Outside of a Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, or other Orthodox religious wedding ceremony (which are rather lengthy with all the traditions each religion requires for a proper marriage ceremony), your typical non-religious ceremony can be rather short in comparison.
Once the bride is down the aisle, the ceremony will start with a brief opening that will thank the guests for attending and perhaps reminding them that cellphones are prohibited. After that, your ceremony can take its own route. You could go straight into readings from the Bible or favorite bits of poetry, or your officiate can begin with his speech. Then, the Expression of Intent, which is the only part of the ceremony that is actually legally mandated, will give you the opportunity to say your I Do’s and begin your wedding vows. Some couples choose the do the vows first, and then the Expression of Intent. It’s truly your choice, unless your officiate is very strict about how they perform the ceremonies. Then, it’s just the kiss and announcement of the new Mr and Mrs, and back down the aisle you go.
This ceremony, without any additional songs or traditions will only take about 20 minutes out of your wedding day, and that’s if the officiate speaks slowly and is long winded. In my years as a wedding photographer, I’ve seen all sorts of different ceremony traditions that could be incorporated into any religious and non-religious ceremony.
The Foot Washing
In John 13:1-17 of The Bible, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples at The Last Supper.
While I don’t recommend washing the feet of all your wedding guests (let them get their own pedicures!), I have seen a very emotional foot washing performed by the bride and groom for one another during their ceremony. It was so sweet to see the groom lovingly remove the bride’s high heel shoe and poor water from a glass carafe over her feet and into a rustic metal water basin. After he patted her dainty foot dry and replaced her shoe, which she had marked the proper hole for him to know where the buckle should go, the bride removed his shoe and sock and repeated the steps. They were accompanied by their marital sponsors from their church, who prayed over them through the whole process. It was absolutely beautiful.
The Unity Candle
This is one of the more common wedding traditions, as it doesn’t have as much of a religious component to the tradition. The Unity Candle symbolizes the merging to two lives, or two families, into on single unit. In some ceremonies, the mothers of the couple light one of the single pillar candles to symbolize their own side of the family. Sometimes these candles are lit with any other candles on the altar, for reasons including the lack of one or both mothers due to death, illness, or family feud, or perhaps the couple couldn’t convince them to walk up to the altar. I’ve also seen multiple pillar candles used during a Unity Candle ceremony, where the pillars represented children being brought into the family through the marriage. In this instance, those whom the candles represent also came up to the altar to assist in the lighting of the main candle.
The “Sand Art” Tradition
I don’t really know what else to call this tradition. It’s something about our generation, we just have to incorporate aspects of our childhood into our everyday lives. So, why not sand art for a wedding? Don’t take my tone as a dislike for the tradition, I actually really like what it symbolizes. When you merge two different colors of sand together, there is absolutely no way you could separate each grain back into the individual colors without taking a lot of time and effort. This is the same for married people, once they are merged, it really is difficult to separate themselves from one another without a lot of work. And if you’re going to work that hard a separating from someone, perhaps you should take the same amount of effort to keep all your grains together in the first place. It’s really deep, when you think about it. On a lighter note, colorful sand can be found pretty much anywhere these days. If you’re a David’s Bridal bride, you will be happy to know they have sand to match the colors of the bridesmaid dresses.
The First Fight Box
This tradition, I believe, is relatively new. The concept is simple – write love notes to each other and stick those in the box with a bottle of wine, or whatever it is that calms you both down, into a wooden box. During the ceremony or the reception, the couple brings out the box and tells the guests why it exists. If either person reaches out in a moment of marital stress to anyone in attendance, that guest can remind them of the box. If things are so bad that you need to remind each other why it is that you got married in the first place, break out the box, read the notes, and get wine drunk together. Nail the box shut while the guests watch, and put it away when you get home. Hopefully, you’ll find it again sometime around your 50th anniversary. If you do, break it open, have a laugh, and a glass of some nicely aged wine.
Jumping the Broom
According to the African American Registry, the tradition originates in Ghana and was brought over to the Americas during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in the 18th century. The tradition was continued but eventually faded after Emancipation, but regained popularity African American communities after the 1976 publication of Alex Haley’s novel, “Roots.” The tradition began with wedding guests waving brooms over the heads of the newlyweds to keep evil spirits at bay. Actually jumping over the broom was meant to symbolize the bride’s commitment to her new family, while the person who jumps the highest over the broom will be deemed the Head of the Household.
While I’ve seen the tradition performed at a few Black weddings, I have seen variations performed in Wiccan weddings. According to Pagan & Wiccan Weddings & Handfastings, the broom is meant to represent the threshold of the home, jumping together symbolizes entering that new home together.
“Many witches, wiccans and pagans are already familiar with the usage of the broom as a symbolic way of sweeping out old energies and clearing away negativity. This is also a great usage of it in a wedding, and helps the couple to come together with a ‘clean slate’.” – Pagan & Wiccan Weddings & Handfastings
I don’t think I could have said that any better, myself.