Rituals are practices that are routinely done to bring about significant behavior, be it in religion, life ceremonies, family events, or any other occasion. A wisely planned and solemnly conducted ritual prepares the ground, creates the atmosphere and suggests the mood for what is to come. A well-placed and executed ritual can turn an ordinary ceremony into an extraordinary one!
Any sentiment that a couple feels strongly about can be made into a beautiful and poetic ritual for their wedding!
Below outlines some of the more common wedding traditions, and rituals.
Opening and closing rituals
Music is usually used to mark the beginning and end of a wedding ceremony. You may wish to add an opening and closing ritual as well. These rituals provide another way to include special people in the ceremony as honored assistants.
Opening rituals might include:
- lighting candles
- ringing of bells to indicate the beginning (or end) of the ceremony
- decorating the wedding platform or ‘aisle’ with flower petals
- ‘Welcome to Country’ ceremony (performed by Aboriginal elders)
Community vow of support
Some brides may prefer to have a community vow of support in place of being ‘given away’. The guests may be asked, early in the ceremony, to support the union of the partners, and continue to support them as they journey through the natural ups and downs of married life. After the celebrant asks the guests to promise their love and support, the guests respond appropriately by saying “We will” or “We do” (depending on how the question is phrased). This simple act can have a profound impact on the couple, who may realise for the first time, their union has become a welcomed part of the larger community.
Parents, grandparents, godparents or other close relatives are honored for their love and support by each partner during the ceremony. These special people can each be recognized with the gift of a flower, a corsage, a special poem or a simple hug and kiss. This is a touching ritual for the beginning of the wedding ceremony.
“Mum, Dad – you have spent the last (x) years raising me, protecting me, nurturing me, educating me, and sheltering me from harm. Although there are not enough words to thank you for everything, I present this rose to you as a token of my love and appreciation for all you have done for me. It is because of your love that I know how to love others today. Although the beauty of the rose will fade, my love for you will always be strong. ”
This could also be ‘tweaked’ so that the celebrant is addressing the parent(s) on the bride’s behalf (which may be necessary if you have a teary bride), for example:
“Bob and Mary, you have spent you have spent the last (x) years raising Jayne, protecting her, nurturing her, educating her, and sheltering her from harm….etc”
Honoring the deceased/not able to attend
The memory of a parent, grandparent, sibling, or other close person in the lives of the wedding couple can be remembered by placing a photo on a nearby table, or simply acknowledging that while they may not be physically present they are forever in the hearts and minds of the bride/groom. Some couples may like to light a candle in their memory or include a special reading or song. Limit this to immediate family members or significantly close friends or relatives.
The Sand ceremony represents the joining of two lives into a new dimension of unity. Each partner has a vial of sand which represents their single life, or life before marriage. During the ceremony, each partner pours his or her sand into a larger vial to represent their new status as a married couple.
Some couples use two different colours of sand, which make a third color when joined. Partners may wish to use sand from a lake or ocean close to where they grew up, or where they spent meaningful vacations together.
The sand ceremony also works well for bringing children from previous relationships – with each child having their own ‘layer’ to add.
“(bride) and (groom) today you are making a life-long commitment to share the rest of your lives with each other. Your relationship is symbolised through the pouring of these two individual containers of sand; one, representing you, (bride) and all that you were, all that you are, and all that you will ever be, and the other representing you, (groom) and all that you were and all that you are, and all that you will ever be.
As you each hold your sand, the separate containers of sand represent your lives to this moment; individual and unique. As you now combine your sand together, your lives also join together as one. You may now blend the sand together symbolising the uniting of the bride and groom into one.
Just as these grains of sand can never be separated and poured again into the individual containers, so will your marriage be.”
How a simple wedding sand ceremony works
Here are the four steps to a basic sand ceremony
1. A small table is placed at the ceremony location with a clear glass vase in the centre. This is often accessorised or engraved with the couple’s initials or names and the wedding date.
2. Two smaller vases containing different coloured sands are placed either side of the central vase, one for the bride and one for the groom. These sands can be in the wedding colours.
3. During the wedding sand ceremony, the couple takes turns to pour sand from their individual vases into the central vase, creating a layered effect.
4. Finally they pour the remainder of the sand into the vase at the same time so that the two colours combine and can’t be separated, symbolising their unity in marriage. A poem or reading can be recited at the same time as the sand is poured.
Three variations on a wedding sand ceremony
1. A religious variation of the sand ceremony is possible, where the central vase is one third filled with white sand before the ceremony. This represents God and his role as a base for the couple’s happy marriage.
