Finding the Ceremony Officiant

By Kim Forrest

Planning your wedding ceremony is just as important as the reception details, and can often be one of the hardest decisions you’ll make.

couple laughing during wedding ceremony

Photo: Sarah Libby Photography

Planning your wedding ceremony is just as important as the reception details, and finding a wedding officiant can often be one of the hardest decisions you’ll make.

If you already have a strong feeling about who you want to perform your ceremony, this can be a bit of an easier task to check off your list. However, if you’re getting married in a place where you do not have ties to a church, synagogue, or local judge, you will need to find a wedding officiant. It may be beneficial to search reviews and testimonials from other couples for advice and to help establish credibility.

Before you begin the search, be sure to look into the laws of the state or country where your wedding will be taking place, as this may affect who can and cannot marry you.

Whether you have known this person since you were little, or you just found him/her on WeddingWire, the most important thing is that you and your fiancé feel comfortable with your selection. Some may even ask for a number of counseling sessions before the wedding day which can also act as ‘getting to know you’ sessions for the two of you and the officiant. Give some back stories to your relationship, and little anecdotes that will make the ceremony a bit more personalized. Make sure everyone is on the same page and that you are comfortable with what he/she is saying, and vice versa.

If you are averse to finding someone new, you can always have a family member or friend become ordained online (but again you’ll want to check local laws to make sure they can legally marry you).

Last but not least, don’t forget to have him/her sign the marriage license on the wedding day!

20 Ways to Personalize Your Wedding Ceremony

By Kim Forrest

There are several ways to make your ceremony truly feel like you – little touches that will make your ceremony truly feel personal. Here are a few of our favorites.

wedding ceremony

Photo: Priscilla Thomas Photography

The ceremony is the most important part of the wedding day – it’s the reason why your nearest and dearest have gathered to celebrate.

Of course, wedding ceremonies come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s up to you and your future spouse (and your officiant) to decide how you’d like the proceedings to go. But there are several ways to make your ceremony truly feel like you – little touches that will make your ceremony truly feel personal. Here are a few of our favorites.

Let your wedding officiant get to know you
Your officiant is the one who will lead your ceremony, so it’s important to choose someone who is interested in getting to know you and your spouse. Meet with your officiant several times before your wedding, if possible, to make sure he or she understands your personalities and your story, as well as any needs or desires for the actual ceremony.

Add heirloom details
Get nostalgic by including accessories or other items passed down from family members or friends. For example, attach your great-grandmother’s locket to your bouquet, or include a religious item that has been in your family for generations.

Share photos
Display photos of you and your spouse in the entryway to your ceremony space, if allowed. This will give your guests a quick summary of your history as a couple before they watch you wed.

Give the little ones time to shine
Children are unpredictable – but they also add a lighthearted and fun-loving touch to a wedding ceremony. You can go the traditional route with your ring bearers or flower girls (who are usually ages four to ten, by the way), by asking them to carry ring pillows and baskets of petals, or try something a bit out-of-the-box with signs, ribbon wands, or something totally unique! And remember if your littlest attendants don’t behave like little angels during their walk down the aisle, just laugh it off – it’s all part of the fun of the day!

Choose ceremony music you love
Some ceremonies require specific musical selections, but if you have any flexibility in the score of your ceremony, choose songs that are meaningful to you and your future spouse. It’s usually best to keep to instrumentals for the processional and recessional, but you can also include other songs as interludes during the ceremony proceedings. Everything from Beatles songs, pop tunes, jazz standards, and more are all fair game.

Open seating
Your guests don’t have to choose sides – keep the seating plan open so that guests can sit wherever they’d like and mix and mingle with one another, adding to a “one big happy family” vibe. Some creative signage can help get the message across.

pick a seat not a side sign

Photo: Crystal Madsen Photography

Honor loved ones
A subtle nod to loved ones who have passed away can be a sweet and meaningful gesture. A few ideas: placing a photo of the family members or friends on a chair in the front row, or including their favorite flower in the ceremony décor. You can also include their names in your programs, or feature a favorite song or passage as a reading or interlude.

Personalize your programs
There are a few things you should include in your ceremony program – the order of the proceedings and a list of the wedding party members are usually musts. However, there are other optional items that can make your program even more personalized. Include a thank-you note to your guests, a tribute to loved ones who have passed on, or even a favorite quote or song lyric that you feel is appropriate for the big day. The design of the program should have a similar feel to your wedding décor to keep things consistent.

Think about your rings
If your wedding rings have special meaning, your officiant can mention this in your ceremony proceedings. Another ritual we like for smaller weddings: passing your rings around the audience so that each of your guests can give them their own blessings.

Include your pet
Your pet is an important member of your family, so you may want to include him or her into your ceremony. Of course, you’ll have to get the okay from your venue first, but there’s little cuter than a furry friend dressed to the nines making his or her debut down the aisle.

Consider your guests’ comfort
Think about the weather on your wedding day – especially if you’re hosting an outdoor ceremony. If the weather will be particularly warm and sunny, offer your guests fans, parasols, and make sure cold drinks are available. For cooler days, offer shawls or blankets – as well as heating lamps, if possible!

