Secular Ceremony Round-Up

In the past few weeks, I wrote a piece about finding a way to make a traditional wedding service personal, and Rachel (DDay, in the comments) wrote a piece about crafting a non-traditional service. After that post, we asked you to contribute your best tips and tricks on secular and/or non-traditional services. Today Rachel is back, summing at all up, and trying to create a Secular Wedding Resource for all of us.

After those posts, Kristina of Lovely Morning and 100 Layer Cake wrote me a really lovely and spontaneous email about their secular wedding service. She called it, “one of my very favorite parts of the entire day, complete with hummingbirds chasing each other in the flowers as the sun was going down,” and expressed her wish that everyone get to have that experience. So today we take a shot at that. Because when we collectively pull up our chairs around you before you say your vows, we’re there for you. We want the purest expression of who you are: religious, non-religious, traditional, non-traditional. We want to “one of the lucky ones who stood in the middle of nowhere, right next to neverland, and witnessed the declaration of real love.” So let us join you there. And with that, I bring you Rachel (with some notes from me):

A little while back, Meg wrote about “traditional” ceremonies, and then I wrote about “non-traditional” ceremonies. I think we could just call them religious and secular, because traditional doesn’t really cover it, since we all may define the term differently. My wedding was secular, but was not without tradition. But I think if we can get away from semantics, we can get down to what’s important – creating meaningful wedding ceremonies, no matter what your background is. With that, the following is my attempt to sum up all the great advice offered in the comments, for a proper Secular Wedding Resource.

THE best piece of advice I saw in the comments was from Caitlin, who said, among other smart things, “Before you write a ceremony from scratch, I think you need to figure out what you believe about marriage fundamentally. That has to be your foundation…” And that really resonated with me because honestly, I think we sort of figured that out as we went along, and some of our struggle with finding the right pieces to put together might have been avoided if we had sat down first and really thought about how we define marriage and what it means to us. We did that, sort of, but maybe not with exactly that sense of purpose.

Once you have that foundation, I think we can all agree that the main thing is to find a great officiant. And “great officiant” can mean many things – if you’re a great writer, you don’t need an officiant to be a great writer, you need an officiant who is a good public speaker and will let you write the ceremony yourself. If writing is not your bag and you have no clue what to do, that’s when you need an experienced officiant to guide you. Something I think is universally applicable: the person who performs your ceremony should be a person you trust to do what you’ve asked them to do (whether they are a hired officiant or a friend/family member); someone who is fully on board with the type of ceremony you want, who will guide you and help you stay present through the service; and someone who will not take this opportunity to promote their own agenda to your captive audience.

And in that spirit, here is my list of the very best tips and tricks given in the comments:


  • First, figure out what you believe about marriage fundamentally. This has to be your foundation, and then when you wade through the insane amount of books/suggestions/google results, you will at least know what to use when/if you see it.
  • The risk of having something that is very unfamiliar to guests is going to always be less of a risk than having a ceremony that is untrue to who you both are as a couple.
  • When you see a craigslist ad that reads something like, “I do biker weddings. Large weddings. Outdoor weddings.”  Go for it!
  • Don’t be afraid to incorporate group singing (Editors note: we did it! And we made them all sing a song they didn’t know in HEBREW! It was great. Do it.) Just because you’re not doing hymns doesn’t mean it’s not going to work or feel meaningful. You can make it easier on your guests by providing the songs in advance and/or printing lyrics in the programs. (Editors note: All you really need is a song leader and lyrics, I swear!)
  • Don’t be afraid to lighten the mood.
  • If you want to ask your guests to stand up and give a blessing or a say something impromptu during the ceremony – cheat, and don’t make it 100% impromptu. Ask one or two people ahead of time if they’d like to prepare something to say. While they are speaking, others may find the courage to take their turn. If nobody does, at least you had one or two stand up.
  • If you are inspired by Unitarian or Quaker services, or use wording or traditions that were previously unfamiliar to you, do your research and make sure you know what you’re using, and you know what it means to use it. Example: the “Apache Wedding Blessing” is a beautiful sentiment, no shame in using it as long as you note its source (and maybe change the name of it to “Blessing From the Movie Broken Arrow” or something like that).
  • If some part of the structure isn’t working for you, you don’t have to make it work. Don’t be afraid to throw things out.


Find the right officiant! Interview a few candidates, and ask them questions like:

  • What was your favorite wedding ceremony you’ve performed?
  • What is your stance on Marriage Equality?
  • What do you wear when you perform a wedding? (Editors note: you wouldn’t think you needed to ask this, but, um, you might. I’ve seen some shocking lapses of… professionalism? Taste? That clearly surprised the couple at the non-altar. Fun!)
  • It’s helpful to come prepared with at least a few aspects of your ceremony that are important to you, then make sure the officiant is on board. Don’t be afraid to make specific requests up front.

But more than all that, here is what you want to know for sure: do you like your officiant? If you think it’s important to like your photographer, you should multiply that by a thousand for your officiant. Spend some time chatting with them. See if you’re philosophically more-or-less on the same page. See if they are socially comfortable enough to make small talk (because yes, you need this skill if you’re leading a wedding). See if they are a warm person. See if they make racist jokes (Editors note: this is totally a true story I heard about an officiant interview gone wrong). See if they’ll take the time to get to know you. See if you LIKE them. This person is presiding over an important moment of your life, you should trust them on a gut level.

Hopefully, with the above things figured out, the rest will be easy-peasy. Below are some helpful links and tips for filling in any gaps. (If you’re still on the hunt for readings, you’ll want to check out the archives for Amanda of First Milk’s amazing Words to Read When You Wed series, and all the comments – Water, WineAshes, TeaOlives, Leaves. Or, you know, just go to Dilemmas: The Ceremony and have a ball)

Reading Materials, For Extra Credit:

The Wedding Ceremony Planner: The Essential Guide to the Most Important Part of Your Wedding Day

The New Jewish Wedding by Anita Diamant

PDF – Unitarian Wedding Ceremony Booklet (yeah Canada!)

Write Your Own Ceremony E-Kit

Picture by Melissa Dunstan Photography, from this wedding

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  • Sooz

    Alas, not all of us get to choose the officiant. We will end up with whoever is on shift at the Registry Office on the day of the wedding. Stupid UK wedding system…

    (insert rant on UK wedding bureaucracy here)


    • Someone

      Rant continued…

      and they have to say that bit about marriage being between one man and one woman

      …end UK rant.

      • Sooz

        Do they??? Crap! i didn’t know that. (mutter mutter grumble)


      • Carreg

        Re the between one man and one woman thing: oh dear. I was dreading asking whether there was any possibility of that being left out. I think I might ask _anyway_ even though I now know the answer (thanks) to make the point. They’re bureaucrats, you’re suppose to wind them up. I gather there is some possibility of the law being changed — those of us who voted lib dem weren’t totally wasting our time.

        Actually not so averse to the British system in general really. I’m not sure if I’d want my wedding to be so unique that it was unrecognisable. I don’t mind mucking in with everyone else. Of course if the officiant I end up with is horrible I may change my mind. But in general it doesn’t really matter, does it? Whoever it is is just representing the government slapping a seal of approval on the marriage. If they would only see their way to slapping the same seal of approval on same-sex marriages I’d have no complaints.

        Anyway, my future parents in law were married in a registry office (on a week day, because the registrars were on strike at the weekend) and it worked for them!

      • Sophia

        They have to do this in Australia, too. It’s awful.

    • tegan

      Yeah…or I live in the middle of nowhere in the US….only secular officiant is a justice of the peace. Really sucks…

      • just FYI: our officiant was ordained online… not sure if that’s an option for your situation, but maybe a close friend/family member would be willing to do that?

        • Just a tip for those getting a friend or family member ordained online, make sure you call the city/county you are marrying in to make sure they recognize your officiant’s ordainedness (totally just made that up). Fortunately we remembered to call the courthouse ahead of time, but I can only imagine the upset after finding out the officiant wasn’t legally allowed to marry you.

          • Liz

            but wouldn’t it make a great story!

          • sparkleparty

            This just happened to friends of friends. They were married in B.C., Canada and found out days later that weren’t legally married by their officiant. She kinda blew them off too, saying “at least you are married spiritually”. So now, they’ve decided to be married legally, by Elvis, in Vegas. That will make a pretty awesome story.

        • Tally

          Just double-check that it will be legally recognized in your state because I know in North Carolina, officiants that were ordained online through the Universal Life Church aren’t legally able to perform weddings. But I think there are other routes to becoming ordained online.

  • amanda

    “Don’t be afraid to incorporate group singingEditors note: we did it! And we made them all sing a song they didn’t know in HEBREW! It was great. Do it.)”
    Totally ! We got married in Holland, but our priest was super nice and learnt the alleluyah in Spanish, the typical way we used to sing it at school and directed the pianist and choir ! It was really meaningful !
    Also, when we met him right away there was a click, he was funny, outgoing, but also deep .
    Though our marriage was religious , I think this applies to everyone whether a secular or religious wedding. !
    Nice post.

  • Oh APW, you get me. I already got married and I enjoyed reading this!

  • Thanks Meg and Rachel! This is bookmarked for examination by us and our friend officiant. This is the part I’m most excited for and most terrified of.

  • Finding an officiant is the task that totally overwhelms me. We want the ceremony to be meaningful and the officiant to reflect the “bigness” of our love and commitment but we’re also atheists; and not the “spiritual type” (nothing wrong if you are, we just aren’t) and we have no ethnic community or tradition from which to draw. It’s the only thing that stresses me out (about the wedding that is, lots of other things stress me out).

    • ddayporter

      we found pretty helpful in finding officiants – not sure where you are located but they had a pretty robust list of officiants for the DC area, most with lots of reviews from actual couples they married.

      • Thanks for the suggestion. I don’t think Wedding Wire has Canadian resources, but maybe I can find something similar for my area.