2. A parents’ variation of the sand ceremony is a great way to involve the couple’s parents. Each set of parents has a vase with different coloured sand. The parents take turns to pour their sand into the central vase before the couple, creating a layered effect. This symbolises their support of the couple in marriage.
3. A children’s variation of the sand ceremony is perfect if the couple have children together already, or have children from a previous relationship. Each child has a small vase with coloured or white sand, and they pour this into the central vase just before the couple finish pouring in their sand. This provides a layer where the couple’s and children’s sands are mixed. The children can then pour the rest of their sand on top of the couple’s sand.
This ceremony has become very popular in civil weddings. Three candles are placed on a table. The two side candles are each lit (sometimes by the parents of each partner) representing the individual lives of each partner. The center candle is lit by both partners during the ceremony, signifying their new life together as “one”.
Unfortunately, the Unity Candle ceremony is often impractical outdoors, as the flames are easily extinguished by the wind. If you want a unity candle ceremony, you should invest in large ‘hurricane’ vases to protect the flame from the wind. Before the ceremony begins, the unity candle should be placed on a small table. To prepare for the ceremony, it is a good idea to light the wicks for a moment.
“As (bride) and (groom) together light the centre candle, they will extinguish their own candles, thus letting the centre candle symbolise the union of their lives. As this one light cannot be divided, neither will their lives be divided.
Example 2 (if you’d prefer to leave your tapers lit)
“(bride) and (groom) come into their marriage relationship as individuals and they do not lose their identity, rather they use their individuality to create and strengthen the relationship of marriage. Therefore, the three candles remain lit, one for each of them and one for their marriage. This represents your commitment to each other and to a lasting and loving marriage. The Unity Candle symbolises the new family you are now forming from your past lives. Now you both are charged with keeping this flame bright for the rest of your days.”
The unity bouquet
Like the unity candle, the unity bouquet is a similar concept, but does not involve a flame that might go out in a draft. The Mothers of the couple bring forward a bouquet of flowers, which they place in a side vase, representing the life of their family member who is going to be married. The celebrant says that the flowers represent the ways in which each partner has blossomed and grown, up until this point in their life. The partners are then instructed to place their flowers together into one larger vase, creating a very special ‘unity bouquet’. Although each bouquet and each life are beautiful on their own, they are enhanced when complemented with a partner. The choices selected in this ceremony can have a dramatic effect. For example, if the groom’s family carries baby’s breath or lavender, and the bride’s family brings roses, the bouquet is stunning when combined. Practice combining artificial flowers at the rehearsal, and make sure no one involved is allergic to the real thing!
If a ceremony is to be held at the beach or by a stream or river bed, you can ask the guests to find a small pebble and make a wish on it for the couple’s marriage. The guests are then asked to place those pebbles in a vase, which you will keep to hold their wishes for your marriage. The celebrant can perhaps mention that the vase, with its special pebbles in it, will be used to hold flowers on the couple’s anniversaries, which will remind them of wedding day and the loving friends and family who shared it with them.
Instead of using pebbles, you can use glass “stones” found in many arts/crafts stones. The glass stones can be placed into a decorative jar or vase.
This is similar to the pebble ceremony, but is only carried out by the bride and groom.
To confirm their vows, instead of or in addition to a ring or rings being given and received, the bride and groom cast a stone each into a nearby river or ocean – thus symbolising their remaining together forever while the tides of time ebbed and flowed over their lives.
(bride) and (groom) will now cast two stones into the river behind us. The stones they have chosen for this ceremony have been etched with ancient Nordic symbols, called ‘Runes’.?The blue stone, carved with the rune ‘Kenaz’, represents Wisdom, Insight and Understanding, not unlike the Scottish word ‘ken’, which means ‘to know’. The silver stone, carved with the rune ‘Raido’, represents our life journey and how it intersects and interacts with others. This symbol reminds us that, although it may seem that we have accomplished our goals, life and change continue and we must always go on. (bride) and (groom), will you now cast your stones
Unity bowl ceremony
This tradition is a way to honor multiple generations of the bride‘s and groom’s families, and/or a way to include any children that the couple may have.
The couple selects a glass bowl they would enjoy having in their new home. Each grandparent, parent, step-parent, godparent and so on is given a bud vase filled with a different color of flat colored marbles, with the separate colors signifying the individuality of each family member.
The grandparents pour their separate colors into the Unity Bowl as the foundation of the wedding of the bride and groom. Each set of parents does the same. After each set of grandparents, parents and so on have added their marbles to the mix, the celebrant stirs the colors with her hand, creating new mosaics each time.
