This entry is from our Expert Guest series where wedding and honeymoon professionals share their best tips on creating memories that last a lifetime.
Weddings are amazing milestones in life, but ceremonies can be boring and sometimes guests are just waiting for the reception. Fortunately, I’ve got a few memorable wedding ceremony ideas to share, so that yours is meaningful and stands out.
Incorporating symbolism and imagery is a simple trick and actually goes back thousands of years. For example, Catholic couples light the unity candle, Jewish couples share wine and then stomp the glass as everyone yells “Mazel Tov,” and Irish couples have been known to ring the bell of truce.
Wedding symbolism and imagery is often used to honor your heritage but can also be used simply to mix things up, create a keepsake to remind you of your wedding, or even to create your own new tradition. And best of all, it’s easier than you think and doesn’t have to be religious or cultural!
Most wedding officiants will gladly include any of the options listed below and photographers love them because they make for great photo opportunities. Ask your DJ to play soft music during your wedding imagery and it’ll make it even better.
There are 15 to 20 different ways to incorporate wedding symbolism. I’ll share the most common first and then describe a few that can really set your wedding apart from everyone else’s.
Traditional Wedding Unity Ceremony Ideas
The unity candle is known as a Catholic tradition but can be used for nonreligious ceremonies too. The nondenominational way to incorporate the unity candle might be by saying something like this, “The Bride and Groom have chosen to symbolize their commitment through lighting the unity candle. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the unity candle, it’s meant to represent two lives becoming one through marriage. We’d like Bride’s mom, (Name?) and Groom’s mom (Name?) to come up and join in the ceremony. They’ve asked their moms to light the outside candles because they lit their lives.
This expression of love is a way of saying “Thank you” to all of their parents for bringing them to this amazingly special point in their lives.”
Together, the Bride and Groom light one candle from two smaller candles as they acknowledge their union as husband and wife. As their individual flames come together, the single flame burns much brighter, symbolizing their strength in marriage. By allowing the flames of the two smaller candles to remain lit, they agree to respect each other as individuals. Thought the Bride and Groom are each unique people, they have chosen to be bound together as one. From today forward they will fully share the “ups” and “downs” of life and their plans truly will be mutual.”
To see me describe the unity candle in detail check out:
Jewish weddings can be really fun, from carrying the bride on a chair and dancing the Horah, or toasting wine during the ceremony, to stomping the glass and yelling, “Mazel tov!”
The celebrant might say these words: “Before I pronounce Groom and Bride as husband and wife, they’d like to honor the Jewish tradition and break the glass. Traditionally this marks the beginning of the wedding celebration, but breaking glass also symbolizes the transformation that’s happening for them right now, and as a reminder of the fragility of life. The glass is broken to protect their marriage with the implied prayer, as this glass shatters so may your marriage never break. After Groom stomps on the glass we invite everyone to cheer and shout the Hebrew words, Mazel Tov, meaning good luck and congratulations. Stomp! Mazel Tov! Kiss the bride! Ladies and gentlemen please rise as I get to introduce for the first time ever, Mr. and Mrs. ______!”
One of my all-time favorite glass stomps can be heard below. It was a great crowd because everyone was ready to party.
Check out the audio sample here:
Wine or Champagne Sharing
Another tradition common in Jewish weddings is wine or champagne sharing, often referred to as the wine unity ceremony, but it’s increasingly becoming nonreligious. I’ve had couples share whiskey, make a black and tan, and even shoot tequila!
Here’s a clip of the couple sharing the black and tan:
Lots of people are wine lovers and many get engaged while in wine country and bring a few bottles home, so incorporating wine sharing during their ceremony is an excellent way to commemorate the occasion.
I usually say something like this, “The Bride and Groom have chosen to commemorate their marriage by sharing wine. Throughout history in nearly all cultures and traditions, sharing wine or champagne has been used as a universal, central act during significant moments. There’s symbolism to be honored. Wine is the result of years of hard work, the tender care of the grape, a thoughtful mix of ingredients, the patient fermenting process and the unique flavors of each year, just like relationships.
“The Bride and Groom are sharing their first glass of wine as husband and wife to not only celebrate all that has taken place up to this point, but as an expression of hope and faith in the harvest of their lives. As you share the wine, so may you share all things from this day on with love and with understanding. May you be blessed with joy and gladness, vigor of body and spirit, love, harmony, and peace.”
While certain wedding traditions go back hundreds or even thousands of years, times are changing and I encourage you to make your ceremony a presentation of your truth, not anyone else’s.
Nonreligious Unity Ceremony Ideas
Wine Box (Often combined with the letterbox)
If you and your fiancé love wine, consider the wine box. Set that special bottle and a couple love letters aside for a future anniversary celebration!