        • You might also look into asking a friend to do it for you; I’m not versed in Canadian beauracracy but in Massachusetts for $25 and an application, our good friend was able to be a Justice of the Peace for just our wedding day. He did a fantastic job and it was exactly what we wanted.

          • Jess

            Unfortunately, It’s not possible for a friend to become a legal officiant in Canada. I wish!
            They have to be an ordained member of an acknowledged religious, or humanist group, I think.
            (but maybe don’t quote me on the specifics)

          • Or just put feelers out, let people you know know that you’re looking for a great officiant. Your friends might know someone you don’t! We’re having a good friend’s mum officiate, and she is amazing, but we would never have found her through standard searching because she doesn’t really advertise like that.

          • Rachel L.

            Actually, in Canada you can also use a Justice of the Peace. Also, as long as you have an officiant there, ANYONE can marry you (say the lines with the Justice person witnessing), they just can’t sign the legal document as anything but a witness. My friends did this for their wedding and had one of their friends “marry” them. It was neat!

        • ddayporter

          hmm yeah maybe google “canadian [or insert province] humanist [or celebrants]” and see if any organizations pop up.

          • Good point about the humanist officiant! Thanks for the suggestions everyone!

  • Haha! Ok. I just want to stress Meg’s tip #6. We did an impromptu thing and didn’t ask anyone to have anything prepared. We figured people would want to share. WRONG! No one shared. It was crickets, people. Crickets. Fortunately, we had a great officiant (my bff) and she improvised a little something and shared her role in how I met my husband. It was hilarious and a little embarrassing. Ok. A lot embarrassing! After the ceremony we had close to 10 people stop us to say they wish they had known about the spontaneous sharing. They did get to share their words with us after the ceremony which was nice, but man… I wish I could have seen my own face when no one spoke up. BURN!

    Thank god I can laugh about it now! Haha!

    • Aww, you’re so cute. Definitely a good tip. Maybe I’ll announce it at the beginning of the ceremony so people can work on what they want to say and not listen to a thing our officiant says?

      • meg

        HAVE RINGERS. Announcing at the beginning of the ceremony isn’t going to be enough. Seriously.

        • Definitely. At the very least, arrange with one person to be the first volunteer — even if people have planned out what they want to say, in a group event, people tend to be self-conscious about going first. I’d even suggest having said ringer be someone who is not close family or in the bridal party, or having a second ringer if you know your mother will have the perfect thing to say to kick it off, so that people feel comfortable that it really is open. (We didn’t do anything like this at our wedding, but the same dynamic shows up at everything from funerals to farewell parties at the office.)

          • We announced the opening sharing time on our wedsite and in a pre-wedding email so that people would have time to think about it and prepare. My risk-averse lawyer husband suspected that people wouldn’t spontaneously stand up and say things without a bit of warning, and I think he was right. We didn’t appoint a ringer to lead off, but I had warned my brothers about this open mic time, and asked them to be ready if no one stood up. Fortunately, a bunch of people had things to say…. unfortunately, I remember none of it!

  • Meg, your ability to get your guests to sing in Hebrew is really reassuring to me. I’ve been toying with the idea of having a song in Latin and this makes me feel brave enough to try it!

    Great post, Rachel!

    • Oooh, do the Latin!! I want to hear about that!!

    • meg

      You just need a song leader, old-school church or cantor (sorry, religion is good at some stuff!) style. Our friend who’s a rabbinical student lead things, like she was a cantor. Ie, she taught them the tune on lie-lie-lies, then sang the first verse, then sang it again, asking them to mutter along. They knew the drill even if they didn’t know the music ;)

  • LeahIsMyName

    I think that tip number one is the most important of them all. I think that in the whip-smart APW community, no one would even think of parroting words/vows that they didn’t fully believe, or that they hadn’t thought about. Every word in our ceremony is important to us.

    But I had a weird exchange with our officiant after I’d basically scripted a ceremony for her to read for us (she’s not a writer, turns out*). I sort of apologized for my obsessive attention to words and details and she wrote back to say she wasn’t offended at all, but that she’d never had a bride who cared so much about words. (!!!!!!) I couldn’t believe that a person who’s been performing weddings in four states for five years (I think) had never had a couple who cared about words.

    *I didn’t have much choice, since I’m not religious and I’m not getting married locally. We’re getting married in my hometown, where I haven’t lived in more than ten years. So this was all long distance/online.

    • Liz

      i agree! tip #1 is HUGE even if you ARE opting for a traditional ceremony.

    • Jess

      I WISH I’d had this information when we met with our first Rabbi last night! I felt underprepared, and this would have been an enormous help.

      Just some quick background: FH is Jewish, I am not. We are both spiritual but not religious, and getting married ‘by the power of the courts of British Colombia’, with no mention of God, doesn’t feel right. So, we are attempting an interfaith wedding BUT there are only two Rabbi’s in Vancouver who will do this – which makes our options pretty limited.

      I love the Jewish wedding traditions, and I know they would be meaningful to my FH… but I don’t want to strip away the things that make us unique (like our love of words). So, I was a little concerned when the Rabbi told us that she won’t read anything pre-scripted, and prefers to work extemporaneously. I don’t mind this style in principal, but I don’t know her nearly well enough to know if she has the eloquence to pull this off, or if I can trust her to reflect our values in her statements. I think we could work around it… but it’s hard to know after only one meeting. For instance, I asked if she would be open to us writing some text for our Ketubah and vows…both my FH and I are writers, so that is where we shine. Plus, this is a way in which I feel my background could be reflected in the ceremony, as well as his. She told us that we could send them to her and she would work on them with us until we found something that we all agree on. Which makes good sense, but part of me is wary at the idea of a stranger editing our vows. I guess that’s because we haven’t had the opportunity to build trust yet… but it feels like we need to sign a contract before we will have that opportunity! Also, she didn’t mention anything about marriage counseling, and I forgot to ask. Is this because it is an interfaith wedding?

      I totally agree that point #1 is most important…. but I’m becoming afraid that it will be impossible for our wedding to reflect the things we believe about marriage while still acknowledging the role of faith in our lives.

  • bts

    If you have a friend/family member serve as your officiant (if they get ordained on the internet for the ceremony or something) and they have not done many weddings before, be sure to do your homework and give them lots of help. Not everyone is a natural at this.

    One pitfall I’ve seen at a few weddings is this: when the bride comes in, everyone stands up and watches her come in, and then the officiant just launches into the ceremony without telling everyone to sit down and the guests sort of look at each other uncomfortably wondering if they’re supposed to sit down or remain standing and no one in the back can see and people remain standing the whole time or half the people sit down somewhere in the middle of the ceremony. It isn’t a big deal and it doesn’t ruin the wedding or anything, but it’s a little bit awkward, and could easily be fixed if you write a line like “please be seated” into the beginning part of the ceremony.

    So, yeah, totally pay attention to meaningfulness, but also, logistics.

    • meg

      This happened at a wedding we were at with a paid officiant. In that case I was more bummed that she ORDERED us to stand before the bride arrived. Because one of the emotional moments for weddings for me is everyone spontaneously rising and turning towards the bride. Maybe it’s because it echo’s the bride of Shabbat stuff we do every Friday, but it gets me EVERY TIME.

      • Alyssa

        I went to a wedding where NOBODY stood. Like she came in, and I started to stand, and then nobody else stood up and another Aggie wife and I were making eye contact like, “Do we stand? We’re supposed to stand right? WHY IS NO ONE STANDING??” By the time we made the decision, she was already way past us and it was too late.

        I still really regret it and at the reception the other girl and I went up and apologized to the bride and she was like, “Oh, nobody stood up?” She was so into the moment that she had no idea and was totally okay with it.

        But that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to not stand. I will never do that again….

        • Liz

          oh, alyssa. i’ve been THAT girl. the one standing while everyone else sits, glaring at everyone “stand, dammit!” til it starts to spread.

          • Alyssa

            I am SO going to be that girl next time around.

        • And then in some religious traditions (including the one I grew up in), everyone’s supposed to stand for the entire processional starting with the entrance of the clergy, crucifer, etc., so they’re already standing when the bride comes in instead of standing up specifically for her. I remember being a little surprised the first time I was at a wedding that people stood up when the bride entered, just because I didn’t realize that was a thing. Though of course I stood up when other people did, because how else are you going to see anything when everyone else is standing?

          I vaguely seem to remember Miss Manners being anti-standing for the bride, though I don’t remember why — I think because unlike standing for a priest, or for a judge in the courtroom, to acknowledge who/what they represent (I think that’s why the custom of standing exists??), a bride is representing herself only and not some higher power/authority? Regardless of what Miss M says, I think this may be one of the customs that so pervasive that if a bride *doesn’t* want people to stand, there may need to be some sort of explicit announcement, or a less familiar way of kicking things off than with a traditional processional.

          Which, to bring myself back to the topic at hand, could be another thing to keep in mind when crafting a ceremony — if something closely resembles a tradition most of your guests are accustomed to, they are likely to behave in ways that they are accustomed to, so if there is something you don’t want your guests to do, you may have more success not ringing that bell for Pavlov’s dogs, and avoiding anything that resembles bell-ringing, than in telling them not to drool. (Although I can’t think of any specific examples other than standing for the bride’s entrance at the moment!)

          • meg

            I don’t remember Miss Manners saying anything on the subject, but that is going to be one of those religious and cultural differences (with lots of overlap). Rising for the bride is done at Jewish weddings, always, always, it’s a moment that reminds you of rising for the bride of Shabbat. But in Judaism, the bride is actually given special powers. Not like, the magic princess day powers, but the ear of God. Which is beautiful, but I’m off topic again.