Include a unique ring vessel
Choose a ring pillow or vessel that matches your décor scheme and style. And remember – you don’t have to have a ring pillow at all! From vintage trays to seashells, choose a vessel that feels appropriate to you.

Set up a cool seating arrangement
If your ceremony venue has flexibility, we love the idea of mixing up ceremony seating arrangements. From seating all of your guests “in the round” to incorporating modern lounge furniture, be creative, but be sure to keep your guests comfort in mind.

seashell ring holder

Photo: Alena Bakutis Photography

Write your own vows
You don’t have to write your own vows, but some couples like to include that super-personal element in their ceremony. After making sure it’s okay with your officiant, give yourself plenty of time to write a meaningful expression of your love (don’t wait until the night before – please!). Include a few personal anecdotes or details to describe your relationship and make sure to include a promise (or the actual “vow). And be sure to use your officiant as a resource or sounding board – they’re there to help!

Include a unique ritual
You may choose to include a unique ritual, like a handfasting, wine ceremony or sand ceremony into your ceremony – again, with the approval of your officiant. If you’d like to go this route, choose just one ritual in the interest of focus and brevity.

Choose the right backdrop
Whether it’s a lush floral display, a set of antique doors, or a creative arrangement of bright ribbons, paper pinwheels, or bunting, choose a ceremony backdrop that fits your wedding style.

Put your name on it
Include your monogram or initials throughout your ceremony décor to put your personal stamp on the day. From moss letters on the venue doors to a monogrammed aisle runner, there are lots of options to choose from.

Personalize the processional
The traditional wedding processional includes the bride’s father walking her down the aisle – but you do not have to go this route. We’ve seen brides and grooms walk down the aisle with both parents, just a mom or dad, a sibling or two, or even hand-in-hand with each other. Those with stepparents may wish to walk half of the way down the aisle with a stepparent, then the rest of the way with a birth parent – there are lots of options to choose from. Think about your family situation and decide what feels most comfortable to you – that’s what’s most important.

Choose the right readings
Many couples like to include special readings into their ceremony. Work with your officiant to source readings that are both meaningful to you and your spouse and appropriate for your ceremony style. From religious passages to selections from songs or children’s books to old love letters or emails you wrote one another, there are lots of readings to choose from. And it’s a great way to include family members or special friends into your ceremony.

Have a fun recessional
You’re married, time to celebrate! Choose upbeat music for this exciting time (we’re suckers for Stevie Wonder’s “Signed Sealed Delivered”). And if your venue allows, you can ask your guests to toss confetti or pom poms, blow bubbles, or wave ribbon wands or flags.

12 Wedding Ceremony Reading Ideas from the Pros

By Kim Forrest

We asked ceremony officiants from around the country to share excerpts from their favorite wedding ceremony readings to help inspire you.

wedding ceremony

Photo: Bryan Sargent Photography

Including a reading in your wedding ceremony can be a great way to personalize the proceedings, as well as include family members or friends into your day. But, with all of the options available, how do you go about finding a wedding ceremony reading that’s appropriate for you and your future spouse?

To inspire you, here are some unique and moving wedding ceremony reading excerpts, straight from expert officiants themselves.

From Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
“You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving…” (read more)

“This is one reading I’ve only used one or twice but I really like it a lot. It’s short, sweet and very touching:” – Betty J. Coram of NJ Beautiful Weddings in Somerset, New Jersey



“Real Love” by Daphne Rose Kingma
“…In the end, nothing we do or say in this lifetime will matter as much as the way we have loved one another.”

“This is one of my favorite readings. The last line sums up life.” – Wanda Tracey of Weddings by Wanda in Las Vegas, Nevada



From A Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
“…Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now…” (read more)

“I like this reading because it is honest and true, the words visualize a relationship, and it touches our hearts.” – Carolyn Burke of Carolyn Burke Wedding Coordinator/Officiant in St. Louis, Missouri



“How Falling in Love is Like Owning a Dog” by Taylor Mali
“…Love doesn’t like being left alone for long,
But come home and love is always happy to see you.
It may break a few things accidentally in its passion for life,
But you can never be mad at love for long…” (read more)

“I often have couples who love their dogs so much they want to include them in the ceremony in some way. Yet as cute as their dog might be trotting down the aisle as the ring bearer; it’s not always practical. A reading like this is a great way to personalize a ceremony for dog-lovers without the added complications that having Fido in the wedding party presents” – Rev. Laura Cannon of Ceremony Officiants



From The Princess Bride by William Goldman
“…Every time you said ‘Farm Boy, do this,’ you thought I was answering, ‘As you wish,’ but that’s only because you were hearing wrong. ‘I love you’ was what it was, but you never heard.” (read more)

“This reading is great for the romantic poetic man. The guy who was so in love with his bride before she even knew his name. Think, nerd in high school in love with the captain of the cheerleaders. His world is his bride and he has fought long and hard to win her heart.” – Rev. Shawn Miller of Young, Hip & Married in Vancouver, Canada



From The Bridge Across Forever by Richard Bach
“A soul mate is someone who has locks that fit our keys, and keys that fit our locks…” (read more)

“A bride and groom who were giving skeleton keys as favors used this excerpt during their ceremony.” – Nancy J. Taussig of Barefoot Weddings in Sarasota, Florida



