12 Popular Wedding Ceremony Rituals and What They Symbolize

By Samantha Iacia

To help you choose exactly which wedding ceremony ritual is right for you, we’re breaking down the history and symbolism for some of the most popular options.

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Whether you’re researching for religious or cultural reasons, or you’re simply looking for ideas to personalize your vows, there are a handful of wedding ceremony rituals that you can consider incorporating into your big day. Some of these popular wedding rituals have religious origins, while other ceremony traditions are easily adaptable for secular and non-denominational weddings. You might already be familiar with some of the more common options—such as lighting a unity candle, sand ceremony, or breaking a piece of glass—but this guide will ultimately help you choose the best one for your day.

Keep reading to learn more about the most popular wedding ceremony rituals and their meanings.

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Jumping the broom

This tradition dates back to the 1800s and is believed to have origins in western African weddings and Wiccan communities. Jumping the broom takes place at the very end of the wedding ceremony, after the officiant pronounces the couple as officially married. The newlyweds jump over a broomstick before the recessional to symbolize sweeping away their old lives and welcoming their new life together.

Waypoint Ceremonies

Unity candle

The wedding ceremony ritual of lighting a unity candle, which began about 30 or 40 years ago, represents the joining of two people and their families. Before the parents from both sides take their seats, they (traditionally the mothers) each light a taper candle and place it next to a pillar candle that remains unlit throughout the ceremony. After the couple exchanges their vows, they light the pillar candle using the flames from the taper candles, signifying several generations of commitment.

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Sand pouring ceremony

The exact origins of this tradition are fuzzy, but sand pouring is one of the most popular wedding ceremony rituals around today. For this idea, the couple pours two separate vases of sand (usually in different colors) into the same vessel, creating a layered, one-of-a-kind pattern. From that point forward, it will be impossible to ever separate the colors, which represent the blending of two people forever. Many couples personalize this ritual by using sand from meaningful locations.

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Wedding ceremony time capsule

This is a newer wedding ceremony ritual, but we love the romantic notion behind it. Before the wedding, you and your spouse write love letters to each other and then seal or lock them inside a box during the ceremony. Traditionally, the letters are accompanied by a bottle of your favorite wine or champagne—and any other mementos you want to save as a keepsake. You’ll eventually open the box at a later date, such as an anniversary or life milestone.

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Cord of three strands

This popular wedding ceremony ritual has Biblical origins. As described in Ecclesiastes 4:12, the cord of three strands (also known as God’s knot) is the most difficult cord to destroy or tear apart. The three strands represent you, your partner, and God joining as one. You can use loose cords of any kind for this ritual, but if you want to turn the braid into a keepsake after your wedding day, you can easily find decorative unity boards made especially for this tradition on sites like Etsy and Amazon.  

ring warming ritual during ceremony <li>jessika feltz photography

Ring warming

Believed to be an Irish or Gaelic wedding ceremony tradition, the warming of the rings takes place when the couple’s wedding bands are passed around by guests during the ceremony. Each person is asked to briefly hold the rings in their hands while also saying a short, silent prayer for the couple (if desired). The rings are returned to the couple with blessings and positive energy for a long, happy marriage.

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Wine unity ceremony

Wine has been a symbol of life and prosperity for centuries. There are several variations of using wine during a wedding, especially at religious ceremonies, but a common option is to have two small carafes of wine, one white and one red. After exchanging rings, the couple pours the wines into a third carafe, creating a blend. They each take a sip of the mixed wine to represent their individual lives becoming one.

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The handfasting ceremony tradition is a Celtic wedding ritual with medieval roots. It involves binding the couple’s hands together with ribbons or cords to symbolize their union. In the middle ages, handfasting was used in place of a marriage license before weddings were recognized as legal responsibilities of the government and church. Each colored cord has its own meaning, such as white for purity or red for passion.

bride and groom foot washing ritual <li>brett loves elle photography

Foot washing ceremony ritual

Foot washing is a Christian wedding ceremony ritual inspired by the Bible verses John 13: 1-17 in which Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. It is usually done to symbolize the couple’s service, humility and commitment to each other.

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Burying the bourbon tradition

Burying the bourbon is a Southern tradition that’s said to prevent rain or bad weather on your wedding day. Exactly one month before your wedding, dig a hole at your ceremony site and bury an unopened bottle of bourbon (make sure that it’s upside-down). According to the superstition, you’ll have sunny skies for your wedding day! Right after you and your spouse say “I do,” dig up the bottle and enjoy. While we’re not positive that this works, we can’t argue that it makes for a priceless photo op.

bride and groom jewish wedding breaking the glass <li>meewmeew studios

Breaking the glass

This Jewish wedding tradition takes place after the rabbi announces the newlyweds. The groom smashes a wrapped piece of glass with his foot, which is followed by applause and a cheer of “Mazel tov!” from the guests. Tradition says that the couple will remain married for as long as the glass is shattered, while others believe it symbolizes the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. 

Waypoint Ceremonies

Unity tree planting ceremony

This wedding ceremony ritual is easily customized to your wedding theme and personal style. It has no official religious or cultural ties, but the tradition itself symbolizes you and your spouse beginning a new life together. Taking care of your tree (or whichever type of plant you choose) will remind you to nurture each other throughout your marriage, even when the honeymoon phase fades! Like flowers, trees symbolize different things—for example, cherry trees represent good fortune—so choose a type of tree that resonates with you the most. During this ritual, you and your spouse will take turns adding soil and water to the seedling.