I might say, “The Bride and Groom have written each other love letters and they’ll be placed in this box along with a bottle of wine to be read and shared next year, on their first anniversary. There’s symbolism to be mentioned. Making wine is a time-honored process, the tender care of the grape, a thoughtful mix of ingredients, the patient fermenting process and the unique flavors of each year, like relationships. They’re setting a special bottle of wine aside to share as they celebrate all that’s taken place together. It’s an expression of hope and faith in the harvest of their lives.
“Over the next year Bride and Groom will grow together as a couple and on their first anniversary, they will open this wooden box that has protected their wishes and thoughts and present their letters to each other and toast to everything they’ve accomplished together and to a wonderful future. They might then replace this bottle of wine with a new bottle to be opened up on a successive anniversary. This is a really great tradition that you two have started. You two have created a wonderful way to reflect on what you’ve done together as a team, the successes that have lifted you up and the challenges that you’ll be forced to learn from. Congratulations you guys!”
Unity Sand Ceremony
One of the most popular wedding unity ideas is blending sand. Usually, the couple blends different colors together and creates visible layers, but one of my favorites used sand from a sand trap from the golf course where the couple met. The idea behind blending the same sand was that they were never separate and reunited.
“The Bride and Groom have chosen to commemorate their marriage by blending sand. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the sand ceremony, it’s meant to represent separate lives coming together as one. Bride and Groom, today you join your lives together. The separate bottles of sand represent your lives before today. Each grain of sand not only represents every memory and experience you’ve had individually, but also represent your combined experiences going forward for many years to come. As these two containers of sand are combined, the individual containers of sand no longer exist, but will be joined together as one. These grains of sand aren’t easily separated and poured again into their individual containers, and so will it be with your marriage and your lives.”
The unity sand ceremony is an excellent way to blend two families together too! Simply add more containers of sand and the children can come up and pour with the couple into a common vessel, and then there’s a cool keepsake sitting around the house to remind everyone of the wedding.
To see me describe the sand ceremony in detail click here:
The letterbox is a great way to honor family by asking for advice and gives you something to look forward to years down the road. If you’re close with your family, ask them for advice and to share words of wisdom for married life in the form of a letter. Then your officiant can invite everyone up to deposit their letters into your time capsule and exchange hugs. It makes for excellent photos and works even better if your DJ softly plays a song you love during this portion of your ceremony.
I usually say, “Bride and Groom have asked their families for advice, blessings, and support, and are starting a time capsule of sorts. We’ll invite some of their family members up now to deposit their letters into the time capsule and give hugs. Out of sincere respect and admiration, Bride and Groom would like their grandparents to come up first. Mr. and Mrs. ??? will you please join us? Bride and Groom plan to read these letters on their tenth wedding anniversary. With equal respect and admiration, now we’d like to invite your folks to join us to put their letters in the box and give hugs. Mr. and Mrs.?, Mr. and Ms.? Will you please join us? Bride and Groom plan to read these letters on their fifth wedding anniversary. Now we’d like to invite all your siblings to join us to put their letters in the box and exchange hugs. Bride and Groom plan to read these letters on their third wedding anniversary. Next, the letters written to each other/or vows are placed in the box, which will be read next year, on their first anniversary.
“During the next year Bride and Groom will grow together as a couple and on their first anniversary, they will open this wooden box that has protected their wishes and thoughts and present their letters to each other. This is a really great tradition you have started. Our hopes and prayers are that the adventures of Bride and Groom will have included many of your aspirations by the time you read all these letters. You’ve created a wonderful way to reflect on who you’ve met, the successes that have lifted you up and the challenges that you’ll be forced to learn from. Congratulations you two!”
The number of years you wait to open the letters is certainly optional. Lots of couples choose to open them all on their first anniversary. It’s totally up to you and I often encourage couples to write each other love letters that can go in the box too, to be opened down the road on a specified anniversary.
To see me describe the letterbox in detail check out:
Flowers and Hugs
Presenting parents and grandparents with flowers and hugs following any of the previously mentioned ideas is a way to make your ceremony even more memorable. If you happen to feel indebted to your family, surprise moms/grandmas with flowers and dads/grandpas with hugs following the unity candle, sand ceremony, wine sharing, or any piece of ceremony imagery. It’s a fun surprise for them and a great photo opportunity!
I usually say something like this, “Before Bride and Groom exchange their vows and rings, they’ve requested the opportunity to surprise their moms with flowers and dads with hugs because they love you all so much. Thank you for bringing them to this amazingly special point in their lives.”
There are quite a few other unity ceremony ideas, but these are a great place to start. Whether honoring your heritage or just having fun, wedding symbolism is a great addition to any ceremony. Incorporating one of these ideas will allow you to capture great photos, create a keepsake to remind you of your wedding, create a tradition, or simply get guests involved so your ceremony is memorable.
If you’d like to tell us about your wedding unity ceremony or know about wedding unity ideas not mentioned in this article, leave a comment below!
Matt Nathanson, 1st Officiant