Personalizing Your Ceremony

Great ideas on how to personalize your wedding ceremony with music, readings and prayers, wedding vows, wedding programs and lots more!

Ceremony Music
1.Hire musicians for your ceremony such as a trumpeter, violinist, flautist or harpist. You could also use a string quartet, bells, chimes, or even bagpipes.

Hint: You can hire musicians without it costing a fortune – check with your church and at the local colleges.

2.If you hire a trumpeter, there are a few pieces that are written especially for the trumpet and the organ, such as “Trumpet Voluntary” and “Trumpet Tune” by Jeremiah Clark. It can make for a truly majestic and grand entrance.

3.Walk down the aisle (the recessional) to the same song as your mother did. This is a nice tribute to your parents and can be a real sentimental “tear jerker”.

4.Sing a hymn during your ceremony. This creates a feeling of “unity” and gives your guests the feeling that they are participating in your ceremony. It also may help to ease any jitters before the actual ceremony begins. A nice hymn suggestion… “For the Beauty of the Earth”.

5.If you’re having a receiving line after the ceremony, you might want to ask your musicians to play while you greet your guests. It makes for wonderful background music.

Down the Aisle

1.Traditionally, the bride’s father escorts the bride down the aisle. Today, there are many other variations. Some brides are being escorted by two fathers (father and step father) each holding one arm of the bride. Some brides are even walking down, hand and hand with their mother.

2.Give a rose to your mother and groom’s mother as you walk down the aisle. Talk to your florist and have them place the two roses in your bouquet (unfastened) and then pull them out when you reach the front of the church.

or, prior to the ceremony, place a personalized handkerchief and a rose at both mothers’ seats. The handkerchief will be a wonderful keepsake and remembrance.

Wedding Vows

1. Many couples are personalizing their wedding ceremony by writing their own vows. You may want to pick up a book about wedding vows to help you get started. Read over a large selection of vows and pick out words and phrases that “feel right” and incorporate them into your own vows. One good rule – keep your vows short, simple and from the heart.

If you’re having a religious ceremony, check with your Officiant first to see if you are allowed to deviate from the traditional wedding vows.

2. You can choose to memorize your wedding vows and recite them to each other. A word of caution – you’re likely to be a little nervous before and during the ceremony, so you may not want the added pressure of trying to remember your vows.

An Alternative: write out your vows and bring them with you. You can hide them in your glove or hold them with your bouquet.

If you do choose to recite them from memory, make sure that either you or the Officiant has a copy – just in case!

Candle Lighting

1. Lighting the unity candle symbolizes the union of two lives into one. To include others into your ceremony, you could ask the mothers, grandmothers or other guests to go to the altar to light the two candles that you and the groom use to light your unity candle.

2. Have a candlelit service. The bride and groom light their candles and then the ushers walk down and light the candles of everyone sitting at the end of the pews and then those guests turn and light the candle of the person sitting next to them and so on. Next, the lights are dimmed and the entire church is lit by candle light and the most warm and romantic glow transcends over the church.

Many churches have restrictions about candlelit services due to the potential fire hazard, so be sure to check with your Officiant, before you start buying any candles!

Children in Weddings

1. Including children in your wedding always adds a special touch. Generally, it’s best (or at least more predictable) to have children ages four and above, but it always depends on the child too.

2. If the bride or groom already have children, vows can be written to include them in the ceremony. It’s a nice way for any children from previous marriages to feel accepted, loved and part of the new family.

For an example of a wedding vow written especially for a child, check out USABride’s Interview with Diane Warner.

3. Another way to include children from previous marriages is to have them take part in the candle lighting ceremony. After the bride and groom light their unity candle, the children can participate by lighting a candle too.

Read more tips about children in weddings.

Reader Tip: I have 2 children from my previous marriage and we wanted to include them in our ceremony to show that we are all in this together and that we are (will be) a family. Instead of a unity candle that just 2 people light, I found a large candle with 4 wicks that we can all light. I think the kids will understand the symbolism in this the best. (Soon to be, Mrs. Madsen)

Wedding Program

1. Design your own wedding program. You can have them printed or you can make them at home on your computer – just buy a nice stock of paper and tie with a pretty ribbon. Inside, write the names of all the members of the wedding party and the music played. Be sure to include the names of your musicians and names of any readers and passages read.

