The Wedding Canopy
Originating from ancient Jewish tradition, the "chuppah" or wedding canopy has become more popular with secular and interfaith couples as well, particularly with outdoor weddings. The canopy represents the home the couple will make together. In Judaism, instead of the traditional Christian ritual of the father of the bride walking the bride down the aisle, the parents of both partners escort their child to the Chuppah. The procession itself symbolizes the adult child leaving their parent's home, and making their new home with their beloved. The canopy itself is symbolic, too. The walls of the canopy remain open to family and friends, while the covering overhead protects the couple from the harshest elements in life.
Some couples choose to use a canopy with added significance -- one that was created by a friend or family member, one that has been used in the family before, or one that is made from fabric that is meaningful to the couple (such as from Grandma's holiday tablecloth, a relative's prayer shawl, etc.) One couple used a beautiful cloth that was later sewn into a bedspread to always remind them of their wedding vows. Another couple used the fabric from a parachute from the bride's father's dramatic escape during war-time. Yet another couple used fabric sewn together from the wedding dresses of the bride's mother and grandmother. The general idea is that the couple is "covered" under the protective and loving shelter of God and family. The wedding canopy is usually decorated with flowers.
In the Hindu tradition, the canopy is called a "Mandap" and in the Hawaiian tradition, a "Kappa". The Finnish call it the "bridal sky". Danish couples may walk through an archway made of pine beech or oak branches, which represents entering their first home together.
Parents, grandparents, godparents or other close relatives are honored for their love and support by each partner during the ceremony. These special people can each be recognized with the gift of a flower, a corsage, a special poem or a simple hug and kiss. This is a touching ritual for the beginning of the wedding ceremony, and is usually deeply appreciated and remembered by all. Here is an example, of the words that may be used: "Mom, Dad -- you have spent the last x number of years raising me, protecting me, nurturing me, educating me, and sheltering me from harm. Although there are not enough words to thank-you for everything, I present this simple rose to you as a token of my love and appreciation for all you have done for me. It is because of your love that I know how to love others today. Although the beauty of the rose will fade, my love for you will always be strong. Thank-you Mom and Dad. I love you!"
Honoring The Deceased
The memory of a parent, grandparent, sibling, or other close person in the lives of the wedding couple is remembered by placing a photo on the altar, or by including a moment of silence, a special reading, a favorite song, or the lighting of a candle in their memory. Wedding flowers may have been chosen with that special person's tastes in mind, and it may be mentioned in the program. Personal remembrances may be spoken to honor them and include their memory in the ceremony.
Community Vow of Support
The congregation may be asked, early in the ceremony, to support the union of the partners, and continue to support them as they journey through the natural ups and downs of married life. After the Officiant asks the guests to promise their love and support, the guests respond appropriately by saying "We will" or "We do". This simple act can have a profound impact on the couple, who may realize for the first time, their union has become a welcomed part of the larger community. It is very helpful if the couple has been through times when that support has been a question (such as interfaith couples sometimes experience), to have so many voices reassure them. (Think of it as a reverse of "If there is anyone here today that thinks these people should not be joined, speak now or forever hold your peace." Instead of focusing on one person who may be less then enthusiastic about the wedding, the focus is on the overwhelming majority who think the marriage is a wonderful blessing!)
Other ways to have your friends and family participate are:
• Pass around the rings with a ribbon tied to them early in the service. Ask each person to give them their own blessing and pass them on. If you do this early enough, they should make it to the front of the room for the vows.
• Or, you could pass out flowers before the procession and ask each person to take one, think of a blessing for their marriage, and place it in the vase at the front of the room. Mention during the ceremony that "Just as the different flowers come together to create a beautiful bouquet, the loving contributions of your friends and family members will continue to bless your marriage, as they have your life".
If your ceremony is to be held at the beach or by a stream or river bed, you can ask your guests to find a small pebble and make a wish on it for your marriage. The guests are then asked to place those pebbles in a vase, which you will keep to hold their wishes for your marriage. You can also tell them that you will use this vase, with its special pebbles in it, to hold flowers on your anniversaries, which will remind you both of your wedding day and the loving friends and family who shared it with them.
"Glass Heart" Ceremony
Instead of using pebbles as in the ceremony above, you can use glass "stones" found in many arts/crafts stones. The glass stones can be placed into a decorative jar or vase. (This ceremony was named "glass heart" by Officiant Rev. Michelle Baker, who decorates heart-shaped vases for the couples she marries.)
