Your Ceremony, Your Way
Supplement the standard order of events with creative touches that represent you as a couple.
Make an Entrance
A recent YouTube sensation may inspire couples to dance down the aisle, but there are other ways to make the processional your own. Beahm attended a wedding where the bride’s and groom’s guests met at opposite corners of a park, then walked to meet in the middle. Work with your officiant to choreograph an entrance that works for you and your venue.
Change the Seating
Consider the various configurations in which you can seat guests. For an alternative to traditional seating that separates the bride’s side from the groom’s side, arrange chairs in the round or in small groupings. Or, for a very intimate wedding, ask guests to join hands and surround you in a circle as you exchange vows.
Tell Your Tale
Ask your officiant to incorporate a chapter from your love story into his or her address. “It will help guests who may not be privy to the details of your courtship feel more connected to you,” says Vailakis. Share the sweet story of how you met, when you got engaged, or how you chose your wedding venue. Or print a special quote or song lyric on your program.
Whether it’s a beloved poem or a passage from your favorite book, your readings should truly celebrate who you are. “Only include them if the literature is meaningful and speaks to your heart,” Beahm says. Otherwise, it could feel like space filler. Should you opt to include one (or two), consider printing the text in the program so guests can follow along.
If you will incorporate a cultural or religious tradition such as breaking a glass or jumping a broom, you may want to explain it in your program. Without background information, guests who aren’t aware of the cultural implications may not fully appreciate the meaning.
Include Your Guests
By inviting your loved ones to participate in your big day, you will establish a sense of community among your guests. In turn, you’ll feel that they are supportive of your promises to one another. “The most special ceremonies are those that incorporate everyone in attendance, not just the bride and groom,” Beahm says. As you exchange vows, Johnson suggests inviting those present to recommit to their own vows and the relationships in their lives.
Remember Loved Ones
There are many ways to acknowledge the beloved people in your lives who have passed away, including lighting a candle or ringing a bell in their honor during the ceremony. To ensure that your guests understand the significance, ask your officiant to say a few words about the deceased. If you worry about being overcome with emotion, consider taking a quieter approach by simply writing a few words of remembrance in your program.
Channel Your Inner Shakespeare
Writing your own vows may seem daunting, but it’s easier than you’d think. Let us count the ways:
1. Begin separately. Schedule some alone time to write your vows on your own before sharing them with each other. Doing this exercise individually will help each of you reflect without the other’s influence, making the result more interesting and personal.
2. Ask yourself questions. “The first step is to excavate your own heart,” Johnson says. She recommends sitting quietly with a blank sheet of paper and asking yourself questions such as, “Why have I chosen this person to be my partner? What do I love most about him or her?” Take time to really think about the answers, and translate them into a vow.
3. Look for inspiration. Once you have gathered your own thoughts, scour books, poems, and examples of other wedding vows to find the right words that succinctly express what you want to say. Feel free to mix old with new and classic with modern, and incorporate elements of traditional vows into your own.
4. Write a love letter. To get your feelings flowing, pen your thoughts in a private note to your fiance that only the two of you will read. At this stage, don’t worry about keeping it short or making it perfect. “Write as if you’re the only ones sharing it,” Vailakis says.
5. Make promises. “Focus on what marriage means to you. What are you saying yes to, and what can you promise your partner?” Vailakis says. Reflect on the good times, but consider all of the stumbling blocks in your relationship too. For example, if you’re working too much and not making time for each other, you may want to think about what you can pledge to avoid falling into that trap again.
6. Exchange letters. Make a date to sit down together to share your notes and read each other’s thoughts. Afterward, rather than throwing these first-draft letters away, file them as keepsakes to read on anniversaries.
7. Play editor. Decide which parts you would like to read aloud, and what aspects of traditional vows you plan on including. Remember to keep the vows as short and as simple as possible — a paragraph or two at most.
8. Practice. Johnson recommends writing your vows on index cards so you don’t have to worry about memorizing them. Make sure to give a copy to your officiant as a backup, and rehearse them with flash cards prior to the wedding day. That way you’ll know when to breathe, and you’ll be prepared for the parts that may make you tear up.