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

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Q & A: Beyond the Unity Candle

Reader Question: "We like the idea of having something symbolic happen at the wedding like the unity candle, but we don't like the message of the unity candle. I'm wondering if you--or your readers--have any great ideas for alternatives to the unity candle... we're thinking something that symbolizes our two lives coming together--but not becoming one..."

Great question! Last summer, I went to a very traditional wedding.

It was a classic wedding: stained-glassed windows coloring and diffusing the light, the priest commanding the audience with his noble presence, the flowers framing the scene, the bride and groom posing picturesquely.

And next to me in the pew was a fellow guest, bent over his cell phone, sending text messages to his friend.

Although texting is, by far, pretty high on the thermometer of wedding rudeness (up there with playing tic-tac-toe on the wedding program or having a thumb war with your date), his obvious disengagement left me wondering: How many people are equally bored with the ceremony but just too polite to do anything but look forward and smile blithely?

And to the ceremony’s credit, there was nothing explicitly wrong with it. There were readings and vows and a kiss—the things that make a wedding a wedding. But they were all the familiar things: With this ring, I thee wed. Love is patient, love is kind. To have and to hold from this day forward.

Once you’re in your twenties or thirties and have heard the clich├ęd phrases for the twentieth or thirtieth time, your brain loses focuses and starts to wonder, “How much longer until the reception starts?”

When it came time to plan my own wedding, I didn’t want to fall into the same trap. I didn’t want my guests sneaking Suduko into the ceremony.

I wanted a ceremony that engaged the audience—that inspired them to listen and reflect. I wanted them to think “Wow, that was great,” rather than, “Thank goodness that was short.”

That's why Matt and I decided to write our ceremony from scratch (you can read all about that process here). Basically, we invented our own symbolic gestures that were both more interesting because they were novel and were more representative of us and our lives.

  1. Quilt-Wrapping: Instead of signifying unity through a candle lighting ritual, we were wrapped in a quilt made from the fabric of friends and family to signify unification, the warmth and support of friends and family that are needed to sustain a healthy relationship, the comfort we bring to each other, and the bond between us that will continue to develop.
  2. Tree-Planting Ceremony: Instead of reading something about how love takes effort, we planted a resilient Live Oak sapling to represent the growth of our love and symbolize that marriage—like a tree—requires constant nurturing and nourishment.
Yes, we worried that we would freak out our families (Matt's is Irish-Catholic and mine is Presbyterian). And honestly, my grandfather declined the request to speak for two minutes during our wedding. But in the end, people said it was so beautiful and sincere (even our families).

Just today, for example, I got a message from one of our friends. He wrote: "The wedding was, without exception, the most personalized one I've ever been to (and I've been to 6 this summer alone). Simply fantastic."

Creating our own traditions was such a powerful experience. It's funny to me that people spend more time thinking about their dresses than they do their ceremonies. Case in point: 250 people have come to this blog looking for "wedding script" while 350 have come looking for "dress."

Very interesting.

Dearest readers, we would love to hear your ideas for other symbolic ceremony rituals. Great topic!

E-mail your questions to: saracotner@yahoo.com

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Lisa said...

When we got married nearly 10 years ago (I can't believe it was that long ago), we were young and poor and had a church wedding. I hated the idea of a unity candle where bride and groom extinguished their individual lights and everyone else watched in boredom. But, I did like the symbolism of each of us bringing something to the table and making a decision to start a new "life" together, etc.

So, what we did was get a bunch of tiny candles and distributed them to all of the guests at the door. Our dads started in the back of the church with candles and "passed" the flame on to the guests until it came up front, with the pastor talked about how everyone at the wedding had contributed to the people that we were and were a part of us and would be going forward. When the flame got all the way up front we took the pillars and lit the unity candle together, but then kept our individual ones lit as well--to symbolize that we were still there...so the three candles were displayed together.

It worked out well and a lot of people said that they liked it :)

Not sure if I would do the same now, but I do like the symbolism in it.

April said...

Thank you so much for the great information. This was exactly what I was looking for.

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