By popular demand – here it is – Basic Wedding Ceremony Structure 101.

This is the bare bones outline that I use when I’m working with couples to write their wedding ceremony.  In our first meeting, I take it out, talk through it, explaining significance and meaning between the various rituals and traditions, answer lots of questions and ask some of my own.  From the basic outline, we dive into the whole world of wedding ceremonies – but having that nice firm diving board in the ceremony structure really helps to prepare and better understand where we’re going.  As I like to say – we can add anything in, we can take anything out.  But I find that sticking to the basic structure helps your guests “follow along” a little more easily, and not get lost in a more unusual ceremony.

This is what works for me – definitely check with the state you are getting married in to make sure that you include any legal requirements for a wedding (in some states, at one point, the bride and groom need to verbally agree to be married [The I Do’s], and there may be specific wording that your officiant will have to use to declare you married).  Take from it what you need, and leave the rest out – when it comes down to it – this is your wedding after all!

I don’t do a lot of weddings that include ALL of these – three full readings, three plus rituals – it’s much more of a guide than a list of things you need to include.

If anyone has any questions – post them in the comments!  I’ll be sure to answer them there, so we can all share from each others ideas!

Wedding Ceremony Structure 101

Welcoming of the Guests.
I enter, usually as the first person in the processional, or I am already standing at the front.  I thank everyone for joining us, and ask them to turn off their cell phones!

Processional.
The entrance of the bridal party (that’s a whole other post!).

Introduction:

  • Presentation of the Couple.
  • Family Ritual
  • Thanking of Family & Friends.
  • Remembrances.

In my intro, I welcome the bride and groom to their wedding celebration.  I usually say a few words of special thanks to the person who escorted the couple down the aisle (a twist on the “giving away”).  Using the bride and groom’s own words and information, I do a special thanks for the guests and family.

Any special rituals or traditions as a special thank you to family members would go here.  A popular choice is the flower presentation to the mothers.

If my couple wants to include remembrances, this is where I include them – a brief moment of silence, lighting of a candle, a wine toast, or just me mentioning that they are in our hearts and lives, today and everyday.  I find at this point it doesn’t bring down the tone of the ceremony too much.

Reading.

There are a few places for readings, either by your officiant or a reader, scattered throughout the ceremony.  I often incorporate pieces of readings into the ceremony itself (the Love Story, Closing Remarks, and Introduction).  Not everyone chooses to include readings in their ceremony.  I like to break up the readings, not having guests come up one after the other to read – it provides a bit more interest and also helps to break up the ceremony so your officiant isn’t just gabbing the whole time!  I think making ceremonies as “interactive” as possible is really important.

Love Story, or Address.
For my couples, I write an original Love Story – the story of them, their relationship (how they met, how they fell in love, all of that fun stuff).  I always end it with what they love about each other, and their hopes and dreams for the future.  They’re always funny and touching, and incredibly personalized for each wedding I do.

Sometimes, the couple prefers not to have a Love Story, and I will do a reading here, one that has a tone that fits the wedding, and share some personal comments connecting the reading to the bride and groom’s relationship and marriage.

For a more traditional wedding, this is where the sermon or homily would go.

The Asking.
This is the “I do!” part of a wedding.  I have the couple turn towards one another, take hands, and I ask them some very important questions about marriage.  If they agree to them – they say some kind of positive affirmation (Yes! I do! Thumbs Up!).  Sometimes, I have couples who will write these themselves, and combine them with the vows.

Wine Ceremony or Other Unity Ritual.

This is the place for a unity ritual that symbolizes the life that the bride and groom will share together.  Wine ceremonies, presentation of gifts or flowers to each other, tree planting – those are the kind of rituals that go at this point.

Vows.
Either read by the bride and the groom to each other, or done “repeat after me” style with the officiant.

Reading.

Ring Ceremony.
Short ring vows are usually chosen to repeat as the bride and groom place the ring on each other’s fingers.

Unity Ritual.
Any unity ritual that symbolizes the bride and groom joining together or the merging and blending of two families would go here.  Unity candles, sand ceremonies, hand fasting, garland exchanges, signing of a marriage license.

Reading.

Closing Remarks.
A final blessing could go here as well.  I like to bring back important elements of the Love Story, or include a short poem or advice.  In a Jewish inspired wedding, I would include a version of the seven blessings here.

Declaration of Marriage.

The bride and groom are declared husband and wife.  AND THEN THEY KISS!

Breaking of the Glass / Jumping the Broom.
There are a few rituals that take place right AFTER the declaration of marriage.

Recessional.
I’ll talk about this with my processional post – but basically, the bride and groom exit, go out, and party!!

Advertisements

Layla & Lewis were married recently at the Valley Brook Golf Club in River Vale, NJ.  I had so much fun getting to know them and learning their story.  They also introduced me to a GREAT Greek  restaurant – After Athens in Rutherford – two blocks from my apartment that I hadn’t been to – it has the most fabulous chai!


They really wanted a sentimental, touching, and funny ceremony, without getting too mushy.  I think their Love Story really captured the wonderful love they have between them, and celebrated who they were.  Layla gave me a special “checklist” that a friend had given her, as potential ways to check out a new guy’s history, and I opened with it:

Many years ago, a friend of Layla’s wrote a special screening checklist for her potential dates.  This list included many gems of advice, including:

Number 1: Check guy’s psych history.
Number 4: Check his walls/photo albums for signs of obsessiveness.