“The Invitation” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer
“It doesn’t interest me/what you do for a living
I want to know/what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing…” (read more)

“This reading is ideal for a couple who wants to emphasize their hope to make a positive impact on the world,” – Carolyn Germaine of Grand Avenue Wedding Officiants in St. Paul, Minnesota


“You Are My Home” by Alex DuKaten
“I have learned that I can trust your constant presence
and that even in the hustle and bustle of life
in times of sorrow or uncertainty
there can be great joy…”

“This reading is a favorite of mine to offer to couples who feel that for the first time they are at peace, feel safe, and have finally found their home.” – LisaAnn DuKaten of Ceremonies From the Heart in Newton, Massachusetts



“Now I Sing For You” by Ryan Adams
“Now I sing my life for you
I will not be leaving; going anywhere without you…” (read more)

“I like this reading because it is fresh, it speaks from the heart and it exemplifies the love a couple has for one another.” – Maureen Thomson of Lyssabeth’s Wedding Officiants in Denver, Colorado



Quote from Bob Marley
“Only once in your life, I truly believe, you find someone who can completely turn your world around…” (read more)

“This untitled reading is best used in a short ceremony for the bulk of the address, but wow does Bob Marley ever get what finding the right person is all about!” – Marie April Gismondi of Church of Ancient Ways in Kings Park, New York


From The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but Really loves you, then you become Real.”

This is my number one-favorite reading, as it talks about love making you real, and being shabby, hairless and loose in the joints. It is one of the very best ways of describing true love!” – Rev. Judith L. Guasch in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania


Quote from Barbara Cage
“Love is a partnership of two unique people who bring out the very best in each other, and who know that even though they are wonderful as individuals, they are even better together.”

“This quote that was mentioned was inspired by marriage equality, which is very important to us as individuals and as a company. It is appropriate for all couples, and it comes from a very powerful time in history.” – Elysa Skye and Arielle Haze of LA Wedding Woman in Los Angeles, California

6 Meaningful Secular Wedding Ceremony Ideas

By Whitney Teal

any wedding traditions have deep roots in religious significance, so it can be difficult to craft a meaningful secular ceremony — here are some ideas.

gay wedding chairs
MCKINNON PHOTOGRAPHY

Even if your wedding isn’t taking place in a place of worship, it can be pretty difficult to craft secular wedding ceremony ideas with meaningful rituals. This is important if you and your spouse were raised in different faith traditions, and therefore want to avoid bringing either into your wedding. Or, conversely, if one or both of you weren’t raised in any particular faith, so you’re uncomfortable involving religion or religious ceremony rituals for your wedding. Whatever the reason for wanting to create a secular wedding ceremony, there are lots of ways to fill out your non-religious wedding with heartfelt activities to symbolize your union.

Here are 6 meaningful secular wedding ceremony ideas to consider.

Love ceremony readings

Choosing a poem, song or excerpt from a movie or novel is a great way to incorporate important words into your wedding ceremony, beyond the vows. Wedding ceremony readings may also allow you to honor important persons in your life as well, as you may choose to select a close friend or family member who is not in your wedding party to take part in the ceremony by performing the reading. Your reading can be as traditional or non-traditional as you all are as a couple, so don’t limit yourself to only text that feels more appropriate for a wedding. Dig deep into your well of inspiration for your favorite lines that symbolize your relationship and what love and marriage mean to you and your partner.

Sand pouring

Meant to symbolize the eternal wedding of love birds, this secular wedding ceremony ritual involves filling two vases with sand. Some couples will specifically use sand from their native country or home state, and most couples will be sure that each vase contains sand of different colors. During the ceremony, the couple pours sand from each vase into one larger vase. Once poured, the two types of sand mix and create a unique pattern that makes the sand indistinguishable from each other.

Plant a tree (or a bottle of liquor!)

Trees offer tons of symbolism for a secular wedding ceremony. It’s a living organism that grows both deep into the earth and high into the sky. It’s something that is only as healthy as its foundation, and even though it can grow big and strong, it can be cut down with relative ease. If you and your partner are nature lovers, consider a ceremonial tree planting as one of your non-religious wedding ideas. A variation on the tree planting is to take a page from classic Southern weddings and bury a bottle of bourbon. It’s one of the wedding traditions with murky origins, but the intent is to ensure sunny weather on your wedding day. One month before you marry, plant an unopened bottle of your favorite brew at your ceremony site. Once your ceremony is done, you’re free to dig up the bourbon and drink up! Of course, you’re free to adapt these traditions to suit you and the wedding style of your choosing. Plant a bush or a group of flowers instead of a tree; seed a bottle of vodka instead of bourbon.

Ring warming

Most wedding ceremonies, whether a non-religious wedding ceremony or religious, don’t involve the guests much. Thought to be Celtic in origin, ring warming is one of the few rituals that includes every person in attendance and is a great way to personalize your ceremony. Either by passing the ring to wedding guests using a uniting ribbon or thread or by encouraging guests to “warm” your rings as they enter the ceremony space, ring warming asks your wedding guests to place a silent blessing, intention or well wish onto your wedding rings.

