A Word About Ceremony Readings: Just the Right Words

Martha Stewart Weddings, Spring 2007

"I tell my brides, 'Pick a reading that actually means something to you, so that at your wedding it strikes a chord,' " says Alyson Fox of Levine Fox Events in Encino, California. How do you find something unique? Most likely you've researched gowns by tearing out magazine photos that appeal to you. Consider selecting literary works in a similar way: If you're reading a novel, article, poem, or essay, and something appeals to you, make a copy.

Marino keeps a notebook of writings she's collected over the years, including a tomb inscription she found in a book about ancient Egypt. She says, "You can find beautiful things about love in the strangest of places."

Perhaps you'll find yourself drawn to something that reflects your spiritual beliefs or cultural background, or you might turn to a favorite author. One of Seccuro's brides chose something from the World War I novel, "A Farewell to Arms," by Ernest Hemingway. It was surprisingly appropriate: "At night, there was the feeling that we had come home, feeling no longer alone, waking in the night to find the other one there, and not gone away."

The passage need not be overtly about love. Another of Seccuro's brides honored her late grandfather with a spoken version of the children's song "The Teddy Bears' Picnic," which he'd sung to her when she was little. The couple explained in the ceremony program why they'd chosen this unusual piece, and when the reader had finished, says Seccuro, "There wasn't a dry eye in the house."

Consider, too, a topic that recalls an aspect of your relationship: A poem about the stars, if your groom proposed under a starry sky; or a passage describing the season or place in which you met. You might also look to the site of your wedding for inspiration. Shakespeare's "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer Day?" is perfect for a garden ceremony in June. A beach wedding might call for lines from Anne Morrow Lindbergh's "Gift From the Sea."

Thinking about what you don't want to say can also help you focus your search. As they sifted through Bible passages for their September 2006 Catholic ceremony, Lori Alvino and her fiance Matthew McGill were struck by how many brought up death and infidelity. "We just didn't want any mention of those topics -- we thought they weren't appropriate for our happy occasion," says Alvino McGill, an attorney in Alexandria, Virginia, who decided upon something cheerier (though still from the Bible) instead.

Whatever you go with, keep it easy to understand, and, above all, short -- guests will get restless after about 90 seconds. Print the readings in your program so people can follow along. And stay away from anything too off-the-wall or humorous, says Marino: "The ceremony is all about decorum. You don't want people rolling on the floor." Above all, choose something that seems to come from your own heart -- and that has special resonance with you and your groom. "The right reading will make your ceremony special," says Fox. "The more of yourself you put into it, the more you -- and your guests -- will get out of it."

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