            But! True. At one point I told David that maybe we should recess out to something other than everyone singing Siman Tov u’Mazel Tov, and he said, and I quote, “Good luck.”And he was right. If we’d tried to stop the force of that train coming down the tracks, we would have ended with some weird half singing and then a bunch of sad faces. If we’d really wanted to not do it, we would have had to skip the breaking glass so as to not cue them, or order people to do something else. For me, it wouldn’t have been worth it (it was how they celebrate!)

            So, if you’re doing things that are non-traditional, tell people what’s expected of them. And realize that if you tell people “Don’t” over and over, they’ll start to be reticent to do anything, because they will feel so out of their element and afraid to offend you. So give lots of “do’s” instead, and don’t ring the bell if you don’t want drooly dogs ;)

          • sparkleparty

            I’m pretty sure this is the reason why our guests spontaneously clapped anytime there was silence during our secular ceremony. They didn’t have the cues they were used to from religious ceremonies and really wanted to participate and show appreciation, so they clapped. A lot. Oh, and then there was my dad, sitting in the front row, who thanked everyone rather loudly after they spoke (the officiant, readers, etc). It was very endearing, but I don’t think he would have done the same in a church.

        • Heather L

          Alyssa….Aggie? Like Texas A&M? Or is there another meaning I’m unaware of?

          • meg

            Yes. Like A&M. Girlfriend lives in DALLAS, silly.

          • Alyssa

            Yup, hubby is an Aggie and I’m an Aggie wife whether I want to be or not…it’s actually kinda fun, there are songs and hand movements and evreything. Like camp, but with football and beer.

          • Actually UC Davis has Aggies, too.

    • Erin R

      This happened at my sister’s wedding, where she had a friend as an officient. I was the maid of honor, and was standing at the front mouthing “sit down” to my parents in the front row, hoping that would start a ripple effect. Eventually my mom got it, but it was weird for a while! All in all, though, my sister was really happy with her choice to have a friend as an officient. He cried partway through, and I think that made it even more emotional and meaningful.

      • Yup. I went to a wedding once where NO ONE stood when the bride came in, but EVERYONE clapped. And it was a very long aisle, so the clapping petered off when she was about 3/4ths the way up. I turned to Jason and said, “Dude, if people do that at our wedding, I’m marching right back out and calling for a do-over.”

    • Audrey

      For the record, I didn’t realize that no one stood for my entrance until right now, and I had to go back and look at the pictures to be sure.

      Maybe it’s because it was an outdoor wedding and they didn’t have the usual cues they have in a church, or because the aisle was a little non-standard.

      Personally I obviously didn’t care.

  • Michelle

    This is really more a logistical issue, but the really surprising thing I found at a wedding last summer was that the officiant wasn’t miked so no one beyond the first five rows could hear the ceremony. I understand wanting to keep things simple and wire free and all, but the ceremony won’t be quite so meaningful if the majority of guests can’t hear it!

    Thanks for the great post & resources, Rachel & Meg! I’ll definitely be revisiting this post as I get closer to planning our actual (secular, short, Unitarian-inspired) ceremony.

    • FM

      I want to exactly this a BILLION times. I have been to more than one wedding during which I could not hear a single word of the ceremony, only some of the laughter and tears of those lucky enough to be in the front rows. And my own tears of frustration at not being able to really witness what I came to witness. I think this is often a lot bigger of an issue for outside weddings and I just wish I could tell every couple – please check out your sound system. Unless you, your partner, and your officiant and all your readers are really loud, even when you’re choked up. Because I want to be in this with you and that’s hard if I can’t hear.

    • meg

      Our Rabbi told us, “Are their more than five guests? Yeah? Then I’ll be needing a mike.” SO TRUE people, SO TRUE. Never underestimate the importance of basic staging. I’ve also gone to night weddings where nothing was properly lit so everyone was like, “What’s even happening up there?” Or weddings we were sat so far away that you didn’t feel included or emotional.

      Basic. Staging. It’s a must. Make sure people can see and hear before you do anything else.

    • Lizzy

      I agree! Volume is such an important detail, and it is so easily overlooked. I was a reader in an outdoor ceremony this past summer, and it was really helpful that the officiant reminded us all during the rehearsal to PROJECT at the ceremony. I was surprised at just how loud I had to speak to be heard at the back row, so this practice was really necessary.

    • Liz

      weird thing is, some churches are anti-technology or something. we visited churches that told us flat out “no cameras. no microphones. no speakers.” very odd- and the very reason we didn’t choose them.

  • Zan

    I would love it if someone using the Apache Wedding blessing would credit it in their program as, “by Elliott Arnold and Albert Maltz”. Hehe :)

  • My officiant nightmare story is my friend’s wedding, which I was a bridesmaid in. The officiant showed up in black jeans, a purple shirt, a blue tie and a blazer. He started the ceremony without the bride (seriously – AND he was there for the rehearsal dinner) and signed the marriage certificate incorrectly, so the marriage wasn’t valid until they all got together to resign the certificate two months later.

  • Chantelle

    I love the first tip, it seems so logical but its not where I was starting from, now I have a much clearer idea what I’m looking for.
    My main query is this: Has anyone in the APW community written their own ceremony for a bilingual audience?
    My fiance and I are going the destination wedding route and getting married in a small Italian town (he’s Italian and all his family speaks ZERO English) and we hope to have our friends and my family attend (English speakers) .
    I’m trying to figure out how to make the ceremony inclusive to both groups, without making it super duper long, or turning our program into a manuscript. Our main goal is that both our families feel equally represented and involved. Help anyone?

    • ElfPuddle

      Is there a way you could do two officiants? They could take turns, or talk at the same time……
      Just brainstorming. I’m sure talking at the same would work in bits, but not for the whole ceremony.

    • kt

      My friend married a guy she met from Equador. She had her ceremony in the United States. Unfortunately, there weren’t a whole lot of Ecuadorian attendees, due to the U.S. denying visas :(

      What she did is have most of the ceremony in English, and then the 1) scripture readings and 2) the vows in Spanish.
      I thought it was really cool since the majority of the people there spoke English (and I doubt the pastor knew Spanish to begin with) but the parts that everyone knew anyways and the parts that are perhaps the most intimate were his native language.

      Just an idea! I’m not sure how well that would translate (hah) to your situation. Also, as a guest, I had/would have no problem having some of it that I didn’t understand. People will be understanding and happy, regardless.

      p.s. Another idea, maybe have the translation of the important parts printed out in the booklet? That way the other half can follow along.

    • Emily

      I would keep in mind that often, it’s more important for guests to understand the sentiment than the specific words. For instance, I’ve been to a lot of Jewish ceremonies, but I’m not Jewish, don’t speak Hebrew, and don’t understand all of the words in the ceremony. However, those couples have always found a way to communicate the ideas behind the Hebrew parts of the ceremony, so that non-Jewish guests like myself still feel involved and can recognize the meaning. This included, yes, explaining certain aspects of the ceremony in the program. But that’s okay! Sometimes it’s nice to have something to read while you wait for the ceremony to begin. I actually think it would be beautiful to include the English and Italian translations of your vows or one of your readings, because it would represent not only your feelings about marriage but also your family backgrounds and cultures. And in a lot of ways, that’s more meaningful to your guests than a simple “Order of Events” on the program.

      And for the record, Italian is just a stunningly beautiful language and most English-speakers I know would enjoy a wedding entirely in Italian because it’s just beautiful to listen to. Obviously, you want to make sure your non-Italian-speaking guests and family feel like a part of the ceremony, and I think including English here and there will help. But most of them have been to many weddings in English. The fact that your ceremony is partly in Italian may make it more meaningful and memorable to them, not less.

    • sara

      We went to a good friend’s wedding – Greek Orthodox – so it was bilingual and I just wanted to say it was great to be a part of! It probably was a bit long, since it was quite traditional and each part was given in Greek and then English, but it really didn’t seem tiresome when listening. Plus, it was neat to hear the different parts of the ceremony in both languages and feel the meaning of them sink in a little deeper even though one way wasn’t a familiar tongue. For some reason the repetition with the difference tied the two together to one whole ceremony really nicely. I think however you decide to do things will be great!

    • FM

      My friend had a bilingual ceremony in the U.S. (she is lily white from the U.S., and he is from Mexico, and most of his family that was able to come spoke little to no English). She has a few bilingual friends, so she had one of them (her brother, actually) officiate and a couple of them take turns translating for those who spoke (whether from English to Spanish or Spanish to English), and had people from both sides do readings or little speeches. It was long, but so worth it for everyone to understand (and fun to watch people emotionally react at different times depending on which language went first, or even better – emotionally react even when they didn’t understand the words, because of what they could see).

      • FM

        Oh yeah. I totally didn’t think of my own wedding being bilingual because all the religious stuff was in Hebrew. Yeah, that’s not usually a problem for people in religious ceremonies where no one understands the words (including us! although their words we’re used to hearing, I couldn’t translate any of that Hebrew for you off the cuff), but you kind of get the power of the ceremony despite the words. And also a billion times yes to having a program where you fill in the blanks. I guess the Hebrew is probably a big reason why that’s so common for Jewish weddings (including our own). I’ve said this before but I LOVE when people explain what’s going on in the program, not just an order of events.

    • We didn’t really write our ceremony (I have a very long story about our choice of officiant and decision to have a religious ceremony despite being secular and why we did that after very careful consideration – it’s actually mentioned on Brave Bride, another site) but we did have to handle the bilingual audience issue.

      On our wedding day we actually only had two guests who did not speak much English – we were expecting more like ten. All of them are native speakers of Chinese and/or Taiwanese, but most were unable to make it not due to visas but due to work. Taiwanese people work grueling hours, similar to those worked in Japan. Basically, those who could get time off couldn’t afford to come, and those who could afford to come couldn’t get time off!

