Photo: Charlotte Kiri Photography.
If you were to ask us before we got married what we were most looking forward to about the day, hands-down it was the reception. This the part where you drink, eat, dance and have a big party with all the people you love. Eating and drinking are two of our favourite things, closely followed by dancing and hanging out with favourite people, so no-brainer.
WE WERE WRONG. Oh, so so wrong.
When we think back to the day now and reflect on when we felt the most powerful, overwhelming happiness and love, there’s no question the ceremony won out. Of course there were plenty of these lovely emotions going on throughout the whole wedding, but we were blown away by just how flipping fun the ceremony was. We definitely weren’t expecting it.
And one of the main reasons is, we chose awesome celebrants who helped guide us through the process of turning the ceremony from one of those bland let-it-be-over formalities (we’ve all been to a wedding like this) to a personal, heartfelt, hilarious celebration of us and of our nearest friends and family.
Another awesome celebrant who transforms ceremonies into the main event is Victoria Eustace – the leading lady behind All We Need Is Love. We asked her if she wouldn’t mind sharing some tips on how to incorporate friends and family into the ceremony so that it feels like a true reflection of who you are as a couple. And she’s got some absolute cracking advice.
Read on and take notes people – this is how you ceremony.
Once upon a time, not that long ago, we were limited in our scope for creativity when it came to weddings. We were even limited in who we were allowed to marry – heaven forbid a happy and loving LGBTIQA+ couple even consider the thought! Luckily, things change as we become more emotionally mature as a society and I have the pleasure of telling you now – the world is your oyster when it comes to crafting your wedding ceremony and making it as meaningful as you want it to be.
A huge way to add weight to your wedding ceremony and make it a true reflection of who you are as a couple is to include the people who helped shape you into the excellent humans you are today. Your families, and the friends that feel like family, know you better than your celebrant ever could (unless, you know, they are related to you or something…) so let’s look at some ways we can honour these incredible influences in your lives now.
Being escorted down the aisle is one of the biggest traditions that is evolving. Families are complicated, no one is a possession, so how do you navigate a staunchly patriarchal tradition that relies on you having a functioning relationship with your dad and bring it in to 21st Century light? Easy – if you want to walk with your dad, do it. If you want to walk with your mum, do it. If you want to walk with both of them, or neither of them, do it! Another excellent option to really make your families shine is to have your parents/other significant family members enter just before you. So they enter and take their seats, then your wedding parties, then you.
Meanwhile, why not have your Nana as your flower girl and your brothers as your “page boys”? If your parents have remarried, something lovely I’ve seen happen is the biological father on escort duties half way down the aisle and then the step-dad taking over for the final half.
It’s a huge honour for your family to escort you into the arms of your awaiting life partner, so rather than feel awkward about everyone looking at you as you walk down the aisle, make it your own by involving your most loved family members, whoever they may be, and start the ceremony surrounded by your biggest cheerleaders in life!
You can do away with the procession altogether, too, but still make your entrance an important moment. I have had one couple arrive separately before the ceremony with their support crews, and then greet everyone before we even got started. This was amazing for a few reasons – first of all, the two people getting married were able to relax! The anticipation of waiting to walk down the aisle is immense, and if you feel it’s just too much for you this is a great option. Secondly, everyone got to give them a kiss and a cuddle and some words of encouragement or advice before we got serious with the ceremony. It created so much warmth and a real feeling of connection for everyone. This couple then gave me the nod when they were ready to begin, I started their “procession” song and they gathered together in front of their guests who formed a semi circle around them. The hug continued!
Opening the Ceremony:
Another traditional aspect of a wedding ceremony that is ready to evolve is the “Give Away” or approval blessing, a question that would be usually asked of the bride’s father as he hands his daughter over to be married. A really positive shift I have seen is people wanting all their parents, or even everyone present, to be asked to give their love and support to the marriage. This can be accompanied by a few words about how important the love and support from the marrying couple’s parents/family/everyone present has been over the years and how it will continue to be as time goes on.
You can then give all parents a hug or small gift (or let the words speak for themselves, pun intended) and then settle in to the ceremony knowing that everyone who has played a part in raising you understands just how important this has been. Think outside the box and don’t be afraid to include step-parents, grandparents, anyone else that has played a truly significant part in your life.
Just so you know – your witnesses can be anyone over the age of 18 that understands and can clearly hear the legal wording that is said in the ceremony. It is wonderful to use your Maid of Honour or your Best Man or another member of your wedding party, but I’m giving you permission to feel free to use anyone else you like. My Nana was my witness, I love her beyond measure and she’s the sole grandparent I have in my life now, and it was such a huge honour for her – and for me – that she almost didn’t believe me when I asked. The person who witnesses your certificates on the day should be someone you will want to remember with love for the rest of your life. Mothers, siblings, childhood best friends, loved ones who live overseas – these are all wonderful options when it comes to choosing your witness.
