Civil weddings, and purely spiritual non-religious weddings, offer more creative options for a symbolic marriage ceremony, so you can really think outside the box when it comes to planning your alternative unity ceremony.
You have lots of choices, such as hiring a wedding celebrant to personalise your wedding service, and you could explore a totally different type of unity ceremony. We’ve rounded up 15 unique ways to make your wedding ceremony different, and asked wedding celebrant Ali Fleming of Cariad Personal Ceremonies to explain what they mean.
Our 15 Favourite Alternative Unity Ceremony Ideas
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 couple mix two different colours of sand into one container, thereby symbolising their lives and hearts entwined. Once combined, it would be extremely difficult to separate the sand out again, just as the couple are so joined together.
“Sand ceremonies are a very popular choice as a way to involve loved ones in the ceremony alongside the couple,” explains Ali. “They are a favourite for children as they get to choose their own colour of sand and have a direct role in the ceremony.”
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.
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 to 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. You don’t even have to use sand for this ceremony—you could even use glitter.
Read even more on the sand ceremony in our sand ceremony guide.
2. Water Ceremony
Another of our favourite alternative unity ceremony ideas is the water ceremony. A lot like the sand ceremony, this ceremony blends two colours into one. We advise 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.
Maybe you like the effect of ink in water too as a nice little spin in this ceremony—the mixing ink in clear water could look wonderful. Also, consider water density. Think carefully about how you want to colour your water and get creative, 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 (you could pour from two bottles of the same wine, so it doesn’t taste weird!). Then the couple drinks from the shared container. This sharing of a cup is symbolic of togetherness.
4. Love Letters Ceremony
For this alternative unity ceremony the couple write love letters to each other, and these are locked in a box with a bottle of wine and some wine glasses, ready for later in the marriage such as a milestone anniversary. Open it up, share the wine, and read the letters you wrote for each other. Don’t forget to personalise your wine bottle with a lovely personalised label!
“A lovely way to include your guests in this,” explains Ali, “is to have everyone bring a sealed envelope with a personalised message to put into the box whilst the couple sign the register. Then they can open it on their first wedding anniversary and read everyone’s messages.”
5. Unity Candle Ceremony
The unity candle ceremony is one of the most well-known alternative unity ceremony ideas, and is a very romantic wedding ceremony that offers so many opportunities for you to make it unique and personal to you.
“Candles can have a great significance at the start of a ceremony,” says Ali. “Unity candles are where there are two candlestick shaped candles on either side of a larger candle. Each partner lights their single candle at the start of the ceremony, which stays burning throughout.
“At a later point the couple come forward and use their single candles to light the bigger middle one together. When two lights come together they burn stronger and brighter; this symbolises the strength that two people can bring by coming together in a relationship.”
Alternatively, perhaps the couple could light each other’s candles, before lighting the main one. 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 stick to the traditional unity candles in a candle holder. The only downside to this ceremony is if a brisk wind is blowing; it might not work very well at an outdoor wedding.
6. Flower Ceremony
One of the most popular flowers-inspired alternative unity ceremony ideas 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 couple wish to take part.
The couple each has 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?
Read more on the Rose Ceremony.
Wedding celebrant Ali explains how to involve at the guests in a variation on the flower ceremony: “This is lovely for small weddings. Every guest is asked to bring a single bloom, and before the bride makes her entrance two guests (usually the mothers, but it could be a bridesmaid duty) mingle with the guests to collect the flowers, resulting in two large bunches.
“The bunches are then taken to the bride and arranged into a bouquet – could be one for the bride, or shared between the bridesmaids too. Then the bride can make her entrance carrying flowers gifted by all her guests – this is lovely for a festival style of wedding.”
7. Tree Planting Ceremony
Planting a tree is a beautiful wedding idea as it can symbolise 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 (again, perhaps with water from a meaningful place), or even one shared watering can. You might even want to include your guests or immediate family and friends—ask them to add their own scatters of soil or seeds. This is definitely one of the the most symbolic alternative unity ceremony ideas!
Featured above: Weddings with the Woodland Trust
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’s special to you. You could even plant a tree each if you want to, and twist them together as they grow?
