Is a Unity Ceremony for you?
There are loads of different unity ceremonies you can choose to include in your wedding ceremony but which one is right for you? Should you include one at all? What do they all mean?
Here is a quick an overview of the most common symbolic rituals. Learn about their origins and meaning to work out whether this is a good fit for you as a couple.
Handfasting is an ancient Celtic ceremony where, as the name suggests, the hands are tied together and it’s particularly fitting in Boho and Rustic ceremonies. The couple join hands as the ribbons are draped over in several loops and eventually tied together. The hands are then removed from the ribbons but they stay tied in a circle representing the joining of two people and also the never-ending nature of their love (awwww).
Colourful ribbons or cords are used and each colour symbolises something different. As part of the ceremony, your celebrant will talk about each of the colours, why you chose them and why they’re important to you as a couple. This is a really lovely way to put something unique and interesting into your ceremony that your guests won’t have heard before.
The visualisation of being bound together, plus the literal “tying of the knot” and the colourful ribbons make for a gorgeous photo opp too!
The tied ribbons are a really nice keepsake from your ceremony. You can keep them in a box and get them out when you fancy a trip down memory lane or you can frame them and have them hanging on you wall forevermore.
A sand ceremony is where two (or more) bottles of sand are poured into one larger bottle. The grains of sand represent each person as a whole and the mixing of them represents the impossibility of them ever being separated. I really like this one as acknowledges the individual people who make up the couple.
There’s a lot of freedom in the symbolism in this one – each person could choose a different colour sand or, if you’re both from beach towns or there’s a certain stretch of the coast that means a lot to you, you can use sand from that beach.
This one is a great one to get other members of the family involved too, especially children. Perhaps you already have a child or one or both of you already has kids from a previous relationship, having them contribute their own bottle of sand is a really lovely way of showing the joining and unity of the whole family.
A red rose is a universal symbol of love (we’ve all re-enacted the Hollywood trope of putting a rose between our teeth before wooing a loved one).
In a rose ceremony at a wedding, the couple exchange roses as a symbol of both the giving and receiving of love, both at the ceremony and throughout their marriage. It’s the first gift they give to each other as a married couple and it also makes for some gorgeous photos.
As the exchange happens, the celebrant will often advise the couple to pick a special place in their home and, whenever there are tough times in their marriage and they don’t seem able to find the right words, a red
rose can be left in that place and will mean “I still love you and I always will”.
Breaking of the glass
The breaking of the glass is a Jewish tradition that represents the fragility of marriage and the fact that marriages hold sorrow as well as joy, symbolises a commitment to stay by each other’s side no matter what happens. It’s a reminder to the couple that they have to work hard every day to protect and nurture their love.
Traditionally (and for a straight wedding), it would be the groom who stamps on the glass to break it at the end of the ceremony but I’m not a huge fan of gendering a unity ceremony so would say that if it’s something you’d like to include, consider having both people have the fun of smashing a glass.
There are countless cultures where wine symbolises celebration and love so why not use it to celebrate your love?
In a wine ceremony, each member of the couple chooses a different wine. There is a central glass into which both wines will be poured and then each member of the couple will take a drink from the glass with the mixed wines.
You’ll be sensing a theme here that a lot of these ceremonies symbolise two elements coming together and being bound or mixed but this one has the added element of the wine being shared from the same cup. It represents the intention to share your lives and the things you enjoy.
You can also add an extra level of personalisation here by choosing a wine that’s important to you. Perhaps it’s the wine you drank over dinner on your first date or from a vineyard you visited together? All these details will be woven into the story and make your ceremony unforgettable.
Jumping the Broom
This originated in West Africa and was often done at weddings between slaves in America where brooms were waved over the couple's head to ward off evil and the broom was then placed on the floor for the couple to jump over. Nowadays, it’s just placed on the ground for the couple to jump over after they’ve said “I do”. The handle is said to represent God, the bristles represent the couple’s family and the ribbon tied around it represents the couple’s union.
You can choose anyone in the congregation to place the broom on the floor so you can include someone else in the ceremony.
If you take the symbolism of the handle as a representation of God, it’s a way to include a religious element into the ceremony if that’s important to you.
In a tree planting ceremony soil from two different pots is mixed, symbolising the couple coming together but the planting of a seed and watching it grow slowly over time also symbolises the growth and strength of the marriage over time.
It might also be particularly enticing for couples who plan to grow their family. It not only symbolises the growth of the children but it’s something that they can show to their family long after the wedding day.
This is particularly fitting for outdoor ceremonies with a very natural feel to them.
In a candle lighting ceremony, there will be two smaller candles on either side of one larger one. The couple will light their own candles and then use the flames from those to light the bigger one at the same time. Having two individual flames that come together to light something bigger, whilst still burning in their own right, is the perfect way to represent a marriage.
This is a really nice one to involve parents or other family members. Instead of just having the two smaller candles on either side, you can increase the number and invite your loved ones to light the candles on either side until the flames make their way up to the couple.
Again, this one creates some beautiful pictures and you can keep the candles. The central pillar candle is often specially made for the occasion and can be personalised with your names, wedding date and colour scheme etc.
One consideration for this one is that if you’re hoping to have your ceremony outside then you’ll need to do a bit of wind proofing!
Ring warming is an Irish tradition that consists of both rings being placed in a box or pouch and passed around the whole congregation. As each person holds the rings, they “warm” them with well wishes, hopes, prayers and good thoughts for the couple and their future. By the time the rings make it back to the front for the exchange, they have been blessed by everyone in the room.
This is great for making every single guest feel involved in the ceremony and really sets a tone for the ceremony by getting people to actively think about all the warm fuzzy wishes they have for you and your future.
Make it personal
Pick something that has a link to you and your partner, for example, you might choose a wine ceremony and use wine from a vineyard you visited on a holiday. Perhaps you’re both from seaside towns and you’re using sand from where you grew up to do a sand ceremony. This personal touch allows more of your story to be told as part within your wedding ceremony and means that the ritual doesn’t feel like it’s been plonked in for a photo opp.
Think about who you’d like to include.
There are some ceremonies that lend themselves well to including family members/friends. A sand ceremony is great for getting children involved and representing the unity of the family as a whole. Candle lighting is great for getting your parents involved and symbolising the coming together of your two families.
To be honest with you, I’m torn when it comes to a ceremony rehearsal. There’s something really special about hearing the words that will bind you together forever for the first time on your wedding day (that’s why I’d never perform the full ceremony during a rehearsal). BUT, the nature of a unity ceremony adds some logistical considerations to the proceedings. I’d definitely recommend just doing a quick walk through so you know where you need to stand and have a good idea of what you’ll need to do.