A Twist on the Traditional: Making the Ceremony Our Own

For many couples, the pressure to include certain wedding traditions in your ceremony can be pretty intense.  Whether it's your relatives, your venue, or some other external source, sometimes you can feel like you're being forced to have a wedding that doesn't feel 100% like you.  I can say from personal experience that I definitely struggled with the idea of not having a more traditional wedding (at first, anyway).  Initially Kevin and I were under the impression that a local church would marry us, but after speaking with one of the pastors we were told that we didn't "pass their test" since we weren't yet comfortable with the idea of joining a weekly bible study.

After that fell through we realized that there wouldn't be enough time to join another church and feel comfortable enough to get married there by our wedding date.  This is what started us on our "not-so-traditional" wedding journey.  Our solution to the problem was to ask our good friend Adam to be our Officiant which ended up being one of the best decisions we made in the planning process.  Having a friend officiate our wedding not only made it more personal but also allowed us to customize all of the words and phrases that would be used in our ceremony, making it completely 100% our own.  In the weeks after the wedding so many people told us that they loved our ceremony and how unique and "us" it was.  So I suppose it was a blessing in disguise!

In the process of writing and piecing together our ceremony wording I found a lot of useful information and inspiration all over the web.  One of the most helpful posts I read was this one from APW, which lists the following helpful tips:

1. Find a style.  
In short: what kind of ceremony do you guys want to have?  As I mentioned above, Kevin and I went the non-traditional route and kind of wrote up our own format for our ceremony.  In the end I don't think it was more than 20 minutes, which is the average length.

2. Find a tone and a thesis.
Deciding on a tone and thesis will help you write your vows, find readings, and write an opening that all ties together to make everything cohesive.  Ours ended up being based on the premise of teamwork and balance.  This really was because all of the text and readings I found just happened to be based on these things.

3. Decide which components of the ceremony you want to include.
The best part about this is that you can really customize the rest to your liking.  Add things, cut things...it's all up to you!

-The Opening: A welcome, a please turn off your cellphones, a thank you to the guests for attending.  Kevin was a big stickler for adding in the part about "no iPads" since we had gone to a wedding a few months prior and there were people holding up giant iPads during the ceremony, which not only was super distracting but was also blocking other guests' views.

-The Address: This is when a message is shared with your guests, a speech from the officiant, sometimes including readings. In a church wedding this would be when the minister gives a sermon. If the officiant is a friend or family member, you may want them to tell a personal story about you and your partner or explain how you met. You might want the officiant to share a reading or song lyric, proverb, or religious reading. Depending on your officiant they may or may not write the address—Priests and Rabbis usually do, friends and family might want to, or might want to write it with you.  With us I had Adam start off with reading a story about how the two of us met, and then had him transition into some advice for the two of us that he would likely give (since he didn't want to write it himself).

-The Readings: The readings really are exactly what they sound like. You may want someone to read a poem, lyrics, a Bible passage, or even a webcomic. Your officiant will introduce the reader, the reader will stand or come up to the ceremony, and then proceed with the reading.  Kevin and I actually decided to forego the readings just because we couldn't find any text that we really liked and we couldn't make up our minds on who would do them.  (And in the end, no one cared.)

-The Expression of Intent: I am proceeding in caps because this is important: THIS IS THE ONLY PART OF THE WEDDING CEREMONY WHICH IS LEGALLY MANDATED. The expression of intent is when you and your partner are asked if you take this person to be your legally wedded partner, and you say, “I do,” or, “Hell yes!” or, “We do,” or “Yes, yes, a million times yes.” (A handfasting can legally take the place of the expression of intent.)

-The Vows: There are options with the vows. Your vows, you read them. Or your own vows, the officiant reads them, and you repeat them. You write them, or you don’t. Or you don’t do personal vows at all. Either way, having the previously mentioned thesis makes it much easier to either stick with the general theme of the ceremony or cover something outside the theme that you want included.

-The Ceremony of the Rings: The officiant speaks for a moment about the meaning of rings. It usually is along the lines of, “Rings are a circle which is eternal, as is love,” but varies with different religious and cultural contexts. Feel free to add to this explanation, or keep it super simple.

-The Ring Vows: This is when you present your partner with their ring. Most couples want to repeat after the officiant, as it’s hard to remember what you want to say when you’re up there getting married! You’ll place the ring on your partner’s finger and say something to the effect of, “With this ring I thee wed.” Again, you can get as creative as you like with the words to choose to say before you place the ring.

-The Pronouncement: Exactly what it sounds like, the officiant will pronounce you married!

-The Kiss: Pretty self-explanatory, don't you think?

4. Make it you!:  Remember this is YOUR wedding.  As long as you aren't making anyone uncomfortable or doing anything inappropriate, make your ceremony reflect the two of you.  And don't be afraid to do something different or unique!  For us it was including the Parental Blessing, the Tree Planting Ceremony, the Love Box, and a Conclusion.

