Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

How to Write a Meaningful and Memorable Ceremony

Reader Question: I'm wondering about your opinion (and others) on making the wedding/ceremony unique, and if there is such a thing. I was reading through a book on vows earlier today, and one of the brides was talking about how she wanted her ceremony to be personal. Needless to say, it looked like something right out of a template. I'm not saying that to be critical, but we've found it very difficult to come up with unique ideas for our ceremony--in part because we have not been to a lot of weddings to gather ideas. My partner believes that to take someone else's idea makes it no longer unique. I, on the other hand, see it as having our perspective attached to it, which makes it unique (I also have this tendency to consult a lot of different sources in order to figure out what I think). Can you make a ceremony unique by seeking out ideas? What advice would you give to couples who haven't attended many weddings (the ones we have attended were mostly Christian--we are not committed to a religion), and want something unique, but haven't the slightest idea where to start?

Great question(s)! I love chatting about ceremonies.

Creating a meaningful and memorable ceremony is challenging. Really challenging. And yet--in my opinion--it's one of the most important aspects of wedding planning (and one of the least-talked about components in the wedding planning community).

Whenever I write anything, I start by thinking about my purpose and goal. I ask myself, "What do I want to make readers think, feel, and do?"

From there, I work backwards to draft the introduction, body, and conclusion--all of which I attempt to align to my stated purpose/goal.

Matt and I applied the same process to the creation of our ceremony. When we sat down to brainstorm, we started with the end in mind. We knew that we wanted our ceremony to focus on community, commitment, connection, and fun.

We freed ourselves from any standard ceremony templates, and just tried to think about things we could do that would represent our four values.

For the introduction, we wanted to focus on our families and friends. I found a quote through a google search about friendship and wrote the introduction around that quote. We had our officiant (my best friend and Matt's best friend) say:
  • Welcome and thank you for joining us as we celebrate Matt and Sara’s commitment to one another.
  • As French writer Marcel Proust said, “Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
  • You are the people who make the souls of Sara and Matt blossom. We want to acknowledge and thank all of you for your support and participation today.

We tried to figure out a way to acknowledge and thank them as personally as possible without spending too much time on it. We didn't want our ceremony to last longer than 30 minutes. We thought about writing each person a person note to let them know how much they meant to us and then asking them to open it and read it during the ceremony. We decided against the idea because we had already written them personal notes on the invitations (and we knew we would also be writing personal notes on the thank you cards). So here's how we balanced personalization with the need for efficiency. Andy said:
  • We have family members from both sides: Indiana, Michigan, Florida, Connecticut and California.
  • We have Matt’s friends: college, camp, KIPP, childhood and Denver.
  • Sara’s friends: college, Teach For America, KIPP, and Denison Montessori.

While I was searching for quotes on friendship, I came across another one I really liked. Matt and I couldn't decide between the Proust one and this one, so we included them both. Andy continued:
  • These friends, a famous writer once wrote, represent “a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”
  • Each of you has been invited to participate in this commitment ceremony because you have, in some way, brought about a new world in Sara or Matt.

While I was researching other people's ceremonies online (I'm like you--I like to look around before making up my own mind!), I came across the idea of giving out a flower to the moms on each side. We decided, instead, to give out hugs. Here's what we said:

Sara:

  • [Andy holds up microphone for Sara to speak]
  • We would especially like to thank our families who have nurtured our independence …


Matt:

  • [Andy holds up microphone for Matt to speak]
  • …and have put up with our quirkiness.
  • [Sara and Matt walk into the audiences to hug their families]

Matt:

  • [Andy holds up microphone for Matt to speak]
  • And we would also like to thank each other’s family for welcoming us so kindly…


Sara:

  • [Andy holds up microphone for Sara to speak]
  • …and for putting up with our quirkiness.
  • [Sara and Matt walk into the audience to hug the other’s family]

We also knew that we at least had to acknowledge the injustice around same-sex marriage bans. At first, Matt was hesitant about including this piece (even though he wholeheartedly supports same-sex marriage) because he didn't want to upset some of his Irish-Catholic family members. Andy intervened by suggesting that we rephrase our comments to make them more positive rather than negative. Here's what we ended up with:

Matt:

  • As we gather here to solidify our commitment to each other, we would also like to celebrate the fact that California just joined the ranks of Massachusetts by finally starting to extend the rights and privileges of marriage to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation.

Sara:

  • It moves us one step closer to fulfilling our nation’s promise to provide liberty and justice for all.


We intentionally tried to split up the talking between all three of us so that one person's voice didn't dominate the entire ceremony.

For the next part, we decided on a hybrid between a Quaker ceremony and the reception toasts.

