Creating Your Own Wedding Ceremony? Try These Helpful Tips
Many couples are moved to write their own wedding ceremonies because they aren’t comfortable with the traditional ones, they don’t belong to a tradition that has a ceremony, or they just want to create something unique that expresses their love and commitment.Because this is the beginning of a tradition that can be very important in your lives, I encourage you to think and talk it through carefully, with consideration for both of your wants.
Image:Jonathan Day via Flickr
Of course, if you have a strong religious affiliation, you’ll have a leader from your faith (usually from your house of worship), who will most likely have a favorite ceremony to use. Still, whenever you’re using the services of a professional, it’s good to be informed, and know what your options are. Many clergy welcome your participation in designing your own ceremony.
Legal issues vary from state to state, so check out what’s required for a marriage license if you want legal sanction. If that’s not important to you (or legally available to you), you can have a wedding without a license. If you have a church tradition, it’s possible to have the wedding sanctioned by the religion without being sanctioned by the state. If you choose to go the legal route, understand that you’ll need some form of witnessing of the license and registering the signed license after the ceremony is done, before the state will recognize that you’re married.
To help you create a design of your own, I’m presenting the basics of wedding/commitment celebrations here, to use as a guideline.
Parts of the Ceremony
The details of marriage ceremonies vary widely from tradition to tradition. However, most include the same basic parts: Salutation, Declaration of Consent, Giving Away, Exchange of Vows, Exchange of Tokens, Communion, Charge, Prayer or Affirmation, Kiss, Blessing, Presentation Music can be added anywhere, and of course there are many decisions to be made about how to enter and leave the celebration.
Image: Vanessa Hayes via Flickr
Traditionally, this is the “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today...” part. It begins the formal ceremony with a statement of purpose, explaining your commitment, your decision to formalize it, and the importance of having friends present.
It’s a very brief history of your commitment, and what led you here. A few sentences are enough. It usually is done by the officiant, but you can choose to say it yourself or ask a friend. To design it yourself, choose a favorite poem or quote that expresses your feelings about the day, and recite it together, or invite a friend to do it. Alternatively, you might choose to have someone sing an appropriate song.
Traditionally, the giving away includes the question, “Who gives this woman?” Obviously sexist and outmoded, it nevertheless has great potential. I think the true purpose of this part is to acknowledge that a new family unit is being formed, and to establish its relationship to the extended family. You can have one person act as spokesperson for each family, and welcome the new member in. Or, have the extended family rise at this point, and pledge (with a chorus of “I will”) to support and encourage the pledging couple. The Presider can ask the question, “Will you welcome the creation of this new unit within your family?” Or you can write a simple “repeat after me...” pledge for the family to recite.
The Declaration of Consent
Traditionally, this is the question, “Will you take this person to be...” and the “forsaking all others” part to which the couple traditionally answers “I will.” It is the formal agreement to go on with the ceremony. Here is an important place to make sure what you promise feels right to you.
Today, many couples incorporate this part into the vows, and omit it here. If you leave it here, your Presider asks the question.
Exchange of Vows
I consider this the heart of the ritual, and believe that most of your attention needs to be focused here. Either your presider can ask each of you “Will you promise to:” or you can just say “I promise to...” to each other.
Exchange of Tokens
Most of us think weddings are synonymous with wedding rings. Although they are traditional, rings aren’t legally necessary in marriage. For your ceremony, you may want to exchange rings, or you may prefer tokens, such as a two-part pendant with each person wearing half, or watches, bracelets, or any other item that can be worn constantly, will last, and represents the nature of your pledge.
Some people have the tokens inscribed with date, initials and perhaps a message. When tokens are exchanged, a separate vow usually accompanies the exchange of tokens. This is the traditional “With this ring, I thee wed” part, but you can use “As I give you this token, I pledge....” Here’s a sample: I give you this ring as I give you myself, with affection and hope. I offer you love, I offer you strength, I offer you my support and understanding, as long as we both shall love.
Here the couple can take traditional Communion as prescribed by their faith, or simply share a sip of wine or fruit juice, along with prose or poetry they composed, or want to quote. This part of the ceremony is a symbolic sharing of the necessities of life, the abundance of the planet, as well as blessing from a Higher Power. In the Jewish faith, after the wine is shared, there is a ceremonial smashing of a glass, (today it’s normally a light bulb wrapped in cloth for safety and ease of breaking) symbolic of the one-time, unique nature of the event.
The charge is an empowering statement made by the Presider, usually beginning “I charge you both...” The Charge is more often found in ceremonies ordaining ministers, but my clients and I like the feeling of being empowered and consecrated to an intent.
A sample charge:
“I charge you both with the responsibility to keep alive and grow, to maintain your capacity for wonder, spontaneity and humor. I charge you to remain pliant, warm and sensitive, to speak your minds with gentleness and your hearts with openness. I charge you to see the meaning of life through the changing prism of your love for one another, to live responsibly and creatively. I charge you to live in full awareness of the abundance that has been provided for you, receiving it with respect and gratitude.”
Prayer or Affirmation
Traditionally given by the minister, the prayer asks for guidance and help for the couple, and for the congregation, whose responsibility it is to support the union. If your orientation is not religious, you can simply ask everyone to join hands, symbolizing the solidarity of the community and the Presider can recite a poem or quote that expresses your hopes for the future.