For those of you who are in the process of putting together your own ceremony text and are looking for some ideas, please feel free to use excerpts from our wedding for inspiration:


Officiant: Hello and welcome, everybody!  Please be seated.  Each person here is an important part of Kevin and Stacey's circle of family and friends and they are so glad that you are here with them today.  Before we start I'd like to ask you all to make sure your cell phones, gaming devices, and iPads are all on silent and put away.
     We are here today to witness the exchange of vows between Kevin and Stacey, who especially on this day are a prime example of how happy two people can really be together.  They make being in a relationship look easy, and it's in that effortlessness where we can see how well suited they are for one another.  All of us are here to witness, celebrate, dance, laugh, eat, and be glad because these two have found their teammate and counterpart in each other.

Officiant:  Early in 2012 Kevin had graduated college and was in the middle of starting his career.  At the same time, Stacey was busy running around working two different jobs.  Despite their crazy schedules they both managed to find themselves on an online dating site called OkCupid.  While Kevin had been searching for love on the site for over a year, Stacey had only been signed on for a few weeks before the site matched them up (as a 99% match, no less).  Over the course of a month they sent messages back-and-forth, and it got to the point where they would log onto the site for the sole reason of checking to see if the other person was online.  After an impromptu first coffee-date, things escalated pretty quickly.  Fast-forward 11 months on a trip to Cancun, where Kevin got down on one knee and asked Stacey if she wanted to make all of their big dreams a reality.  Clearly her answer is evidenced by the fact that we are here today.

     Now guys, it’s time for me to provide you with a little bit of advice from someone who’s been around the block before.  From here on out, you and your spouse will now be a team of two. It is you against the world. No one else is allowed on the team, and no one else will ever understand the team’s rules. This is okay. The team is not adversarial, the team does not tear its members down, the team does not sabotage the team’s success. Teammates work constantly to help and better their teammates. Loyalty means you put the other person in your marriage first all the time, and you let them put you first. Loyalty means subverting your whims or desires of the moment to better meet your spouse’s whims or desires, with the full understanding and expectation that they will be doing the same. This is the heart of everything, and it is a tricky balance. Sometimes it sways one way and some the other. Sometimes he gets to be crazy, sometimes it’s your turn. Sometimes she’s in the spotlight, sometimes you. Ups and downs, ultimately, don’t matter because the team endures.

Parental Blessing

Officiant: This wedding is also a celebration of family. It is the blending of two families, the Fitzsimons’s and the Soden’s, separate up to this moment, but united from this day forward -- combining their different traditions and strengthening their family tree. To honor the uniting of their families, Stacey and Kevin wish to ask for their parents' blessing.

Officiant (to Bride's parents): Chris and Mary, do you offer this couple your goodwill? Do you welcome Kevin as a member of your family and promise to give him your love, beer and affection?

Parents: We do.

Officiant (to Groom's parents):  John and Brenda, do you offer this couple your goodwill? Do you welcome Stacey as a member of your family and promise to give her your love, wine and affection?

Parents: We do.

Tree Planting Ceremony

Officiant: The Bride and Groom will now take part in a Unity Tree Planting Ceremony to symbolize the roots of their relationship and the start of a new beginning as they become each other’s family today.  Kevin and Stacey, today you stand here ready to share the rest of your lives together as a married couple. But long before today your parents provided you with a foundation of love and support which has brought you to this point. Kevin and Stacey, would you please plant the sapling?
(Bride and groom plant the sapling)
Officiant (while we are planting the tree): The dirt that they are using is from both of their parents homes and represents their individual families becoming one.

The Love Box

Officiant: Like good wine, a great love will deepen and mature with age.  As a part of today’s ceremony, Kevin and Stacey have captured their thoughts leading up to this day in personal notes to each other.  These notes will now be enclosed in this box.  Should Kevin and Stacey ever find their marriage facing tough times, they will open this box, sit, and drink the wine together, then read the letters they wrote to one another to be reminded of the reasons why they made this commitment today. The hope is, however, that Kevin and Stacey will never have a reason to open this box. And if this is the case, they are to open this box to share and enjoy on their 5th year wedding anniversary, replenish and open on their 10th anniversary, and so on.  Stacey and Kevin will now nail the box shut to prevent them from just drinking the wine on a random day when they’re thirsty.


Officiant: Kevin and Stacey: you have known each other from the first glance of acquaintance to this point of commitment. At some point, you decided it would be a good idea to get married.  From that moment of “yes” to this moment of “yes”, you have been making promises and agreements in a casual way. All those conversations you had riding in a car or over a meal or during long walks — all those sentences that started with "When we're married" and continued with "I will and you will and we will"- those late night talks that included "someday" and "somehow" and "maybe"- all these common things are the real process of a wedding. The vows that you are about to make are a way of saying to one another, "You know all those things we've promised and hoped and dreamed- well, I meant it all, every word."

     The vows that Kevin and Stacey are about to make reflect their understanding of life’s ever-changing circumstances.  Life does not always go where we plan and no matter how much arranging is done, sometimes, you just have to wing it. After you speak these words, things will never quite be the same between you. For after these vows, you will say to the world, this – (point to Kevin) is my husband, this (point to Stacey) - is my wife.  Kevin and Stacey have written their own vows.

