8 Wedding Ceremony Rituals and Their Meanings

A bride and groom getting married in a religious wedding ceremony in a church.

When planning a wedding ceremony, it can be interesting and meaningful to add something between the traditional vows and rings and the “now you may kiss the bride” phrase. Here are some ways you can showcase your love’s strength and create some form of memory that will continue with you as a couple, reminding you of your commitment to each other.

1. Unity Candles

One of the most common ceremonies, this a unity candle lighting consists of two taper candles and one larger unity candle in the middle. To showcase that the two families or people are becoming one family or unit, each person getting married lights one of the the tapers, and then they light the middle candle together, showcasing their joining.

2. Sand Ceremony

A popular way to signify that whatever makes the two of you different is now intermingled, the sand ceremony begins with an empty vessel and two containers of colored sand. You can choose colors that mean something to each of you, or just pick colors that fit the colors of the wedding. Each person takes turns pouring a bit of sand into the empty vessel, creating a beautiful pattern. The sealed container of sand can be a keepsake in your home; even if it gets jostled and all the sand intermingles, it reminds you that you’ve become a joined unit.

3. Handfasting

A red ribbon tying a bride and groom's hands together as part of a handfasting ceremony.

A tradition in a variety of cultures, a rope, ribbon or a scarf is used to tie the hands of the bride and groom together. Sometimes a blessing is said over them, so research what kind of statement you’d want stated while you and your beloved are literally tied to each other.

4. Foot Washing

This tradition specifically is valuable for showing the importance of service in marriage. It’s typically performed by first having one person remove their shoes while the other kneels down over a small basin of water with a cloth. They gently wipe water on the other’s feet, and then use a towel to dry them off. The couple then switches places, all usually accompanied by music since the foot washing can take a while. If the removal and replacement of shoes is too much work, some couples elect to have a smaller water basin on a table and to wash each other’s hands instead, in what ends up being a tender and vulnerable expression of love.

5. Rope Braiding

For religious ceremonies, some couples elect to have a stand that holds three ropes or ribbons, representing the two members of the couple and God. As part of the ceremony, the couple braid the ribbons together, showing how they will commit themselves to each other and to God. Another rope or ribbon ceremony can be combined with the handfasting ceremony mentioned above; by passing a ribbon or rope around and among your guests, you can receive that rope or ribbon back at the front of the ceremony after it has been touched by those you and your new spouse love most. It can then be used in a ceremony like rope braiding or handfasting.

6. Write Letters and Seal Them

A bride and groom holding yellow sealed envelopes for one another to open at a later date.

While you will likely write the letters ahead of time, it has become common to include letters you write to your husband or wife on your wedding day. One way to commemorate these letters is to seal them in a box or time capsule and write a time to open them during your ceremony. Choosing to do this publicly declares that you have confidence that this marriage is going to go the distance and last.

7. Paint on a Canvas

For artistically inclined couples, having a canvas at the front of your ceremony that you two contribute to during your ceremony can be a beautiful keepsake of your special day. Some people choose to do something simple, like dripped water colors of different shades that meet in the middle, or others may paint two halves of a heart. If it dries in time, it is also possible to get signatures from your guests on the canvas, or on another form of decorative wall hanging like a wedding contract, which are used in both Quaker and Jewish weddings.

8. Wine Ceremony

Whether you choose to do a traditional communion or Eucharist in a church wedding, or you simply choose to pour wine into a glass together and each take a sip, wine is a drink laden with meaning. To drink wine together is to join each other’s family and inner circle, the people with whom you share your table. While you may or may not want to pour two different kinds of wine into the same cup and drink them, consider how sharing a cup might be a great way to commemorate your marriage, especially if you enjoy wine!

Find Amazing Vendors