At a Quaker ceremony, guests speak when they feel moved to say something. We loved the idea of different people saying different things, but we wanted the speeches to be more prepared, and we wanted a little more control over the situation (e.g., we wanted the speakers to be balanced between my friends/family and his). We also knew that we didn't want to be the center of attention all night long at our reception, so we didn't want to have toasts. Since we like toasts, we decided to move them into the ceremony.

We decided to have five of our friends/family prepare two-minute speeches. We left it fairly open. We said they could read poems or do a toast or share a memory, etc. Each person's speech was so personal and authentic. They all spoke with such sincerity. Matt and I just held each other and listened to each speaker.

Then we did our tree planting ceremony. I can't remember how we thought of that idea. Maybe we read about people planting trees in their backyards when they have a baby or something. Maybe we got the idea from our friend Camella's wedding. At one point she said they were going to get married next to a potted tree and then plant it in their backyard.

Regardless, we decided to plant a sappling during the ceremony. I did a bunch of research on trees and what type of tree to get and what different trees symbolize. Here's what I came up with:
  • Now Matt and Sara are going to plant a Live Oak sapling from the backyard of Sara’s family to symbolically represent the growth of their love.
  • In early America, live oaks were widely used to build planks in ships because of their remarkable resilience. The live oak of the USS Constitution repelled the shot of enemy gunfire so effectively that one of the sailors was heard to shout, "Huzzah! Her sides are made of iron!" The ship was given the nickname, Old Ironsides.
  • Like the planks on ships, marriage, too, must be resilient. It must weather the challenges of daily life and the passage of time. And just like the tree that they are planting, marriage requires constant nurturing and nourishment. As they provide the sun, soil, and water for this tree, they will provide the encouragement, trust, and love needed on a daily basis to consciously nurture their connection to each other.

For the vows section, I read a lot of other people's vows. We knew we wanted them to be sincere and fun. We decided to write our own vows following the same stem: "I love you because..." Then we wrote joint vows folloing this stem: "Because I love you, I promise to..."

Here's what we ended up saying:

Sara:

  • Matt, I love you because you make me laugh out loud on a daily basis, like when you come up with alternate names for our dog, Hoss, such as Hoss-tage, Hoss of Pain, or Hoss-car Myer Weiner.
  • I love you because you challenge me to be a better person, like when you made me promise to tell the Penske truck people that we scraped the moving van.
  • I love you because we create adventures together, like Halloween scavenger hunts or road trips out West.
  • I love you because you care so much for other people that you inspire all of us to be more caring. You do things like put toothpaste on my toothbrush and leave it out for me, or come home on the worst day of winter with slippers and a Chia pet herb garden.
  • I love you because I smile every time I wake up to you and when I come home to you. We play together, brainstorm together, create together, read together. Your hand always feels comfortable in mine.
  • Matt, because I love you, I promise to treat you the way you want to be treated and with the respect you deserve. I promise to build trust with my words and actions. I will be your cheerleader, your nurse, your editor, your therapist, your teacher, your student, and your partner in adventure. I will deeply appreciate all of your positive qualities and not let the passage of time dull that appreciation. When life challenges us, I promise to focus on the resiliency of our love. And if I stumble and fail to live up to my promises, I will look you in the eyes, hold your hands, and apologize with sincerity. I will be my best for you.
  • [Sara will hand the microphone and the binder to Matt to speak.]

Matt:

  • Sara, I love you because you are always working to make yourself and the world better; sending birthday cards to friends and reading self-help books.
  • I love you because you never settle for one opinion; you ask friends family, and consult articles and books.
  • I love you because you stand-up for what you believe in; like when you spoke-up to your assistant principal about what was working, what was not and the ways that you could work to change it.
  • I love you because you create documents, documents, documents to better your life and the lives of others; like when we copied over 90,000 documents from your old computer.
  • I love you because you make up songs about our dog, your butt and my smells, and they sound good.
  • Sara, because I love you, I promise to treat you the way you want to be treated and with the respect you deserve. I promise to build trust with my words and actions. I will be your cheerleader, your nurse, your editor, your therapist, your teacher, your student, and your partner in adventure. I will deeply appreciate all of your positive qualities and not let the passage of time dull that appreciation. When life challenges us, I promise to focus on the resiliency of our love. And if I stumble and fail to live up to my promises, I will look you in the eyes, hold your hands, and apologize with sincerity. I will be my best for you.
  • [Matt will hand the microphone and the binder to Andy to speak]


On our wedding website, we had put the following quote: "Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction." We decided to say vows to the world, in addition to our vows to each other. Here's what we came up with:

Andy:

  • In Swahili, the word “ubuntu” means, “My humanity is bound up with yours.” From their vows to each other, it is very clear that Sara and Matt’s humanities are bound up with each other. But they both recognize that their humanity is also bound up with that of the world. As the author of The Little Prince says, "Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction."
  • Now they will make vows to the world.
  • [Andy will hand the microphone and the binder to Matt to hold]

Matt:

  • We will develop in ourselves and inspire in others environmental consciousness…

Sara:

  • …honest and nurturing interpersonal connections…

Matt:

  • …and an active commitment to make the world more just for all.

