Your wedding reception is easy to personalize—your ceremony, however, can be tougher. After all, most wedding ceremonies are rooted in tradition and involve a series of predetermined steps that have been taken for years (if not centuries!). If you’re looking to put your own stamp on the event, incorporate a ritual that symbolizes the reason why you, your spouse-to-be, and your guests are there on the big day: unity.
Some of the following customs and practices, like lighting a unity candle, circling the groom, or jumping the broom are rooted in faith or tradition. But others, like the sand or the tree-planting ceremony, are modern alternatives. While all represent the joining of two people—and familial and community togetherness—there might be a few that resonate more than others. Since no two weddings (or couples!) are the same, we made sure to keep all faiths, cultures, and beliefs in mind when curating this list.
Whether you steal one (or more!) of these ideas or would prefer to dream up something completely different, a ceremonial ritual is bound to bring even more meaningful to your big day. These practices can tie your wedding back to marriages that took place hundreds of years ago—or inspire the generations of lovers to come. However you decide to signify unity on your big day, let the following historical, cultural, and spiritual symbolic rituals are your guide.
Marriage quilt wrapping ceremony
This custom derives from Native American culture and involves wrapping a quilt around the newlyweds’ shoulders to symbolize warmth and togetherness as they take on the future together… This ceremony is also inspired by the way Tahitians have married for centuries. The vows culminate with the wrapping of the couple in a traditional and colorful Tahitian wedding quilt.
Some couples ask family and friends to send them fabric scraps in a specified size. Then they have a quilt made which they are then wrapped in by their Wedding Officiant at their wedding, symbolizing how the love and warmth of others would nurture and strengthen them together. This is a quilt which has been signed with love, from family and friends.
Together within this blanket, they will sign their marriage license. This usually comes right before the kiss. Next, the Wedding Officiant/Minister announces the kiss… they then embrace and kiss to celebrate that they are now officially united.
Exit under an arch of swords ceremony
This custom came from the British Army and is now present in all American military branches. It is called the Arch of Sabers for the Army and Air Force or the Arch of Swords for the Navy and Marine Corps.
Originally, the tradition demonstrated a pledge of fidelity from the military to the new couple, since the military service members literally shelter the newly married couple beneath the arch as they exit the church. A special detail of six or eight members marches in a double line then stands and faces each other. When the order is given to draw swords (or sabers), each person simultaneously draws a ceremonial sword and holds it with the blade pointed up. The raised swords form an arch. The couple passes under the arch as they exit the church or enter the wedding reception. The sword detail should not be used as groomsmen or ushers; however, before the ceremony, they can escort honored guests like the Mother-of-the-Bride or -Groom to their seat.
A sundial ceremony
On the Aran Islands of Ireland, the Celtic sundial ceremony remains, to this day, an integral part of a wedding. The couple is invited to touch fingers through the sundial’s hole—this serves as both a symbol and confirmation of their union. Witnesses may then offer the newlyweds well-wishes by passing a silk scarf through the hole (three times!) as those dreams are spoken out loud.
Have a wine ceremony
Through the centuries and across many cultures, the wine has been a part of the wedding tradition. A wine ritual symbolizes blending two lives (and two families!) into one. Some couples choose to drink wine from the same cup—a practice performed in most Catholic and Jewish ceremonies—while others prefer to pour two types of wine into one glass before sharing. This “blending” is symbolic of your union and the life you’ll create together.
Tilak Ceremony is one of the most important Pre Wedding Ceremonies; it holds an important position as regards its auspicious nature in traditional Hindu customs. During traditional Indian weddings, it is customary for the groom—at the head of the baraat, or groom’s procession—to be welcomed by the bride’s family upon arrival at the ceremony site. The bride’s mother applies tilak, or red vermilion powder, to her future son-in-law’s forehead to welcome him into her family and to protect him from evil.
Light a Unity Candle
This Judeo-Christian tradition is probably the most well-known wedding ritual that symbolizes unity. The bride and groom each hold a lit candle and combine their flames to light a third, larger candle. Sometimes the bride and groom’s parents take on this task instead to symbolize the union of their families. You can also get the guests involved by displaying candles in the ceremony entrance and inviting friends and family to light one and say a blessing as they enter.
A type of unity ceremony, the wedding sand ceremony expresses the coming together of two people or two families into one new family. It is a very simple idea that can be incredibly powerful. Typically, each person has different colored sand and takes turns pouring it into one clear vessel, forming a layered effect. Sometimes just the couple participates, and sometimes the couple’s children and/or parents join in with their own colored sand, adding to the layers of colors, and expressing the harmony of the entire family.
Participate in a Crowning
It’s customary in Greek Orthodox culture for brides and grooms to appoint koumbaroi, attendants who place the wedding crowns on the couple’s heads and the rings on their fingers. The crowns, known as stefana, are connected by ribbon and therefore serve as a symbol of the bride and groom’s union, as well as their status as queen and king of their family.
Do a Lasso Ceremony
This tradition is usually associated with Hispanic and Filipino families.
Lasso (sometimes called, “lazo”) or rope is placed around the bride and groom’s shoulders (groom’s shoulder’s first) in the form of an “8” (the infinity symbol) – after they have exchanged their vows – to symbolize their everlasting union. This is usually done by the officiant, however, family members can also take part in this ritual. The couple wears the lasso throughout the remainder of the service.
Tie the Knot (Literally!)
In this old Irish tradition, the bride and groom ties a fisherman’s knot with ribbon to symbolize a bond that, rather than break under pressure becomes stronger.
Jump a Broom
The “jumping a broom” ritual originated in the early 19th century, when enslaved African Americans weren’t allowed to formally marry. Instead, to unite, the tradition was to lay a broom on the ground and jump over it together. Today, the act represents a “brushing away” of the past in order to start clean
Plant a Tree
If you’re getting married outside, consider planting a sapling—it represents growth, something you and your new spouse will do (a lot of!) together. During the ceremony, the bride and groom should place soil from two separate containers on top of the planting, representing two individuals coming together as one.
The blessing stones ceremony
The ritual of the Blessing, or Wishing Stones, as they are sometimes called, is a wonderful way to include everyone in the wedding by way of offering blessings and good wishes to the newlyweds. It also is a good way to ensure that everyone makes contact with the Bride and Groom at some point during the day. This tradition may be performed during the actual ceremony itself (before the blessing), at the conclusion of the service (in a receiving line manner), or at the reception.
When the guests arrive at the ceremony, they are given a “Blessing Stone,” usually a round, flat and dark-colored stone, along with a small note card with words printed on it such as: `My wish for you is…” or “May you be blessed with…” or “May God bless you with…”
At some point (either during or after the ceremony), the guests share their blessing or wish with the newlyweds and toss the Blessing Stone into a “Blessing Bowl,” a “Wishing Well,” or whatever vessel is used to contain the water.
Ketubah signing ceremony
In a Jewish wedding, there is a ketubah signing ceremony before the actual wedding where two witnesses sign the marriage contract. It usually takes place in a private room attended by the officiant, the wedding couple, the witnesses, close family and possibly a few dear friends. It’s considered an honor to be included in the ketubah signing ceremony.