Long ago, in a land far away (called medieval Northern Europe), brides were presented with their wedding ring at the tip of a sword. A few years on, and religious ceremonies were the norm. Now, there’s so much variation in culture and religion that all manners of couples have all manners of weddings. Religious weddings tend to be fairly strict, but non-religious weddings, or purely spiritual weddings, give far more creative opportunities. So here are eight alternative unity ceremony ideas for your wedding.
Above: A bride and groom hold hands, flashing their wedding rings.
1. Sand Ceremony
A growing favourite wedding trend, the sand ceremony is a wonderful ceremony alternative. Its meaning is simple and beautiful: two becoming one. The bride and groom mix two different colours of sand into one container, thus symbolising their lives and hearts entwined. Once combined, it would be extremely difficult to separate the sand out again, just as the bride and groom are so joined together.
The pouring of the sand can take place at any time before, after or during the wedding vows and ring exchange. Usually there’s a container each for the bride and groom with their respective sand colours inside. A third container sits empty until, after the officiate has explained the ceremony and its meaning, the bride or groom pours some of her/his sand into the empty container. Their partner does the same afterwards, and then the couple pour their remaining sand together so that the two colours mix.
After the ceremony, you are left with a decorative item you can put on display in your home. You don’t have to limit yourself to the straight and narrow though—your containers don’t need to be a simple, long glass vases. Opt for shaped glasses, or an hourglass!
There are so many different colours of sand to choose from, so choose yours wisely. It could be your birth month colour, your favourite colour, a colour tied to a memory, a colour you think matches your personality, your wedding colour scheme. For a beautiful effect, it may be a sweet idea to use colours that, when mixed, become a new colour. E.g. blue and red becoming purple. But it’s totally your choice! Any colour mix would probably look gorgeous!
Infuse even more meaning into this ceremony by collecting your sand from a favourite beach, or even include your children in the ceremony—you can have more than three sand containers, with the sand to symbolise anything from shared love or spirituality.
Sand ceremonies are a fantastic idea for outdoor weddings to get that natural feel, and it’s a double win if you’re planning a beach wedding (careful with it though, as sand can be messy)! So even in common ceremonies you can still tailor it to your desires. You don’t even have to use sand for this ceremony—alternatives include salt or spices, and hey, why not use something like glitter too? (Use it to make a piece of art? After all, another union ceremony alternative is to make a piece of art together!)
A lot like the sand ceremony, this ceremony blends two colours into one. It’s advised that you begin experimenting with colours before the wedding so that the mixing gives a colour you really like. Unlike with the sand ceremony, where you can get clear layers and blended layers, water really mixes together.
Above, an example of a water union wedding ceremony with a Classic Ceremony Set. (Any containers used for sand ceremonies can be used interchangeably.)
I have to wonder what kind of an effect ink would give as a nice little spin in this ceremony—the mixing ink in clear water could look wonderful. Also, I’m thinking about water density too. Perhaps you could think carefully about how you want to colour your water, as certain liquids can give a layered effect?
3. Wine Ceremony
The wine ceremony, again, shows the merging of two into one by two wines being blended into one (possibly red wine and white wine). Then the bride and groom each drinks from the shared container. This sharing of a cup is symbolic of togetherness.
4. Love Letters Ceremony
Both the bride and groom write a love letter to each other. These are locked in a box with a bottle of wine and some wine glasses, ready for later in the marriage. Open it up on an anniversary and share a drink of wine and read the letters you wrote for each other. Here you have a reminder of why you love each other, there and ready for the future. (Maybe you could even combine this with the Wine Ceremony? Keep some of the wine from the ceremony bottled so that you might drink it again?)
This is a very romantic wedding ceremony that has so many creative opportunities for you to make it unique and personal to you. In it you can include your family as well, and the lit candles in a dull room will look beautiful.
The bride and groom each has a candle, and there is a third, main one between them. This main candle is lit, perhaps by the father of the bride, (or by all of the couple’s parents?) and then the bride and groom light their own candles from this main one. Then the rest of the family can light their candles from it as well.
On the flip-side, perhaps the bride and groom could light each other’s candles, and together they light the main one (that the rest of the family lights theirs from). The merging flames will show their unity and strengthened love and shared lives.
This ceremony is very flexible, so adapt it and use whichever symbolism works best for you—you don’t even need to exile yourself to unity candles simply placed on a frame or holder. Perhaps you could make this ceremony even more interesting by using lanterns or small flaming torches? The only downside to this ceremony is if a brisk wind is blowing—it may not work very well outside.
One of the most popular flower unity ceremonies is the Rose Ceremony. Roses are a traditional symbol of love and are therefore perfect to feature in a wedding ceremony. The ceremony can also feature family members the bride and groom wish to take part.
The bride and groom each have a rose, and so does every family member they wish to take part in the ceremony. (Red roses are usually used due to their colour symbolism of love, and the family members can have the same colour or a different one.) Then the bride and groom swap their roses as a first gift to each other before placing them together into a vase. Then all of the family members add their roses to the mix.
Of course, you don’t have to use roses for your ceremony—use any flower that has a special meaning to you! Perhaps the flowers you use could be evergreen to symbolise your undying love for one another?
Planting a tree is a physical manifestation that symbolises the growth of your relationship. Together you can see the tree grow just as your love and married life does, and you must nurture it in order to keep it alive. So, you gather two pots of dirt, possibly from a special, significant place, and plant a tree in the combined soil. Water it together with two watering cans (perhaps, again, with water from a meaningful place), or even one shared watering can. You may even consider including your guests or immediate family and friends—ask them to add their own scatters of soil or seeds.
Make the ceremony even more symbolic by choosing the tree due to its meaning—look in mythology or lore or even use a cutting from a tree that is special to you. You can even plant a tree each if you want to, and twist them together as they grow? (Don’t stick so closely to just planting trees though—maybe you could make a mini garden?)
8. Handfasting and Tying the Knot Ceremony
Particularly known in Pagan wedding ceremonies, handfasting is the joining of the bride and groom’s hands and wrists using vines, cord, rope or ribbon tied into a knot. It’s often said that this is where we get the expression “tying the knot” from, and it takes place often at the end of the wedding ceremony as a final promise from one person to the other to bind their lives together.
The material should probably be significant to you, like a strip of cloth from the dress you wore for your first date with your husband-to-be. And there’s nothing to stop you incorporating jewellery or chains of flowers either. Use your imagination to get stunning uniqueness. Also think carefully about what kind of knot you wish to tie your hands into. Each can carry a different meaning, and so one may suit you and your partner better than the others. Some types of knots include Infinity Knots, Fisherman’s Knots and Trinity Knots.
Above: Lace ribbons and fabrics, as seen in our magazine.
There are hundreds of alternative wedding union ideas due to the personalisations of ceremonies and traditions. Only a few to name include:
Having guests bless special stones that are collected and added to stones from the bride and groom
Locking two locks together (and throwing away the keys? Or trusting your own key to the hands of your significant other?)
Trapping a butterfly and releasing it with a whispered promise.
Perhaps you and your other half could each press one of your favourite flowers between two pages of your favourite book?
We live in an age when lots of us have more freedom of choice than ever for our weddings. There are now very few hard-and-fast rules, and you can choose everything from your venue to your flowers. You decide what you want to do. …Your wedding, your call.
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Leanne manages Confetti's Instagram account (@confettiwedding) and is one of Confetti's article writers. She enjoys being a highly creative person with a life-long passion for art and creative writing; she has a determined dream of becoming a published author. She values giving help and advice to everyone she can, and loves talking to new people.