Wine box ceremony

Wine lovers rejoice because this non-religious wedding idea allows you to celebrate your love of your partner and your love of vino. The concept includes each partner writing a love letter to the other. The contents are entirely up to you to personalize, so you can write about why you chose to marry this person, or your hopes for your future together, or anything else. Then, work together to create a decorative box that will fit your favorite bottle of wine. Some couples elect to have a special family member or friend create the box, or purchase from a place with significance. It’s up to you, but you can definitely use each part of this ceremony as a sharing opportunity. Next, you’ll select a bottle of wine (or sparkling wine, or prosecco, or champagne — it’s your choice!) to store in the box. Alert the person officiating your ceremony that you want to include this ritual into your wedding, and your officiant will likely want to say a few words before placing both the bottle and your love letters into the box. Lastly, the box will be sealed and won’t be opened until your fifth anniversary.

Unity candle lighting

While unity candle lighting is popular for weddings, even in a religious ceremony, it doesn’t have inherent ties to a particular faith. It’s a fairly simple ritual that is said to symbolize new marriages. Choose three candles — one to symbolize you; one to symbolize your partner and one to symbolize your new marriage. Often, the last candle is larger than the other two, but it’s not a rule. Before the ceremony, each set of parents will light one of the smaller candles. During the ceremony, your officiant will prepare a script that speaks to the significance of two people joining together to create one partnership. When prompted, each of you will light the larger candle using the flames from your smaller candles.

African Wedding Customs to Know As a First-Time Guest

By Whitney Teal

Learn what to expect before attending your first African wedding. Just remember that customs vary a lot throughout the various religions and ethnic groups of the continent.

Fotos by Fola
FOTOS BY FOLA

Africa is a large and diverse continent, and African wedding customs vary a lot depending on the region, nation, religion and ethnic group of the couple. The United States is home to a dynamic African diaspora from many different countries, so it’s not surprising you’ve been invited to an African wedding. Fret not! While the basic mechanics of the ceremony (readings, vows and symbolic rituals) will likely be familiar, there will be some cultural differences you will definitely want to know.

These are some of the most popular African wedding customs you might see as a guest.

North African wedding customs

This majority Muslim region of Africa includes Morocco, Libya, Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia.

It’s traditional for brides from this region to perform a ritual bath, called a Hamam, to purify themselves before marriage. Next, the bride and her closest will gather for a henna party, where their hands and feet will be decorated with traditional dye for good luck. If you’re part of the African wedding’s bridal party or a close friend of the bride, you might also be invited to this the night before the wedding.

North African weddings are almost always Muslim, so the rituals and customs will be derived from Islam. It’s important to dress conservatively in the Mosque for the ceremony (no bare arms or legs for both genders), and for women to bring a scarf to cover their heads. You will also be asked to remove your shoes before entering the ceremony location. A Muslim wedding will feature a short ceremony called a Nikah, which is totally segregated by gender. The wedding reception might be fully separated as well, with different rooms for men and women, or partially separate with a partition down the middle or men and women at different tables.

West African wedding customs

Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Cameroon and Senegal are among the nations in West Africa.

Nigerian Americans are a sizable population in the United States, so the odds of you being invited to a Nigerian wedding are high. Depending on the tribe, customs will vary.

Yoruba traditional weddings feature a ritual called Tasting of the Elements, which represents the balance of emotions in a relationship. Food or drinks that are sour, hot, sweet and bitter are presented to the couple by the officiant and eaten to show they’re prepared to go through life’s good and bad together.

The Igbo are another Nigerian tribe with unique wedding rituals. Sharing of the Kola Nut is native to this tribe and may be performed at a traditional ceremony. The couple symbolically shares this small nut during the ceremony, then keeps the rest of it in their home to remind them of their commitment to one another.

Aso ebi is a tradition that spans much of West Africa and involves a ceremonial cloth that not only the bridesmaids, but also close friends, sisters and cousins of the bride will all wear for the wedding. The bride’s mother and the groom’s mother may also choose to pick out their own cloth for their close family and associates to wear as well. The aso ebi is a way of showing your closeness to the family during ceremonial events.

Bellagala PhotographyBELLAGALA PHOTOGRAPHY

East African wedding customs

Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya and Tanzania are among the large nations in East Africa.  

Swahili people are native to Kenya, Tanzania and parts of Central Africa as well. Many from this part of the continent practice Islam, and their wedding customs mirror those of other Islamic cultures. Similar to North Africans and Indians, Swahili weddings feature a pre-wedding henna party for the bride, bridesmaids and the other women closest to her. Swahili grooms and their friends gather for a night of fight-dancing before the wedding called Kirumbizi.

Amhara people are native to parts of Ethiopia and their traditional weddings feature garments made from Habesha cloth. Brides wear elegant white gowns made from this fabric with trimmings in gold or red, and accents in deep greens, bright blues or rich black. The groom’s attire can be a Western suit or a long coat with pants in the same cloth.

Ethiopian Orthodox is one of the most popular religions of the region, and many Ethiopian American couples will host their weddings in this fashion. With similar teachings as Greek Orthodox and Catholic religions, these weddings always take place in a church and feature Holy Trinity symbolism.

