Types of Ceremonies
The following list describes the types of ceremonies we perform as well as a little information about each. Click on the title below to go to that section:
In many cultures around the world, an engagement or betrothal ceremony is customary and often mandatory. To these cultures, this type of ceremony marks the beginning of the planning stages of the wedding, allows the two families to meet formally and shows the seriousness of the couple's intent. In western society, you may attend an engagement party where the couple publicly announces their intent to marry, but there are few instances of an actual ceremony for engagement. We believe the major difference between the two is the level of formality in how the information is communicated and to whom the information is being directed. At an engagement party, the announcement that the couple plans to marry is directed in an informal manner to those in attendance. (Hey, we're engaged!) At an engagement ceremony, on the other hand, the "mention and promise of future marriage" is directed in a more ritualistic way between the couple. While the audience, if there is one, is expected to witness what is being said, they are not the primary intended recipient of the information.
Even though engagement ceremonies are not that common in our society, there are instances where it could serve an important function and where a wedding wouldn't necessarily be the most appropriate course of action. The following list contains such examples:
- One (or both) of the parties is entering military service, especially in times of war.
- One (or both) of the parties is in pursuit of a higher education, especially in cases of lengthy and intense study such as law school, medical school, etc.
- One (or both) of the parties will be volunteering overseas for a period (usually one to two years) with an organization such as the Peace Corps or in a missionary type capacity.
- Any instance where the couple wishes to become engaged but for some reason will not hold the wedding in the near future. I came across an interesting example for this category on the web; a couple became engaged and wished to be wed on the exact day and date as the engagement. Well, that particular date would not fall on that day again for 7 years. So the couple waited, planned the wedding, and 7 years later wed on that most auspicious of dates for them.
But remember, you do not need to have a reason per se to have an engagement ceremony. If you simply feel this could be an important step in your relationship, want to prove the seriousness of your intent, want to bring the families together before the wedding day, etc., then an engagement ceremony may be for you.
Whatever the reason, we can help you find the words and sentiment you wish to convey to each other at this time.
Historically, in late medieval and early modern Scotland and northern England, "handfasting" was the normal term used for "betrothal" -- that is, for the ceremony of exchanging consent of future marriage and agreeing to marriage contracts. The actual practice was neither Pagan nor Christian (since the church was not involved in such things in those days) but was a common practice in general.
Well after formal betrothals (i.e., handfastings) had ceased to be practiced in Scotland, a legend or myth arose that "handfasting" referred to a trial marriage of a year and a day, after which the partners could either marry permanently or part ways freely and with no negative consequence, providing there were no children involved. The funny thing was that the myth was put forth as something that had been practiced in former times, but not in the current day (late 18th century). This "embellishment" seems to have come from one source around that same time, Thomas Pennant, in writing about his travels to Northern England/Scotland, yet there is no other historical evidence to support its validity. All subsequent reference to this practice seems to originate with Pennant's writings. In addition, in many of the later writings the story was further exaggerated to have been an ancient Celtic/Pagan practice as opposed to one generally observed by everyone.
Over the centuries, the story took more twists and turns and new elements were introduced, many from other cultures, such as the tying of the couple's wrists with a ribbon or cord, sharing of bread and wine, and jumping the broom. Even the meaning of the word Handfasting changed. The original definition meant a pledge by the giving of the hand, otherwise known as a handshake. By the late 20th century, the term had been adopted and used by various Earth-based religions (believing it to be an old Celtic/Pagan practice) to refer to their own modern religious wedding practices, ranging from temporary unions to legal marriages and in almost all cases, involved the tying of the couples wrists with ribbon or cords. In recent years, however, we are seeing more contemporary Christian, Interfaith or Spiritual couples using the term and some of the specific elements (such as the tying of the wrists) in their wedding ceremonies as well.
At AWS, the term Handfasting is used to refer to three separate practices. First, it can be performed as originally created to be an Engagement or Betrothal ceremony. If you are interested in a Handfasting as a Betrothal ceremony, please refer to the section entitled "Engagements" above for more information.
