This article was originally published as a guest post for Honeyfund.
Weddings are amazing milestones in life, but ceremonies can be boring and sometimes guests are just waiting for the reception. Fortunately, I’ve got a few memorable wedding unity ideas to share, so that your couples’ are meaningful and stand out.
Incorporating symbolism and imagery is a simple trick and actually goes back thousands of years. For example, Catholic couples light the unity candle, Jewish couples share wine and then stomp the glass as everyone yells “Mazel Tov,” and Irish couples have been known to ring the bell of truce.
Wedding symbolism and imagery is often used to honor your couples’ heritage, but can also be used simply to mix things up, create a keepsake to remind them of their wedding, or even to create their own new tradition. And best of all, it’s easier than you think and doesn’t have to be religious or cultural!
Most wedding officiants will gladly include any of the options listed below and photographers love them because they make for great photo opportunities. Ask the DJ to play soft music during wedding imagery and it’ll make it even better.
There are 15 to 20 different ways to incorporate wedding symbolism. I’ll share the most common first and then describe a few that can really set your ceremonies apart from everyone else’s.
Oh and before I forget… I use “bride and groom” in my examples below just for simplicity. Please know that I honor and gladly officiate same-sex ceremonies too.
Traditional Wedding Unity Ideas
The unity candle is known as a Catholic tradition, but can be used for nonreligious ceremonies too.
The nondenominational way to incorporate the unity candle might be by saying something like this, “Bride and Groom have chosen to symbolize their commitment through lighting the unity candle. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the unity candle, it’s meant to represent two lives becoming one through marriage. We’d like Bride’s mom, Name? and Groom’s mom, Name? to come up and join in the ceremony. They’ve asked their moms to light the outside candles because they lit their lives. It’s an expression of love, a way of saying “Thank you” to all of their parents for bringing them to this amazingly special point in their lives. Together, Bride and Groom light one candle from two smaller candles as they acknowledge their union as husband and wife. As their individual flames come together, the single flame burns much brighter, symbolizing their strength in marriage. By allowing the flames of the two smaller candles to remain lit, they agree to respect each other as individuals. Bride and Groom are each unique people, but have chosen to be bound together as one. From today forward they will fully share the “ups” and “downs” of life and their plans truly will be mutual.”
To see me describe the unity candle in detail check out the video below!
Jewish weddings can be really fun, from carrying the bride on a chair and dancing the Horah, or toasting wine during the ceremony, to stomping the glass and yelling, “Mazel tov!”
Here’s what I usually say for the glass stomp: “Before I pronounce Groom and Bride as husband and wife, they’d like to honor the Jewish tradition and break the glass. Traditionally this marks the beginning of the wedding celebration, but breaking glass also symbolizes the transformation that’s happening for them right now, and as a reminder of the fragility of life. The glass is broken to protect their marriage with the implied prayer, as this glass shatters so may your marriage never break. After Groom stomps on the glass we invite everyone to cheer and shout the Hebrew words, Mazel Tov, meaning good luck and congratulations. Stomp! Mazel Tov! Kiss the bride! Ladies and gentlemen please rise as I get to introduce for the first time ever, Mr. and Mrs. ______!”
One of my all-time favorite glass stomps can be heard below. It was a great crowd because everyone was ready to party!
Wine or Champagne Sharing
Another tradition common in Jewish weddings is wine or champagne sharing, sometimes referred to as the wine unity ceremony, but it’s increasingly becoming nonreligious. I’ve had couples share whiskey, make a black and tan, and even shoot tequila!
Lots of people are wine lovers and many get engaged while in wine country and bring a few bottles home, so incorporating wine sharing during their ceremony is an excellent way to commemorate the occasion.
I usually say something like this, “Bride and Groom have chosen to commemorate their marriage by sharing wine. Throughout history in nearly all cultures and traditions, sharing wine or champagne has been used as a universal, central act during significant moments. There’s symbolism to be honored. Wine is the result of years of hard work, the tender care of the grape, a thoughtful mix of ingredients, the patient fermenting process and the unique flavors of each year, just like relationships. Bride and Groom are sharing their first glass of wine as husband and wife to not only celebrate all that has taken place up to this point, but as an expression of hope and faith in the harvest of their lives. As you share the wine, so may you share all things from this day on with love and with understanding. May you be blessed with joy and gladness, vigor of body and spirit, love, harmony, and peace.”
While certain wedding traditions go back hundreds or even thousands of years, times are changing and I encourage couples to make their ceremony a presentation of their truth, not anyone else’s.
Here’s a clip of the couple sharing the black and tan:
Nonreligious Wedding Unity Ideas
Wine Box (Often combined with the letter box)
If your couple happens to love wine, consider the wine box. Set that special bottle and two love letters aside for a future anniversary celebration!