Wine and Bread Ceremonies
In the Jewish tradition, "kiddush" wine is used to sanctify a ceremony. The sweetness of the wine symbolizes the sweetness of life. The Officiant blesses the glass of wine and offers it to the couple to share. In Japan, Sake is sometimes used in a similar way. Many other communities around the world offer the bride and groom wine during the wedding ceremony, and some have a full Eucharist or Communion service. Wine can also be used for "libations" in an African-American wedding, where wine may be poured on the ground as an act of holiness, instead of being sipped by partners. In many traditions, "breaking bread" and sharing bread together are central themes in a religious service, including religious weddings. In Judaism, the blessing of the bread, or "Motzi" is usually said at the reception, not at the wedding ceremony. In Christianity, Communion (or Eucharist), is sometimes observed during the wedding service with bread-like wafers. In other cultures, the bride and groom share bread with each other at the altar, symbolic of the sharing they will do throughout their lives together.
Although this ceremony is not historically Christian, it has become very popular in contemporary Christian and Interfaith weddings. Three candles are placed on the altar. The two side candles are each lit (sometimes by the parents of each partner) representing the individual lives of each partner. The center candle is lit by both partners during the ceremony, signifying their new life together as "One". This beautiful ceremony has become a standard in many American weddings in many faiths. (Unfortunately, the Unity Candle ceremony is often impractical outdoors, as the flames are easily extinguished by the wind. Couples may instead wish to use the sand ceremony, or the unity bouquet ceremony described below.)
The Unity Bouquet
Like the Unity Candle, the Unity Bouquet is a similar concept, which does not involve a flame which might go out in a draft. The Mothers of the couple are each escorted into the room with a bouquet of flowers, which they place in a side vase before being seated, representing the life of their family member who is going to be married. The Officiant says that the flowers represent the ways in which each partner has blossomed and grown, up until this point in their life. The partners are then instructed to place their flowers together into one larger vase, creating a very special "unity bouquet". Although each bouquet, and each life were beautiful alone, they are even more beautiful together. (The choices selected in this ceremony can have a dramatic effect. For example, if the groom's family carries baby's breath or lavender, and the bride's family carries roses, the bouquet is stunning when combined. Practice combining artificial flowers at the rehearsal, and make sure no one involved is allergic to the real thing!)
The Sand Ceremony represents the joining of two lives into a new dimension of unity. It is similar to the Unity Candle ceremony. Instead of each partner having their own candle, each partner has a vial of sand which represents their childhood and life before marriage. During the ceremony, each partner pours his or her sand into a larger vial to represent their new status as a married couple. Some couples use two different colors of sand, which make a third color when joined. Partners may wish to use sand from a lake or ocean close to where they grew up, or where they spent meaningful vacations together. One interfaith couple, the bride from the east coast, and the groom from the west, brought together sands from the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, representing not only their union, but the union of two families, two histories and two traditions.
Covenant of Salt
The Covenant of Salt ceremony is used in many Biblical traditions. Salt is referred to in the Bible many times, since it was a very important and valued commodity (especially before refrigeration). There are many Biblical references to "the salt of the earth". The Covenant of Salt indicates a binding contract. In the Bible, when a contract was made, each party put a pinch of salt into the pocket of the other person. It was said that when each grain of salt could be sorted, identified, and returned to the rightful owner, the contract could be broken. Today, partners each take a vial of salt, and pour their salt into a container, joining the grains together for eternity. This tradition is popular with many religiously observant couples in place of the sand ceremony.
Coins and Gift Giving
In some Islamic and Central American cultures, the groom giving the bride money during the ceremony is a symbol of his promise to care for and financially support her. Check with your tradition for the specifics on what types of coins and how and when they are given. In Filipino weddings, Grooms traditionally give Brides 13 gold coins, called arias, signifying their promise to materially support their family, during the wedding ceremony. For a sample Filipino wedding ceremony, please click here. In Latin America, brides may give their grooms a specially embroidered shirt, which the Groom wears during the wedding ceremony. Traditionally, the bride makes and decorates the shirt for her beloved, as a symbol of her devotion to him. In modern times, they may be purchased.
traditional Jewish, Greek Orthodox, and Hindu traditions, there are customs where the bride circles her groom, or both partners circle each other. In the Hindu tradition, both partners circle the sacred fire. Check with the specifics of your own tradition when incorporating the circling ritual. In all of these traditions, the circling may represent each partner making their spouse the center of their world. It also represents that marriage is a journey, and the first steps of the journey are taken together at the wedding.
