It may be the point of the entire event, but often the wedding ceremony gets the least attention as couples plan their big day. As a result, the actual moment when you tie the knot has the potential to be stiff and uninspired — not to mention uninspiring for guests. But according to wedding officiants, more and more couples are now insisting on creating a meaningful and memorable occasion, taking the time and effort to request custom, personalized ceremonies that reflect who they are and what they stand for.
Michele Davidson, owner of Vancouver’s Modern Celebrant, officiates 20 weddings a year, including those of many celebrities. One client she recalls clearly was a hockey player, who seemed like the strong, silent type when she first met him. In the process of reflection that is an intimate part of her ceremony creation, Davidson has each partner answer questions so she can understand them better as individuals and as a couple. “He wrote me so much,” she recalls of the hockey player. “I ran into him a few years after the ceremony and he gave me this big hug and told me his wedding ceremony was one of the highlights of his life, a pivotal experience that meant so much to him.”
The trouble with weddings is that historically, grooms have been told to “just get a tux and show up,” Davidson says. “People tend to dismiss the groom’s heart. But what I’ve found is that the ceremony is equally important to the man as it is to the woman.”
Modern Celebrant creates custom ceremonies, which means the ceremony is written from scratch for each couple. “It’s like having your portrait painted, but in words,” she explains. “I work through a reflective process with each couple, pulling out the threads of their personalities, life experiences and values. Then I write ceremonies for them that might include the story of them as a couple, what draws them together and what the glue is that will hold them together.”
Shawn Miller, an officiant and owner of Vancouver-based Young, Hip & Married, also conducts careful interviews, both with the couple and their friends and family. “We do an in-depth look at who they are individually and as a couple, and what they’re known for,” he says. “And we have to do some serious digging to get to know them, sometimes in a very short space of time.”
The agenda for the weddings he officiates always comes from the couple, says Miller. “Often religious officiants have an agenda for the wedding and insist the couple fall under their agenda. We believe the ceremony is not a platform for me to talk about my religious beliefs. It’s about what our couples believe, and most of them want something soulful and spiritual, but something that doesn’t necessarily adhere to any religious doctrine.”
Guests at the weddings Davidson officiates have told her they really get to know the couple through the ceremony, learning things about them they never knew. That could be a result of the amount of time and thought she invests in each ceremony. “It takes me at least 10 hours to write a ceremony and after that I work through a few drafts with the couple, giving them options about the rituals I’ve created for them. It’s an evolution,” she says.
Those rituals are totally unique. For one upcoming wedding Davidson created a wine box ritual. “The couple has chosen a box of wine that will age well, and they’ve written letters to each other that will be sealed and placed in the box with the wine. The box is intended for a fifth anniversary, or for opening if they run into troubled waters in their marriage before that time. If they do, they can open the box, read the letters they wrote each other and reflect on what’s drawn them together and if they have the glue to keep going.”
Whatever rituals or vows you choose for your own ceremony, be sure to give them plenty of thought. Your wedding cake and your flowers may disappear in one day — but your heartfelt ceremony will stay with you both for a lifetime.