Image: Ben Salter via Flickr
Need I explain? Symbolic of the shared love, and replacing old royal customs where the closest retainers retired to the bedroom with the couple to witness the consummation.
Traditionally the Presider gives the blessing. Here’s a lovely one written by a minister I know:
“And now, may you have love--a love that is new and fresh each hour; as new as the rising of the evening star, as fresh as the coming of each new dawn. “And may you have peace--not the peace of the stagnant pool, but of deep waters flowing. “And may you have poise--not the poise of the sheltered tree, but of the oak--deep rooted, storm strengthened, and free. “And may you have the power--not the power of fisted might, but of the seed--quickened, growing toward and infinite and eternal Light. Amen. Go in peace.”
If you’re not connected to a religion, you can ask your Presider/Officiant to express good wishes for you, or you can write a statement for yourself.
This can be either at the very end of the ceremony, or as you enter the reception.
The Presider says:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present to you .........”, filling in your new names, if you’ve chosen some, or just saying your full names, followed by “partners in life”
This “introduces you to society” in your new status, and, since many couples keep their own names, hyphenate their surnames (Smith-Jones), or even adopt an entirely new name, this announcement solves everyone’s confusion of how to address your mail.
Image: Reynar Media via Flickr
Traditional marriage etiquette dictates that the wedding is paid for by the bride’s family. Today’s couples, however, may be having a second marriage, or be old enough that they’re not expecting this financial windfall from the family. Since most of us cannot afford to pay for everything to be professionally provided, this provides an excellent opportunity to involve friends, and give them an opportunity to feel they are an integral part of your celebration. Even if you can afford to “go first class” I advise against that cold formality, and suggest that you have a do-it-yourself project with friends. Many young couples try to match the weddings they see on TV, in celebrities’ lives, or in magazines. This can present financial problems, and lead to Bridezilla meltdowns or temper tantrums. Don’t let your fantasies get out of hand. Spend the money on a lovely trip or use it as the down payment on a house instead.
Get Your Friends Involved
Friends and family are an extension of your relationship, and they can either support or obstruct you. To make sure they’re supportive, especially when you’ve reached this important step, get them involved in your celebration. Of course, there will be people you want involved, and those you’re not so close to. Involving as many friends in the ceremony as possible creates a community feeling, a shared interest in the success of the relationship. Shared events, ceremonies and accomplishments provide an opportunity for bonding. Consider offering that opportunity to your friends.
Image: Azlan DuPree via Flickr
Involving as many friends in the ceremony as possible intensifies the feeling of celebration and sharing. It also increases your abundance. Clothes can be handmade, a friend who specializes in gourmet desserts may be delighted to contribute a wonderful cake, good cooks will be happy to make a feast, and invitations can be printed on a friend’s computer or by a talented friend in beautiful calligraphy. Wedding suppers can be pot-lucked, music can be performed/written by friends, the ceremony can be a composite of others, or include original writings. Friends can read original or classic poetry, or just state their feelings at the moment.
The more you include friends and family, the more love and joy can be generated, and the more everyone will feel personally responsible for supporting your love.
A Special Note About Vows
Most of us, faced with making vows or promises about important life issues, immediately get nervous and doubt whether we can live up to the promises. As soon as we contemplate promising to be monogamous, we begin to notice every attractive person around. If we promise to love, honor and cherish; all our hateful, irritable and thoughtless behavior surfaces immediately. The reason many people feel “trapped” in commitment is that it is difficult to back out of vows such as this. If you have done the ceremony without proper preparation and discussion, you can feel “trapped” in something you don’t like. However, with forethought and discussion, you can build a mutual definition of your commitment, and your celebration can help you stay focused, successful and motivated within it.
Image: Melinda Rae via Flickr
Every commitment has difficult implications that must be handled in order to experience its benefits. When you’re contemplating your vows, and fear comes up, recognize that it’s right and appropriate. Don’t panic; just discuss it with each other. Make sure your vows are within your reach. Don’t overwhelm yourself with promises to be super-human.
Here are some steps for creating marriage vows together. Hopefully, you have already discussed the purpose of your relationship, and reasons for a ceremony, so you are well on your way to creating your own vows.
- Separately, search through your Facebook pages, Pinterest, Instagram, love letters and greeting cards, and the Internet for quotes, prayers, poems and/or song lyrics that seem to express how you feel about your relationship, love in general, your commitment, and the importance of the ceremony. Take a few days or even a couple of weeks to do this. If you are familiar with church liturgy, or love to read, this will be fairly easy. If not, it may take longer. Or, you can simply write a short statement, (a few sentences) about your feelings.
- Together, sort and sift through your findings. Edit it down until you have a few sentences you can agree on (or two separate short statements, one from each of you.) Consider creating a shared vow that can become an affirmation you’ll repeat to each other throughout your lives together.
- Review your completed vows with your Presider or minister, to see if she or he is comfortable helping you make them. If not, discuss the differences, and revise the vows, or arrange for a different Presider.
Read more advice on love, sex, and relationships from "Dr.Romance", Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D.