2. As part of your wedding program, you can include special poems about love or family or write a special message to your guests. Here’s an example of a special dedication to a bride and groom’s parents:

“We would like to dedicate this ceremony to our parents.
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Questions to Ask Your Officiant

Just as with all your other wedding vendors, the Officiant you choose should match your personal style and the type of wedding ceremony that you’d like to have. For instance, you may not choose the same Officiant for an informal wedding in the park versus a formal religious ceremony in a church.

Your Officiant may ask to meet with you several times before the wedding to discuss your feelings about love, marriage, commitment and sometimes religious beliefs. Now, we can’t help you with that, but we can give you a list of questions to ask your Officiant to help work out the details of the ceremony:
Religious Issues

* Will you marry us if we are of different faiths?
* Will you marry us if one or both of us have been previously divorced?
* Will you marry us if we are not current members of your church? If not, can we inquire about becoming a member?
* Do you require pre-marital or religious counseling before getting married? If so, what does that entail?
* Would you allow another Officiant (possibly of a different religion or a relative) to take part in the ceremony?

Wedding Vows

* Are we allowed to write our own wedding vows or must we use the traditional vows?


* Are there any restrictions on the types of readings that can be used?
* Can we use contemporary readings or are they required to be religious or scripture readings?

Ceremony Music

* Are there any restrictions on the type of music that can be played?
* Can we use contemporary songs?
* Can we bring our own musicians or must they be affiliated with the church?

Wedding Attire

* Are there any restrictions on wedding attire? Some churches may have rules about bare shoulders or skirt lengths.


* Are there any restrictions on photography? Some churches may limit or may not allow ANY flash photography. Others may have restrictions on where the photographer may and may not stand.
* Is it permissible to videotape the ceremony? Are there any restrictions for the videographer?


* Are there any items or decorations that would be included? Such as candles, candelabras or pew decorations?
* Can we use an aisle runner?
* Is a candle light service permitted?
* Are we allowed to take the floral arrangements to the reception?
* Are we allowed to throw rice or birdseed outside the church? What about rose petals or bubbles?


* Is the wedding date we’ve chosen available? What time can we hold the ceremony?
* How many guests will the church hold?
* Is there another wedding scheduled on the same day?
* Is there a room for the bride and her attendants to stay “out of sight” or “freshen up” before the ceremony begins?
* Can we hold a receiving line outside the church? What happens if it rains?
* What about the timing and logistics of obtaining the marriage license? Officiants are usually well versed in the rules for their state.


* Ask about the Officiant’s fee.
* Is there a fee for the organist?
* Ask if there are any other fees or “donations” that should be given to the church.

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Personalize Your Wedding Vows

In the past few years, the popularity of personalizing the wedding ceremony has increased dramatically. By putting their own personal touches into their wedding ceremony, couples can ensure that their personalities are fully incorporated into their wedding day.

What many couples don’t know, is that your personal feelings can even be included into the legal parts of your wedding day. Adding your own views and thoughts of your love, and of your future life together, will give a touching intimacy to your ceremony.

If you would like to write your own vows, you should first meet with your Officiant to find out what must be legally kept in the ceremony, and what can be written by you. It is a good idea to make a list of what you would both like to say to your family and friends about your relationship and future life together, your hopes and dreams. You may want to say something about your feelings for each other, your views on commitment and trust, or simply read a poem.

Couples often find that their own words can be more meaningful than traditional vows. Some couples feel that the traditional vows are chauvinistic, and because of this, reciting these vows may be inappropriate if you have strong views on equality. Such couples are frequently omitting the word “obey” from their vows. Instead, they substitute such words as: “I promise to love you, comfort and encourage you, to be open and honest with you, and stay with you as long as we both shall live”

An Example of a Personally Written Vow:

…Today we make a commitment to one another. I want you to know that you are a precious gift and that you bring so much joy into my life. I affirm the special bond between us, and promise to keep it alive always. I promise to be your confidante, your best friend and to share in your hopes and dreams. In recognition of this, I, __________, take you, __________, to be my husband. With this vow we face new responsibilities together. I will be trustworthy as your wife, and to love you in all circumstances.