Symbolic foods are placed on the altar, to be mentioned and shared during the ceremony. In many cultures around the world, sweet foods are eaten during the wedding ceremony to symbolize the wish for a sweet marriage. Honey and almonds, dried fruit, or other foods may be shared by the couple. In some countries, special foods such as nuts and rice, are given to the bride and groom as a symbol of fertility. Sometimes, foods representing "four flavors" are given: the bitter, the sweet, the sour and the savory. These four tastes represent the many different "flavors" of marriage.
In the Greek Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox traditions, as well as on some Pacific islands, the Priest or Officiant has two ornate headbands or crowns on the altar. During the ceremony, the wreaths or crowns are placed on the heads of the bride and groom, and then transferred back and forth a prescribed number of times.
In some Native American communities, drinking from a goblet of water sanctifies the union. Water is a basic element, without which there would be no life. A two spouted water jug designed for this purpose may be used. The Wedding Jar is then displayed in the home as a reminder of one's vows. Water may also be used in a ceremonial washing of hands to purify them, before uniting one's hands in marriage with another person. The ritual of purifying one's hands by washing them may be combined with the Hand ceremony, listed below.
The Blessings of the Hands Ceremony
In many cultures around the world, joining hands is an enduring symbol of marriage. In this ceremony, the couple each holds up his or her own hand, and offers it to their partner. Words are spoken which indicate the symbolism of the hand -- for holding, stroking, giving, sharing, working, communicating, building, loving, helping etc. As each partner accepts the hand of the other, he or she is joyfully accepting the many gifts of married life, and offers the same in return. Blessing of Rings Instead of having the Officiant bless the wedding rings before they are exchanged, sometimes the rings are tied to decorative fabric or ribbons (or tied to a pillow), and passed around to the guests. The guests are each asked to bless the rings with a wish for the marriage. If this is done at the beginning of the ceremony, the rings usually make it back to the altar in time for the ring ceremony below.
The Ring Ceremony
The Ring Ceremony is perhaps the central, most popular aspect of American weddings. The rings represent the covenant between partners. As the ring is round and has no beginning and no end, the love between them knows no beginning and no end. The ring represents a sacred and binding covenant between both partners, and serves as a daily reminder of their love and devotion. The Ring Ceremony is usually associated with the exchange of the wedding vows. In some countries, rings are not exchanged. Sometimes the exchanged items are white silk scarves (a Buddhist tradition), or leis (A Hawaiian tradition). In Hindu ceremonies, garlands of marigolds are usually exchanged.
Each partner offers the other partner a single rose as a token of their love. Like the opened blossom of the rose, their hearts are open to the other in full devotion. The Officiant asks the couple to find a special place in their home for roses. Each partner then makes a promise to use a rose as a symbol of their love for one another in the years to come. When words may be hard to find, the gift of a simple rose will be a symbol that they are still loved by their partner. It can also be used to mean, "I love you", "I forgive you", "Thank-you", "Happy Anniversary", etc.
In the Unity Wine ceremony the bride and groom each take a carafe of wine and pour the wine into a single glass. They both drink the mixed wine to symbolise their willingness to share in both the joys and the disappointments of life.
There are many variations to this ceremony or you can start your own tradition. Some couples have the bride pour a glass of white wine while the groom pours a glass of red wine. The bride and groom drink from each glass and then pour the wine together in a separate glass and the new glass of wine would look like a rosé. The officiant can talk about the colour of the wines and the blending of hearts together to become one.
They can then serve rosé wine at the reception to remind everyone of the ceremony and marriage. A nice touch would be to have a combination of wedding flowers of red and white with a touch of pink. An idea for an ethnic couple is to include their countries of origin. You may acquire a bottle of wine from both the bride and groom's countries to mix at the ceremony. Some couples may pass the wine glass to immediate family members as a remembrance of the history of the now united families or, immediately after the service, others may be invited to drink the new wine, if they so desire.