Central and South African wedding customs

South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Angola and the Congo are included in this region.

Zulus are a large and important ethnic group that span this region. The traditional Zulu wedding ceremony is called Umabo, although couples from these countries also normally have a “white wedding,” or a Westernized ceremony, on a different day. You may be invited to both ceremonies.

Traditionally, an Umabo took place at the groom’s parents home, but modern couples might adapt this. Zulu brides where a cow skin skirt that is reserved for married women and a special headdress, called Isicholo, that is a also a sign of being married. The ceremony begins with the groom’s father welcoming his new daughter-in-law, then the bride’s father giving away his daughter to her new family. The family and guests usually sit on grass mats as the brides sisters and bridesmaids bring gifts from her to her in-laws.

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.

Ivvor Rocha Photography
IVVOR ROCHA PHOTOGRAPHY

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.

Santa Cruz Officiant
SANTA CRUZ OFFICIANT

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
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.

Susan Ann Weddings & Events
SUSAN ANN WEDDINGS & EVENTS

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.

Steven Mitchell JP
STEVEN MITCHELL JP

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.

Fredericks Photo and Films
FREDERICKS PHOTO AND FILMS

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
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.

Reverend Alvin L. Powell
REVEREND ALVIN L. POWELL

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.

Married by Maree
MARRIED BY MAREE

Handfasting

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
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.

The Mackey House
THE MACKEY HOUSE

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
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
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. 

How to Change Your Name After Marriage & Everywhere to Do It

By Stephanie Hallett

Figuring out how to legally change your name after marriage takes time, so try not to feel frustrated if it seems like a never-ending process. Here’s your handy checklist for the top places to change your name after the wedding.

GGGPhoto
GGGPHOTO

You’ve taken the plunge and perhaps decided to either take your spouse’s last name or create your own last name with your partner after the wedding. So you’re probably considering how to change your name after marriage. Since your name does not change automatically when you get married, you have to make sure you follow all the necessary legal steps to changing your name after the wedding.

The first steps in legally changing your name after marriage involve making your married name official on all of your legal and personal documents. To complete the post-wedding name change, you’ll need a few certified copies of your marriage certificate (we recommend requesting at least three copies) and all of your old IDs (including passport, driver’s license and Social Security card). Once you have those documents together, you’re ready to start tackling the project of legally changing your name after marriage! 

So, how long after getting married can you change your name? You can actually do it ASAP. Well, as soon as you have those certified copies of your marriage certificate in hand, at least. But remember that the name change after marriage process takes time — for many people it could take a year or more to fully switch over — so don’t feel frustrated if it seems like this is taking forever. (Another great option is HitchSwitch, a service that literally takes care of all this name change paperwork hassle for you.)

Below, you’ll find exactly how to change your name after marriage — while not all of these will apply to you, and some you can complete before others, you’ll want to stick to the order we’ve outlined for the first five.

Social Security Card

The first stop on the journey of how to change your name after marriage should be the Social Security Administration (SSA) office; in some states, the DMV and other offices will require you to show a Social Security card in your married name to move forward, which is why it’s a great first step in the name change after marriage process.

Can you change your name on your Social Security card online? Unfortunately no, you need to go IRL, but check this link for a step-by-step guide to correcting the name on your Social Security card; you’ll need your marriage certificate, ID, this form and possibly proof of citizenship (learn more here) to make the change.

Driver’s License

Next up: the DMV. Driver’s license name-change requirements vary from state to state, so Google “changing my name on my [state name] driver’s license” and you should find everything you need to know. Be sure to visit your state’s official DMV website (it will have a .gov address). You’ll need your marriage certificate and photo ID, along with an official form and possibly your Social Security card.

Passport

The requirements for changing your name after marriage on your passport vary according to when your passport was issued, so check here to see which category you fall into. Be ready to show proof of citizenship, your marriage certificate, a color passport photo and possibly your photo ID.

Bank Cards and Credit Cards

Figuring out how to change after marriage with your bank or credit union could require an in-person visit, but you may be able to make the switch over the phone, too. Call your financial institution and let them know you’re newly married and have changed your name—they’ll help you figure things out from there. Remember to change your name on all of your accounts, including your credit cards.

Immigration Documents

If you have a green card, visa or other immigration document that lists your pre-marriage name, you’ll need to change it before you can travel again after your honeymoon (always book your honeymoon using the name on your passport and immigration documents. You won’t officially be Mrs. or Mr. New Name until you’ve visited Social Security, the DMV and other offices on this list!) Google “changing my last name on [name of immigration document]” to find out the steps you need to take to update your documents. If you have an immigration lawyer, they can help you with this.

Lease Agreement

Changing your name after marriage for your lease is pretty straightforward: Call your landlord! They may want to see your marriage certificate and driver’s license, but they’ll let you know over the phone.

Loans

You will likely need to show your marriage certificate and new Social Security card to update your loan documents; call your creditors and ask them exactly what to do, where to go and if you can change your name by mail or phone.

Car Title/Registration

This changing your name after marriage process for your car title and registration will vary state by state but will, at the minimum, require you to show your marriage certificate and fill out a form. Google “changing my name on my car title/registration in [state]” to find your local DMV’s requirements.

