Sand Stories: Exploring a Modern Ritual

I find that I am often writing about ancient traditions, the deep roots of weddings, and the connections between culture, religions, and the way all this has evolved. But there are a few modern rituals as well, ones that not all that old at all. There is the wine box, with or without the exchange of letters, water rituals, and tree or plant rituals, and one of the most popular is the sand ceremony.

There is no consensus, but there are several explanations for the sand ceremony, which is, of course, the action of pouring sand together, represents joining of the two people. The many grains of sand are meant to symbolize all the thoughts, feelings and experiences you bring with you to the marriage. The couple pours their two containers of different colors of sand into one, and creates something bigger and more beautiful. I’m fond of adding that you do not give up your individuality in marriage. I’m not a fan of the ‘now we are one’ concept. You are still two people, but on the same path together, side by side.

It’s a great choice for a non-religious ceremony, and also resonates for people who love nature, the beach, the earth, science, or any number of connotations that can be readily seen in sand. As Rachel Carson wrote: In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.

I always adjust the description of any ritual to be sure it fits the couple, and have, from time to time, added words about the uses of sand – from making concrete and building a strong foundation, or making glass. I have referenced science, vacations, hobbies, or anything that draws the couple to the sand.

Here’s what I’ve gathered about this history of this very down-to-earth ritual. There is the Hawaiian story – whichmaintains that Hawaiian couples entering into a committed union, would scoop sand from the beach and combine their individual handfuls into a container as a symbol of their marriage. That is the essence of the sand ceremony, and placing it on beaches in Hawaii makes sense.

There is the California story, which draws from the hippie days of the 1960s, with couples marrying on the beaches and creating non-traditional ceremonies. Because, the good old ‘Unity Candle’ would absolutely not work in the wind by the ocean, and perhaps looking for something different, someone came up with this. Or maybe someone had seen in it Hawaii. And it is a great alternative to candles, by the way.

There are some who think there may be an ancient connection after all –  to pagan ceremonies or even Hebrew traditions. The Biblical Salt Covenant could actually be the inspiration for the Sand Ceremony – sand and salt both being granules that are mixed together. In Jewish culture, salt was used as a symbolic bond between husband and wife, and also used it in rituals of reconciliation and to celebrate adoption. Salt itself has a rich metaphoric usage.

I really love how the sand ceremony is perfect to symbolize the blending of families. You can have children pick their own colors, and everyone can participate in pouring ‘their’ sand into a large family vase – and see themselves as part of something bigger, yet still retaining their individuality. I’ve also used it with parents, pouring a foundation for their children who are getting married. There are lots of useful variations with the sand.

There are fancy sets you can buy, or you can use everyday objects. I’ve had couples use mason jars and couples have engraved crystal.

Whether this is new to you, or old hat, the Sand Ceremony works!


thank you GARTH WOODS for the beautiful photography   

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