You may like to keep certain elements of the traditional wedding ceremony, or to completely change the ceremony with assistance from your celebrant.

However, most couples still choose to follow a standard
order of service:

*The Greeting
*The Declaration of Intentions (Wedding Vows)
*The Exchange of rings
*The Pronouncement

The service usually begins with the Officiant introducing the couple to the guests, and explaining that they are here to witness the wedding of yourself and the groom. This may be followed by a reading, poem or song. After this, there is an exchange of rings and vows, after which the couple sign the marriage register. The couple are then pronounced married by the Officiant.

Once you have decided what you would like to include in the ceremony, and have written this up, you should meet again with the Officiant, as your vows will have to be approved. The vows you have written will need to be practiced a number of times before the wedding. You will need to be relaxed in reciting them, and familiar with the words.

Take the time to talk with your Officiant and discuss the options you have. This will give you time to plan ahead, write your vows and to become comfortable in reciting them.

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The Recessional Order

The following is a typical order to a wedding Recessional. It can certainly be modified based on your particular situation.

1. Bride and Groom exit
2. Flower girl & Ring bearer exit
3. Maid of Honor & Best Man exit
4. Bridesmaids (each accompanied by an usher) exit
5. Bride’s parents exit
6. Groom’s parents exit
7. Bride’s grandparents exit
8. Groom’s grandparents exit
9. Wedding guests exit

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The Processional Order

The following is a typical order to a wedding Processional. It can certainly be modified based on your particular situation.

The groom, best man and Officiant enter by using a side door.
They all stand facing the guests.

An usher escorts the grandmother(s)of the bride to their seats.

An usher escorts the grandmother(s)of the groom to their seats.

An usher escorts the mother of the groom to her seat.

An usher escorts the mother of the bride to her seat.

The ushers walk down the aisle (or escort the bridesmaids) and stand next the groom and best man and then face the guests.

The bridesmaids walk down the aisle.

The maid of honor walks down the aisle.

The ring bearer walks down the aisle.

The flower girl walks down the aisle. (Many times the flower girl and ring bearer will walk together)

The father of the bride escorts the bride down aisle.

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FAQ’s about the Ceremony

How many Ushers and Bridesmaids are needed?

It depends on the size of the wedding. Normally, there should be one usher for every 50 guests. The average wedding party for formal or semi-formal is four to six Bridesmaids and Ushers. A Bride does not need as many Bridesmaids as Ushers.

In a formal wedding, which side is usually reserved for the Bride’s family and friends?

The Bride’s parents are seated on the left side of the aisle and the groom’s parents sit on the right side.

What if a church has two center aisles?

Pick one aisle and treat the whole wedding as though it had only one, or use the right aisle for the processional and the left for the recessional.

Does the Groom always kiss the Bride at the altar?

The person performing the ceremony will rule on it, according to church practice.

Can a house wedding be just as formal as a church wedding?

Yes, but there are usually fewer attendants.

Is there usually a recessional at a home wedding?

The Groom pays, but the Best Man hands it over in a plain white envelope before or after the ceremony.

Where does the wedding party stand in the receiving line?

The receiving line is in the back of the church after the ceremony. The order may vary but, usually the Bride’s mother and father are first, followed by the Bride, Groom, and Bridesmaids. The Groom’s mother and father may be included. The Ushers and the Best Man do not stand in the receiving line.

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Ceremony Itinerary

Every religion has their own established rituals, customs and traditions for wedding ceremonies. Also, your clergyman or Officiant may also have specific rules and procedures to be followed when they officiate a wedding ceremony. So, when planning your ceremony, be sure to consult with your Officiant every step of the way!

