How To Customize Your Wedding Ceremony

May 6, 2013 by Allison Micarelli-Sokoloff
shefinds | Weddings

Like so many things in life, there are some serious DOs and some even more serious DO NOTs. Your wedding ceremony is no different. Not to sound overly dramatic, but you’ve got this one shot to lay it all out on the line. To prove winning “cutest couple” in your college yearbook wasn’t all in vain. To show your distrustful MIL why it is you love her son so very much. It’s your time to shine as a couple, a team, lovers, and even as individuals who complete one another (sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves). You don’t want someone else to fully take over this very important DO, do you? (FYI: No, you DO NOT. Trust me, I once went to a wedding where the officiant even said the bride’s name incorrectly, twice!) Take back a bit of control over your wedding-day nuptials by working closely with an officiant and writing your own ceremony. And we don’t just mean the vows. We mean the whole kit and caboodle—from picking the poems and the processional to exactly how you should be pronounced newlyweds. We did this with our wedding. And when it came time for the rehearsal, there were no surprises, except how (pleasantly) dumbfounded I was that the ceremony script was literally word-for-word EXACTLY what we wanted to hear.

We didn’t have a ton of money so we knew we weren’t going to have the party of the century. What better way to make our wedding stand out than with a never-before-heard-personalized ceremony from start to finish? At the conclusion of our ceremony, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place and for years afterward friends and family would call to tell us they had never before and never since witnessed a ceremony as special as ours. (Score!) Wanna know how we did it? I re-teamed with award-winning certified celebrant Kim Kirkley (who officiated our wedding) to get the inside scoop on the DOs and DONTs for writing a winning ceremony.

1. DO pick at least 2-3 poems, readings, quotes that speak volumes about you as a couple. Whether you choose “Love is patient, love is kind” (1 Corinthians), the Eskimo Love Song, or Dr. Seuss, be willing to share a bit of who you are with your guests. Get inspired by your favorite passages in books, plays, songs. Or by a meaningful poem that’s been a part of family weddings for generations. This is a good time to include something cultural (An Apache Love Song, for example) or to have a reading recited in another language (just remember to give a translation to your guests in the wedding program).

2. DO have an exploration of love. What does love mean to each of you? Talk this through with your officiant and see whether you can “define love” or at least define “your love.” It may include what you’ll do for one another in time of need (support, defend, encourage) and what’ll make this a successful marriage (never turning off a playoff basketball game, always lending a hand for a backrub or foot massage). What you share may be endearing and warm or cheeky and humorous. Just DON’T make it sound like an audition for your local bar’s stand-up comedy night, says Kirkley. “Humor is great and a wonderful way to connect with people. But at the same time you want to be respectful of the singular commitment that you are making and the deep importance that marriage has in your lives.”

3. DO share a bit of history of yourselves as a couple. If you’re having an intimate wedding, people probably know your love story. But for bigger events or for family you only see at weddings and funerals, now is a time to share a bit of who you are as a couple. Don’t be afraid to tell it like it was, even if your love story started with, We didn’t like each other—at first. “When you are willing to be authentic, it is a brave act of vulnerability and an invitation for deeper connection with the listeners,” says Kirkley. But DON’T overindulge your guests with details of your love affair. If there are some things better kept private, then do just that. “Don’t be so committed to accuracy that the history of yourselves as a couple sounds more like a resume or a shopping list than a love story,” says Kirkley. Ultimately, keep it real and you’ll really connect with your guests.

4. DO explain what strengths each of you brings to the marriage. Have your officiant recite what you have in common that makes you click and the differences that round you out and make you whole. “Keep it balanced,” suggests Kirkley, “so you don’t give your guests the impression that you’ve had this wedding planned for decades and you finally found a body to fit the tux.” And definitely DON’T say anything negative about one another, even in jest. (Humor is one thing, sarcasm is another. Don’t say anything that could be taken out of context or that you may regret later when you watch your wedding video.)

5. DO recite traditional & personal vows. “Using traditional vows is a wonderful way to show respect for tradition and to say the words that have defined marriage through the ages,” says Kirkley. Yet for even the most conservative couples, finding the courage to recite your own vows is icing on cake for your wedding ceremony. “It’s the moment everyone remembers forever!” says Kirkley. If you’re worried about saying too little, too much, or have major writer’s block, consider writing joint personal vows. That’s what we did. My husband and I penned personalized vows together and each took a turn reciting them at the wedding (and even though we knew what the other was about to say we still both choked up and embraced that tender moment). Injecting cute, quirky, funny into your vows is welcome but DONT write inside jokes that’ll go over everyone’s head and make some people squirm in their seats.

6. DON’T be afraid to choose untraditional songs for your processional or recessional. Walk to Rolling Stones? Why not?! Or be sure to include special songs or cultural traditions to really engage your guests. Just make sure your officiant explains the significance of the song, dance, or custom, or have it explained in the wedding program. One of Kirkley’s favorite ceremonies began with a poetic reading of the lyrics to Cole Porter’s “Night and Day.” One of mine was a performance of “Falling Slowly” sung by one of the bride’s oldest friends and performed on guitar by the groom’s dad. Tears—galore.

7. DO include some history about the rings you are exchanging. Have your officiant speak about the rings before the exchange. Are they family heirlooms? Do they hold any special significance? What do rings symbolize to you? For us, the circular rings with no beginning and no end were a natural symbol of unending love.

8. DO think about how you wish to be pronounced as newlyweds. Are you changing your name? Are you becoming a Mr. & Mrs. Same Last Name? Do you prefer first names only? Or for the officiant to just say “Let’s congratulate our newlyweds!” Traditionally, this announcement (plus the kiss) concludes the ceremony but it doesn’t have to be that way. Have a balloon release. A champagne toast. Or take this moment to turn to your guests and thank them for their constant love and support. Even if you do nothing else but smile, wave, and waltz back up that aisle, pause for a few seconds to look out at your guests. You’ll want that memory—that perspective—of friends and family laughing, crying, cheering you on, in your hearts forever. Live in that moment.

Whether your officiant writes a draft of your ceremony for you to review or you give her the parts to create the whole, make sure you do a run-through where you get to hear your ceremony, the delivery, the pronunciation of names. When it comes to what’s said during your nuptials, there should be no surprises on your wedding day. PS- There may be certain state laws that require your officiant to say or do something specific to legalize and validate the marriage. Check your local laws, and ask your officiant.  

For more EXPERT wedding planning tips, check out 8 Things To Ask Yourselves Before Meeting With Your Wedding Photographer and 13 Wedding Disasters Only A Planner Can Fix.

[Photo: Ryan Ray Photography]



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