      Only the wife and stepdaughter of one attendee were left among the non-English speaking crowd, but we’d already printed the programs designed for a more bilingual audience. Basically, for each relevant part of the ceremony we put a note in Chinese detailing what it was (not a full transcript, just a note regarding the significance). We had one reading in Chinese (this totally fits because we live in Taiwan) – a poem in which one line was read in Chinese then translated into English, then sung a capella in Chinese (it’s also a song). The processional was a Chinese song so we noted that in Chinese and English, and for the recessional just noted that it was by Bach.

      That way our (nonattending, it turns out) non-native-English-speaking friends could at least follow the meanings behind the ceremony even if some of the words were over their heads.

    • Liz

      pick the key stuff. (i know, i know. it’s ALL key.) thinking back on my own ceremony, all of it was significant and special to me. but the only part i would have really, really, really wanted everyone to understand was the vows. and a program with the vows in both languages wouldn’t be too, too long. or, if you’re both expressing similar sentiments in your vows, one of you does english, the other italian.

      • Madeline

        LOVE this idea! But how do you pick who does which?? The obvious answer would be that you each do it in your native language, but it would be SO beautiful for each person to speak the other’s native language. It’s cheesy, but I’m this reminds me of that scene towards the end of Love Actually, where the English guy proposes to the Portuguese woman in Portuguese, and she answers him in English. I think it’s incredibly romantic!

        • ddayporter

          I still say “just in cases” all the time because it was so adorable.

          • LaurenF

            I say “just in cases” too! That’s one of my favorite romantic scenes of all time, and it still gives me goosebumps.

    • My husband and I got married on a small Greek island (we’re from Canada). I’m half-Greek, but not very fluent in Greek, and my husband basically just knows the alphabet. On top of that, most of our friends and family didn’t speak Greek. Our officiant was the mayor of the island and he spoke 0 words of English. Also, we didn’t meet him until the day BEFORE the wedding. Fun! This is what we did: before the wedding, my husband and I told my father, in detail, the format of the ceremony. My father then translated it to the mayor. We had the officiant say a greeting in Greek and he did a lot of the official things in Greek, but we were anticipating them, and to be honest, my father was translating from the sidelines. We incorporated readings in English, Greek and French (we’re from Toronto, but live in Montreal) from our friends and read our own vows in English. The whole thing was very scrappy and we were giggling and crying throughout. It wasn’t the smoothest of ceremonies, but it was sincere and funny and moving in its own way. Good luck! Just remember to laugh about the misunderstandings and you’ll be fine. One tip: WRITE out the script of the ceremony, have someone translate it, and give that to the officiant. It sounds really obvious, but we were preoccupied and didn’t think to do it and suddenly it was the day before the wedding and everyone was more into having a celebratory drink. Things probably would’ve been smoother if he had a script.

    • I agree with Liz about picking and choosing the parts that matter most to you. All of our guests knew at least enough English to understand the basic gist of the ceremony, but my husband and I really wanted to honor our respective heritages, so we had our Scripture reading done in English, Chinese, and Korean. Also, a running commentary in the margins of our program about the liturgical elements of the wedding and why we chose them.

      • DtotheQ

        And no guest ever wants to sit through a full liturgical catholic mass twice! Every single passage was said word for word twice, once in English, once in Korean, we were there for almost three hours! I would have prefered to watch a ceremony in a langauge I do not speak with a translation (and the program was the entire ceremony printed in both as well, so we did have that translation already).

    • Diane

      We are two French people getting married in the UK, most of the audience is French – we kept the whole ceremony in English but are providing programs where everything is translated, we didn’t want to live translate as it would be too long. Also, we’re having one song, our vows, and our little speech for our guests in French. We’re also trying to have our guests sing along to Queen’s “Crazy little thing called love” for recessional, so we’re providing lyrics.

    • Gomushin Girl

      I was a last minute “officiant” at a Canadian-Korean wedding here in Seoul for friends who needed a bilingual announcer, and while a little bit longer than the average wedding (and structured quite differently that most western weddings), the basic idea was really easy:
      The official officient would make all the short announcements in Korean, I would make them in English, and longer portions such as the vows (English) and sermon (Korean) were done only in one language, but with a full translation in the program.

      • Chantelle

        Thank you all so much! All your comments really helped. I too LOVE the idea of doing our vows, one in Italian and one in English. If I can get my Italian up to par by that point I think I’ll speak Italian. Luckily we are having a friend officiate, and I think she’d be up for spekaing in Italian as well at points, especially because it is a beautiful language to speak :) Thanks APW!

  • Nicole

    I’d like to put in a plug for having someone you know officiate. Of course, states vary in their laws about this, so check on it first (e.g., in NY the officiant has to be ordained by a recognized religious institution that is physically located in the state of NY, while in MI you can have anyone who’s been ordained by anyone anywhere). We were having a fully secular ceremony, and it was top priority for us that it be personal and reflect who we are, as well as our families. So we chose one member of each extended family who we thought would be comfortable officiating and who would “get it” in terms of what we wanted. The winners: my cousin and my husband’s uncle. Both got ordained online, and laughed about how easy it was.

    They ROCKED it. Seriously, I have no words. They were completely jazzed about writing the ceremony themselves, with a little guidance from us. (My husband and I wrote our own vows — they were 5 lines long, and we each repeated the same thing — but they handled the rest.) They had never met before, and lived on opposite ends of the country, but emails and a few conference calls over several months seemed to keep everybody on the same page. We had no idea what they were going to say, and I LOVED this element of surprise. And they really went the extra mile in ways we wouldn’t have even thought of. My grandmother was initially confused and hurt that we weren’t having a minister, and my amazing cousin wisely brought Grandma into her comments in the most heartfelt way. (Grandma loves God, but she loves family just as much.) And my husband lost his mother a year and half before the wedding, and his uncle brought her into the ceremony in a way that managed to be touching and meaningful without being over-the-top sad.

    For us (and for many of our guests, who commented on how much they loved it), it was perfection.

    • meg

      So, I think this is one of the awesome things you miss by not getting clergy to officiate. Actually, I think it’s the most awesome thing you miss – having someone who gets to know you, and has many sessions with you getting to know you both and your relationship, and helping you work through issues together, and craft a ceremony (whatever that means, sometimes it just means picking meaningful readings). I’ve never heard of a secular officiant that does this – essentially does all your pre-marital counseling, and then does your service… but if there ARE resources for that, can people share?

      I think you’re totally right, and the next best thing (though you might think it’s the first best thing) is having someone you know do it. But it makes me sad that you miss out on having the opportunity to have a a pro (someone who does weddings all the time), who’s also trained at personal care and pre-marital counseling, do your service because you don’t happen to be religious. Grrrrr.

      Which is one of the many reasons I think it’s rad that you can be a practicing liberal Jew and atheist, and that’s totally supported. Just because you don’t believe in God doesn’t mean you should miss out on community and tradition and the support of clergy… which how rad is that? But I digress.

      • I’m not religious but we had a religious officiant (seriously, long story, and the right choice for us) but it wouldn’t have mattered: we live on a different continent so pre-marital counseling / meeting / talking sessions would not have been possible even if we were religious. I realize there’s Skype, but with a 12 hour time difference it doesn’t help much, and I wasn’t too keen on premarital counseling via Skype. It was hard enough to find a time to Skype our caterer! It also really depends on whether you live near your officiant. We did not and do not – we live quite literally on the opposite side of the planet from my hometown, where we got married. Sometimes, I guess, premarital counseling is just not in the cards.

        (We did look into it – sounded like a good idea. Doesn’t exist in Taiwan unless you are not only a member of a church in Taiwan but also going to get married in that church. That was not going to happen and we wouldn’t have wanted religious-based counseling anyway. Here, to get married you go to the government office, sign a paper together and boom, you’re married. The ceremony, timed by a fortune teller usually, is legally meaningless but still a popular thing to do).

        • meg

          You can always do pre-marital counseling with a therapist, which I really recommend if you don’t have it available to you otherwise. Or post-marital if you missed it. Seriously, it’s so helpful as a way to get started building the foundation for this new stage of your relationship.

          • Well, it’d be post-marital because we’re already married.

            But no, we can’t. Taiwan is just different…they don’t have “therapists” the way we do in the West. I mean, they do, but they’re usually psychiatrists and you see them only if you have serious mental issues, usually the kind requiring medication. There are very few “talk therapists” in Taiwan – there may quite literally be only two in all of Taipei city. If that. And NONE of them are trained in marital counseling.

            It’s just not “done” because it’s not accepted yet, culturally, that this could be a useful or necessary thing.

            I say this with confidence because two of my students are psychiatrists. We’ve discussed this and both have exclaimed their regret that non-psychiatrist therapists are basically non-existent in Taiwan: they agree that they’d be so useful to so many people.

            What talk therapists do exist are usually, according to my students, in the health network, meaning they’re there to serve people with mental health issues – they don’t do pre- or post-marital counseling and would think we were insane for wanting it. “So…you don’t have any problems?” “Nope. We’re great. We just want to talk through our ideas about marriage and our relationship to gain a better understanding…” “So…you’re here but you’re actually fine?” “Yeah…basically.” “And you need me because…?” “Like we said, we want to talk through our ideas about marriage…” “You can do that without me. There are twenty people who have problems right now who need my time.”

            I am not angry about this, though I think it’s really not a good way to go about things: it’s cultural.

            Also, I used to have a depressed roommate here. I did a lot of legwork trying to help her help herself: she wanted to see someone but didn’t have the will to make it happen. The best we could do was either a psychiatrist or a church counselor. I went to her church therapist session and sat outside while she talked to him – she said it was awful. He kept trying to convince her to “pray the depression away” (UMMMMM….I can see how that might be a a way to tackle it with a Christian but she wasn’t Christian) and really didn’t listen much – told her that her lack of a Christian spiritual life was the reason why she was so depressed. (She followed a syncretic Taiwanese religion that is more of a collection of folk beliefs based on Daoism and folk gods/ghosts/ancestors).