Here is a general outline of the sequence of events for a traditional Wedding Ceremony:
The Processional:

View the complete order of a traditional wedding processional.

The Welcome, Call to Worship, Introduction:

The Officiant greets the guests and usually says a few words about marriage.

Questions of Intent:

The Officiant will ask the questions of intent to the bride and the groom.

Example: “Will you have this women to be your wedded wife, to live together in the holy estate of matrimony? Will you love her, comfort her, honor, and keep her, in sickness and in health?”

Declaration of Consent:

The declaration of consent is seen primarily in Protestant ceremonies. The Officiant asks “Who gives this woman to be married today?” The Bride’s father replies, “I do”. Some brides prefer not to include this segment in their ceremony – – while some brides like to include it as part of the ritual and tradition of the wedding ceremony.

A more modern twist to this tradition – – the Officiant asks the question to the brides parents or both parents. Then, they all respond together “We do”.

Readings and Music:

Readings and music are a wonderful way to personalize your wedding ceremony. Before making any selections, you’ll want to check with your Officiant first. Some faiths and churches have specific rules and guidelines as to the type of readings and music that can be played. For instance, some churches will only allow scripture and religious readings.

Wedding Vows:

Most people are familiar with the Protestant wedding vows:

“Do you ‘Steven’ take ‘Susan’ to have and hold from this day forward, for better, for worse: for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish from this day forward.”

Exchange of the Rings:

The groom places the ring on the bride’s finger. Then, the bride places the ring on the groom’s finger.

Blessing of the Rings:

The bride and groom will make statements to each other. This is done right after the ring is put on the finger (above).

Example: “Take and wear this ring as a symbol of my love”

Pronouncement of the Marriage:

“I now pronounce you husband and wife… ”

Special Acts of Celebration:

Lighting of unity candle, flower giving to parents, blessing of medallion or gifts for step children.

This is another great way to personalize your wedding ceremony and to include children or parents into the ceremony.

Benediction, Prayers and Blessing:

Benediction and prayers led by the Officiant.

Presentation of the New Couple:

The Officiant presents “Mr. and Mrs. _________________” for the first time!

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Unity Candle Ceremony Tips

The unity candle symbolizes the very essence of the wedding ceremony. Two taper candles, representing the couple as individuals, are used to light a single center candle as a visible symbol of their commitment to each other. There are many variations on the ceremony and the individual details are completely up to you. Here are some ideas to help you as you plan your ceremony:

Preparing for Your Ceremony

Before the ceremony begins, place the unity candle on a small table near the altar. If you have an on-site coordinator who may have specific instructions, be sure to check in advance. To prepare for the ceremony, it is a good idea to light the wicks for a moment. (We know you won’t be nervous or anything…but just in case, your candles will light much more easily.) Oh, and who’s got the matches?

There are several popular options for lighting you taper candles. You can have your parents come forward to light the side tapers as a symbol of your two families coming together as one. At this point, some couples choose to present their mothers with a rose. If you wish, the minister or best man and the maid of honor can light the tapers. Or, you may light the tapers yourselves from a candle on the altar.

To Extinguish or Not to Extinguish

When it comes to your unity candle ceremony, that is often the question! While some folks feel that you should extinguish the candles to symbolize your commitment to one another, others argue that to emphasize your individuality within your union, you must leave the tapers lit. Whether or not you extinguish the taper candles is a personal decision and, like many aspects of your wedding planning, is entirely up to you.

If you choose to extinguish your tapers, try this reading:

“As [Name] and [Name] together light the center candle, they will extinguish their own candles, thus letting the center candle symbolize the union of their lives. As this one light cannot be divided, neither will their lives be divided.”

If you’d prefer to leave your tapers lit, try this one:

“[Name] and [Name] come into their marriage relationship as individuals and they do not lose their identity, rather they use their individuality to create and strengthen the relationship of marriage. Therefore, the three candles remain lighted, one for each of them and one for their marriage, as symbols of their commitment to each other and to a lasting and loving marriage.”

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Designing Your Wedding Program

Do you plan to have a wedding program for your wedding? Do you have to have one? The answers to these questions and more are below:
What is the purpose of a program?

