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  • Meg Senior

Ten ways to personalise your alternative wedding

You’re planning a non-traditional wedding and you want your ceremony to be memorable? Well of course you do!

One of the wicked things about being a wedding celebrant is inventing new rituals with couples. The rules for alternative weddings are much looser (or sometimes completely non-existent) compared to traditional weddings. If you’re a rebellious rule breaker then hit me up and we can bring the revolution to your wedding.

In the meantime, here are ten ways to add personality and meaning to your non-traditional wedding ceremony. There are a few categories for you to check out:

Ten ways to personalise your alternative wedding - Unique Sheffield couple
Photo credit: Hayley Gell Photography

Alternative wedding ceremony rituals

This post is a whistle stop tour of the symbolic elements you could include in your alternative wedding. It is certainly not an exhaustive list, I haven’t even mentioned time capsules, wine blending, community vows, tattoos... (I could go on!)

So think of this more as a starting point for you and your beloved to chat about what sounds fun and meaningful for you. Every idea on the list can be personalised or tailored to better fit you as a couple. You can absolutely set your imagination free and create a brand new tradition if that tickles your fancy.

Do remember that this list only applies to celebrant weddings though.

If you’re not planning on a celebrant ceremony for your alternative wedding then you’ll need to ask your cultural or religious leader what’s possible in terms of personalisation.

Or if you’re keeping it strictly legal then ask your registrar, but be aware that there are very limited personalisation options with a civil ceremony. I don’t think that any of the options below are really possible within a civil ceremony itself (sorry!) except perhaps a pinky promise which you could sneak in without the registrar noticing if you’re feeling devious.

10 ways to personalise your wedding ceremony

CATEGORY IS: Invent your own tradition

#1 “Start as you mean to go on”

Great for: All different couples!

What it symbolises: Setting an intention for how you will approach married life.

How it works:

Choose something that you intend to do lots together when you’re married (get your mind out of the gutter…) My favourite example is to pour one another a drink each, ideally shots, and then drink them. You can even have your guests count down from five if you’re doing shots. It’s a fab way to mark the end of the ceremony before you walk up the aisle as a married pair.


#2 Honour your weird un-traditional traditions

Great for: Fun couples

What it symbolises: Recognising the shared history of your relationship, and that you have strong foundations for your partnership.

How it works:

Most couples have at least one random game or habit that they share. I’ve heard from so many of my clients about catchphrases, secret handshakes, decade-long card matches, stupid songs,staring competitions, a game called “guess who died” (if you know you know), and a thousand other things. These all work perfectly in non-traditional wedding ceremonies! If it’s a fundamental part of your relationship, ask your celebrant to make a moment to honour it.


#3 Overcoming your first challenge together

Great for: Light-hearted couples

What it symbolises: Being realistic about the ups and downs of lifelong relationships, and the importance of teamwork.

How it works:

This is another non-traditional ritual which works well at the end of the ceremony. Essentially all you have to do is physically complete a task together, and create a bit of a spectacle for your guests. Visually interesting ideas are sawing through a log, cutting out the shape of a heart in a big sheet, hammering a nail into wood with only one strike each.

Alternative wedding rituals for non-traditional couples

Ten ways to personalise your alternative wedding - Handfasting with Meg Senior
Photo credit: Darren Gair, Last of the Light

CATEGORY IS: “Traditional” rituals with a spin

#4 Take inspiration from your cultural heritage

Great for: Couples who want to honour their heritage

What it symbolises: Any number of things from around the world and throughout history.

How it works:

The idea is to be inspired by cultural traditions which are part of your identity, so this one is quite personal. It might be relevant to grind sugar to sweeten your union, reference the lucky number seven, smash a glass or have symbols like goldfish, eggs or certain flowers. If you’re drawing from an area I know less about, as your celebrant I’ll take a lead from you about what feels right.


#5 Handfasting

Great for: Realist couples, sentimental couples, laid-back couples

What it symbolises: Your separate life paths becoming intertwined. A binding holding you together which allows for a flexibility because love changes as people do.

How it works:

Handfasting is possibly the most popular symbolic element to include in a wedding ceremony, other than exchanging wedding rings. It’s theatrical so guests love it, and you as a couple have an active role so it’s fun too. The words that are spoken by your celebrant are what brings the meaning. Your twist can be choosing words to represent particular things that are important to you.

