Firstly, you may be wondering what a symbolic act is and what place it had in a Wedding Ceremony.
Just as they say a picture paints a thousand words, a symbolic act can also represent the love between a couple and their commitment to each other through actions rather than words. They can be a focal point in the ceremony, an opportunity to involve friends, family or children and they can be visually delightful for you, your guests and your photographer!
Traditions like exchanging rings are symbolic acts that are well known but there many more that you may not see as often. The aim of this post is to explain some of these so that you can decide if you would like to include any of these in your Ceremony (hopefully with me!). Of course, this list is not exhaustive and you can even create your own, unique symbolic act. The key is that it is meaningful to you as a couple and I will help you to be as innovative as you wish.
So here is a short explanation of some of my own favourite Symbolic Acts. Please don’t hesitate to email me on Helen.firstname.lastname@example.org.UK should you wish for any further information.
The origin of the phrase ‘tying the knot’. Your Celebrant or chosen friends and family drape ribbons or rope over your hands as you hold hands. Each ribbon can symbolise a value of importance to you as a couple or an element of your relationship. Alternatively, you can choose colours to represent you. After all the ribbons are in place, you pull them apart and, hey presto, you have ‘tied the knot’! You can then keep the ribbons as a keepsake from your day as well!
Each of you light a candle (or a member of your family or friendship circle light on your behalf) and then you light a third, unity candle from the flames of each candle to symbolise that you, as individuals, both bring light to the marriage and you are joining as one. This has origins in the Christian faith but, whereas in these ceremonies the source candles are often extinguished, in a Humanist ceremony all three flames remain lit to symbolise you remain firmly individuals as well as becoming a couple.
Sand or crystal blending
A really lovely one if you have young children or a blended family. It can be a great way to involve children, especially from a previous relationship or marriage. Each person adds different colour sand or crystals to a jar that represents them or an important ‘ingredient for the marriage’ which creates layers of sand. You can then keep this as a keepsake in the family home for years to come.
An alternative to sand blending is to blend spices. This has its origins in the Middle East and each spice can represent an ‘ingredient’ for your marriage and you can even use the spices in your cooking together as a married couple!
This is where your guests pass around the rings before you exchange them. This gives everyone the opportunity to warm the rings with their love and good wishes for the couple’s married life together. If you married legally some time before the wedding ceremony or you are having a vow renewal then this can be a good reason to take off your rings and a way to involve your guests before you exchange rings once again. Though it works equally well even if you haven’t worn them before.
Similarly to ring warming, the guests pass on their love and support by making wishes for your future whilst holding a stone. Guests typically pick up the stones before the ceremony and could be from a significant place of yours (favourite beach, proposal spot etc.) or you may want to ask guests to bring them along! You can also then keep hold of them as a keepsake in a glass case or vase to remember all the good thoughts shared by your guests on your wedding day.
The loving cup or Quaich
Of Scottish origin, this double handed cup was traditionally used at the end of a medieval wedding ceremony. The married couple both drank from the same cup so there was no risk of poisioning and, as it requires the use of two hands, no-one could sword draw a sword. Members of the couple’s families would also often also take a sip from the cup. This is a fun and traditional way to toast your marriage at the end of your wedding ceremony. The traditional tipple of choice was Whisky but you can choose whichever is your favourite drink! You can also ask your guests to join in with their own shots and really get the party started.
Cocktail, wine or beer blending
If you like the idea of a drink at the end of your ceremony but want a modern twist, you could consider adding your favourite alcoholic or non-alcoholic tipples together into a unique cocktail for you to enjoy together. You could also blend a gin to share with your guests afterwards or as favours.
You exchange flowers of your choice (often roses as the flower most associated with love) as a single bloom or it could be as garland.
You plant a tree of your choice (blossom or fruit are popular choices) either into the ground, depending on where the ceremony is, or into a pot to plant into your own garden. The couple can add the soil together and/ or water the tree together to symbolise how it will grow as their love grows.
Time capsule or wine box
Throughout the ceremony you and your guests add significant items into a time capsule for you to reopen on an anniversary in the future. You can even include a nice bottle of wine or champagne that you can enjoy when you reopen it. You then seal the capsule or wine box during the ceremony, typically at the end of the proceedings.
Although a Humanist ceremony has no legal requirement to sign a certificate, you may chose to do so as many couples like the official act of signing their names and asking family or friends to be witnesses. The brilliant thing is that you don’t have to sign a certificate, you could sign your vows, a favourite novel or anything of your choosing!
These can be a fun and environmentally friendly alternative to confetti and are especially fun when there are young children involved.
There are many more traditions that you may wish to incorporate based on your own cultural heritage and please do discuss these with me. I am always careful to ensure that any symbolic act with its roots within a specific culture is used appropriately and sympathetically. I also don’t support the releasing of balloons or sky lanterns due to their environmental impact.