Kevin: (read vows)

Stacey: (read vows)

Expression of Intent

Officiant: Kevin and Stacey, please join hands.  Now Kevin, with your promises to Stacey in mind, do you take Stacey to be your partner for life?  Do you promise to walk by her side forever, and to love, help, and encourage her in all she does?  Do you promise to take time to talk with her, to listen to her, and to care for her?  Will you share her laughter, and her tears, as her partner, lover, and best friend?  Do you take her as your lawfully wedded wife for now and forever?  If so, respond “I Do.”

Kevin: I do.

Officiant: Stacey, with your promises to Kevin in mind, do you take Kevin to be your partner for life?  Do you promise to walk by his side forever, and to love, help, and encourage him in all he does?  Do you promise to take time to talk with him, to listen to him, and to care for him?  Will you share his laughter, and his tears, as his partner, lover and best friend?  Do you take him as your lawfully wedded husband for now and forever?  If so, respond “I Do.”

Stacey: I do.

Ceremony of the Rings

Officiant: May I have the rings, please?  Kevin and Stacey, these rings are an external and visible sign of the internal bond which unites the two of you. May they serve as a seal of the vows you have made to one another.

The Ring Vows

Kevin, as you place this ring on Stacey’s finger, repeat after me:
Stacey, I give you this ring, as a daily reminder of my love for you.
Stacey, as you place this ring on Kevin’s finger, repeat after me:
Kevin, I give you this ring, as a daily reminder of my love for you.


Officiant: Before I pronounce you husband and wife, I have just one more thing I want you to do.  Your wedding day is one that seems to fly.  It’s a day filled with emotion, friends, family, pictures, and dancing.  Many people remember fast their own wedding day flew by.  So I want you to take a few seconds to look into each other’s eyes.  Think about the happiness that you’re feeling in this place, in this moment.  Really let that feeling register in your heart and your mind.  Now, I want you to think about your life together in twenty years.  We all know that your visions of the future are not identical, but always complimentary.  John Lennon once said, “A dream you dream alone is only a dream.  A dream you dream together, THAT is a reality.”  That new reality starts now.

Pronouncement and Kiss

Officiant: Kevin and Stacey, on behalf of all those present I pronounce you husband and wife.  Kevin, you may now kiss your bride.

As you can tell from reading our ceremony, in addition to having a friend officiate we also had a few other unique "traditions" that we included.  Rather than having a unity candle or a sand pouring as part of our ceremony we opted to plant a tree instead. 

tree planting wedding ceremony
Recognize that desk?  It was from the first post on this blog!

tree planting wedding ceremony
Our jars contained dirt from our parents homes.

tree planting wedding ceremony

Another unique element we included in our wedding ceremony was the "Love Box" (or as Kevin likes to call it, the "Bitch be Cool" box).  Before the ceremony we put the bottle of wine and love notes inside, and during the ceremony we nailed it shut.  (Thank God my mom suggested that I pre-nail some holes!)  We found the box for $3 at Goodwill.  I sanded it, stained it, and hand-painted the design on the top with white acrylic paint.  (I wish I could say I dreamed up this design on my own, but it was actually inspired by this image on Green Wedding Shoes)

Wedding first fight box

love box wedding ceremony

The last non-traditional thing we included in our wedding actually occurred during our reception.  For the bouquet/garter toss, to entice our guests to get them on the dance floor we offered up bottles of booze as prizes for the winners! (a bottle of Captain Morgan for the guy and a bottle of Rumchata for the girl.)  And instead of the winners sharing a dance together, they had to take a shot together instead!  This was a HUGE hit and was definitely one of the more memorable parts of the evening.

garter bouquet toss

Looking back on all of the not-so-traditional twists we added to our wedding day, I'm so glad we went with our gut and included things that felt natural to us.  Not only did it make our day more genuine, but it also made it more memorable.  Cheers to bucking tradition!


  1. this was really helpful. thanks!

  2. I love this! I really appreciate you sharing!

  3. Love this!! My fiance and I are planning a casual, non-religious ceremony that his friend is officiating and this format is going help SO much!

  4. i would have loved to read your vows since the rest was worded so great!

  5. Thanks so much for sharing. Really needed help with non-traditional ceremony ideas without losing the meaning of the event. Beautifully written.

  6. This was beautiful! Thank you for sharing!

  7. I really liked these tips in making ceremony a memorable. Will surely use them for arranging my son’s wedding ceremony at one of New York wedding venues. Thank you for sharing these tips here. They are quite helpful for me.

  8. the City of New York, it is with great pleasure that I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss each other.” And we did. 360

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  10. We really wanted a non traditional ceremony that felt like us too, and I really struggled to find an inclusive ritual that all our friends and families could take part in and finally settled on a network weaving ritual. Basically we ended the ceremony with a huge yarn ball fight! It was just super fun and made for great photo ops! I blogged about it recently here if anyone wants to check it out: https://www.glitchesandstitches.com/blog/diy-wedding-yarn-bomb

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