If you want to involve some of your guests in your tree planting ceremony, Ali has some tips: “Chosen loved ones can come forward and sprinkle earth and water the plant; this signifies that help is often needed from those around us to make things flourish, but all things need time, loving and attention to grow successfully.
“This is a lovely ceremony idea to bring children from previous relationships into the ceremony… after the ceremony the plant can be transferred into a more permanent position in the family garden to grow.”
Read more on how to make your day more memorable with woods and trees.
8. Handfasting and Tying the Knot Ceremony
One of the oldest of these alternative unity ceremony ideas, and 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 often takes place at the end of the wedding ceremony as a final promise from one person to the other to bind their lives together.
“This is a very popular and colourful part of many wedding ceremonies” says Ali, “and you have a choice of involving just the couple themselves or to involve chosen loved ones to come forward with different coloured ribbons to place over the couple’s bound hands – this is a great part for children to be involved in.”
The material should probably be significant to you—for example, a strip of cloth from the outfit you wore for your first date with your partner. And there’s nothing to stop you incorporating jewellery or chains of flowers either.
Don’t be afraid to get creative and be unique. Also think carefully about what kind of knot you wish to tie your hands into. Each can carry a different meaning, and so, symbolically, one may suit you and your partner better than the others. Some types of knots include Infinity Knots, Fisherman’s Knots, and Trinity Knots.
9. Painted Canvas Ceremony
One of the most artistic alternative unity ceremony ideas, you could create a piece of art that you and your partner can treasure forever by painting on a piece of canvas (perhaps decorated with your names and wedding date?).
To make it even more special, you can carry through the symbolism of “two becoming one” by each using a different colour of paint that, when combined, make a new colour. For example, blue and red to make purple. By the end of your wedding ceremony you’ll have a lovely keepsake that will look fantastic on your living room or bedroom wall.
10. Sundial Wedding Ceremony
The sundial wedding ceremony is a Celtic ritual that’s still an important part of weddings in parts of Ireland. The couple touch fingers through the hole of a sundial (the sundial itself is a carved stone), and this acts as confirmation of their union as well as a potent symbol. Then they use a silk scarf, passing it through the hole of the sundial three times as they make a wish, and then others are invited to make their own wishes.
11. Lasso Wedding Ceremony
Another of our favourite alternative unity ceremony ideas is the lasso ceremony. This wedding ceremony involves the couple being draped in a floral garland or rosary twisted into the symbol of infinity. At the end of the wedding, the couple saves the garland as a symbol of their union.
12. Harmony Glass Ceremony
The harmony glass ceremony is similar to the sand ceremony, but you use coloured crystals instead of sand. The crystals can then be blended into a piece of glass art to treasure forever. “Couples can choose the combination of colours and a bespoke shape for the resulting glass art,” explains Ali.
“After the ceremony, you could visit the glass ceremony to watch the transformation as the blended crystals are made into glass art.”
13. Ring Warming
“Ring warming is a great way for guests to be involved in the ceremony,” reveals Ali. “The best man (or woman!) steps forward with both of the wedding rings and passes them around to each guest.
“Each guest then gets to ‘warm’ or bless the rings with love and kind thoughts for the couple and their marriage. Once they’ve passed through all the guests’ hands, they go back to the front to be held until it’s time for the couple to exchange rings.”
14. Tree of Life Unity Ceremony
This ceremony idea is a great alternative to a guest book, Ali explains: “Place wooden hearts or tags on every guests’ chair before the ceremony, and ask guests to write messages on them. Whilst the newlyweds sign the register, the guests can come to the front and hang their message on a tree.
“The tree can also be moved to the reception so any evening guests can add messages too, and it becomes a wonderful keepsake for the couple.”
15. Jumping the Broom
Jumping the broom is an ancient wedding ceremony tradition. “It’s a great way to involve children in your alternative wedding ceremony,” says Ali, “as they can hold the broom!
“This is often using alongside a handfasting wedding ceremony – the couple will have their hands bound together before they jump over the broom, which signifies leaving their single lives behind and jumping into their new married future together.
“It’s a great wedding photo and at the end of the ceremony, the broomstick can be held at the exit point so all the guests can jump over it too!”
For more wedding planning inspiration make sure you check out these creative wedding ceremony seating ideas, or look at these stunning ways to personalise your wedding ceremony.