How To Personalize Your Wedding Ceremony

How To Personalize Your Wedding Ceremony



It’s your wedding day! You’re standing in some hallway waiting for your cue to make your entrance into the ceremony space. You’ve been making wedding decisions for weeks, awake since 5 a.m., and you just want to get out there because you’ve been looking forward to the ceremony ever since you made the brilliant choice to hire a trained and certified Life-Cycle Celebrant ™ to officiate. You know your wedding will be special and personal, thanks to these tips on personalizing your ceremony.

Hire a Trained Celebrant 

Celebrants specialize in personalizing wedding ceremonies. They are non-denominational ceremony writers and performers who are adept at juggling the many competing priorities of couples who are getting married. Want to incorporate singers into the ceremony? Get a celebrant. Want to think up an elaborate ritual to honor your guests? Get a celebrant. Blended family? Hire a celebrant. Jewish bride, Catholic groom? No problem. Atheist bride, Hindu groom? Your celebrant has got your back. Non-practicing Catholic bride and groom whose parents are paying for the wedding and have strongly hinted that they are not thrilled you are getting married in a brewery instead of a church? You definitely need a celebrant. 

Your celebrant can personalize every aspect of a wedding ceremony, crafting, directing, and choreographing it to reflect the couple’s true personality. Let’s look at the major ceremonial elements and explore the possibilities for personalization therein. 

The Space 

Many event venues carve out the ceremony space in a way that resembles a traditional church set-up of two groups of seats separated by an aisle. All the seats face the altar space, the area where the couple will stand with their celebrant. But in a country club ballroom or an estate’s backyard, there is no altar. People say altar as a shorthand to refer back to church weddings. I like to refer to it as the “Ceremonial Matrimonial Sweet Spot,” but that’s just me. The point is that since there is no physical altar, the ceremonial sweet spot can be anywhere in the space, and the guests can be arranged anywhere around it. The traditional, common set-up is not very personal. Consider the following fun, personal alternatives instead.

  • Elevate the ceremonial space onto a raised stage to improve sightlines for everyone and amplify the theatricality of the whole event. The chairs can all be together with no aisle, as in a theater. And if you need an explanation for that, I’ve got metaphors galore right here in my metaphor satchel. For instance, the lack of an aisle represents the fact that these two families and sets of friends are already joined together, and today we are just making it official. Prefer a more avant-garde theater? Set up the chairs in a circle and have a ceremony in the round. 
  • Do you enjoy the symbolism of labyrinths? Set the chairs in concentric circles so that the bride and groom take a journey in and around all the guests to arrive at the very center of the labyrinth, where their lives will change forever. Very Instagrammable. 
  • Or forget the chairs completely. In fact, forget the ceremonial space! Hold your ceremony on a dance floor, standing, dancing, and underscored by good music. Hold it on a baseball diamond, a basketball court, a putting green, in a pool, on a boat, or in a room full of yoga mats. 

Music and Bridal Party Entrances 

We’ve all attended weddings where the bridesmaids and groomsmen make lifeless entrances into the ceremony space while some romantic dirge, like Pachelbel’s Canon, crawls through the air. No, I say! Have your bridal party make an entrance! The easiest way to encourage a good entrance is with good music. Choose something lively and upbeat, something from this century, and something that reflects your real personality.

If you really prefer hypnotically beautiful music, meet with your DJ to discuss appropriate instrumental music. DJs are unmatched in their musical knowledge! Find something that suits your auditory mood. One of the most gorgeous processionals I’ve ever seen took place to music from Appalachian Waltz, a collection of music from cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

My point is that the entrance music doesn’t have to be Pachelbel’s Canon or the Bridal Chorus. It doesn’t have to be Christina Perry’s A Thousand Years. While these pieces are gorgeous, they are painfully cliché, which is the opposite of personal. Your music can be anything you want it to be.  

The Ceremony Itself 

You’ve already hired a trained celebrant, and they will have been working with you to personalize every aspect of the ceremony. They’ll welcome everyone in as inclusive a way as possible, citing every state and country from which your guests have traveled. They may even say a few words in a foreign language if some guests don’t speak English fluently. They’ll honor every family member you wish in exactly the way you wish. They’ll remember your dearly departed in as dignified and brief a way as possible. They’ll get everyone excited to be at a wedding. Then, when they talk about you, the guests are in for a real treat.

The Love Story 

Celebrants are, essentially, professional storytellers. They write great love stories. The centerpiece of each celebrant ceremony is a love story that is specific to the couple getting married. Even if everybody present already knows the couple’s story, they’ve never heard it told by a professional storyteller before. Love stories cover how the couple met, how they got together, how they fell in love, and how they got engaged. The celebrant expresses everything that is most important to the couple, making sure everyone understands why they’ve gathered and why they need to celebrate the couple with extreme enthusiasm. The top celebrants weave love stories that are equally hilarious and heartfelt, holding guests’ attention with true, accurate humor, then surprising them with the power of sentiment. They evoke laughter and tears. They express important thoughts because weddings are important. They connect facts about couples in ways nobody has ever thought of before. Love stories illuminate. 

The Vows 

Write your own vows. Nothing is more personal than what you promise your partner. If you need help, there are experts out there who work with couples on personal vows all the time (for example, Tanya Pushkine, aka The Vow Whisperer, and yours truly). 

If you don’t write your own vows, your celebrant can ask you a series of questions to which you answer “I do.” You can work with your celebrant to craft the exact questions you want to be asked. 

Buy a Good Book About Personalizing Wedding Ceremonies 

Best Ceremony Ever (The Countryman Press/WW Norton), written by Christopher Shelley, is all about personalizing every element of a wedding ceremony. In it are complete sample ceremony scripts, vow-writing questionnaires, and lots of info. It is a guide for both officiants and couples.

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Christopher Shelley

Christopher Shelley has been a professional Wedding Officiant and Life-Cycle Celebrant™ since 2011. He is the author of Best. Ceremony. Ever. (The Countryman Press/WW Norton). He has officiated weddings all over New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Kentucky and other states too, through his company Illuminating Ceremonies (www.illuminatingceremonies.com) . He has officiated weddings on The Rachael Ray Show and created a memorial service for Joan Rivers’ dog on Joan and Melissa. Instagram: @illuminatingceremonies Twitter: @illuministchris
December 14, 2021

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