The Wedding Contract
In Biblical times, and in contemporary Judaism, as well, a wedding contract or "ketubah", is signed during the ceremony. Essentially, the contract is a written copy of the wedding vows. In Biblical times, it included the dowry and other family agreements, but contemporary ones are more spiritual/emotional and less practical. There are many on-line sources that offer both traditional and contemporary ketubahs, or you can make your own. Each partner signs the contract during the ceremony, and it is displayed in their home during their marriage. There are many, many beautifully-decorated ketubahs available, including interfaith and same-sex versions. If you are not Jewish, you may wish to sign your marriage license, or a copy of your vows, during your ceremony. Ask your Officiant for a signed copy which can be framed to display in your home.
Handfasting or "Tying the Knot"
Handfasting is a general term for the symbolic binding of hands in matrimony. It is a marriage ritual popular in numerous cultures outside of the United States. Historically, it was popular with the Celts and various Pagan communities. Hands are tied together loosely with a decorative sash or cord to signify the marital union, and then removed. Prayer beads are sometimes used instead of a sash or cord. Handfasting is becoming increasingly popular in this country. Click here for some examples of a Handfasting ceremony within the wedding ceremony.
Whether the birth of the first baby is a few months away, or many years away, if the couple intends to have children, they may opt to include a parenting covenant in the vows. Basically, words are said to promise each other that their mutual intention of raising a family is cherished, and that each partner can be counted on by the other to strive to be an effective and loving parent. In this day and age when families are increasingly busy, this vow to always put the family first is a welcome and reassuring promise to one's partner, and to one's future children.
Family Vows Ceremony
When two families are blended, there can be many doubts about the roles the new partner will play in the children's lives (Will the new partner be allowed to discipline the children from the previous relationship? Will the new partner be called "Mom" or "Dad"? Etc.) Each family needs to decide these things for themselves. After these issues are decided, they can be stated beautifully and sensitively in a Family Promises ceremony. The Family Vows Ceremony takes place after the couple's wedding vows. Some families choose to exchange a piece of jewelry, such as a family ring. Others give the girls a necklace or earrings and the boys a bracelet or pendant. Ther are beautiful Family Medallions made just for this purpose. One creative family marked the blending by surprising the children with a new puppy (!) whose name was created by combining the children's names. Another family chose a new last name for the whole family that was different from the previous last names! (The way you choose to mark the beginning of your new life together as a family will take much thought, and consideration for legal issues, divorce ararngements, and adoption issues.) Click here for samples of Family Vows used during a wedding ceremony.
The Tea Ceremony
Originating in the Orient, the tea ceremony represents a partner (traditionally the bride) honoring her new in-laws. The bride pours tea for the in-laws with a promise to honor them as she does her own family of origin. By serving them tea, she serves and honors their family. Today, some contemporary couples use this sentiment by having each partner "serve" their in-laws to honor their new ties to the family.
Honoring the In-Laws
Appropriate for Christian, Jewish and Islamic weddings, the story of Ruth can be mentioned during a ceremony honoring in-laws. In the story, newly widowed Ruth honors her mother-in-law when she says: "Entreat me not to leave you, and to turn back from following you. Wherever you go, there I will go. Wherever you stay, there I will stay. Your people shall be my people and your God shall be my God." This ceremony is beautiful when one partner does not have living parents, and wishes to communicate appreciation for his/her welcoming by the other family. It can also be used after a religious conversion. Many Christian and nondenominational weddings now include the bride and groom hugging their parents before proceeding to the altar. In the Philipino tradition, the groom honors his Mother and Father-in-law-to-be by taking one of their hands and touching them to his forehead, as a sign of respect. In Asian countries, it is appropriate to bow to show respect to one's elders. It is wise to find out what your in-laws culture expects of you - good relations with the in-laws from "day one" will be a great investment for a happy marriage!
Ways to Honor Other Relatives and Special Friends
Other relatives for whom wedding assistance has not yet been found, can be honored by being asked to take table photos at the reception, or to pass the guest book. (In one wedding, the several nephews of the bride were announced as the "book boys" which made them feel very important!) Another honored role is to pass out the wedding program, or the rice or bubbles for the "showering". Be sure to list all special assistants in your wedding program if you have one. In Filipino weddings, Sponsor, who are older married couples, act as mentors, and are involved in beautiful traditions in the wedding ceremony.