I might say, “Bride and Groom have written each other love letters and they’ll be placed in this box along with a bottle of wine to be read and shared next year, on their first anniversary. There’s symbolism to be mentioned. Making wine is a time-honored process, the tender care of the grape, a thoughtful mix of ingredients, the patient fermenting process and the unique flavors of each year, like relationships. They’re setting a special bottle of wine aside to share as they celebrate all that’s taken place together. It’s an expression of hope and faith in the harvest of their lives. Over the next year Bride and Groom will grow together as a couple and on their first anniversary they will open this wooden box that has protected their wishes and thoughts and present their letters to each other and toast to everything they’ve accomplished together and to a wonderful future. They might then replace this bottle of wine with a new bottle to be opened up on a successive anniversary. This is a really great tradition that you two have started. You two have created a wonderful way to reflect on what you’ve done together as a team, the successes that have lifted you up and the challenges that you’ll be forced to learn from. Congratulations you guys!”
Unity Sand Ceremony
One of the most popular wedding unity ideas is blending sand. Usually the couple blends different colors together that create visible layers, but one of my favorites used sand from a sand trap from the golf course where the couple met. The idea behind blending the same sand was that they were never separate, and reunited.
“Bride and Groom have chosen to commemorate their marriage by blending sand. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the sand ceremony, it’s meant to represent separate lives coming together as one. Bride and Groom, today you join your lives together. The separate bottles of sand represent your lives before today. Each grain of sand not only represents every memory and experience you’ve had individually, but also represent your combined experiences going forward for many years to come. As these two containers of sand are combined, the individual containers of sand no longer exist, but will be joined together as one. These grains of sand aren’t easily separated and poured again into their individual containers, and so will it be with your marriage and your lives.”
The unity sand ceremony is an excellent way to blend two families together too! Simply add more containers of sand and the children can come up and pour with the couple into a common vessel, and then there’s a cool keepsake sitting around the house to remind everyone of the wedding.
To see me describe the sand ceremony in detail check out the video below!
The Letter Box
The letter box is a great way to honor family by asking for advice and gives any couple something to look forward to years down the road. If they’re close with their family, have your couple ask them for advice and to share words of wisdom for married life in the form of letters. Then you can invite everyone up to deposit their letters into the couple’s time capsule and exchange hugs. It makes for excellent photos and works even better if their DJ softly plays a song they love during this portion of the ceremony.
I usually say, “Bride and Groom have asked their families for advice, blessings and support, and are starting a time capsule of sorts. We’ll invite some of their family members up now to deposit their letters into the time capsule and give hugs. Out of sincere respect and admiration, Bride and Groom would like their grandparents to come up first. Mr. and Mrs. ??? will you please join us? Bride and Groom plan to read these letters on their tenth wedding anniversary. With equal respect and admiration, now we’d like to invite your folks to join us to put their letters in the box and give hugs. Mr. and Mrs.?, Mr. and Ms.? Will you please join us? Bride and Groom plan to read these letters on their fifth wedding anniversary. Now we’d like to invite all your siblings to join us to put their letters in the box and exchange hugs. Bride and Groom plan to read these letters on their third wedding anniversary. Next, the letters written to each other/or vows are placed in the box, which will be read next year, on their first anniversary. During the next year Bride and Groom will grow together as a couple and on their first anniversary they will open this wooden box that has protected their wishes and thoughts and present their letters to each other. This is a really great tradition you have started. Our hopes and prayers are that the adventures of Bride and Groom will have included many of your aspirations by the time you read all these letters. You’ve created a wonderful way to reflect on who you’ve met, the successes that have lifted you up and the challenges that you’ll be forced to learn from. Congratulations you two!”
The number of years your couples wait to open the letters is certainly optional. Lots of couples choose to open them all on their first anniversary. It’s totally up to them and I often encourage couples to write each other love letters that can go in the box too, to be opened down the road on a specified anniversary.
To see me describe the letter box in detail check out the video below!
Giving Flowers and Hugs
Presenting parents and grandparents with flowers and hugs following any of the previously mentioned ideas is a way to make any ceremony even more memorable. Couples often feel indebted to their families, so they can surprise moms/grandmas with flowers and dads/grandpas with hugs following the unity candle, sand ceremony, wine sharing, or any piece of ceremony imagery. It’s a fun surprise for them and a great photo opportunity!
I usually say something like this, “Before Bride and Groom exchange their vows and rings, they’ve requested the opportunity to surprise their moms with flowers and dads with hugs because they love you all so much. Thank you for bringing them to this amazingly special point in their lives.”
Unity Ceremony Ideas With Guest Participation
Lots of couples love their friends just as much as they love their families and want to get everyone at their wedding involved. Releasing butterflies or sending good vibes into stones are great ways to do that.
Live butterflies can be ordered online and they can arrive in individual cardboard containers. Check out swallowtail farms. Place a cardboard container on each chair and let the guests know not to sit on them, because there’s a live butterfly in there! The couple can also have a box on a table up front near you that contains lots of live butterflies just waiting to be released.