Then it was time to exchange rings. I did some more research about the symbolism of rings and incorporated it into the ceremony:

Andy:

  • Now Matt and Sara will exchange rings to embody the commitments they have made to each other and the world.
  • Just as circles contain no end and no beginning, these rings are linked to the past and the future. They are connected to the headpiece that Matt’s grandmother wore during her wedding 54 years ago, and they are made from the recycled metal of old jewelry from friends and family. They are worn on the third finger because of an ancient Greek belief that a vein from that finger goes directly to the heart.

Matt:

  • [Chong-Hao walks to the front and Matt and Sara remove each other’s rings.]
  • [Andy holds the microphone in front of Matt; Sara puts Matt’s ring on his finger]
  • I will wear this ring as a celebration of our commitments to each other and the world.

Sara:

  • [Andy holds the microphone in front of Sara; Matt puts Sara’s ring on her finger]
  • I will wear this ring as a celebration of our commitments to each other and the world.


Finally, we decided to symbolize unity through a quilt-wrapping. Through my research, I had read about Jewish huppahs that had been quilted from the fabric of friends and family. I also read about Lorna Leedy's wedding where she and her partner were wrapped in a blanket. We put the two ideas together in this way:

Andy:

  • In the Jewish tradition, marriages take place under a huppah, which can be constructed from the fabric of friends and family. In some Native American traditions, couples are wrapped in a blanket to signify their coming together and their new life together.
  • [Brent and Mike will take the quilt out of the basket and hold it up for everyone to see.]
  • In this symbolic gesture signifying unification, Matt and Sara will be wrapped in a quilt made from fabric from all of you, their family and friends.
  • [Brent and Mike will wrap Sara and Matt in the quilt.]
  • This quilt signifies the warmth and support of family and friends that are needed to sustain a healthy relationship.
  • It signifies the bond between Matt and Sara and the closeness that will continue to develop day after day.
  • It signifies the comfort and beauty they bring to each other and will continue to bring to each other.
  • Together within this blanket, they will sign their marriage into being.
  • [Andy will set up the contract to be signed on the binder. He will hand a pen to Sara, Sara will sign, she will hand the pen to Matt to sign.]
  • [Mike and Brent will remove the quilt.]
  • Now they will embrace and kiss to celebrate that they are now officially united.

Voila! We ended up with a meaningful and memorable wedding ceremony that represented us. Even though it wasn't necessarily the same ceremony that our religious families would have written, it was perfect for us. They ended up appreciating it because they love us and they loved that the ceremony that captured us so well.

As you can see from the process, I definitely believe it's possible to research other people's ideas and morph them into something unique.

A few more pieces of advice:
  1. Start carrying something that allows you to capture your ideas at any time. I carry a Moleskin notebook absolutely everywhere. I never know when inspairation is going to hit. I had a page in there where I collected all my ideas for the wedding ceremony as they came up.
  2. Also remember that half of writing is revising. Our draft went through many different versions, so be sure to give yourself many weeks to work on it.
  3. Talk with your officiant. At first we thought we were going to give Andy bullet points and let him improvise. In the end, we handed him a full script in a small binder. We passed the binder between all of us as we said our lines.
  4. Divide and conquer. Figure out who should write what pieces. Matt and I brainstormed our ideas together, and then I went off and drafted the whole thing. Then I gave it to him for revision and we talked through it together.

And even though it's important, don't stress about it too much. You'll be married in the end, and the day-to-day is way more important than The Day.



Share |

8 comments:

MsTeacherLady said...

You're such a teacher: Objectives! Backwards design! I love it. :)

Kiana said...

Great post, thanks for willingly putting this out in the blog world. I love how you constructed your vows...I've been worried how to go about writing ours and this is a great starting point. :)

Ashlee said...

I stumbled upon your blog today as I am trying to plan a wedding for 2500 dollars. Thank you so much for the inspiration and motivation to keep planning and creating beautiful/fun DIY projects!

Pomegranate said...

Thank you for this post. I love your blog, but I needed this post especially.

Mo said...

Thank you so much for posting this. We are not religious people and are brainstorming what to do during the ceremony, and it was very helpful reading what you wrote and how you organized it. Great advice, wonderful words.

Courtney said...

A little bit too "Peace Corps" touchy feely for me but definitely unique!

Emily said...

Thank you so much for this! I'm working on our ceremony right now and felt totally lost before reading this. It helps to know where and how other people start.

k.krapp said...

can i ask a question? my fiance and i are writing our own vows and weve been keeping them a secret but im not entirely sure thats a great idea. did you guys share with one another what you were going to say before the ceremony?

Related Posts with Thumbnails