A wedding ceremony is more than saying "I do" before "Let's party". It's the foundation of your wedding day! While the significance of the ceremony is hard to overlook, planning a wedding ceremony can seem intimidating.

Setting aside time to craft your ceremony with your partner is an important part of the wedding planning process. And right now, especially if you've had to postpone your wedding (our sympathies!), planning your ceremony can be a very useful - and meaningful - way to make use of your extra time at home. 

"The wedding ceremony sets the tone for your wedding day and your future as a married couple," says Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant Martha Dallas. 

Martha is the founder and owner of Burlington-based Vermont Celebrants. While you could call her an officiant, she prefers the more accurate, but lesser-known title "celebrant." Never heard of it? "Functioning not unlike 'secular clergy,' celebrants spend significant time getting to know a couple, and translating that knowledge into a highly-customized ceremony," explains Martha. 

Martha sat down with Vermont Weddings to share her tips for planning your own unique, meaningful wedding ceremony. 

Why Should You Personalize Your Wedding Ceremony?

Creating a custom ceremony is an opportunity to grow closer as a couple. "Preparing to get married is a time to ask, 'What makes you, you?' and 'What makes us, us?' and how might we best express this to our guests?" says Martha.

Plus, there are a lot of tasks to complete during the wedding planning process, and it can be overwhelming. Focusing on your relationship and your ceremony is a good reminder of your end goal: marriage. This can often make other decisions feel easier.

How Do You Start Planning or Writing a Wedding Ceremony?

1. Use Experiences from Past Weddings

Recall the weddings you've attended, and discuss elements you really liked, as well as things that were distasteful or not appealing to you. (This is usually an easy first step.)

2. Discuss Your Cultures and Traditions

  • What religious traditions (if any) do you come from, and how would you like to weave these into your wedding? 
  • What cultures are part of you that you'd like to honor?
  • What family traditions might be fitting to include? 
  • Is there music, poetry, or another piece of art that's special to you and which might enrich the significance of your ceremony?

3. Draw on Family History

Reach out to your parents, grandparents or other close family members and ask them about their wedding ceremonies. "I like to remind couples that they're joining a lineage of wedded unions," says Martha. "And I ask how they wish to honor that connection." 

(Personal story from my wedding: every time I heard an instrumental version of "Can't Help Falling in Love With You" I teared up thinking about walking down the aisle. I mentioned this to my mom, and she surprised me by saying that was the song played as she walked down the aisle! After that, it was an easy processional choice.)

I think it would be fun would it be to host a few video chat dates with family and close friends to ask about their weddings! You'll stay connected, probably learn something new about them, and bring your community into your celebration.

Other Common Wedding Ceremony Planning Questions

How many readings should we have?

Deciding the number of special elements, such as readings, musical pieces, or rituals is ultimately guided by a couple's values and vision. Each chosen element should have a purpose in moving the ceremony forward.

How long should our wedding ceremony last? 

Martha lets the content of the ceremony inform its length, noting that personal elements require time. She says it's rare for her customized weddings to be shorter than twenty minutes, but wouldn't recommend a ceremony longer than forty five minutes. "Guests may get uncomfortable, and therefore become distracted and unable to be fully present." She thinks the sweet spot is often about thirty minutes. 

Do we have to do or say anything during our ceremony to make it legal? 

In Vermont, there are no required words for a wedding ceremony to be legal. (You do need to have a signed marriage license, but this is typically not part of a wedding ceremony.) 

However, in Martha's opinion, even for a short, private elopement, stating the reason for gathering, asking each party to declare their intent to marry (the "I do"), and pronouncing the marriage feel like basic essentials to mark the significance of the moment.

Getting Help Planning Your Wedding Ceremony

As you start to think through the significance of planning your ceremony, you may want guidance, which is where Martha comes in!

The process of working with Martha begins with a complimentary no-obligation consultation to make sure the fit feels right. "My couples seek a certain depth of meaning in their weddings," she says. "There is often some form of maturity to them (such as their age, or their length of coupledom). They take their legal and ceremonial union very seriously, and want to invest in it."

Once a couple decides to move forward, she sends them an extensive questionnaire, along with a "skeleton" of the ceremony for their comment. Throughout the process, Martha guides and supports couples as they uncover their shared sense of the meaning of marriage. She uses this feedback to create ceremonies unique to each relationship. "Of utmost importance is centering and honoring your beliefs, story and vision." 

Taking time to plan your ceremony can be a bonding, important step as a couple. "If you take each other and your mutual commitment and devotion seriously, this serious care and attention to your ceremony is the literal and figurative first investment in your shared future."

Thank you, Martha! Learn more about Vermont Celebrants.