I usually say this, “Hopefully you all noticed the cardboard container on your seat. There’s a live butterfly inside and we’re all going to set them free in moment! The butterfly symbolizes new beginnings, freedom and happiness and the butterfly release is a special way to celebrate love. According to an American Indian legend, we can whisper a wish to a butterfly and the wish will ride upon the butterfly’s wings into the heavens. Since a butterfly makes no sound, the wish is only revealed to the Great Spirit and in gratitude for giving the butterfly its freedom, the Great Spirit always grants the wish. We’ve gathered to grant Bride and Groom all our best wishes and are about to set these butterflies free in trust that those wishes will be granted. Congratulations, you two!”
Listen to a butterfly release here:
The stone blessing is another uncommon way to get guests involved. Some couples place polished stones on each chair and others who love the outdoors, go for a hike and place cool rocks they found along the way on each of their guest’s chairs. Advise them to check local laws to make sure taking rocks from nature is legal. If your couple is metaphysically minded, this is a great way to collect good vibes and send them off and into life on a truly positive note. Before their ceremony place a stone on each chair and make sure your couple has stones of their own to hold too.
I say, “Hopefully you noticed the stone that was sitting on your chair. That is called a blessing stone. As Bride and Groom exchange their vows and rings, we ask that you hold your individual stone and think of all the amazing possibilities that await them and send those positive thoughts and prayers into your individual stone and then place it into the vase/box on your way out. Bride and Groom will then have a wonderful keepsake from these next few minutes that includes the essence of each and every one of their friends and family members who came here to celebrate with them today. Thank you so much for your love and support. Please place your stone in the wooden box, cool vase, or whatever container on your way to the reception!”
Listen to the stone blessing here:
Unique Unity Ceremony Ideas
In the beginning of this article I mentioned that having the DJ play soft music during the unity ceremony makes it even better. Well, the easiest way to raise the energy is through song choice. Ceremonies can easily be personalized by playing a song no one expects to hear. I officiated a wedding where one couple played Queen’s song, Another One Bite’s the Dust and the room was filled with laughter!
But if you’re looking for a unique unity ceremony ideas that are beyond just song choice, two immediately come to mind. One couple I got to work with had been dating since high school and they used to go to each other’s houses and make PB & Js after school, so they decided to make one during their ceremony!
Unity Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
Here’s what I said, “Love is meant to be experienced, not described. Just like Bride and Groom’s favorite sandwich since childhood, peanut butter and jelly, it’s how it makes you feel; comforted, safe and loved. So, Bride and Groom have decided to have a little fun and commemorate their marriage by making a PB and J! The peanut butter and jelly sandwich is just like Bride and Groom, the perfect pairing: sweet, a little nutty, and goodness that will stand the test of time. With the uniqueness that is only Bride and Groom, the unity ceremony will be the best of two halves, the perfect combination coming together as one. When life is like jelly and things get sticky, their love is like peanut butter, the glue that holds it all together. After joining their halves into the perfect sandwich, they’ll take a bite to signify the first step toward enjoying their satisfyingly “sweet life” together and that brings them here; a time to pause, look back, and smile at all the moments that brought them here, love for each other, love for their dog Frank, and love for their family and friends. It’s also a time to look ahead to all the moments that are still to come. Bride and Groom, when 50 years have flown by, may you sit together and share a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and remember this moment, and how it made you feel when the best of two halves became one.”
The guests laughed and cheered. Everyone loved it and there’s no doubt their ceremony will be remembered.
The last unity ceremony idea for today is another that’s sure to light everyone up, the unity painting. I’ve had several couples opt to slap paint on a canvas in front of everyone and it doesn’t usually turn out like they expected, so it’s funny and keeps things light-hearted.
Here’s what I’ve said, “Every marriage starts out as a blank canvas and every day is a splash of color, so Bride and Groom have chosen to symbolize their commitment to each other with a unity painting. This blank canvas represents a new beginning and the paint colors represent their milestones, celebrations, tribulations, passions, and dreams. The combined colors signify the experiences that lie ahead; colors of joy and sorrow, blessings and heartache. They are the moments that become the days that make-up the years. There will be places on the canvas where the colors blend and mix, creating new colors and experiences, and there will also be places where the colors stay separate and stand out alone and independent. Bride and Groom will create a life together, but also respect each other as individuals. There will be contrast, but their colorful experiences will still complement one another. Parts of the canvas will look dark or messy and those represent life’s challenges. Some spots remain blank and bare, symbolizing limitless possibility. When you step back and look at the canvas in its entirety, you will see that it clearly is “An Original Masterpiece,” as unique and wonderful as Bride and Groom. May this painting always remind you of your wedding day and unending love. Congratulations, you two.”
You can hear a unity painting ceremony here!
There are quite a few other unity ceremony ideas, but these are a great place to start. Whether couples want to honor their heritage or just have fun, wedding symbolism is a great addition to any ceremony. Incorporating one of these ideas will allow your couple to capture great photos, create a keepsake to remind them of their wedding, create a tradition, or simply get guests involved so the ceremony is memorable.
If you’d like to tell us about wedding unity ideas not mentioned in this article, leave a comment below!
Matt Nathanson, 1st Officiant