Though often a bit of an afterthought in the planning process, your wedding ceremony can be as lively and unique as the rest of your wedding. Whether you choose to recite custom wedding vows or incorporate a tree planting into the ceremony, there are many ways to make the moment you say “I do” even more memorable. Here, 13 unique wedding ceremony ideas straight from the experts.
Weddings should reflect the real highlight: the relationship. As such, any effort to make your wedding unique should focus on that. Instead of eyeing trends on Pinterest for inspiration, think about what makes you as a couple different and infuse that individuality into the wedding, says Amy Shack Egan, founder and CEO of Brooklyn-based Modern Rebel: “Do you and your partner care about giving back? Consider a do-a-favor table in lieu of a favor table. Are you and your partner obsessed with space? Add a lift-off countdown prior to the ceremony kiss. Do you and your partner hate wedding cake, but love babka? Babka it is!” Think about the things that make the bride and groom different, and try to incorporate that into your wedding day. Adding a personal touch is a great way to create a unique wedding ceremony.
Did you spend your first date with your future bride or groom at a concert? Is there a particular book that you bonded over? Seek out song lyrics, poems, or book excerpts that resonate with you as a couple, and incorporate them into your wedding ceremony readings. If you have friends or family members who are close to you, but not a part of the bridal party, consider showcasing these important people as featured speakers.
Interactive ceremonies are a unique way to put a personal touch on a wedding ceremony. “If you are both hiking junkies or just bought your first home together and are hosting an outdoor ceremony, a tree planting ceremony is a great way to encourage guest participation,” says Jo Reitz, president and founder of Square Mile Events in New Jersey. “Guests can pour soil into the base of a tree upon entry or exit at the ceremony space, and then the tree is planted after the wedding and grown with love.”
Another fun way to encourage wedding guest participation is to ask guests to stand up if they were a part of the couple's lives at specific milestones, including summer camp buddies, sports teammates, or dorm roommates. “The visual of support and love for the couple throughout their lives can be very powerful,” Reitz says.
Or, pass around the wedding bands in a basket or other holder for each guest to silently offer well wishes or blessings to the couple as part of a ring warming ceremony. Reitz notes this practice is a great way to add spirituality to a non-religious wedding.
Choosing an officiant can be one of the most important decisions a couple makes while wedding planning. Friends, family members, or coworkers who know the couple intimately and can hold court in front of a group can be an excellent choice to kick off the wedding. The officiant helps set the tone of the wedding day and lead guests through anecdotes and details about the couple.
Going with a more traditional officiant? Don’t forget to spend some time getting to know them in a relaxed setting, so they can infuse personal touches into the ceremony.
A shift in the seating layout can transform the feeling of a ceremony. To create a more intimate feel, arrange chairs in a circle or a spiral around the arch or altar. Genevieve Roja, founder and principal of San Francisco–based Lily Spruce, says that she once lined guests up along a labyrinth on a dock overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. “We laid down heavy nautical rope in a circle and made sure to instruct guests on how to position themselves,” she recalls. “Once everyone was down the aisle, my team and I ran upstairs to watch it unfold from the adjacent building, and what I remember was the quiet—people were drinking the moment in and being completely present and immersed.”
Make sure your photographer has an aerial vantage point via a balcony or drone to capture the powerful visual of guests surrounding a couple with love.
Personalizing a wedding program with anecdotes about yourselves as a couple or your bridal party members can be a great way to entertain guests prior to the start of a ceremony. Programs can include fun or quirky facts, a Mad Libs puzzle, photos from an engagement shoot, or a map of all of the places the couple has traveled to together. Bonus points to couples who design programs that double as fans to help guests stay cool.
Using decor elements that reflect a couple's interior design tastes or wedding colors helps carry the wedding theme throughout the evening. “Instead of going the traditional route of laying down an aisle runner, I have seen couples opt to use vintage rugs to line the aisle,” Reitz says.
Additionally, you can offer small extras, like blankets or fans, to help guests feel more comfortable. “It’s always fun to offer an item upon entry into the wedding that will be used by all during the ceremony in a meaningful way,” says Bay Area event strategist Lea Stafford. “This acknowledges the importance of your family and friends.”
Hiring a painter or illustrator to capture the scenery live can be a unique way to wow guests as they enter the ceremony space. “The artwork is often close to finished by the end of the evening and gives the couple a meaningful keepsake after the wedding,” Reitz says. “Any sort of entertainment, such as a performer who tells guests about a couple's hobbies or mutual interests, can also be a fun way to set the tone of a wedding.”
Whew—you made it through the ceremony! Plan something special for right after the wedding kiss to kick off the fun: an unexpected recessional song, for example, or a surprise coordinated dance by the wedding party. “One of our favorite moments was a couple who instructed guests to throw those 99-cent bouncy balls into the air after the first, married kiss,” Roja says. “The reactions on film were priceless!”
Help guests relax and get in the celebrating spirit by providing trays of a signature cocktail as they leave the ceremony and transition into the cocktail hour space. “Long lines at cocktail hour can be an instant bummer, so giving guests an opportunity to have a libation and toast the newlyweds without having to wait in line is a great way to keep the excitement level and festive spirit of a wedding high,” says Reitz.
And the cocktail menu is an easy place to inject your personality or love story. “At one wedding we did, the groom is habitually late to everything,” says Jennifer Price, owner of Event Shoppe Chicago. “So the specialty cocktail was the Lake and Thatcher, which was a family joke because he's always said, ‘I'm just on Lake and Thatcher,’ which means he’s really far away. It really helped bring an inside joke to the forefront and was a unique way to name just a simple Manhattan.”
If your cocktail hour space is within walking distance, have a group of musicians lead the guests there in a festive parade-like procession. Guiding guests around a wedding venue at transitional points in the evening can sometimes feel like herding cats, Reitz notes, and having a musical pied piper to lead the way can keep guests in a festive mood and help them transition around wedding events in a timely manner.
Finding a way to blend two cultures or religions into a marriage is an extremely common, but sometimes difficult puzzle to navigate. For couples who are planning a ceremony that features two religions and two officiants into one ceremony, it can be helpful to find officiants who have performed blended ceremonies before to find the perfect rhythm and flow, says Reitz. If a parent feels strongly about hosting a traditional ceremony in one religion, it’s totally acceptable to host two ceremonies to respect those wishes. (Just don't expect all guests to attend both ceremonies.)
No matter which way you go, it’s always special when couples incorporate elements of cultural traditions into their ceremonies. Whether you are looking to jump the broom, host a sundial ceremony, do a tilak, circle the groom, or crown your beau, be sure to have the officiant explain the significance of the ritual, so all guests can understand what’s going on. If there are elements of a ceremony that are discussed in a different language, it’s helpful to include a translation or summary in the wedding program to keep all guests in the know. Incorporating cultural rituals is a unique ceremony idea that all your guests and loved ones will remember.
Aim to infuse as much of your values and personality into the wedding; don’t worry about what’s typically done or not done. Above all, Roja’s advice is to “do what feels like you. At the end of the day, that will ring the most authentic and true.”