There are lots of ways to physically do this, which you can read more about on Humanist Ceremonies' blog but my faves are:

  • You hold hands with each other, and a cord is wrapped around which you then tie into a knot and pull your hands free

  • You hold hands and people come and lay ribbons, which you then tie into a knot and pull your hands free


#6 Drink from a quaich AKA "loving cup"

Great for: Couples who enjoy a drink, couples with a link to Scotland

What it symbolises: Toasting friendship, showing trust for one another, sharing the good things in life.

How it works:

Both of you drink from one cup which has two handles, and your celebrant says a few words to toast your partnership. The drink itself is traditionally whisky. Your twist can be choosing your own favourite tipple.

Lots of people use a pewter quaich or “loving cup” and have it as a keepsake afterwards. But you could of course use a special cup or glass of any kind – A massive Sports Direct mug would get a laugh! You can read about this tradition on Humanist Scotland’s website.


Quirky wedding ideas for alternative ceremonies

Ten ways to personalise your alternative wedding - Two brides popping champagne
Photo credit: Hannah Brooke Photography

CATEGORY IS: Audience participation

#7 Sand blending

Great for: Couples with children, crafty couples

What it symbolises: The different qualities, personalities and approaches you each bring to the family or partnership. Accepting every bit of yourselves and one another. Becoming inextricably linked as once the sand is combined together, it cannot be separated again.

How it works:

To involve children each member of the family pours a layer of sand into a vessel. If it’s just the two of you, you pour alternating layers which represent specific qualities you each have. Usually the sand layers are in different colours so they’re clear to see. It’s possible to buy kits online but honestly you’ll produce something which looks cooler (and suits your home décor) if you make it yourself.


#8 Ring warming

Great for: Shy couples, couples who adore their guests

What it symbolises: Carrying the warm wishes of your loved ones forward from your wedding day, into your everyday life. Remembering the bonds of family and friendship are as significant as romantic relationships.

How it works:

Your celebrant explains the concept of the ring warming to guests and gives instructions of what to do. Then whoever has been entrusted to look after the rings walks to the back row and sends them on their way. The rings are passed from hand to hand so each guest has chance to hold them and reflect on their wishes for you.

This process continues whilst the ceremony gets underway and the rings should reach the front in time for the vows. A piece of music can be played to give extra time if there are lots of guests.

Fun alternative wedding ceremony ideas

Ten ways to personalise your alternative wedding - The Deer Shelter at Cannon Hall Barnsley
Photo credit: Tiptoe with Eve Photography

CATEGORY IS: Personalising your vows

#9 Tree planting

Great for: Outdoorsy couples

What it symbolises: Living vows which are shared as an intention, and will continue to be active throughout the marriage. As tree grows, your relationship will. You will nurture both.

How it works:

Ceremonial tree planting works best in the actual location the tree will be planted. Most the preparation work should be done beforehand, which includes digging a hole, watering it, watering the tree (usually a sapling) and leaving all the equipment ready.

During the ceremony guests can bring up things like a watering can and a shovel to hand over to you, to show their support. All you do is take the tree, pop it into the ground and pour some soil in. It is completely possible to do this in a big plant pot if you prefer. Either way don’t be alarmed if you get a bit muddy!

#10 Pinky promise vows

Great for: Low-key couples

What it symbolises: An extra double special promise, not to be trifled with.

How it works:

Instead of holding hands as you gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes and make your vows, you can in fact do a pinky promise. It’s the ultimate sign of honesty and sincerity after all!


That's that, my top ten suggestions to make your alternative wedding ceremony utterly unforgettable.

Before I leave you, a note on cultural appropriation

Marking life’s great milestones through ceremonies with family and friends, is a ritual as old as humanity. Even with alternative weddings we are often drawing from the history of centuries of ceremonies to come up with new modern ideas to celebrate our relationships.

It’s natural to take inspiration from traditional rituals. At the same time, we’ve got to consider the context of ideas (like the ones in this article) to avoid cultural appropriation. If we’re working together we can chat we can chat about this when we get into planning the symbolic elements for your wedding ceremony.


And finally, a little disclaimer: Do remember that even if your feet are firmly in the non-traditional / out of the box / alternative wedding vibe camp (and I know that means you’ve booked a celebrant 😉)… There’s no pressure to include anything in your ceremony that doesn’t feel right FOR YOU.

If none of these suggestions to personalise your wedding ceremony sound like your thing, then that’s totally OK. You can still have a highly personal ceremony without them, because with a celebrant wedding it’s your story and your choices that will shine through.

If you're ready to chat about making your alternative wedding ceremony the best part of your wedding day then get in touch. I can't wait to make new traditions with you!


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