But, the most important, was number 7:  Above all, settle for nothing.  Layla took this very important advice to heart, and it led her to her soul mate, as you see them before you today.

You will always and forever be new to ME, you will forever be my REAL LOVE.

"You will always and forever be new to ME, you will forever be my REAL LOVE."

Layla & Lewis chose to write their own vows.  It was their moment to really have fun and open up to each other, in front of their family and friends, and they did a fabulous job.  Layla used a reading from the Velveteen Rabbit in her vows – telling Lewis that his love is what makes her REAL.  Lewis said that one of his favorite activities is making Layla smile – and requested that she let him do that forever.

Lewis getting his vows!

Lewis getting his vows!

Matron of Honor Jamie reads e.e. cummings

Matron of Honor Jamie reads e.e. cummings

Their ceremony also included a reading by the Matron of Honor (e.e. cumming’s “i carry your heart”) and a handfasting.

The couple during their handfasting

The couple during their handfasting

Wrapping Layla & Lewis hands with the handfasting cord

Wrapping Layla & Lewis hands with the handfasting cord

Layla & Lewis are expecting their first child in March, and got engaged in November, putting their wedding together in just two months!  I couldn’t believe it!

You guys rock.  I had SO much fun.  Congratulations again!

Please click here to see more photos from Layla & Lewis’ ceremony

.

So maybe you do want to write your own vows after all. There are many books and websites and random people who will give you advice, rules, outlines, and other information about putting your vows together.

But you don’t have to listen to anyone.

Your vows, like your ceremony, should reflect who you are, as well as your relationship with your soon to be spouse. Personalizing your vows, or customizing existing vows is a great way to do this.

Here are my top five hints and tricks for writing your own vows.

Something Old: Do you really want to use the traditional “Till Death Do Us Part” vows, or have a specific vow that you heard somewhere that you just love – but you also want to exchange personalized vows during the ceremony? It’s possible. Talk to your officiant about incorporating the traditional vows elsewhere in the ceremony – in the ring vows or in “The Asking” (that’s the “I do!” part of a wedding). You can even incorporate them into your personalized vows.

Something New:
If you get stuck on your vows, or are having trouble figuring out how to finish them, give them to some new eyes to look at. Your bridal party, parents, or officiant are just waiting to offer suggestions and questions to help you create the perfect vows for you. And, if you’re choosing to not keep them a secret from each other, sharing them with your partner before hand can often open up new ideas and stories that you may want to include.

Something Borrowed
: The internet is a great resource for putting your wedding ceremony together. There is tons of information on vows people have used, as well as personalized vows couples have written. Don’t be afraid to borrow liberally from these places – your guests will never know you didn’t write it!

Tom & Jeannie's Wedding.
Tom & Jeannie wrote their own vow, but had me read it to them – and then they agreed with Yes! and I do!
Something Blue: This is the wildcard – What do you love about your partner? What do they do for you that makes you smile, every single time? Don’t be afraid to get specific with your vows! I’ve had couples promise to always make cookies and coffee after dinner or tolerate a favorite television show. Don’t be afraid to personalize it!


Melanie admired Brian’s resourcefulness at tough moments – like when the cat gets locked in the closet, and they can’t find the key – Brian promised to love and support Melanie even on Mondays after a tough day of work.

Writing your own vows is a great and easy way to personalize your own ceremony. As I mentioned in my previous post, even personalizing pre-existing vows can help to create a wedding that really reflects who you are!

When I meet with couples, one of the first things I ask when we’re going over ceremony structure is whether they plan to write their own vows. Sometimes, I get a lukewarm response – “Well.. maybe…” After some questions, and a few suggestions, I usually get it out of them: they would like to have original and different vows, but don’t want them to specifically be vows that they’ve written.

Over my time as a Celebrant, I’ve culled a huge file of wedding vows – some original that I’ve borrowed from couples, some I’ve found in books or on the Internet, some I’ve written myself. I present these to my couples as a jumping off point – a source of inspiration to begin to think about possibly creating their own vows. I find that often people will find vows they just love, and edit them slightly to work for their situation.


Mickey and David each chose different vows to read at their wedding

Another idea that may work if you’re looking for slightly different vows – find out what vows your parents used in their wedding ceremony. Some brides and grooms like the idea of using traditional vows because they are the same words that people have used for generations when they married – the whole tradition of the ceremony itself. If you’re planning an interfaith or multi-faith wedding, you may be able to find wedding vows that are traditional to the specific religion you’d like to honor.


Retta & Jack chose the same vows but chose not to say them
I read them aloud, and they agreed to them with “I do”

The best part? No one will know that you didn’t write these vows yourself! If you choose slightly different vows than the traditional “to love and to cherish, as long as you both shall live…” – most people will assume that you have written them yourself. And, as it is your big day, you can take all the credit for it.

Here’s a very popular vow that I’ve had many couples choose – and I just love it too!

I take you, Dyana, to be my spouse,
my friend, my love, and my lifelong companion.
To share my life with yours,
To build our dreams together,
to support you through times of trouble,
and to rejoice with you in times of happiness.
I promise to treat you with respect, love and loyalty
through all the trials and triumphs of our lives together.
This commitment is made in love, kept in faith,
lived in hope, and eternally made new.