Who says your reception is the only fun part of your wedding day? There’s no reason why your ceremony shouldn’t be as exciting, meaningful, and inventive as your reception, right?! We think yes, and that’s why we enlisted the help of planners from around the country to talk about the wedding ceremony—and specifically, how to personalize it. After all, they’re there for the tears and the laughs, and they know what works (and what doesn’t) from first-hand experience. That’s why it’s lucky for you that we picked their brains on everything from cocktails to vows to the final applause. (And, yes, you can have cocktails at your ceremony—this is a celebration, after all!)
Now, to get you going, start by visualizing yourself in your guests’ shoes. When this is all said and done, you want them to walk away from the ceremony—which should be no more than 30 minutes, btw—saying, “OMG, that was totally Kim and Jeff!” So how do you do that? For starters, you want to design a program (and print it!) that is personal to you as a couple. Include fonts you love, fun facts about your bridesmaids and groomsmen, and also readings and song selections that are special to you. Walk down the aisle to your favorite song. Have your sister read an excerpt from a children’s book you both love. (You get the picture!)
But seriously, keep reading to see 25 tried-and-true ideas for personalizing your wedding ceremony. It’s time to decide what you like, talk to your partner about it, and start planning the best (and most personal!) half hour of your life.
Todd Fiscus of Todd Events in Dallas suggests sprinkling your programs with personal details, like factoids about your VIPs (“Father Don baptized Steven” or “Beth’s mom makes the best pralines west of the Mississippi!”), photos from your engagement shoot, a hand-drawn map illustrating your adventures together—anything that sets the tone for the wedding ahead. (Also, how fun are these programs that double a fan?!)
Start the celebration as soon as guests arrive by hosting an hour-long cocktail party before the ceremony. This will give everyone a chance to mingle and ensure that even your chronically late college roommate will get there in time for the main event. Keep it simple by serving one festive cocktail or champs. You’ll have more time for cocktails later!
Gift your guests with boutonnieres (for the men) and fresh-flower hair clips (for the women). Arrange them on trays near the beginning of the wedding aisle.
Give your guests a light bite as they’re waiting. This is a time to serve a favorite dish or give a preview of what’s to come—whether that’s an Italian-inspired feast or your aunt’s world-famous soul food.
If you’re marrying at a cool location like a museum, zoo, or scenic mountaintop, give your guests the option of taking a fun behind-the-scenes tour before your I do’s.
Make guests feel welcome from the moment they arrive by writing them personal notes and leaving them at the ceremony entrance, recommends Lauren Geissler of San Francisco’s Downey Street Events. Another plus: By giving cards, you can skip the receiving line, giving you more time for photos and the reception.
Have your adorable ring bearer carry your bands on something unique, like a personalized pillow or a memento box. Oh, and let him have fun with his attire too! You know this little guy feels oh-so-cool in his bowtie and shades.
The little ones are special to you so give them props to make their role even more fun. We’ll always love a fancy tulle skirt, but we’re super into the idea of a cat-shaped purse if you’re fellow cat ladies.
Have your girls carry your favorite flower or one that’s special to you. For instance, if your late grandmother’s name is Rose, it would be sweet to carry a bouquet of roses in her honor.
Before the wedding, write a letter to your fiancé—and they should do the same for you. During the ceremony, put the notes and a bottle of wine in a box and take turns hammering it shut. Open it on your 10th anniversary!
Meaningful processional music is a must, say Paige Appel and Kelly Harris of Los Angeles’s Bash, Please. Is “Sweet Child O’ Mine” your song? Play it. Did you grow up in New Jersey? Head to the altar to Springsteen’s “Jersey Girl.”
Buck tradition and walk down the aisle with your guy. It’s a poignant way to kick off your new life together.
Put a calligraphed one behind the altar—or even on the ground for your walk down the aisle. This is great place to showcase words that are meaningful to you, whether they’re your vows, lyrics from a favorite song, or a verse from a ceremony reading.
Place something pretty behind the altar. May we suggest a circle installation, a flower-filled display, or—even better—the Pacific Ocean.
Not having a religious ceremony? Ask a friend to be your officiant. (It’s free to get ordained online through the Universal Life Church.) Fun fact: If you live in Colorado or some parts of Pennsylvania, you can marry yourselves!
Seat guests in a circle around the altar. You’ll feel surrounded by love.
You can make these what you want them to be, but we love the idea of reciting passages you’ve written to each other or exchanging promises in unison. But no matter your delivery, make sure you’re on the same page to ensure they’re the same length and equal parts romantic and funny.
Want to write your own vows but don’t know where to start? Fill in the blanks and get inspired! And if that’s not an idea for you, no worries. You can always make a game of it by including your guests in on the fun at cocktail hour.
Forgo readings and ask a few people to stand up and share their marriage wisdom (but tell them to keep the speeches short).
Don’t wait until the reception for your first dance. Ending your vows cheek to cheek can be really sweet.
Capture this sacred moment forever in the form of a custom oil painting or watercolor. This gift is something you’ll be sure to cherish in your new home together.
Share the joy by stepping into the pews for a quick hug from your BFF.
Or end the ceremony on a celebratory note: Have the ushers pass around your favorite drink (single-malt scotch, tequila shots and lime) and make your first toast as husband and wife.
If you’re within walking distance, invite guests—and a rollicking band—to accompany you, parade style, from the ceremony to the reception.
Nix the tossed rice and have guests wave ribbon wands or sparklers as you exit the ceremony. Or place party-store tambourines, kazoos, and other noisemakers on seats so guests can jam while you walk out.