            That was the best we could do: churches in Taiwan unfortunately tend to be that way, as their entire congregations are made up mostly of very hard-core converts (who tend to be more enthusiastic in their beliefs) and missionaries, and the occasional religious foreigner. As such, they’re not liberal. At all.

            So no, sessions with a therapist are actually not possible. When (if) we move back to America or Canada, we will probably look into it because I agree it’s a great thing, but it’s not happening now.

      • ddayporter

        I did not come across anyone who offered pre-marital counseling along with officiating the wedding. but you just gave me an idea for a new career path for myself.

        • meg

          I KNOW RIGHT? I totally want to do this. I really wanted to add “officate a wedding” to my life list, but I thought and thought and thought about it, and decided that I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it if I didn’t have a few sessions with the couple where I made them read books and write essays about their relationship and stuff. And um, who am I to ask people to do that?

          • ddayporter

            oh my gosh MEG. you should totally do that. kind of funny, I’m coming at it from the other direction: I’m working on going to grad school to be a counselor, and here I am thinking holy sh*t, what if I went ahead and officiated their wedding too?? but who am I to do THAT? haha.

          • Are you kidding?! I would have LOVED to find an officiant that would make us do this! I swear, I’m pretty sure you’d find a niche market for people who would LOVE to write essays about their relationship and do the heavy thinking before getting married. For me, that’s absolutely the point, and we’re doing it anyway, whether or not our officiant asks us to. (But I’m pretty sure she’s going to.)

          • ka

            Seriously. Awesome. Idea. Either one of you are welcome to make us your guinea pigs. We’ll probably wind up having a friend(s) officiate over a ceremony we write, but I just love the idea of working with a neutral party on developing something (however the thought of going and finding one sounds exhausting). And if there was pre-marital counseling rolled in? Bonus!

        • anon

          My brother recently got married; he and his wife have been seeing a therapist for some time, and she officiated the ceremony. She did a fabulous job, and when she spoke about them having the strength to work through difficulties together, she knew what she was talking about! It was quite incredible to have the marriage officiated by someone who had helped them grow together. So, if anyone does have a really great therapist, you might consider asking them to become ordained for you!

      • Melissa

        I have trouble wrapping my head around being atheist but still being accepted as Jewish. I love it though.

        • meg

          Well. Being Jewish isn’t about believing in God, really. It’s about tradition and community…

          • Liz

            This is EXACTLY my dilemma. My fiance is from an Irish Catholic family, and I was raised in Jewish tradition. The problem is… I just do not believe in god, a god, or the concept of it all. This is a battle I rarely undertake with my fiance, and he has come to accept, but my step-mother keeps throwing jabs about how my 93 year-old grandfather won’t attend the wedding unless a Rabbi is involved, my grandmother must be rolling in her grave, etc. etc. My soon-to-be-mother-in-law asked me if she could read a passage from the bible and her nephew could sing Ave Maria at the ceremony and I literally laughed in her face thinking she couldn’t possibly be serious! I refuse to have a rabbi, priest, bible, or really any talk of god at my wedding – that’s just not me, and my fiance even said he understands. I won’t even have a white runner because I read that it signifies our pathway into a life with god or something, and that made me feel downright uncomfortable. I keep trying to explain to people that I am Jewish in my sense of culture and tradition, but that the related beliefs in faith and god just don’t pertain to me. My family is starting to make me think my ceremony is going to be disrespectful, but I don’t know how to make sure it isn’t…
            I helped my cousin in her recent wedding planning. She had a beautiful bohemian-DIY wedding, with her mother-in-law as the officiant and she wore cowboy boots, had a bluegrass band, and it was fun. Everyone described it as a hippy/non-traditional wedding, and although it was amazing, I don’t want mine to be remembered that way.
            I want people to think of me and my wedding as respectful and elegant. I live for music and good food, and I love things that are natural and people who are honest. I’m a kindergarten teacher, my fiancé is going to grad school to be a history teacher. I went to a Quaker high school by choice. I found my officiant through my male florist and his husband. That’s me… not some stuffy bible psalm or Hebrew out-of-tune chanting.. All of the ceremony readings seem cheesy and fake to me, or cliché, or overly religious. Where do I go from here? Any suggestions?

      • ANI

        My friend Freida is a secular officiant, and she does exactly that Meg. She is smart and wise and funny and fun and completely brilliant, kind, thoughtful, and personal in every way. Her ceremonies are always the bomb, and everyone is always completely thrilled. AND, she recently got engaged herself. She is a wonder.

  • What a great post, creating your own ceremony can be daunting, and all the fears of “what if we forget to do something! what if we do it WRONG?” But really, there is no wrong.
    We constructed our ceremony using bits from different ceremony scripts that I cut out, pieced together and changed sentence structure on, it truly felt like working on a college essay and was so much fun! My husband was very adamant about keeping it non-religious, even though we have similar religious beliefs. And we were civilly married already, so I wanted to omit the ring ceremony and the I do’s. Plus we were blending our families, not that we emphasized that much, but I did make sure to include a line referencing the family we had created. A good friend of my husbands was our officiant (my idea – i nailed it) and he was complimented many a time and asked for his card afterward even though he was as green as they come! We kept it simple, had a declaration of intent, had a reading by my grandpa that brought everyone to tears, and my husband and I said our own vows. I had written mine 3 hours before, he made his up on the spot.
    What it turned out to be was simple, heartfelt, “organic” was the over-used work we heard much that day, and personal. No chairs, no aisle, just 120 friends and family gathered around us. Ah, perfect.

  • Emily

    How have other secular couples found ways to acknowledge their parents religious traditions while staying true to their own beliefs? My boyfriend and I are both agnostic, but were raised Roman Catholic. While my family is fine with whatever we choose to do, I know my future MIL has a lot of misgivings about a secular ceremony. The fact that we won’t be getting married in a church, or by a priest, is really hard for her. I would like to find a way to make her feel that our wedding is more “real”, but all of the Catholic traditions would feel like a lie to me. We’re obviously not going to serve communion, and we won’t have Biblical readings. But by doing something so different from her religious tradition, I am afraid we’re creating a rift that could get worse with time.

    I feel like this might just be an intractable problem, but I’m throwing it out there. In our case, being true to who we are and what we believe is specifically what is causing the problem. My inclination is to stick to my guns, and try to reach out to her in other ways after the wedding, but that’s certainly not an ideal situation.

    • meg

      I think this would be a great topic for a post. If anyone is interesting in helping me write it (I can write from the liberal/open minded religious perspective, and someone else can write from the liberal/open minded secular perspective) I’d be all over it. Volunteer here or email me if you want to.

      • Are there people out there who have the opposite issue? Coming from a non-religious family and encountering tension from the decision to have a religious ceremony? I’m not quite there – my family is religious – but since I lean slightly more traditional, I run into (admittedly very minor) issues like my bridesmaids (all relatives) wanting to wear strapless dresses when I think you should have your shoulders covered in church. Or my fiance’s (less religious) family suggesting that their friend the judge be our officiant – when that would mean we couldn’t have a Catholic wedding at all, which is out of the question for me. But are there other couples whose families are legitimately upset at the prospect of a religious ceremony, like some religious families get upset by the prospect of secular ceremonies?

        • Ummm. Yes. My family was upset at religious, his family was upset at non religious. If you want to send me an email at terremotia at gmail dot com to discuss how we handled it and what worked/ didn’t work, feel free. I feel like it’s a little wordy to hijack the comments with.

      • I’d love to help. Don’t know if I’m quite the right person, though. I’m Agnostic– 4th generation, though Jewish in heritage. My husband is Athiest from an Orthodox Jewish family. We actually did have a religious wedding with an Orthodox rabbi, but worked and worked and worked until we found something we could all live with, though, and then wrote a second half of the service for after the religious obligations were taken care of.

    • Hm. That’s a very interesting dilemma and it’s been running around in my head since I read your comment, Emily. As someone who considers herself philosophically Catholic but not actively so (it’s a long story, but basically I have issues with how the present-day Church conducts itself), I’m having a nuptial Mass, so I’m not sure if anything I could come up with would be helpful to you.

      My only thoughts were maybe having a quote or reading that was written by a figure that your MIL would identify with (a saint, perhaps, like St. Francis or St. Thomas Aquinas, or someone with religious inclinations, like Tolkien or C.S. Lewis?) that could still be interpreted as secular? I did a quick google search for you and didn’t really come up with anything promising, but it’s just a thought. My other idea was to maybe mirror the structure of the Catholic ceremony? (minus the communion, of course) Like instead of a homily, giving your officiant time to talk about what marriage means to them, etc.

      You should definitely do whatever makes YOU feel comfortable. I’m not sure if these suggestions would be helpful or not, but I thought I’d offer them just in case. Good luck to you!

      • Emily

        Mary, I really like your idea of using a reading from a Catholic philosopher. I actually have a lot of respect for many of the ideas in the Catholic tradition, even if I don’t subscribe to the religious tenets. I think this might be a good way to provide some familiar context from my MIL without feeling like we are performing something we don’t believe in. I think I was hung up on the idea of “Catholic readings” which I associate with biblical readings I’ve heard at Catholic weddings. But you’ve suggested a nice compromise.

        (Even if it means more homework for us, trying to find something appropriate and personal… :)

        • Madeline

          I know 1 Corinthians 13 is used at TONS of weddings, but few people have heard the whole chapter in the context of a wedding (I’ve only heard it once, ever). And I see it as a very secular passage of the Bible, so I highly recommend it as a way to acknowledge your MIL’s faith if it appeals to you.

    • Katelyn

      I posed this same question a few months ago here on APW- Meg actually came up with a really great idea.

      She suggested that my mom (or any family member, really), say a prayer on our behalf, sometime during/before/after the ceremony. There’s no endorsement of religion on the part of the couple, but it lets those who are religious to bless your marriage in the way they think is the most appropriate. It could be an improptu prayer, something from scripture, a scripted prayer, or a group blessing.

