Adding a wedding ceremony ritual, also called a unity ritual or unity ceremony, is a wonderful way to personalize your ceremony – and to inject your personalities. From a handfasting rooted in ancient times, to a timeless sand ceremony, or secular tree planting, a unity ceremony adds a special element to your wedding day.
When it comes to which wedding ritual to choose, go with one – or two – that truly resonates with you and your partner. What’s more, the options are almost limitless. To get you started, here’s eleven favorite wedding ceremony rituals, from classic to contemporary, and everything in between.
Handfasting unity ceremony
The handfasting ceremony tradition is a Celtic wedding ritual with medieval roots. It involves binding the couple’s hands together with ribbons or cords to symbolize their union. In the middle ages, handfasting was used in place of a marriage license before weddings were recognized as legal responsibilities of the government and church. Each colored cord has its own meaning, and cords can be made of whatever you like, including ribbons. (My husband and I used a tartan from his Scottish heritage!) Some of my wedding couples have made their own handfasting cords, others order them from artisans or other retail websites. (Photo location: Belle Vue / Historic Downtown Wilmington, NC)
Sand ceremony / Unity glass
Sand pouring, or sand ceremony, is one of the most popular wedding ceremony rituals – and they’re not just for beach weddings. For this idea, the couple pours two separate vases of sand (usually in different colors) into the same vessel, creating a layered, one-of-a-kind pattern. From that point forward, it will be impossible to ever separate the colors, which represent the blending of two people forever. Many couples personalize this ritual by using sand from meaningful locations, and it’s especially popular for destination weddings. Best part? After your wedding day, you can display your unity vase of sands in your home, for a lovely reminder of your wedding day. (Photo: Incredible Beach Weddings / Location: Carolina Beach, NC)
A twist on the classic sand ceremony is unity glass, or glass pouring. Here, beautifully colored glass pieces or gems are poured into the unity vessel. From there, some couples have the combined glass melted and created into stunning works of art. (photo: Lightbloom Photography / Location: Wrightsville Manor)
Seal it with a sip / shot
This is a lot of fun, and often has guests cheering during this part of your ceremony. A bottle of bourbon, tequila – whatever your libation of choice – is placed on a table. Your officiant will pour a shot into each of your glasses, or you can pour for each other. Then after some words by the officiant, you’ll be asked to seal your vows with a sip! In smaller sized ceremonies, you may want to include any members of your bridal party, the officiant, or parents. It’s up to you! (Photo: The Axtells / Location: 128 South)
Wine unity ceremony / Unity beer or cocktail
There are several variations of using wine during a wedding, whether at civil, spiritual or religious ceremonies, but a common option is to have two small carafes of wine, one white and one red. After exchanging rings, the couple pours the wines into a third carafe, creating a blend. They each take a sip of the mixed wine to represent their individual lives becoming one.
Alternatively, some couples choose two of their favorite beers (hello craft beer lovers!) or spirits, and pour them into one glass. Each separate beer or spirit represents the uniqueness of each person, which is then blended into the unity glass, representing the joining of two hearts as one.
Love letter / Wine box ceremony
Before the wedding, you and your spouse write love letters to each other and then seal or lock them inside a box during the ceremony. Traditionally, the letters are accompanied by a bottle of your favorite wine or spirit —and any other mementos you want to save as a keepsake. You’ll eventually open the wine box or time capsule at a later date, such as an anniversary or life milestone. (Photo: Indigo Silver / Location: Hotel Ballast)
Ring warming ceremony
Believed to be an Irish or Gaelic wedding ceremony tradition, the warming of the rings takes place when the couple’s wedding bands are passed around by guests during the ceremony. Each person is asked to briefly hold the rings in their hands while also saying a short, silent prayer for the couple (if desired). The rings are returned to the couple with blessings and positive energy for a long, happy marriage.
Peanut butter and jelly unity ceremony
Just the like the two of you, few things go better together than peanut butter and jelly. Each of you starts with a piece of bread, to makes one half of the sandwich. Just the separate halves, each one in great in itself. But join them together, and you have something pretty amazing – take a bite!
Unity tree planting ceremony
This wedding unity ceremony idea can be easily customized for any theme and personal style. It has no official religious or cultural ties, but the tradition itself symbolizes you and your spouse beginning a new life together. Taking care of your sapling tree (or whichever type of plant you choose) will remind you to nurture each other throughout your marriage, even when the honeymoon phase fades! Like flowers, trees symbolize different things—for example, cherry trees represent good fortune—so choose a type of tree that resonates with you the most. During this ritual, you and your spouse will take turns adding soil and water to the seedling.
Paint pouring ceremony
If you’re looking for a fun way to personalize your wedding ceremony, you’ll love the paint pouring ritual. The concept is simple: you and your partner pour two different paint colors onto a blank canvas to symbolize your lives coming together as one. The end result is a one-of-a-kind piece of art that you can display in your home after you’re married.
Breaking the glass
This Jewish wedding tradition takes place after the rabbi announces the newlyweds as a married couple. The groom smashes a wrapped piece of glass with his foot, which is followed by applause and a cheer of “Mazel tov!” from the guests. Tradition says that the couple will remain married for as long as the glass is shattered, while others believe it symbolizes the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Jumping the broom
This tradition dates back to the 1800s and is believed to have origins in western African weddings and Wiccan communities. Jumping the broom takes place at the very end of the wedding ceremony, after the officiant pronounces the couple as officially married. The newlyweds jump over a broomstick before the recessional to symbolize sweeping away their old lives and welcoming their new life together.
Looking for a lighthearted wedding script? See my whimsy wedding ceremony with a funny reading about marriage, written for AMM.org