Many couples are moved to write their own wedding ceremony — either because they aren't comfortable with the traditional ones, they don't belong to a tradition that has a ceremony, or they just want to create something unique that expresses their love and commitment. To help you create a design of your own, I'm presenting the basics of wedding/commitment celebrations here to use as a guideline.
Because this is the beginning of a tradition that can be very important in your lives, I encourage you to think and talk it through carefully with consideration for both of your wants.
Of course, if you have a strong religious affiliation, you'll have a minister, who will most likely have a favorite ceremony to use. Still, whenever you're using the services of a professional, it's good to be informed and know what your options are. Many clergy welcome your participation in designing your own ceremony.
Legal issues vary from state to state, so check out what's required for a marriage license if you want legal sanction. If that's not important to you, you can have a wedding without a license. If you have a church tradition, it's possible to have the wedding sanctioned by the religion without being sanctioned by the state. If you choose to go the legal route, understand that you'll need a witness for the license and register the signed license after the ceremony is done, before the state will recognize that you're married.
Parts of the Ceremony
The details of marriage ceremonies vary widely from tradition to tradition. However, most include the same basic parts: Salutation, Declaration of Consent, Giving Away, Exchange of Vows, Exchange of Tokens, Communion, Charge, Prayer or Affirmation, Kiss, Blessing, and Presentation.
Music can be added anywhere, and of course, there are many decisions to be made about how to enter and leave the celebration.
Salutation: Traditionally, this is the, "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today..." part. It begins the formal ceremony with a statement of purpose explaining your commitment, your decision to formalize it, and the importance of having friends present.
It's a very brief history of your commitment and what led you here. A few sentences are enough. It usually is done by the minister, but you can choose to say it yourself, or ask a friend. To design it yourself, choose a favorite poem or quote that expresses your feelings about the day and recite it together, or invite a friend to do it. Or you might choose to have someone sing an appropriate song.
Giving Away: Traditionally, the giving away includes the question, "Who gives this woman?" Obviously sexist and outmoded, it nevertheless has great potential. I think the true purpose of this part is to acknowledge that a new family unit is being formed and to establish its relationship to the extended family.
You can have one person act as spokesperson for each family and welcome the new member in. Or, have the extended family rise at this point, and pledge (with a chorus of "I will") to support and encourage the pledging couple. The presider can ask the question, "Will you welcome the creation of this new unit within your family?" Or you can write a simple, "repeat after me..." pledge for the family to recite.
The Declaration of Consent: Traditionally, this is the question, 'Will you take this person to be..." and the "forsaking all others" part to which the couple traditionally answers "I will." It is the formal agreement to go on with the ceremony. Here is an important place to make sure what you promise feels right to you.
Today, many couples incorporate this part into the vows and omit it here. If you leave it here, your presider asks the question.
Exchange of Vows: I consider this the heart of the ritual, and believe that most of your attention needs to be focused here. Either your presider can ask each of you, "Will you promise to..." or you can just say, "I promise to..." to each other.
A note about vows — most of us faced with making vows or promises about important life issues, immediately get nervous and doubt whether we can live up to the promises. As soon as we contemplate promising to be monogamous, we begin to notice every attractive person around. If we promise to love, honor and cherish; all our hateful, irritable and thoughtless behavior surfaces immediately. The reason many people feel "trapped" in commitment is that it is difficult to back out of vows such as this. If you have done the ceremony without proper preparation and discussion, you can feel "trapped" in something you don't like. However, with forethought and discussion, you can build a mutual definition of your commitment, and your celebration can help you stay focused, successful and motivated within it.
Every commitment has difficult implications that must be handled in order to experience its benefits. When you're contemplating your vows and fear comes up, recognize that it's right and appropriate. Don't panic; just discuss it with each other. Make sure your vows are within your reach. Don't overwhelm yourself with promises to be super-human.
Here are some steps for creating marriage vows together. Hopefully, you have already discussed the purpose of your relationship, and reasons for a ceremony, so you are well on your way to creating your own vows.
- Separately, search through your Facebook pages, Pinterest, Instagram, love letters and greeting cards, and the Internet for quotes, prayers, poems and/or song lyrics that seem to express how you feel about your relationship, love in general, your commitment, and the importance of the ceremony. Take a few days or even a couple of weeks to do this. If you are familiar with church liturgy, or love to read, this will be fairly easy. If not, it may take longer. Or, you can simply write a short statement, (a few sentences) about your feelings.
- Together, sort and sift through your findings. Edit it down until you have a few sentences you can agree on (or two separate short statements, one from each of you.) Consider creating a shared vow that can become an affirmation you'll repeat to each other throughout your lives together.
- Review your completed vows with your presider or minister to see if she or he is comfortable helping you make them. If not, discuss the differences and revise the vows, or arrange for a different presider.
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