Wedding rituals are something I always discuss with couples – and that many choose – is to incorporate a meaningful and symbolic marriage ritual into their ceremony. I use simple rituals and explain their meaning and origin as I do them. Often, the ritual can be as important as the words and adds another, deeper level of meaning and significance to the marriage ceremony. Here are some of the rituals I have used in weddings:
Hand Fasting Ceremony
This is a beautiful symbolic ritual, originating from ancient Celtic times. In fact, the hand fasting used to be a marriage ceremony in itself and was sufficient for the couple to be married in the eyes of their community. It is from this ritual that we get the modern saying of “tying the knot”. I always explain this to the guests and then make the point of tying the ribbons as a gentle bond: not too loose so the couple can easily pull apart, but not too tight so they constrict each other’s individual growth. There can also be a meaning behind the choice of colours for the ribbon or ribbons. In one case, the groom chose the tartan of his family’s Scottish clan and the Swedish bride chose the blue and yellow colours of her country’s flag.
Coloured Sands Ceremony
The central symbolism of this ritual is that the separate sands, which represent the couple, become a new and intermingled union, which can never be separated. More can be made of the choice of the individual colours to represent the qualities each brings to their marriage. This is a simple, but visually effective ritual that can be done indoors or out. The glass flask can be placed on the signing table when the ritual is completed. If the couple has children, it is possible to include further colours for them. There are a number of businesses which provide all the materials at a reasonable cost.
Ring Warming Ceremony
This is a simple ritual which I introduce at the beginning of the ceremony by inviting the guests to participate in the wedding by holding the bride and groom’s wedding rings and warming them with a blessing or a wish for the their happiness in marriage. The guests feel included and valued. The best man keeps an eye on everything as the rings pass from hand to hand while the ceremony continues. Then, later, when the bride and groom exchange rings, I add: “these rings which have now been warmed by your blessings and good wishes”.
Lighting a Marriage Candle Ceremony
The bride and groom each lights a single, smaller candle that represents their individual selves and together they light the central, larger candle that represents their marriage. The symbolism of their married unity is also reinforced by the significance of the warmth, brightness and comfort of the flame. Of course, I would not use this ritual when it was hot or windy and I would generally do it indoors. I conclude the ritual with the words: “Now you have lit a fire and that fire represents your love and life together. It will give you heat, warmth, comfort and happiness. The new fire represents a new beginning – a new life and a new family. You must keep the fire of love burning for the rest of your lives until old age separates you”.
Release of Doves Ceremony
The release of white doves is used to mark important milestones as offerings of hope. These beautiful, intelligent and courageous creatures have had a special place in human lives since our earliest history. Releasing a pair of white doves to the sky in the wedding ceremony is a symbolic announcement of love, faith and peace. The release of birds from a cage is a symbol of good luck, a happy life and a happy marriage. There are some very experienced businesses who provide the doves for weddings and who work with the celebrant and the couple to get the timing right.
Lighting an Oil Lamp Ceremony
Couples from Sri Lanka often ask to incorporate this wedding ritual into their civil ceremony and I am very happy to do it. Someone in the family sets up a beautiful brass oil lamp and, at the appropriate moment, after the signing or the vows, the couple (and sometimes their parents as well) will light the lamp. I usually say: “In accordance with marriage tradition, the bride and groom will now light the oil lamp. The lighting of the oil lamp blesses their wedding and symbolises their new life together. It blesses their union with hope and success and signifies their determination to keep the home fires burning for a bright future”.