*A wedding program identifies and honors those participating in the ceremony.
*It is also a wonderful and sentimental keepsake for everyone.

Do I really need one?

A program is certainly not a required element of your wedding ceremony. However, if you have the time and resources, it’s a great way to add a personal touch to your ceremony.
What should be included?

*Include an outline of the wedding ceremony and the order of events.
*Identify all of the members of the wedding party.
*You can also use other identifying factors such as “Bride’s Best Friend Since College” or “Groom’s Brother”.
*Include the time, date and place of the ceremony and the name of your Officiant.
*Include the titles of any music played or special readings. Be sure to include the names of any musicians, soloists or readers.

*Here are some “optional items” you can also include

A special “Thank You” to the parents. Here’s an example of a special dedication to a bride and groom’s parents:
“We would like to dedicate this ceremony to our parents. They have taught us our values, and shown us how to laugh, love and appreciate all that life has to offer. Their generosity, support, and love is unending.”
*Special message from the bride and groom to their wedding guests.
*Explanation of any special religious or ethnic wedding traditions that will be part of your ceremony.
*Special poems or readings;
One bride who recently wrote in to USABride, said that an entire page of her program was called, “Patchwork of Memories”.
This page went on to explain all of the sentimental details of her wedding from the ring pillow made out of material from her mother’s wedding dress to the antique wedding ring that was worn by the groom’s grandmother

Where should I order my programs?

You can usually order ceremony programs from your printer at the same time you order your invitations. Some brides like to match their wedding programs to their invitations.
Can I make my own?

*YES! Many brides choose to make their programs on a computer. This not only saves money but allows for much greater flexibility and creativity.
*For instance, you can have a single or multiple page program. For a single page program, you can use a heavier card stock and poke holes in the top and decorate with ribbon or a tulle bow. Or, you can use a regular stock of paper and roll it like a scroll and tie with ribbon. The possibilities are endless!

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Include Your Heritage Into Your Ceremony

America is made up of many cultures and nationalities. Why not spice up the traditional American celebration by adding elements of your heritage? Here are a few ideas that will help you incorporate your culture into the festivities:

* In the days of slavery, African-American couples would declare their love in front of family and friends by jumping over a broom. This act symbolized the new home they hoped to enjoy together. Many couples today choose to add this to their ceremony in remembrance of their forefathers.
* Pass on traditional attire and opt instead for brightly colored robes. This dress code can also be extended to the guests.
* Hire drummers or dancers who can add a cultural flair to the ceremony or reception.


* Go with traditional Chinese wedding attire and wear a red dress down the aisle. This beautiful color symbolizes love in Chinese culture.

English or Irish

* Get rid of your tiered wedding cake. The traditional wedding cake for these countries is a dense fruitcake soaked in spirits and wrapped with fondant icing.


* Wear a crown of flowers instead of a veil. In Greece, both the bride and the groom wear flowers, which are placed there by an honored male guest.


* Add a touch of Italy to your reception by asking your band or DJ to play “The Tarantella”, a traditional Italian folk dance.
* Give sugared almonds wrapped in tulle as favors to the guests. In Italian culture, they symbolize both fertility and the bitter and sweet moments in life.
* Release a pair of doves after the ceremony, which have come to signify a couple’s love and happiness.


* As a reminder of the bride and groom’s changed life, many Jewish brides have their husbands break a glass wrapped in cloth at the end of the ceremony.


* To symbolize your union, have a white rope or rosary wound around you and your mate’s shoulders in the shape of a figure-8 as you say your vows.
* Use three bouquets – one to leave at the altar in honor of the Virgin Mary, one to walk down the aisle with, and the last one to use for the bridal toss.


* Hand out silver horseshoes and bells to the women at the wedding. These signify your luck in marriage.

For other ideas, talk to your relatives or do some library research on your own. Also, be sure to let your guests know the significance of any cultural traditions included in your wedding, through a brief explanation of the tradition in either a wedding newsletter or in your wedding program.

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