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. We've picked their brains on everything from cocktails to vows to the final applause.
Start by visualizing yourself in your guests' shoes. "Oftentimes you’ll go to a wedding that feels strangely similar to the last wedding you attended, kind of like 'insert couple here.' It’s not often that you get to have your closest friends and family all together at the same time," says Jennifer Taylor, founder of A Taylored Affair. "It’s so important that guests leave the wedding thinking 'Wow! That ceremony was so them!'"
Meet the Expert
Jennifer Taylor, the founder of A Taylored Affair, specializes in distinctive weddings and events while encouraging her clients to stand out from the rest and let their personalities shine.
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. "I always tell clients that my favorite part of the process is to hone in on their weird. I want to know what makes them funny, what makes them unique, what makes them them. Then we play with that," says Taylor.
Personalize the Program
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, and also readings and song selections that are special to you.
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.
Turn your programs into paper fans for a fun way to keep your guests cool during the ceremony.
Host Cocktails Before the Ceremony
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 just one festive cocktail or champagne. You'll have more time for cocktails later.
"I always suggest passed trays of champagne, sparkling water, and maybe a fun easy cocktail to set the mood for the night. Sometimes we’ll do champagne topped with a huge cloud of cotton candy," says Taylor. "It all depends on the mood the couple is trying to set for the evening."
Adorn Your Guests With Favors
Gift your guests with boutonnières and fresh-flower hair clips. Arrange them on trays near the beginning of the wedding aisle. If your wedding has a distinct theme, wearable favors are a great way to set the mood.
Tease Their Taste Buds With a Snack
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.
Plan Pre-Wedding Activities
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 dos.
Write Thank-Yous Ahead of Time
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 at the reception.
Have Fun With the Ring Bearer
Have your adorable ring bearer carry your bands on something unique, like a personalized pillow, a memento box, or even a pet! "We worked with a couple who owned a pet turtle so we lightly placed the rings on the turtle’s shell with some double-sided tape and placed him in a vintage radio flyer wagon filled with tulle. The ring bearer wheeled the turtle/ring down the aisle and it was just the cutest," notes Taylor.
Oh, and let the ring bearer have fun with his attire, too. You know this little guy feels oh-so-cool in his bowtie and shades.
Add Pizzazz to the Flower Girl's Style
These 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.
"At one wedding, we purchased a scroll that said 'Just wait until you see her.' As all of the girls were getting their hair/makeup done earlier in the day, we set up a table with crayons/markers/glitter/etc for the flower girls to decorate the sign however they’d like. When they carried the scroll down the aisle it made it that much more special," reminisces Taylor.
Bring Meaning to the Bouquets
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.
Share Your Love in a Note
Before the wedding, write a letter to your partner—and they should do the same for you.
There are sweet ways to share your love with your guests, too. Taylor planned a wedding where "the cocktail napkins were printed with the first conversations the bride and groom had via Bumble!"
During the ceremony, place love notes and a bottle of wine in a box and take turns hammering it shut. Open it on your 10th anniversary.
Choose Meaningful Processional Music
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." Pick a song that speaks to you and your relationship.
Go Nontraditional With Your Walk
Buck tradition and walk down the aisle with your guy. It's a poignant and sweet way to kick off your new life together.
Flout Your Favorite Words
Put a calligraphed runner behind the altar—or even on the ground for your walk down the aisle. This is a 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.
Show off the Backdrop
Place something pretty behind the altar. May we suggest a circle installation, a flower-filled display, or—even better—the Pacific Ocean.
Ask Your Bestie to Officiate
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.
Switch up the Ceremony Structure
Seat guests in a circle around the altar. You'll feel surrounded by love.
Or you can wind your way through your guests during the processional. "I love to create a winding aisle when it works out with the layout of the venue. It can look really whimsical and this way the bride gets to walk past more guests than if it were just a straight line down the aisle," notes Taylor.
Write Your Own Vows
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.
Mad Lib With Your Guests
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.
Choose an Alternative to Readings
Forgo readings and ask a few people to stand up and share their marriage wisdom. Make sure to politely ask them to keep the speeches short.
Do you have friend who is musically talented? Ask him or her to sing a meaningful song during the ceremony instead of a reading.
End the Vows With a Dance
Don't wait until the reception for your first dance. Ending your vows cheek to cheek can be really sweet. Or, you can liven the tempo with a fun dance down the aisle.
Hire an Artist
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. It also provides a fun talking point for guests during the cocktail hour.
Acknowledge Your Special Guests
Share the joy by stepping into the pews for a quick hug from your BFF, grandmother, nephew, etc. Take your time and don't feel rushed.
End It With a Toast
End the ceremony on a celebratory note: Have the ushers pass around your favorite drink (single-malt scotch or tequila shots and lime) and make your first toast as husband and wife.
Exit in Style
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.
Parade Your Way to the Reception
If you're within walking distance, invite guests—and a rollicking band—to accompany you, parade-style, from the ceremony to the reception.
"One time we needed to come up with a clever way for guests to get from the ceremony to the reception venue which was a few blocks away," says Taylor. "We had a New Orleans style marching band follow the bride and groom and all of the guests followed the band down Fifth Avenue until they reached the destination."