Employer

Once you have your new Social Security card, you’ll need to show it to your employer and have them change your last name on their payroll accounts. That helps ensure that the SSA keeps accurate count of how much you’ve paid into Social Security. Your employer will also need to update your name on your health, dental and other benefit accounts to prevent any gaps in coverage.

Wedding Minister Watsonville
WEDDING MINISTER WATSONVILLE

Insurance Accounts (car, life, home etc.)

Your insurance broker can help you change your name for things like your auto or home insurance, and the HR department at your workplace can help you update any life insurance plans you have through your job. If you have health insurance through a state or federal agency, or have health insurance directly through an insurance agency—and not an employer—let them know you’ve changed your name.

Mortgage

If you have a home loan that lists your pre-marriage name, call your lender and talk through their requirements for making a name change after marriage. You may want to add your spouse to the mortgage (if he or she is not already on it) and refinance your loan. Go over all of these options with your lender.

Deeds

Contact your county’s deed office to find out how to change your name after marriage on your property title. You may need to fill out a “change of owner statement” (or the equivalent) and show your marriage certificate. This will be important if you ever decide to sell your house. You can also ask about adding your spouse to your deed at this time.

Utilities

This is your gas company, water and power, internet service provider, cell phone provider and any other services that bill you, including Netflix! Call them all and let them know you’ve changed your name.

Doctors’ Offices

You’ve already told your insurance providers about your new married name, now it’s time to let your doctors, dentists and vets know, too. This will help prevent any difficulties at the front desk the next time you need to see a medical professional.

Kids’ School

If you have children, stop by their school(s) and let them know you’ve changed your name after marriage, that way they have the right name on the pick-up list and know how to address you if they have to call or send home a notice.

Diva Matters Ministry
DIVA MATTERS MINISTRY

Professional Licenses

Doctors, lawyers, nurses, notaries public and anyone else with a professional license will need to contact the relevant licensing board and get your certificates updated with your new name.

Investment Accounts

If you have a financial planner, give them a call and ask for help figuring out how to change your name after marriage on your investments. And if you have a 401k or other retirement savings account, be sure your employer or financial institution updates their records accordingly.

Voter Registration

Don’t get caught out in the cold on Election Day! Google “change name on voter registration [state]” to find out the name-change requirements in your state.

Alumni Associations

If you’re active in your alumni association, let them know you’ve changed your name so that they can address you correctly and pass on the right name to others who might be looking for you.

Airline Frequent Flyer Programs

Each airline has a different policy when it comes to changing your name for their frequent flyer programs, so be sure to call the individual carriers where you have accounts. You may have to mail or fax in a copy of your marriage license. And if you’re traveling on your honeymoon immediately after your wedding day, remember to book the ticket under your maiden name.

Social Media Accounts

Changing your name after marriage on your Facebook or Instagram is a little less important than your Social Security card and driver’s license, but definitely easier—so you’ll probably update them first! Even if you don’t want to change your handle, you can update the full name associated with your account. Here’s how to do it for the major social media platforms:

  • Facebook: Facebook does have certain rules associated with changing your name, but if you’re simply changing to your married name, it shouldn’t be a problem. Click on Settings, then Name. Adjust your name to your married one, and then save the changes. Also note that you can only change your name on Facebook once every 60 days.  
  • Instagram: Simply edit your profile. You may change your username and/or the name associated with your account. 
  • Twitter: Edit your profile to change your display name and/or username to reflect your new married moniker. 
  • LinkedIn: If you’re changing your name professionally as well as personally, it’s important to change your name on your LinkedIn profile. Click on the Me icon, then View Profile, then Edit Intro to change your last name, and save. 

Email Accounts

You may or may not choose to create a new email address once you’ve changed your name after marriage, depending on if the actual email address includes your maiden name. Either way, if you’ve changed your name, make sure you adjust the name that appears when you send email. 

Autofill Name

If you rely on your internet browser’s autofill function, seeing your old name on a regular basis could start to drive you crazy! Here’s how to update Chrome and Safari.

You’ll definitely come across smaller accounts and subscriptions with your old name as time rolls on—feel free to update those as you encounter them. Once you’ve gotten the important stuff out of the way, the rest will fall into place.

8 Things Happy Couples Do for Each Other Every Day

By Jenn Sinrich

Just because you’re finally married doesn’t mean you can stop working at your relationship. Here, experts share their best tips to help ensure a successful marriage.

close up portrait of Black couple. she is smiling at the camera while he kisses her cheek
DANIELLE CHRISTINE PHOTOGRAPHY

The term “happy” might mean something different for everyone, but, in essence, it means being fulfilled and at peace with the life we have. This very much includes the people we surround ourselves with—namely our significant other. According to Julie Williamson, licensed professional counselor who practices in St. Louis, Missouri, the answer to how to be a happy married couple means to feel the freedom to be fully yourself, both positive and negative attributes, knowing and trusting that your partner will love and accept you, even when you’re less desirable qualities shine through or during times of conflict. “For some couples, happiness may look like spending the majority of their time together, even running small errands with each other,” she says. “For others, it may look like each individual taking space and time for themselves, and then coming back together for quality time.” Wondering where you and your significant other fall on the spectrum?

