How to Choose Symbols and Rituals to Enhance Your Ceremony

As regular readers of this space know, I love rituals, symbols and traditions. I love the history and meaning as well as changing and updating them as well. Today is a ritual round up! As couples continue to want a wedding ceremony that reflects who they are as individuals and as a couple, using symbols as a visible sign of their love is perfect! The symbols and rituals enable a couple to take the invisible and intangible – their love and devotion for one another – and illustrate these feelings in a tangible way. It is also something very memorable. After the words are forgotten, the rituals are still remembered!

Ceremony symbols can range from traditional to the dramatic or the unexpected.  Here are some suggestions on how to easily and appropriately incorporate symbols into wedding ceremonies. Think about the reason you are choosing a ritual and it will become clear! 

Symbolize Your New Family Bond

If you are bringing children into the marriage, consider giving them a token such as a family medallion, or let them join in lighting a family candle or a Sand Ceremony, to represent the new bond you all share. Vows to the children are also powerful.

Honor Your Families

Apowerful symbol is one that honors a family member or tradition – something old.  Incorporate family heirlooms, a bridal gown if possible, is amazing, but more likely an accessory, a wedding ring, cufflinks or other special piece of jewelry. Use a Kiddush cup from the Jewish tradition in a wine sharing, or use a Celtic Quaich (cup or bowl). Do you have a photo of someone important? Consider using it in many contexts, the program, on a table, at the altar. Could you make a bouquet from a collection of family pins?

Symbols That Show Your Personality

For a casual fun wedding, couples have been known to break from traditional wedding clothes. Instead of gowns and tuxedos – try wearing a favorite color, style, designer or even something like Hawaiian shirts but only if that means something to you.  Ask your guests to wear your favorite colors. Cake decoration is really a great way to show your style. Have you seen those custom toppers that are made to look just like the couple themselves? Pets, especially dogs, are now playing a big role in weddings, even if only symbolically – use them for a photo shoot or have a photo of them on hand. Walking down the aisle with your dog is great, but takes some planning!

Symbolize Your Commitment

Vows and rings are the heart and soul, but you can add to that by exchanging other gifts reflecting what you love about each other. Share foods from your cultures to represent your bond not only with a cultural influence but with the literal feeding one another. A food ritual is both literal and metaphorical – feeding one another something special, such as chocolate, is meant to show sharing the sweetness of your life together. Herbs and spices also work well for rituals. The exchange of roses is a classic – it says ‘I love you’ now and forever – give them to one another or to your mothers!

Cultural Symbols

Do some research into your and your spouse’s heritage.  Age-old traditions are often powerful.  Some examples are: Japanese good luck origami cranes. The Chuppah for Jewish tradition, as well as circling your partner (walking around him or her) is making a big come-back.  Jump the broom to honor your African-American heritage or jump over an oak branch if you are Irish. Handfasting although rooted in both Pagan and Celtic traditions, can be done by anyone, plus – you can make your own braided rope to ‘tie the knot.’  A tea-ceremony is popular in many Asian cultures and you can adapt it in many ways. Use bread and salt for Eastern European heritage, and don’t forget the 13 coins, or Arras, as used in Spain, Latin American countries, and the Philippines.

Cues from Your Surroundings

Reflect the season of your marriage by using seasonal flowers, especially wonderful if they come from your own garden.  Your choice of location – whether a quiet garden, a wooded area, a dramatic hilltop or a busy public square can reflect your personalities.  Tree plantings or water rituals go perfectly with this, and speak to your love of nature.

We Americans are in a unique position – we come from every corner of the globe, and we borrow from each other’s traditions. That crossover has been the hallmark of great innovation in music, art and more, in our society. So if you feel captivated by a tradition that is not necessarily your own, know that you are free to borrow it, but be sensitive to cultural appropriation. Using something from another tradition without the proper acknowledgement isn’t a good idea. Explain why you have chosen the ritual, and by honoring that custom in sensitive ways, you may have just the perfect symbol. Ann Frank wrote: “We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same.”  Using symbols reflects your love and helps bring friends and family together.

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