How to Personalize Your Ceremony

It’s the most important part of your day, so shouldn’t it be as unique and personal as your reception?
by Amy Levin-Epstein
Wedding couple watering a plant for union ceremony
photo by Redfield Photography

Your reception will naturally get a lot of your focus during wedding planning, but your ceremony deserves attention too. The small details and touches you add can take it from merely functional to a truly touching space where you start your new life together. Lighting a candle or pouring sand are always fine ideas, but here are some new ones to consider.

  1. Accessorize Your Guests

    Wedding guests with parasols
    photo by Vanessa Preziose Photography

    Outdoor vows are gorgeous, but they can come with some weather-related obstacles. No one likes to squint or sweat, so if there's a chance it'll be super-sunny, have your ushers hand out parasols or sunglasses to your guests. Programs made into the shape of fans are another fun and functional way to cool down your crowd. If the forecast calls for crisp weather, offer shawls displayed in a pretty basket at the front of the ceremony space. Little gestures like these go a long way toward making your guests feel taken care of and comfortable.

  2. Invite Your Furry Friend

    Same-sex couple holding dog
    photo by Jen Huang Photography

    Is your pup a primary member of your family? Then go ahead and include him or her in the ceremony, either as a nontraditional ring bearer or flower girl or just as a guest of honor. Try a fresh or faux flower secured to a pretty collar or a dapper bow tie or tux onesie—just make sure that both the flowers and the clothes you choose are safe and comfortable for your pooch. Coordinate with your bouquet and your groom's boutonniere so your little family looks fashionable and fun.

  3. Leave a Love Note

    Program in the shape of a mason jar
    photo by Peacock Photography

    For something truly memorable (that you don't want to include in the programs), pen a letter to those closest to you, whether it's your mother and father or even a special aunt, uncle or friend, and leave it on their chair preceremony. Thank them for helping you get to where you are, and share any thoughts about what it means to have them there. Better enclose a few tissues too—the moment you walk down the aisle will be extra-sentimental for them.

  4. Share the Floral Fun

    Fuchsia and white boutonnieres
    photo by Sweet Monday Photography

    Who says you have to save your favors for the finale? Instead, consider setting up a table full of fresh boutonnieres (think single roses or tulips) or flower hairpins for your guests to choose from before the ceremony. They'll feel instantly appreciated for their attendance and ready to get into the celebratory spirit of the day. Choose colors and floral varieties that go well with the bridal party bouquets to create a cohesive and truly coordinated look that your photographer will love.

  5. Pick a More Purposeful Processional Song

    Wedding musicians
    photo by Woodward & Rick Photographers, Inc.

    We have nothing against Pachelbel's “Canon in D"—it's a timeless classic that certainly gets the job done well. But if you'd like to put a personal spin on your ceremony, go with a tune that's meaningful to both of you—just like you're doing with your first dance. Was your first date in a country music bar where “Whatever It Is" by Zac Brown Band was playing? Did he propose while Adele's soulful version of “Make You Feel My Love" played in the background? Consider acoustic versions of the songs for a more traditional spin, and then start your new lives off on that same beautiful note.

  6. Water a “Love Fern”

    Plant for union ceremony
    photo by Pure 7 Studios

    Remember the ill-fated “love fern" from How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days? Adding scoops of soil from each of your hometowns to a potted plant or tree and then watering it together can be a sweet symbol of your union and a special way to end your vows. Once you're home from your honeymoon, give it a permanent place in your garden or backyard where it can continue to grow.

  7. Give Out Candy and Crayons

    Crayons and activities for kids at a wedding
    photo by J. Harper Photography

    If you've got little ones on your guest list, you'll want them to be extra well behaved during the ceremony. How do you ensure that? Candy is charming, but crayons and coloring books are another fun (and less sticky) way to keep little hands busy.

  8. Nix the Assigned Seating

    Seating sign
    photo by Alternative Life Photography & Design

    Have you seen those adorable signs that say, “Choose a seat, not a side… we're all family once the knot is tied"? This decorative touch does double-duty by acting as an informal usher and setting the tone for a laid-back, friendly celebration.

  9. Quench Guests’ Thirst

    Pink champagne
    photo by Clary Photo

    There's always some downtime before the ceremony starts as guests begin to gather. One creative way to warmly welcome everyone is to set up a drink station. Glasses of prosecco, sparkling water with lemon or lime, or even a pretty signature cocktail served on a silver tray is refreshing on a warm day. Gourmet flavored coffee or hot cider served in mugs that match your wedding palette is a fun, cozy touch for a winter wedding when guests are coming in from the cold.

  10. Have a Good Friend Marry You

    Bohemian wedding ceremony
    photo by Brooke Schwab Photography

    Is there a person who's super-special to both of you and also happens to be an engaging public speaker? Honor that person by asking them to help you tie the knot. There are several ways to get ordained online, which vary in the time it takes to become “official" and the amount of money it costs to do it (it's a nice gesture to offer to cover those costs since you're already asking for their time to do this for you). And always check with your local government to make sure that the marriage will be recognized.

  11. Honor Missing Loved Ones

    Photographs honoring ones that passed away
    photo by Claudia Kronenberg Photography

    Whether it's a grandparent who's passed or a cousin in the military, your ceremony is the perfect place to mention those that are in your thoughts. Save space in your program for a note about them, ask your officiant to talk about them, or weave a special memento from them (for instance, a locket) into your bouquet. If you have several loved ones who are no longer with you, consider setting up a small table with a selection of photos of them as a way to incorporate them into your day.

  12. Pick Alternative Props

    Flower girls walking down the aisle in flower crowns
    photo by Christina Carroll Photography

    A ring pillow and a basket of petals may be the go-to for the smallest members of your bridal party, but why not give them something that has just as much personality as they do? Your ring bearer can carry your rings in any vessel from a handmade bird's nest for a playful, rustic take, to a silver box engraved with your names and wedding date that will make a great keepsake. Give your flower girl a pomander or one giant sunflower to carry, or skip the floral theme altogether and opt for a whimsical pinwheel, ribbon wand or basket full of confetti.

  13. Surround Yourself With Love

    Chairs arranged in a semi-circle for ceremony
    photo by Onelove Photography

    Traditionally, you get married with your guests all seated behind you.Unfortunately, they miss out on the best part—seeing your faces as you say your vows to one another. Give your guests a better view of the action by arranging the chairs in a full circle or semicircle surrounding you and your groom. Dealing with a larger guest list? Set up several concentric rings of chairs, or for short vows, you can do an inner circle of seated guests and an outer one of folks who stand.

  14. For more ceremony personalization ideas, check out 15 Ways to Personalize Your Wedding Ceremony.

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