Relationship experts share their best-kept secrets for how to be a happy married couple.

They intentionally listen to each other.

Especially when you live together, it can feel like all you do is spend time together and talk—but how intently you converse and communicate is key. Putting down your smartphone, shutting off the TV and turning off Spotify playing in the background are all important dos that should be done prior to listening to your partner—and is essential in the “how to be a happy married couple” quest. “Truly listening, speaking from the heart and wholeheartedly throwing themselves into whatever it is that they’re doing allows them to actually be with one another in the present, which contributes to a deeper connection,” says Amanda Stemen, licensed clinical social worker with private therapy and coaching practice in Los Angeles, California. “When speaking with one another mindfully, each feels heard and understood, which increases the love.”

They check in with each other.

It may sound simple, but it always surprises Williamson to hear from couples who treat each other more like roommates. “You don’t have to take a full hour to have a conversation, but taking three to five minutes and asking your partner how they’re doing, about their day and what their plans are for the rest of the day can be helpful,” she says.

They’re physically intimate.

Physical contact is necessary for healthy growth and development—even in adults. “It also increases emotional connection, which in turn increases physical connection, and the cycle continues,” she adds.

They give each other compliments.

When it comes to how to be a happy married couple, it’s always nice to hear someone give you praise and admiration, especially those closest to you. Acknowledgement of the positive things you and your partner are doing affirms your appreciation for each other. “Compliments strengthen the relationship, whereas frequent criticism can destroy a relationship,” says Stemen. “It can be challenging in long-term relationships to remember what drew each person to the other or find new things to compliment, but looking for the positive will always lead to finding it.”

young couple holds hands as they run through a forest
MARNIE CORNELL PHOTOGRAPHY

They take adventures together.

After a while, it’s normal for couples in long-term relationships to fall into a routine that, at times, can become mundane. This is why it’s so important to switch things up and try new things together. “This doesn’t mean having to traverse the world or climb mountains—although that works too—it could be as simple as cooking something new together, going roller skating instead of the movies on date night or refinishing an old, boring piece of furniture in the home,” says Stemen. “It doesn’t matter as long as it’s new and different.”

They do nice things for one another.

This doesn’t have to mean a romantic grand gesture—something as simple as brewing your partner a cup of coffee before he or she leaves for work in the morning can go a long way in terms of relationship happiness. “Buying something nice out of nowhere (or for a special occasion), making breakfast in bed or planning a surprise getaway also mixes things up a little,” says Stemen. “The idea is this lets one another know they’re being thought of and how important they are to their significant other.”

They spend time apart.

A secret ingredient to how to be a happy married couple is time spent together and apart. “Doing things without one another creates a sense of mystery that keeps the relationship from getting old,” says Stemen. While this time apart can be spent with other people, Stemen also points out the importance of spending alone time. “It allows for connecting and reflecting on oneself, the relationship and relationships with others and something greater than ourselves (If that’s important for each),” she says. “This reflection strengthens a relationship, creating far more happiness than when a relationship is too codependent.”

They practice self-care.

While you might not associate some of the things you do for yourself, such as working out or getting monthly massages, as something that would benefit your partner, but you should! “Taking care of yourself is taking care of your partner,” says Williamson. “As you practice self-care and become mindful of your own thoughts and feelings, it allows you to ‘fill your tank’ so-to-speak, gives you energy to engage with your partner and helps you make clear and thoughtful decisions regarding what you say and how you relate to them.”

How to Ace Your First Big Vacation Together (Like Your Honeymoon!)

By Jaimie Mackey

Before you head on your first vacation together, be sure to check out these honeymoon travel tips for couples!

couple holding hands ibiza spain

Your honeymoon is the trip of a lifetime, but there’s also a chance it’s your first big vacation together. This trip will be chock-full of memories you’ll cherish forever, but it can also be a major learning experience as you figure out your travel styles and spend a lot of uninterrupted time together (in an unfamiliar place, no less!). Heading on your honeymoon is totally exciting, but it can also be stressful — or lead to disaster! — if you don’t prepare before you head to the airport.

We chatted with a few travel experts who happen to be couples themselves for their top tips for your first vacation together, as well as how to avoid the most common pitfalls.

Don’t Over-Plan

“It’s easy to want to pack your honeymoon schedule to make the most of your time off of work, but your first vacation together as a married couple is really a time for you to slow down and enjoy life as newlyweds,” say husband-and-wife travel experts Collette and Scott Stohler of Roamaroo. “You just planned a wedding, so take some time to relax!” The Stohlers recommend leaving your first day wide open so you can sleep in, nap, or just take some time to wander around your destination. “Make sure to get out into the sunlight, which will help you acclimate to the time zone,” says Collette Stohler. Want to plan a walking tour or activity? Schedule one every other day so you have some downtime (and freedom!) in between.

Pare Down the List of Destinations

It can be tempting to try to hit as many cities or locaations as you can, but that can lead to a totally hectic first vacation together where you don’t quite get the feeling for any of the places you visit. “Spend more time in fewer destinations,” says Scott Stohler. “You’ll be able to relax, recover from jet lag, and immerse yourselves in the local culture so much more.

