
I hope you found this blog helpful and inspirational in your journey of creating a wonderfully custom ceremony that honors your love for one another. As a thank you for reading this far (or clicking the link at the top to come down here) I present to you a workbook full of pages for you to sit down with your partner and get those ideas flowing so that you can write your ceremony. Cheers, lovers!
Meaghan is the owner and lead photographer of Rhode Tripper Photography, an alternative, inclusive wedding and elopement photography company. She lives in Rhode Island, USA with her husband (and second photographer), Evan, and her rescue pups, Arya and Ginny. You can frequently find her hitting up all the best foodie spots, barcades, and music venues around Providence, RI.
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