Siblings and other special friends may be invited to participate, as well.?Then the bride and groom add their two colors, and I mix the Unity Bowl contents again. If there are children, they add theirs after the bride and groom, as we are honoring each generation.
Ultimately, the family members are reminded that each of them, in their own way, has colored the lives of the bride and groom. Therefore, each has developed specific tastes, goals, morals, choices…and thus the bride knows she has found her perfect groom, and the groom knows he has found his perfect bride.
Finally, it is noted that, just as the mosaic has continually changed, so is change the most dependable constant in the couple’s married life. They are called on to embrace change, find what can be learned from each change, and to put their own hands in and stir up the design in the bowl with every change they encounter.
Thus they get to keep a memento placed in their Unity Bowl by all the family members and other loved ones who were present at their wedding–an emotional value that always grows with time–and also a reminder that change is always beautiful, as long as we keep the right perspective that we can always learn from change.
In some communities, drinking from a goblet of water sanctifies the union. Water is a basic element, without which there would be no life. The Wedding Jar is then displayed in the home as a reminder of one’s vows.
Wine sharing ceremony
The goblet of wine is symbolic of the cup of life. As you share this wine, you promise to share all that the future will bring. All the sweetness the cup of life holds for you is sweeter because you drink it together; and whatever drops of bitterness it contains are less because they are shared.
Bride and groom sip from goblet.
The Blessings of the Hands Ceremony
In many cultures around the world, joining hands is an enduring symbol of marriage. In this ceremony, the couple each holds up his or her own hand, and offers it to their partner. Words are spoken which indicate the symbolism of the hand – for holding, stroking, giving, sharing, working, communicating, building, loving, helping etc. As each partner accepts the hand of the other, he or she is joyfully accepting the many gifts of married life, and offers the same in return.
The ring ceremony
The ring ceremony is perhaps the central, most popular aspect of all weddings. The rings represent the binding promise between partners, and serves as a daily reminder of their love and devotion. As the ring is round and has no beginning and no end, the love between them knows no beginning and no end. The ring ceremony is usually associated with the exchange of the wedding vows.
Blessing of rings
In this ceremony the rings are tied to decorative fabric or ribbons (or tied to a pillow), and passed around to the guests. The guests are each asked to bless the rings with a wish for the marriage. If this is done at the beginning of the ceremony, the rings usually make it back to the altar in time for the ring ceremony below. Better with a small number of guests.
Alternatively, if you are conducting a relatively small wedding (no more than 30 guests) you could have the guest stand in a circle or semi-circle and pass the rings through one length of ribbon (reasonably long – about 5 meters depending on the number of guests). As each guest pushes the ring through, they make a wish for the couple.
Warming of the rings
Before the bride and groom exchange rings, the rings are passed among the guests (or perhaps just the immediate family, depending on the number of guests) to be ‘warmed’. If only a selected few guests are taking part in this ceremony, they should be given advanced warning and instructions to make sure the rings come back.
During this ceremony (bride) and (groom) will exchange rings. They have entrusted the keeping of the rings with (name of person holding the rings). These rings are the visible signs of their commitment to one another.
As this ceremony proceeds we ask that the families of (bride) and (groom) take part in the warming of the rings.
We ask that you, their family and friends wish them health and happiness, and all that is noble and good in life.
(person holding the rings) will now pass these rings to the families of (bride) and (groom) and I ask that each family member hold them for a moment, warm them with your love, then pass them on to the next person. I ask that all present voice a silent wish or prayer for this couple, for their marriage and their future together.
When these rings come back to (person holding the rings) they will contain, in their precious metal, that which is more precious, that which is priceless: your love and hope and pledge of support for this union.
All present. Music is played while the rings are being “warmed”.
Each partner offers the other partner a single rose as a token of his or her love. Like the opened blossom of the rose, their hearts are open to the other in full devotion. The celebrant asks the couple to find a special place in their home for roses. Each partner then makes a promise to use a rose as a symbol of his or her love for one another in the years to come. When words may be hard to find, the gift of a simple rose will be a symbol that they are still loved by their partner. It can also be used to mean, “I love you”, “I forgive you”, “Thank-you”, “Happy Anniversary”, etc.
“Your gift to each other for your wedding today has been your wedding rings – which shall always be an outward demonstration of your vows of love and respect; and a public showing of your commitment to each other.
In the past, the rose was considered a symbol of love and a single rose always meant only one thing – it meant the words “I love you.” So it is appropriate that for your first gift to each other would be a single rose.
