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Your wedding reception is easy to personalize, but your ceremony can be tougher. After all, wedding ceremonies are rooted in tradition. If you're looking to put your own stamp on the event, incorporate a ritual that symbolizes unity. Some of these practices, like lighting the unity candle and circling the groom, are traditional, but others, like the sand ceremony or the tree-planting ceremony, are modern alternatives. Whether you steal one of these ideas or dream up something completely different, a ceremonial moment is bound to bring even more meaning to your big day.
Light a Candle
This Judeo-Christian tradition is probably the most well-known wedding ritual that symbolizes unity. The bride and groom each hold a lit candle and combine their flames to light a third, larger candle. Sometimes the bride and groom's parents take on this task instead to symbolize the union of their families. You can also get the guests involved by displaying candles in the ceremony entrance and inviting friends and family to light one and say a blessing as they enter.
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Try a Sand Ceremony
Sometimes referred to as a "blending of the sands" ceremony, each person pours a small container of sand (often two different colors) into a larger vessel to symbolize their "coming together" as a couple. This practice is particularly meaningful if you're tying the knot on a beach or want to use sand from a hometown or favorite vacation spot.
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Circle the Groom (or Bride!)
In Jewish tradition, the bride circles the groom seven times to break down any barriers between them. Today, rather than the bride circling around her groom, the couple often encircle around one another.
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Participate in a Crowning
It's customary in Greek Orthodox culture for brides and grooms to appoint koumbaroi, attendants who place the wedding crowns on the couple's heads and the rings on their fingers. The crowns, known as stefana, are connected by ribbon and therefore serve as a symbol of the bride and groom's union, as well as their status as queen and king of their family.
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Do a Lasso Ceremony
In traditional Mexican, Filipino, and Spanish culture, couples can celebrate unity through a lasso ceremony, or el lazo ceremony. After the couple recites their vows, an officiant, parent, or relative drapes two linked rosaries or one floral rope across the bride and groom's shoulders in the form of a figure eight, which represents the couple's unity. The couple then wears the lasso for the duration of the service until the person who placed it on the couple removes it and gives it to the bride as a reminder of their commitment to each other.
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Perfect for smaller weddings, this take on a Quaker tradition involves inviting guests to form a circle together with the bride and groom. They may also be asked to share their thoughts on the couple. (You can give them a heads up so they can prepare their thoughts ahead of time!) For this couple's intimate ceremony, their officiant compiled words of wisdom from guests' R.S.V.P. cards into a journal and passed it to the couple to read aloud.
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Have a Handfasting
Participate in the ancient Celtic practice of "handfasting," or tying hands together. The bride and groom hold opposite hands (so their arms make a figure eight—representing eternity). Then, their hands are tied together with ribbon to symbolize a union. You could even use heirloom fabric to make it even more meaningful.
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Or Tie the Knot (Literally!)
In this old Irish tradition, the bride and groom ties a fisherman's knot with ribbon to symbolize a bond that, rather than break under pressure becomes stronger. "Honestly we saw it in a scene from Game of Thrones and thought, 'How cool would that be?'" the bride admitted.
After the knot was made, the officiant said: "As you hold one another in mutual concern and shared respect, may you continue holding each other tightly in your hearts, and form a strong bond, now and forever. Let this knot indicate the strength of your love and be a symbol of your unity this day forward."
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Jump a Broom
The "jumping the broom" ritual originated in the early 19th century, when enslaved African Americans weren't allowed to formally marry. Instead, to unite, the tradition was to lay a broom on the ground and jump over it together. Today, the act represents a "brushing away" of the past in order to start clean.
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Plant a Tree
If you're getting married outside, consider planting a sapling or a favorite flower, like this couple, who wanted to show their love of nature and for their new home together that's nestled in the canyon of an oak forest. After putting it in the ground, they watered the plant while the officiant read: "May your relationship and your love for each other be like this oak you have planted. May it grow tall and strong. May it stand tall during whatever storms may enter your life, and may it come through unscathed. Like the oak, your marriage must be resilient. It must weather the challenges of life and the passage of time. And you must nurture one another as you will nurture this tree. A little nourishment is needed every day so you can each grown and reach your fullest potential—just like this tree."
Tip: To keep it quick (and clean!), 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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Pot a Plant
Love nature but have an indoor wedding venue? No problem. Take a cue from this bride and groom, who potted and watered a plant together during their ceremony to represent the joining of their families. "We wanted to do something with the kids that made them a part of the ceremony," the bride said. The fact that the couple incorporated a plant theme in the wedding décor made this ceremony ritual even more fitting.
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Pass the Rings Around
Include guests in the ceremony by having each person bless your bands. Prior to this couple's wedding, two friends took custody of the couple's rings, tying them to two handkerchiefs (one of which was passed down for generations on the groom's side). One ring went down one side of the aisle and the other went down the opposite, with every guest having a chance to hold the rings and bestow their blessings and positive thoughts toward the marriage.
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Create a Time Capsule
Box up a few items to be reopened in the future. During their vows, this couple included this ritual, which they had seen on Pinterest: "Before the ceremony, we wrote letters to each other and got a bottle of wine from 2009, the year we met," said the bride. As a friend sang, the bride and groom placed the items in a box and nailed it shut. They plan on opening the box on their first anniversary. However, you might want to do a few practice swings before the ceremony to see how it will resonate. "We didn't realize how much the room echoed," she said. "We got a few hammer blows in and decided we'd finish it afterward—it was so loud!"
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Cleanse With Water
For a sort of purifying ritual, you and your groom could either perform a "washing of the feet" or have your officiant pour a pitcher of water over your hands. The act symbolizes the release of any past emotional blocks, so both parties can enter the marriage with open hearts. This cleansing ceremony works especially well in outdoor weddings where messiness is not a concern. Indoors, couples can hold their hands over a bowl or share a goblet of water to symbolize the purity of love.
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Paint a Picture
If you and your groom are artistic—or your officiant is—express your emotions during your union with a collaborative piece of art. This couple's officiant, an artist, led them pair through a painting.
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Or Freehand a Sketch
This creative couple dreamed up one unique unity ceremony: to draw a blind contour of each other while never looking down at the paper. In this way, they were able to focus on each other and demonstrate a mutual sense of humor.