Photography: Raymond Hom1 of 14
You've spent hours and hours obsessing over every detail of your reception, and with good reason -- it's going to be the party of a lifetime. But take a breather from all that to think about the other half of your big day: your ceremony. It deserves the same careful consideration as your reception. After all, that special moment when you and your fiance are pronounced husband and wife is the true highlight of your wedding -- one that friends and family members will remember long after the cake is cut and the bouquet is tossed.
To help you design your ceremony, we've called in the professionals: David Beahm, an event designer based in New York City; the Rev. Judith Johnson, author of "The Wedding Ceremony Planner"; and the Rev. Jeddah Vailakis, an interfaith minister in New York (pictured here). With their guidance, you'll have all your ceremony bases covered -- from writing your vows to choosing your readings to mixing in cultural and religious traditions.
Photography: Scott Andrew Studio2 of 14
Your Ceremony, Your Way
Begin by choosing how you're going to supplement the standard order of events with creative touches that represent you as a couple. And the best place to start? Your entrance.
The wedding party that danced down the aisle on YouTube may inspire you, but there are other ways to make the processional your own. Beahm attended a wedding where the bride's and groom's guests met at opposite corners of a park, then walked to meet in the middle. Work with your officiant to choreograph an entrance that works for you and your venue.
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Change The Seating
Consider the various configurations in which you can seat guests. For an alternative to traditional seating that separates the bride's side from the groom's side, arrange chairs in the round or in small groupings. Or, for a very intimate wedding, ask guests to join hands and surround you in a circle as you exchange vows.
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Tell Your Tale
Ask your officiant to incorporate a chapter from your love story into his or her address. "It will help guests who may not be privy to the details of your courtship feel more connected to you," says Vailakis. Share the sweet story of how you met, when you got engaged, or how you chose your wedding venue. Or print a special quote or song lyric on your program.
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Whether it's a beloved poem or a passage from your favorite book, your readings should truly celebrate who you are. "Only include them if the literature is meaningful and speaks to your heart," Beahm says. Otherwise, it could feel like filler. Should you opt to include one (or two), consider printing the text in the program so guests can follow along.
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If you will incorporate a cultural or religious tradition such as breaking a glass or jumping a broom, you may want to explain it in your program. Without background information, guests who aren't aware of the cultural implications may not fully appreciate the meaning.
At this real wedding in Italy, Doug and Amanda are wrapped in a tallith, a Jewish prayer shawl, to signify their unity during the ceremony.
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Include Your Guests
By inviting your loved ones to participate in your big day, you will establish a sense of community among your guests. In turn, you'll feel that they are supportive of your promises to one another. "The most special ceremonies are those that incorporate everyone in attendance, not just the bride and groom," Beahm says. As you exchange vows, Johnson suggests inviting those present to recommit to their own vows and the relationships in their lives.
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Remember Loved Ones
There are many ways to acknowledge the beloved people in your lives who have passed away, including lighting a candle or ringing a bell in their honor during the ceremony. To ensure that your guests understand the significance, ask your officiant to say a few words about the deceased. If you worry about being overcome with emotion, consider taking a quieter approach by simply writing a few words of remembrance in your program.
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Channel Your Inner Shakespeare
We always reccommend couples write their own vows. The warmth it brings to a ceremony is almost indescribable. Writing down your love on paper may seem daunting, but it's easier than you'd think. Here are eight tips for acing your vows.
Photography: Elizabeth Messina10 of 14
Consider a Ritual
This is a powerful way to express your love, and the perfect complement to your vows. One ritual we've seen many times is the unity candle. In this Judeo-Christian tradition, the bride and groom each use a lit candle to light a larger third candle that represents their union. This can also be performed by the bride and groom's parents to symbolize two families coming together. Or, to involve guests, design a display where they may light a candle and say a blessing as they enter the ceremony.
Here are a few more rituals to consider, on the following slides.
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Blessing Of Rings
Before the couple exchanges rings, the wedding bands are passed among the guests (or, in larger weddings, just the first two rows) so friends and family can share their well-wishes for your marriage. Consider tying the rings to a pretty string of ribbon, or attaching them to a pillow. Once they've made their way around the room, the rings are then returned to the altar, with the love and support from your nearest and dearest symbolically attached.
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A Sword Detail
Are you marrying a man in the military? After the ceremony, it's tradition for your groom's fellow officers to form a sword detail. As the bride and groom walk through the arch formed by the blades, each pair of men lowered their swords and announce, "The right of passage is a kiss." So with every few steps newlyweds embrace for a smooch.
Photography: Christopher Baker13 of 14
Planting a tree that commemorates the anniversary of your wedding and grows with your marriage is a thoughtful touch for ceremonies that take place at a family home. The tree should be almost completely planted prior to the ceremony, with soil reserved in two small containers. During the ceremony, the bride and groom should place soil from the two containers on top of the planting, representing two individuals coming together as one.
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This ancient Celtic ceremony has many modern incarnations. Prior to saying their vows, the couple joins hands, making a figure eight to represent eternity (right hand to right hand, left hand to left hand). Their crossed hands are then tied together with ribbon to represent two individuals coming together. For a more personal touch, consider using a piece of heirloom fabric in lieu of ribbon.