Please exchange your first gift as husband and wife, and remember always that it was love that brought you here today, it is only love which can make it a glorious union, and it is by love which your marriage shall endure.”
Butterfly release ceremony
According to an American Indian Legend, if anyone desires a wish to come true they must first capture a butterfly and whisper that wish to it. Since a butterfly can make no sound, the butterfly cannot reveal the wish to anyone but the Great Spirit who hears and sees all. In gratitude for giving the beautiful butterfly its freedom, the Great Spirit always grants the wish.
So, according to legend, by making a wish and giving the butterfly its freedom, the wish will be taken to the heavens and be granted.
We have gathered to grant this couple all our best wishes and are?about to set these butterflies free in trust that all these wishes will be granted.
You have given me wings with which to fly. Now I breathe in deep and spread them wide as we lift off from the silken petals?into the wind where the butterflies glide.
Dove release ceremony
Similar to the butterfly release, some couples opt for dove releases.
Our white doves are the symbol of Love, Peace and Hope. They pair for life, and at the end of each day?They return to the same home for the night.?As (bride) and (groom) release these doves,
We ask you, their family and friends,?To witness this very symbolic gesture,?Which heralds the beginning of their new life together.
(bride) and (groom) we wish you love, That, like the doves, continues to soar. We wish you peace as you work together to develop a home.
And we join in your hope for a long and happy marriage.
For many centuries, the White Dove has been a symbol of Peace, Love and New Beginnings. As a romantic gesture, (bride) and (groom) are now going to release these two white pigeons that are meant to represent doves. They will fly upwards, maybe circle above us a few times, and then fly home together, as a pair. This symbolises our newly wed couple setting off on their journey in life together, in harmony.(bride) and (groom), we wish for you, that your life together would be long, rich and rewarding. May your marriage carry with it all the wonderful qualities that the White Dove represents.
From today this winged love begins its flight?across the skies of time.
It will fly above the bounds of earth?and beyond the edge of now, for when hearts and minds come?together as one,?the union takes mere mortals?to places never been.?The flight of love will allow you to?challenge your wildest dreams.?
Side by side you will explore the?endless possibilities of your shared world?
And your journey will soar and fly?with bearings sound and direction true.?
May your winds be favourable?and your skies remain clear?as you guide your shared flight?towards the rising sun, for in the dawn of each new day you will find the light to guide your way.
May you enjoy your journey?along the way, and may you feel?the gentle guiding presence of others?who share the skies with you,?the place of freedom,?adventure and endless hope.
Family Vows Ceremony
When two families are blended, there can be many doubts about the roles the new partner will play in the children’s lives (Will the new partner be allowed to discipline the children from the previous relationship? Will the new partner be called “Mum” or
“Dad”? ) Each family needs to decide these things for themselves. After these issues are decided, they can be stated beautifully and sensitively in a Family Promises ceremony. The Family Vows ceremony takes place after the couple’s wedding vows.
Some families choose to exchange a piece of jewelry, such as a family ring. Others give the girls a necklace or earrings and the boys a bracelet or pendant.
Often marriage is viewed as the union of two persons. Yet marriages not only unite the Bride and the Groom, they unite families. With the changing structure of what a family is in today’s world we are offered unique and wonderful opportunities to increase the number of loving caring relationships we have in our lives.
During a wedding ceremony rings are exchanged with a promise. (bride) and (groom) thought appropriate that their children should also receive a token of their promise to them this day.
They wanted to find a way to let them know now how special and wonderful they all are in their own way, and how blessed they feel.?They also wanted them to have a physical reminder for the future that as they grow and become young men and women in their own right, that their parents will always support them and offer them unconditional love.
So is the bond of trust that your parents establish with one another, and extend to all of you this day.
Children step forward and receive their gift.
The Big Release
The release of doves, butterflies or balloons as an ending ritual, signifies the release of each partner journeying through life alone. It is a visual statement about the release of emotion that follows marrying the one you love. In Philipino weddings, two doves are released at the end of the ceremony. If the doves fly in the same direction, it is considered good luck for the marriage.
The Receiving Line
This is a very standard closing ritual after many American ceremonies. After the wedding ceremony is complete, the bridal party (the couple, their attendants and parents) stand in a line near the exit of the hall or church or synagogue, or at the entrance of the reception hall, to receive well-wishes. Waiting in line can take a very long time, yet allows for guests to assemble and share comments about the wedding ceremony.
Afterward, the couple usually leaves the site of the wedding while being showered with rice, bird seed, bubbles or flower petals. The “showering” is supposed to represent the showering of good wishes for their marriage.