      I think it’s a great way to show respect to your parents’ beliefs, but still keeping the ceremony true to yourselves, too.

      • meg

        I was going to re-iterate that again here. I think, as a religious person, it can be really tough when someone tells you that you can’t love them in the way you know how to love them, in a bone deep way. AKA, when people I love are sick, I pray for them. They don’t need to believe in God for me to pray for them, that’s just how I know how to care for people. And I love when people who think about the world differently use their method of being to care for me – maybe they pray in a faith that’s not mine, maybe they write me a letter, maybe they think good thoughts. I’ll take it all!

        So! I think that it can be really important to differentiate, “Mom, I don’t believe in God, and it’s important to me that the portions of the ceremony specifically about us reflect that. But I know that for you, prayer is an important part of who you are, and how you know how to love me. So as long as you don’t imply that I do or should believe in God, of COURSE you can pray for me on my wedding day!”

        We don’t have to believe the same things as each other. In fact, it’s great that we don’t! But I think it’s important to find ways to honor what each person believes, without making it a mandate for agreement.

        • Emily

          Katelyn and Meg —

          Another great suggestion. I’m thinking about maybe offering this idea to my future MIL for either the ceremony or the rehearsal dinner (I don’t want her to feel put on the spot). The nice thing about this suggestion is that I think it will also make some of our more religious extended family feel more included, but if we do it right, it doesn’t have to contravene any of our personal beliefs.

          Also, Meg, I would love a post on this topic. These are the sorts of issues that make getting married scary to me. While I can commiserate on other stresses (money, DIY/DIT, etc.), I know that stuff is largely just a component of throwing a big party and I’m confident that as long as we can muddle through, we won’t have to worry about it after the wedding. But the bigger issues — family, religion, the meaning of marriage — don’t stop after the reception. I don’t want the choices we make about our wedding to negatively affect our relationship, our families, or our friendships. Because marriage is important to everyone involved, emotions run high. Navigating these minefields is so much more nervewracking to me than centerpieces or wedding colors or finding a dress in my budget.

          Not to diminish the stress everyone feels over money or how the wedding looks or finding a dress — I feel that too! But Meg (and many others) talk a lot on here about how unfair our culture is towards brides, expecting them to go wedding crazy and then condemning them for it. And sure, if it was just about the flowers or cake filling or whatever, I think it’s okay to condemn that, because that stuff really is not that important in the long run. But half the time I think the freakout over the bridesmaids’ dress hems is actually just the stress of the real stuff, the family/religion/individuality/societal expectations stuff, coming out. The great thing about APW is that it gives brides (and grooms? that would be awesome) a venue to talk and work out the long-term issues, so maybe we freak out less about the other stuff, which isn’t worth going crazy over.

          Ah, so very off topic by now. In any case, I look forward to this post and I’m grateful for the suggestions and just generally grateful for the blog!

      • ka

        I’ve participated in a few discussions on here about how to incorporate aspects of religion (that your family practices or that you were raised in) in a secular ceremony, and there were some great ideas thrown out! So I’m totally echoing the need for a post. If not for me, then for one of my close friends who’s on the road to engagement and is already petrified of how to get her super Catholic family on board with a secular ceremony. (Why is it almost always us recovering Catholics?)

    • Lizzy

      Also: music! There is so much beautiful religious music out there! You could include instrumental music if you want to avoid explicit reference to specific beliefs. We are thinking of having an instrumental version of Ave Maria for our ceremony; Ave Maria is a fairly traditional choice, but there are lots of other options.

    • CAMinSD

      I was raised Catholic until age 10. I haven’t practiced since, but I haven’t forgotten, either. For me, one of the indelible moments of the Catholic mass is the Kiss of Peace. I’ve got pleeeeeeenty of beef with the Church, but I find the exchange between parishoners– “Peace be with you,” “And also with you,” — beautiful and resonant and essential. If it appealed to you, and could be written into the the ceremony, you might ask* your families how they would feel about incorporating that moment –a Catholic expression of a shared value.

      * I’d defintely ask. It would be unfortunate to learn after the fact that borrowing from the tradition makes your MIL more uncomfortable than breaking with it entirely.

      • Katelyn

        hehe… it’s one of my favorite parts of Catholic mass, too. Not just the sentimentality- because of my big family, we can’t all reach each other down the pew. So we give each other the peace sign :-D

        • meg

          Me too. Though for me not catholic, just Protestant.

    • Mish

      Long time lurker but I had to post on this…

      “In our case, being true to who we are and what we believe is specifically what is causing the problem”

      I feel for Emily, as I am in a similar situation except it already has become a problem and caused a huge rift. My fiance and I have decided on a mostly secular ceremony as public displays of religion are not true to us (we are both very private people when it comes to our beliefs) and a religious ceremony would feel like a lie. We have talked in great detail about how we will deal with the role of religion in our lives and are very comfortable with our decisions.

      My parents are fine with this, but my MIL, upon hearing our decision, has declared that she cannot and will not support our marriage and that she won’t come to the wedding unless a minister of my fiance’s faith performs the ceremony and it contains all of the traditional elements. She also told him that it is his duty to make me become baptized in his faith, as she cannot accept that I remain unbaptized by choice. He has attempted many times to deal with the situation by telling her that our wedding ceremony is our decision and he respects my beliefs and does not have any intention of trying to make me change them. We have also tried to find a comprise (having her give a prayer or reading of her choice, adding in some sort of religion-based element that does not directly reference God, finding a liberal minister willing to give a more secular ceremony) but she is incredibly stubborn and so far nothing has worked.

      I’m hoping with time she will be able to come to terms with our decision and work with us, in which case a post on ideas for acknowledging religious beliefs without comprising who we are would be wonderful. However, right now it is a horrible situation. I feel very disrespected by the things she has said and the situation kills my fiance, who is struggling to support us and our decisions but still stay at peace with his parents.

      Mostly, I don’t know how to deal with the situation. How do you deal with a future MIL who openly tells you that she doesn’t want you as part of the family unless you change your core beliefs?

      • Diane

        My father is like your MIL. He won’t come to the wedding unless we do a Catholic mass. I am agnostic and my boyfriend’s an atheist and we’re having a secular ceremony. I tried talking to a few priests to see if compromises were possible, who all told me we shouldn’t have a religious wedding if we don’t believe in God (all also said my father should definitely come). I told my father that and all he basically said was that these priests were stupid :)
        The wedding is in a week and he still hasn’t changed his mind, so he won’t be there. It’s harsh but I’ll try my best to forgive him. I know it’s paradoxically because he loves me and cares that he’s doing this.

        It seems you’re in the same situation with your MIL. You’ve tried compromising and it didn’t work. I don’t think there’s anything more that you can do. Some people just aren’t tolerant, that’s it. My parents like my fiance, but are regretful that I’m not marrying a Catholic guy (as I said that I would have followed my fiance in a church wedding if he was a believer). They’ll probably think that all their lives. Too bad for them! I know the values I share with my fiance will make our marriage stronger. Support your fiance as best as you can, and try to forgive your MIL, she’s also probably doing this because she loves her son.

    • Audrey

      I actually feel like my husband and I did a pretty decent job walking the line between secular and religious since we both came from religious backgrounds but are personally secular. We didn’t feel comfortable with God in the ceremony or the vows, but didn’t mind as much for the rest of the wedding. So we honored our parents’/relatives’ religions by having an opening prayer and giving our mothers the opportunity to give biblically-related readings.

      It helped that the officiant LOOKED the part since he came from a “catholic” tradition (long story). I really don’t know if anyone paid that much attention to the fact that God was not mentioned in the actual ceremony after having “front-loaded” the prayer and readings.

      • Audrey

        All that said, we also have really uninstrusive parents who didn’t demand anything about the ceremony and looked the other way a bit about getting married in an outdoor area since the officiant “looked” catholic.

    • Chantelle

      I’m dealing with a similar situation with my father. I was raised Roman Catholic and have completely distanced myself from the church, and am considering getting excommunicated to make it “official”. However I feel that in their hearts my parents won’t feel it’s a completly “real” marriage. This isn’t something I’m willing to budge an inch over, but I’m wracking my brain over ways that I can make our ceremony feel less foreign to both them and my other older guests including my fiane’s traditional Italian family.
      I think for my family, most religious practice is done out of habit and familiarity which gives them a sense of comfort through ritual. I’m still not sure how to recreate that sense of ritual in my secular ceremony….and am still fending off requests from my dad for a big church wedding.
      Would love to write a post, once I actually figure out a solution to this dilemna….or maybe there isn’t one really, and it just becomes a journey navigating two very different ways of approaching ritual.

  • Estrella

    Word on finding the right officiant. We asked my godfather to perform the service and while there were moments when he paused and maybe even stumbled, and my hard of hearing grandfather may not have been able to hear every word of his gentle, soft-spoken voice, the emotion he brought with him and the love he enveloped us in at the altar was absolutely breathtaking. To have such a good friend, wise mentor, and loving example of a dedicated partner in decades of marriage lead us through this important right of passage was truly a blessing. I’d say we got lucky in a major way.

    And singing: yes! We asked my mom and godmothers to sing a song for us. They surprised us with Kate Wolf’s “Give Yourself to Love.” By the end, the whole audience was singing along! We got married last weekend and that song is still running through my mind.

  • Pamela

    We got so lucky on our wedding officient search! I was initially hesitant to contact our guy because he was “expensive” so I contacted two other people I’d found on craigslist (and who were cheaper). The first one stood us up when we were supposed to meet, and then didn’t follow up with us until two weeks later – with some lame excuse. The second guy responded to my inquiry email with DJ recommendations (which I didn’t ask for) and then proceeded to tell me about his gastrointestinal troubles, amongst other stuff.