Gone are the days when wedding parties had to be gender specific and perfectly balanced. Many people are now choosing to have their siblings or best friends beside them on the day despite the fact that the bride has a brother or the groom has seven best friends while the bride has two. It is more important to have people around you that make you feel calm and happy throughout your wedding journey, than to have perfectly matching wedding parties that look great in photos but don’t necessarily give you the emotional support you need.
When your wedding gang is particularly large, having seating for them will help with using your ceremony space wisely (and consequently help your photographer get everyone in the frame). This can either be seats reserved in the front row, or on rugs just in front of you, or a half and half type situation where you have some standing and the others sitting in front if you want them in the traditional flanking formation with you. Whatever you choose to do, MAKE SURE THEY ARE YOUR SPIRIT GUIDES. If they aren’t over the moon for you, they really don’t need the honour of being in your support crew (and all your photos…) #truth
Calling upon friends and family within the ceremony:
When it comes to the ceremony content itself, outside of the legal wording you have a lot of flexibility to be creative. This means you are not limited to just your celebrant talking and maybe a reader or two coming up to add to the ceremony. Think about whom you have in your community that has really influenced who you are. No doubt they will also be some of the people who absolutely love you the most and know you the best, so why not have them come up during your ceremony to share some lovely words?
It doesn’t have to be long, and can be anything from words of wisdom about marriage to why they think you two are just the sweetest together. Or maybe someone who was privy to a pivotal moment in your relationship to one another could tell everyone present what really happened. It’s also a great way to help a nervous speaker be involved without having to give a speech later on in the night. They get it over and done with, have the guidance of the celebrant if necessary, and get to have everyone’s full, sober attention. I like to get my couples to ask their nearest and dearest to describe them as a partnership so that I can share their words within the ceremony, but it can be so much more meaningful coming direct from the source.
I’m a huge fan of starting the ceremony off with some super positive vibes from your guests. This is usually a set of vows that get them committing to throwing their best shapes on the dance floor, eating until they can’t eat anymore and declaring the couple who are getting married to be their most fave couple ever to have existed. It can also be a huge group “yeewwwww!!” or hooray or some other rousing yell that gets them laughing and connected to what is going on. It also shakes off some of the early-ceremony nerves for the two of you – win/win!
Rituals within a ceremony are a whole article in themselves, but the one that stands out as a beautiful connector for everyone present is the ‘ring warming’. Essentially, your wedding rings are handed from guest to guest until everyone has had a chance to give them a squeeze and impart into them their love and hopes for your future. Your celebrant sets your guests up at the beginning of the ceremony so everyone knows what’s going on and by the time you’re ready to exchange them they are up the front and ready to go!
Some other ways to get everyone connecting:
- A minute of meditation at the start of the ceremony – guided by your celebrant or a guest
- Getting everyone to hold the hand of someone they love during your vows (or if you want to take this further –reaching out to the person next to them so that every person present is physically connected)
- Having your guests standing in a circle around you instead of rows
One of my favourite ways to end a ceremony is with a champagne toast. If your venue allows it, you can let your guests get a drink on arrival, and then have their drinks topped up during the signing of the marriage certificates. We then all raise our glasses to the brand new newlyweds just after you seal the deal with a kiss! It gives everyone something to do while you are busy signing your life away and then when you get swamped with love by everyone after walking back down the aisle you get to clink glasses and start the party, even if you are disappearing for photographs before the proper reception starts. It does require some logistical planning, but it is such a fun and joyful way to end your ceremony that it is worth the extra bit of planning.
I have also had some wonderful couples get everyone involved by the way of a sing-a-long! This can be at any point in the ceremony really, but works very well during the signing or at the very end as you walk back down the aisle. Pick a song you love that everyone is familiar with and get the lyrics printed so that there are no excuses! Having a nominated “conductor” is also a really good idea (one incredibly creative and very, very organized couple of mine had a Sister Act style sing-a-long as their recessional, complete with a nun in a habit leading their “choir”. The bride and groom got stuck into the singing themselves, it was epic!).
Everyone bonds over the hilarity of singing Dolly Parton together and you get the amazing feeling of being serenaded by everyone in your life you love the most. Win win!
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to include people you want to include, even if it bucks what we currently consider tradition. Your community is there to support you and love you, and your wedding ceremony is a reflection of who you both are as individuals, but also how you want to go forward into life as a brand new family unit. You can make it as inclusive as you want it to be, but never feel as if you have to break with tradition just for the sake of it. Stay true to you, you can’t go wrong. Your celebrant will be able to help you brainstorm on how best to do this. But seriously though – break out that champagne early!
You can find the beautiful Victoria Eustace here on WedShed.
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