Think Outside the Box

Your married friends will all have suggestions for the perfect honeymoon destination, but you don’t have to take their advice! “If your friends all loved Mexico or Jamaica, but going on a safari is at the top of your bucket list, head to Africa instead,” suggest Adam and Hannah Lukaszewicz, the husband-and-wife team behind Getting Stamped. “You can have that adventurous safari honeymoon, and then spend a few days on the beach in Zanzibar for a little relaxation! We took a two-week honeymoon in Thailand and spent less money than all of our friends did on their one-week getaways, and had an epic adventure.”

Don’t Go All-Out With the All-Inclusive

Yes, the deals might be great, but all-inclusive properties really encourage you to, well, stay on the property. Says Hannah Lukaszewicz, “Consider spending at least some of your time at a smaller boutique hotel. That way you can get off the resort, see more of your destination, and try things like local restaurants and activities.”

Learn to Compromise

Planning an extended first vacation together will quickly highlight any differences in your travel styles, meaning you and your partner will have to start compromising right off the bat. “One partner may love hiking, camping, and other outdoor adventures, while the other might prefer more relaxing, luxurious activities,” say Alesha Bradford and Jarryd Salem of NOMADasaurus. So you’ll have to find a happy medium where you’ll both get what you’re looking for.

Embrace Alone Time

“It’s important to let one another enjoy the things they love, rather than holding each other back,” Bradford says. “If that means spending a few hours apart, embrace it! Traveling together is amazing, but only if both parties are happy.” And hey, you’ll reunite for dinner that evening with all sorts of stories and pictures to share!

How to Know When You’re Ready to Drop the “L” Word

By Samantha Iacia

Three words. Eight letters. These tips will help you decide when to say ‘I love you’ to that special someone for the first time.

Kate Edwards Weddings
KATE EDWARDS WEDDINGS

Falling in love and knowing exactly when to say I love you for the first time is a different experience for every couple. But if you feel like those three little words are lingering on the tip of your tongue, there are some general guidelines that can help you decide whether or not you’re ready to take the plunge!

Here’s how to know when to say I love you for the first time.    

When bae becomes the best part of your day.

As you transition from “just dating” to full-on monogamy, you’ll start developing a deeper connection with your S.O. that goes beyond flirty texts and casual meetups for drinks. That person who was once just the cute guy (or girl) you’ve been getting to know is suddenly the most attractive human ever — one who also happens to now be an integral part of your day-to-day life. You can’t wait to talk to them each morning, you don’t go to bed without saying goodnight, and they’re the first person you turn to when something goes wrong. You’re on cloud nine whenever you’re together, even if that means ordering takeout and watching Netflix on the couch.

When you’re able to have meaningful conversations.

Part of being in love is feeling understood, or at the very least respected, by your significant other. Maybe your S.O. can put you at ease in a way that no one else can, or maybe they can always tell when there’s something on your mind that you’re leaving unsaid. If you’re thinking about when to say I love you, having a strong line of communication with your partner is a telltale sign that you might be ready. When you feel comfortable having meaningful, honest conversations with your S.O. about things like personal values, past relationships, future goals, and even silly debates about which sushi place is better, it’s a huge step in the right direction toward lovebird bliss.    

When you feel relaxed and comfortable together.

When you’re with the right person, letting your guard down is something that will happen naturally over the course of your relationship, even if you’re the most reserved person on earth. Once you start opening up to your S.O. and revealing things that you probably would have kept secret otherwise, it’s a major sign that you’re smitten. Whether you’re sharing embarrassing yearbook pictures, letting your partner see you without makeup for the first time, or accidentally mentioning that you’re low-key obsessed with anime movies, feeling comfortable enough to allow your true colors to shine is a good indicator of when to say I love you.

When you can’t escape the butterflies.

Do you get butterflies every time your S.O. walks into the room and whenever their name pops up on your phone? Whether you’ve been together for six weeks or six months, getting the butterflies when your partner is around is an obvious sign that you might be ready to say I love you. Another telltale sign? You’re constantly thinking about bae and can’t stop smiling when you’re telling your besties about him or her.

When the future doesn’t totally freak you out.

We’re not saying that you have to start planning the wedding tomorrow, but if you can picture yourself with your S.O. for the foreseeable future, it’s a positive sign that love is on the way. Think about your next relationship milestone: Have you met the parents yet? Are you planning your first couples vacation together? If you’re considering when to say I love you, these types of relationship benchmarks should stir up feelings of excitement and optimism!

When you’re doing things that are out of the ordinary.

As the adage goes, falling in love can make you do crazy things — and all it takes is a few beloved rom-coms to remind us just how elaborate a profession of love can be (Love Actually, anyone?). An obvious sign that you’re ready to say I love you is if you’re switching up your normal routine or going out of your way to make your partner happy. Sometimes, your subconscious knows when to say I love you before you’ve even had the chance to realize that you’re ready! Maybe you’ve caught yourself daydreaming about dropping the “L” word or have even had to stop yourself from saying it in conversation. Or perhaps you’re suddenly willing to do things you’d never agree to otherwise, like driving across town at a moment’s notice or switching up your daily routine, just to spend a few hours with your significant other. If this is the case, it’s time to reveal your true feelings!