    Needless, to say, we then contacted the “expensive” guy. He was amazing – a very calm, thoughtful and professional person, he knocked $100 off his price when he found out what kind of wedding we were having. He provided us with a sample ceremony, but he didn’t bat an eye at our (very) heavy customizations. His delivery of our ceremony was fantastic – very calm, and loud (since we were outside) and with perfect pacing. Oh, and he wore his judge’s robes (turns out he’s an actual judge), so no clothing weirdness. I was nervous about having a relative stranger officiate for us, but it was perfect.

    Can I add one more tip? Write/use a slightly longer ceremony than you think you want. I’ve heard lots of people say something along the lines of “oh, they’re not getting married in a church? The ceremony better not last more than five minutes, then” which I think is stupid. Church or no church, getting married is a huge thing, and there’s no reason to have a short ceremony just because you’re not including God. If you want a five minute ceremony, that’s totally fine, of course – but for me, I really needed a slightly longer ceremony to let my nerves calm a bit and for me to soak it all in. I think ours was 15 minutes, maybe 20, which worked out really well for us.

  • Tally

    On choosing a good officiant:

    We had a religious ceremony (I’m Christian, my husband is agnostic) but we didn’t really get to chose our officiant. I really wanted to have the preacher from my church but she was required to have counseling sessions prior (which is a great idea) but b/c he lived in the UK and I lived in the US it wasn’t really doable. It seemed like no one wanted to marry us without counseling or they charged a fortune in travel fees (it was held in a really rural area). Enter my grandpa, who was well-connected in the community. His old friend (also originally from the UK) said that he’d do it for free, no counseling needed – as a favor to my grandpa. Yay! He was a pretty nice bloke, and I liked that he runs interfaith kid’s summer camps so it worked out well but he did make some jokey comments to a few guests who took them the wrong way and were offended. Anyway, looking back 4 months later it doesn’t seem that important. He was legally able to marry us and we’re married now so all of the worrying about that fairly large detail is moot.

  • Can I just say that picture is AMAZING???

    In addition to all this wonderful advice, I’d recommend finding someone (even if it’s not your officiant? I’m not sure, since ours was a good writer) to help with writing your ceremony, even if it’s just someone to run things by (besides your partner, obviously). For us, a relatively non-partial third party who really cared about us was extremely helpful.

    When I look back at writing our ceremony, I have to laugh. I really wanted the reading suggested on here from The Little Prince… I liked the foxes, I liked the roses, I liked the sentiment, I liked that it was from literature. Kyle insisted that we couldn’t use it unless at least one of us had read the whole book, though (which we hadn’t). This discussion was about five days before the ceremony, and we didn’t own the book at that point. Well, he read really fast– in the middle of doing about a million other things. Ah, love.

    (My point in this story is that sometimes it’s hard to decide on the ceremony with even your partner when there are SO many options out there… Hence my recommendation of a third party.)

  • Caitlin ALWAYS has the best advice. She’s my little sister, but she got married first, and she’s certainly the wiser of the two of us : )

  • Alizon

    We live in the UK but are getting married in Scotland. We are having a Humanist wedding which is of course not religious, but will honour and respect your guests wishes to pray etc. We found our officiant- called a ‘celebrant ‘ online.
    We went to meet our celebrant Tim and he talked through some ideas with us. Then he set us homework which was to write why we love each other, the story of how we met and what marraige means to us. With him from this we will design our ceremony which will be personal to us. It’s all tailored to what the couple want. Not only that you can practically get married anywhere- so we are marrying in the John Muir National Park overlooking a fabulous beach east of Edinburgh.
    Humanist weddings can be performed in Scotland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway and certain states of the USA.and are legally binding etc. You can even be handfasted legally in Scotland! Enlightened country.
    We can’t wait- it’s July next year.

    • meg

      This sounds brillant people! Look into this. Totally the best of both worlds. Yay!

  • OK, so we are secular and we had a religious officiant, and as such didn’t write our own ceremony.

    The reason we had a religious ceremony despite not being religious? I really, really wanted an officiant I knew.

    When I was young, I was basically made to be religious and taken to church. It was not a super conservative church, if anything it was actively quite liberal. My parents, the minister and many in the congregation are pro-gender-equality, pro-gay-rights, pro…well, pro everything that I also believe in. My decision not to be Christian had nothing to do with conservatism in the church I was raised in and everything to do with questioning my belief in a higher being.

    As such, while not religious I do deeply respect my parents’ minister. He’s a great guy. He was my first choice to officiate. My husband is more laid-back about these things, so he was fine with that, and with the ceremony being in New York and he having no personal acquaintances in New York who could officiate, it’s not like he had an alternate suggestion.

    After a LOT of thought, we decided to go ahead with my childhood minister despite the fact that this basically meant signing up for a religious ceremony with references we didn’t entirely believe in. I much preferred that to having a secular officiant whom I’d never met and was just paying to perform a service.

    We did have a heavy hand in editing the ceremony, even though we didn’t write it: the “giving away” was deleted, we added our own vows on top of the ones already in there that “needed” to be said as a part of the sacrament, we added a secular benediction, secular readings, secular music, had it in a garden (not a church), and our officiant happily changed the ring reading and changed all the “thou” and “thine” and other archaic language to something more modern-sounding. The fact that all of this was allowed speaks to why I respect our officiant so much – he couldn’t do a secular ceremony but he bent the rules a bit to craft something that worked for us.

    In the end this worked for me because I believed, and still believe, that my wedding day wasn’t the day my marriage began. I felt no sea change, no momentous shift, no profoundly deep, gut-wrenching epiphany. I felt then as I still feel that the momentous day was the day I realized I wanted to spend the rest of my life with my husband and wanted to make a commitment to doing that – and that day, whenever it happened, happened before we even got engaged. The wedding made it legal and provided a way to celebrate that commitment, but it wasn’t the day the commitment began.

    I’m very sure of this, btw – two days before the wedding our officiant hadn’t returned an earlier phone call and there was a very real chance that there’d been a mix-up and he wouldn’t be there to officiate. This caused us to make a lot of backup plans but didn’t cause any emotional angst or profound sadness. We had our plan, we knew we were going to be married and in our hearts already were married, and whatever happened it would have been OK. For me, the fact that most of our loved ones were there and actively participated was the central point, and having an officiant I knew was a part of that.

    As such, it didn’t really matter to me that much what the exact words of the ceremony were. What mattered to me was that, in the end, I got to use my own words to speak my vow commitment to my husband in front of our loved ones. The ceremony around that was really…well, it was a construct of words that legalized something I feel is more emotional than verbal. That, for me, cemented the decision that an officiant I know who would talk about a God I am not sure I believe in was fine, and the preferable alternative to a stranger who would have done a secular ceremony for us.

  • El

    Hey APW-ers! First time commenter here (long-time reader). Question for ya’ll:

    My partner and I are not engaged yet, but spend a good amount of time talking about our future marriage and wedding. (That’s the caveat to my comment/question and the fact that we’ve done very little research and know very little about officiants/who can marry you/what it needs to be “official”/etc.) But one option we’ve talked about when we think about who we’d like to have marry us is picking whoever we decide on together and not worrying about the ordainment or official-ness of it–we figure we can do the government thing (it’ll be secular, so no need for religious officialdom for us) at town hall before or after our wedding at some point. Our thinking is that the part we believe really “marries” us is the confirmation of our love in front of and by everyone else we love. I don’t think we’ll feel married until that happens, and it’s not completely tied to signatures/legal stuff for us (though we have agreed that we do want to sanction it legally–that’s just not what will feel like the wedding for us). Has anyone else done this? Had a loved one marry you who didn’t get ordained online or anything?

    And as long as I’m commenting, since it may not happen again for a long time, I want to say how grateful I am to have found this blog, and how warmed I am whenever I read Meg and other APW-ers takes on the complexities of love and marriage. Thank you.

    • meg

      I think this is great. And of course for the LGBTQ among us, this is always what happens.

      • Only always in some jurisdictions! :) But yes, this can be a great option for a lot of people, regardless of whether they have access to legally recognized marriage or not. I know I’ve also read that couples will often use this approach where there are very strict rules about where marriages can be performed — i.e. where if it’s not in a house of worship, it has to be in a town hall/registry office/etc. and you can only fit a dozen people, so couples prefer to have another, meaningful emotionally but not legally, ceremony to include all of their loved ones.

    • p.

      I did this! Our dads officiated our ceremony in front of our family and friends, but they weren’t ordained or legal. We went to City Hall two days before our wedding to make it legal. We felt just the way you describe: that the important part for us was standing up in front of our family and friends. The legal part seemed like something we needed to do mostly for the state.That said, I found the City Hall ceremony unexpectedly powerful and moving. Email me if you want to talk more about it: sf dot phaedra at gmail dot com.

      • ka

        you mentioned this to me on another post and i thought it was such a great idea! i may email you too about it if that’s ok?

        and go for it EL if it feels right to you!

  • margiemive

    We were married by my cousin, who is a UCC minister. When we were planning our wedding, I agonized for ages about asking her to perform a secular ceremony. My husband was dead set on a secular ceremony and I would try to wheedle with him with things like “How many mentions of God would be okay?” and he would just stare at me with disbelief. Anyway. I asked my cousin to do a secular ceremony that felt like a Protestant ceremony and she came up with a beautiful ritual. It felt rooted in tradition.

    My cousin was amazing – not only did I know going into this that she performs beautiful, moving wedding ceremonies, but she knows my family so well that she was able to tell stories about our family histories in the homily. She also really knew how to run the stagecraft aspects of things.

    I know people here sometimes are very reluctant to say people SHOULD do something or not, but I HIGHLY recommend a rehearsal. And taking that rehearsal seriously. My cousin had us go through the motions not once but twice, and it just gave everyone the muscle memory they needed to get through the ceremony as smoothly as possible.

    Also, choosing readers is incredibly important. It’s not an ornamental role.

    I don’t know what it’s like to have a religious ceremony – I only had my ceremony. But I know that I went into that space and came out a changed person. The hardest part of this is not having the vocabulary to describe how that feels.

    • meg

      Mmmm. Though I always say, I don’t think the feeling of coming out changed had ANYTHING to do with the use of the word God in our ceremony. We talked about God to referance our fundamental outlook on the world, but what made us married was what we said to each other, in front of all those people who loved us.

      But yeah, finding the vocabularly for that is hard. The APW Team has been having some discussions about writing about that, and the discriptions Alyssa and I have given to poor Lauren are… hilarious?

      • margiemive

        It’s so hard! I sound totally crazy when I start talking about my ceremony, because A) it sounds like I am hallucinating, and maybe I was, and B) I don’t think Future Me could have convinced Past Me what it would feel like. I just had to go through it and live it and feeeeel it. And it changes everything. It certainly changes everything with regard to wedding planning, totally and completely. Wedding planning too often had almost nothing to do with the act of actually becoming married. I just had no idea what it would mean to go through that ceremony and be married on the other side.

        • Interesting!

          Really – it’s always really fascinating to read about people’s experiences where they feel their wedding ceremony did change them and that “feeling” it as it happened was so important.

          I just didn’t feel that way at my wedding. I mean I was ridiculously happy, over the moon, I smiled so much I had a double chin because I was grinning like a greedy kid in a candy shop, but I didn’t feel any sort of great change or new emotion that Future Me couldn’t have described to Past Me.

          If anything, my thoughts about how it would feel (discussions with Future Me) were right on the money: “you’re already married, sweetie, just in your heart. The ceremony is nice, but it’s not where the emotional core of things lies.”

          The only time I felt like I was really getting at the core of the creation of my new marriage was when we were saying our own vows…which were basically articulating things I’d felt for a long time. Saying them in front of family was, however, something I am very happy I did.

          • meg

            Yeah, the ceremony wasn’t really happy for me, it was just very intense, and we were very present. Our vows were not something we wrote, they were the hebrew vows, and they were not things we’d felt for a long time (we’d never vowed to sanctify our relationship according to the Jewish laws, after all). I think, for us, being married wasn’t something that had already happened in our heart. We’d been together for five years, but when we promised to sanctify our relationship, and signed our Ketubah promising a bunch of other really enormous practical things (not, I will love you, but I will always do X), that was really new. Jewish weddings are very heady legal things – it’s saying YES, I take all of this on according to the Jewish law, and that’s not something that happens in your heart, really. That was not something that had happened, or COULD have happened for us without that particular ritual and communal blessing.

            That’s part of my shot at a description.

            So ridiculously happy? No. Over the moon? No. Something brand new that I’d never felt before? Yes.

          • Alexandra

            Really interesting! I wonder if we’ll feel like you–we do feel married in our hearts, and I’ve felt a sense of difference, or change, when we’ve said some things like that to each other, before. But I also think the standing up in front of friends & family will be a big deal, because why have an event that goes beyond immediate family otherwise? ;p
            We’ve got almost a year to figure out our wording, so…I guess I’ll have to just keep checking back here. ;)

  • When my husband and I were looking for an officiant it was really important to us to find someone who didn’t want to push us into performing rituals with no meaning to us. Sand ceremonies, unity candles, all of these things are beautiful and symbolic for some, but for us they really hold no meaning. We felt like it would do a disservice not only to us, but to people for whom these rituals do carry meaning to just go through the motions for the sake of a photo op or filler in the ceremony. This is why we didn’t get married in a church or synagogue either. What was important to us was honoring our union and our lives together, and giving a nod to the family and friends who have helped us so much along the way. What followed was a secular ceremony full of anecdotes about our relationship, warm words from friends and family, lots of tears and even more laughs. It was a perfect blend of sweet and sassy and more than anything it felt 100% genuine.

    I can credit a great deal of this to our officiant who at no time pressured us to accept anything into the ceremony that didn’t feel organic and real to us. Nothing was forced or fake and that truly shined through and made the day what it was.

  • A good officiant really is so vital. We got lucky, one of our good friends is an experienced JP, as well as being a fantastic lady. She crafted a ceremony that was perfect with us, with fairly minimal input. Everything about the wedding was better because we had an officiant we knew and trusted.

  • Julia

    My husband and I had a secular ceremony, and it was really important to us for it not to feel like the form of a religious ceremony with the religion removed. The choice that I think was the most important to this was to have our officiant (in our case my husband’s aunt) not stand up with us the whole time and be in charge of the whole ceremony (like a minister, priest or rabbi would), but just to speak a little bit about us and perform the solemnization (as it’s called by the state of Massachusetts, where we got married) at the end. We had several other family members and friends contribute to the ceremony, and it all flowed quite naturally; it didn’t feel at all necessary to have a minister-like figure guiding and framing the ceremony. I imagine it might be harder to convince a professional officiant to step back and not be the MC so to speak, but perhaps possible.

    • meg

      Well…. Rabbi’s only sort of do this (since they don’t marry you, you marry yourselves), and you don’t actually have to have a Rabbi to get married according to Jewish law. You have one these days because of secular law (and tradition). And if you’re Quaker no one does this. So there are lots of religious traditions you can draw on if you don’t want someone leading your service. Not draw on like, copy. But draw on like draw from their rich historical tradition and philosophy to help create something that makes sense to you.

      I’m only mentioning this because I’ve noticed a cultural tendency to assume that all religious/cultural weddings have the same basic form and structure as the western Christian wedding (like a officiant leading the process). And they really don’t, so looking outside that form and structure can be really helpful, as you’re looking for ideas that you click with.

      • In Taiwan, most people follow a syncretic folk religion that is something of a cross between folk Daoism (including folk gods that ‘pure’ academic Daoism doesn’t mention or embrace, as well as demi-god like spirits usually descended from real historic figures…interestingly many of these were pirates or famous bandits in real life, but others were more akin to Catholic “saints” in their life stories). There’s also a hefty dose of Confucian tradition and Buddhism (you can often find a Boddhisattva or two, a Guanyin etc. in the collections of worshipped idols and sutras play an important role). There are of course ancestors and ghosts, as well. Who believes what is up for discussion. as no two people in Taiwan will follow the same set of beliefs regarding all this – some will be more attracted to Buddhism, others will have a small horde of idols to the earth god, the medicine god, the sea goddess etc. in their homes, others will take ancestor worship very seriously, and still others will say they pray on auspicious days but don’t really believe any of it.

        Weddings, as a result, are really fascinating things.

        To get married all you need to do is go to the town hall and sign a paper together. It’s done. But people will still have a fortune teller decide an auspicious time to get married, which is often before 4am. Only the family is present (sometimes there will be a fortune teller or even, rarely, a matchmaker there too), and as such I’ve never seen an actual marriage ‘ceremony’ – only receptions. They usually take place at the bride’s house.

        There are usually two receptions – one side throws an ‘engagement party’ to which their side and immediate family on the other side is invited, and then the other side throws the ‘wedding party’ to which the other side is invited, with immediate family on the first side. Friends will usually be invited to the 2nd, not the 1st.

        Since these ceremonies have no legal standing, unless you have a grandmother insisting on certain traditions, you can more or less do whatever you want…or do nothing at all. The legal bit is done when you sign the paper at the town hall, with no ceremony whatsoever.

        • Carreg

          I like that. Thanks for telling — it’s really interesting. Like Meg says, it’s easy to forget that weddings are utterly different in different cultures.

    • meg

      IE, in Judism there is nothing akin to a solemnization. We ended with a blessing, but that was it.

  • Laura

    I’m so thrilled to see this post! I’m struggling with trying to figure out how to arrange the ceremony.

    We’ll be getting legally married at City Hall in Stockholm (where we live) before the wedding with friends and family in Italy. My vision is to say our vows (probably something traditional) to each other without an officiant. I would love it if our guests (only about 50) were standing around us in a circle during the very brief ceremony.

    Does this sound like craziness to you? Do you think people will be able to hear, etc? How can we get them to gather ’round?

    I would love to hear your opinions about this. Please help me!

    • meg

      You ask them to gather round. And I think it sounds lovely. Make sure you PROJECT though, and have a few chairs for the old and infirm.

    • This is will be easy to do if you are mingling with your guests beforehand (as opposed to making an entrance, which will require an aisle through the middle of your guests. Have your fiance or someone with a deeper, more commanding voice, invite people to gather round. Hint: you might want to have one or two friends help with the “gathering” or it might feel like herding cats. Before launching into your vows, you, your fiance or another pre-appointed speaker might want to give a few words of introduction and welcome. Then simply turn toward one another and exchange your heartfelt words of love and commitment. It will be beautiful. Afterward, you (or someone) might need to encourage people to come up and congratulate the happy couples. Sometimes people are shy about doing that.

    • ddayporter

      above ideas will probably work! also if you are doing a website and/or program, you could include a note about the plan in either or both of those. But I think spreading the word to a few key people (probably your parents and any other special types will want the heads up so they can make sure to be in the front) and then making an announcement at the ceremony, you’ll be fine! definitely have a few chairs handy if you know some will need to sit. I love that idea of being surrounded by your guests for the vows though.

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  • Wow, this is a great blog. I am a wedding officiant in San jose, CA and deal with many of the issues discussed in this post on a daily basis. I love helping couples create meaningful ceremonies. It leads to great conversations about, faith, values, religion and marriage.

    As I was reading this post and the comments, an old Appalachian Mountain Song came to mind:

    The old pump is rusty;
    but, it works some
    primed with water
    from another time
    just save a little water
    for the next in line
    save a little water
    for another time.

    Religion often looks like a rusty old pump that is not worth much; but, in big moments — like weddings — religious traditions can be extremely meaningful. Why not look at the religious traditions of your upbringing. I encourage couples to take what they like, edit it and leave the rest.

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