Second, it can refer to the entire wedding ceremony as it is practiced by the Earth-based religions. If you are planning a Neopagan wedding, we can assist in all aspects of your ceremony and celebration with as many or as few standard pagan elements as you desire. Having studied ritual, ritual construction and symbolism both within the pagan community as well as in an academic setting, we are able to perform your Handfasting in a truly authentic pagan manner.
Third, and the most popular, the term Handfasting can denote the individual ceremony element of wrapping the couples' wrists or hands with ribbons, cords or other material. This element is easily incorporated into even the most traditional Christian ceremony, or casual backyard civil affair.
Whatever elements you wish to include in your handfasting, from casting a circle to the Great Rite, or merely adding a few minor elements to an otherwise simple or more traditional ceremony, we will help you find just the right expression of your beliefs to have the Handfasting of your dreams.
- Weddings - Traditional
A traditional ceremony is one that follows a more formal structure and includes elements of the Christian religion such as prayers, scripture readings and blessings.
While you do have some leeway as far as choosing a particular denomination's traditional ceremony and adding elements such as the unity candle or rose ceremony, this ceremony choice is pretty much pre-written.
However, feel free to ask about modifying this ceremony if you wish, since the goal of AWS is for you to have Your Wedding, Your Way.
- Weddings - Non-Traditional
A non-traditional wedding is almost anything not considered traditional. However, there are some specific types of ceremonies that would definitely fall into this category. The following list describes some of these more common ceremonies, but by no means is it meant to represent the entire range of ceremonies considered "non-traditional."
- Interfaith ceremony. This ceremony would be used in instances where the Bride and Groom are of different religions (or denominations.) We would work with you to ensure that important elements of each faith are included in the ceremony.
- Intercultural ceremony. (This category would include interracial ceremonies as well.) This ceremony would be used in instances where the Bride and Groom are of different cultures or races, and those cultures/races celebrate weddings in very distinct ways. Again, we would work with you to ensure that important elements of each person's heritage are included in the ceremony.
- Spiritual ceremony. This ceremony would be used in instances where the couple feels they would like a spiritual ceremony without it necessarily being religious. For example, couples often begin with a basic ceremony and then incorporate Native American or New Age elements into it to reflect their spirituality. However, these exact elements are not mandatory and are only mentioned to illustrate the range of options you have. We will work with each couple to develop a personalized ceremony that reflects their particular beliefs.
- Alternative ceremony. This ceremony would be for couples who want to more or less "throw the book out of the window." Whether you wish to design your own ceremony with all original greetings, readings, prayers and vows, or completely change the structure of the typical wedding ceremony, we will work with you to create a totally new and unique wedding experience. Who knows? Maybe you'll start a new wedding "tradition."
- Medieval/Renaissance Weddings
Interestingly enough, weddings during the Middle Ages were considered primarily family/community affairs. The only thing needed to create a marriage was for both partners to state their consent to take one another as spouses. Witnesses were not necessary, nor was the presence of the clergy. Couples simply wore their "best" clothing, and it was unlikely that the Bride carried flowers or anything else for that matter.
The early role of the clergy at a medieval wedding was simply to bless the couple after the fact and usually at the Bride's (parents) house where the "ceremony" took place. It wasn't official church policy until the council of Trent in the 15th century that a member of the clergy, as opposed to the couple themselves, was responsible for performing the wedding.
In the later medieval period, the wedding ceremony moved from the Bride's house to the steps or porch of the church. It began with a procession to the church from the Bride's house. Vows were exchanged outside the church, and then everyone moved inside for Mass. After Mass, the procession went back to the Bride's house for a feast. Musicians typically accompanied the procession.
So, what we see today when people want to recreate a medieval wedding is really more of a cross between storybook, Hollywood and items and practices that were more everyday than wedding day, which is fine. With a medieval/renaissance wedding, it's about mood, not authenticity, which would be boring!
Having researched the medieval ages and betrothal and wedding customs of that time, we can help you construct a wedding ceremony that will "seem" realistic for the period. In addition, we can give you many suggestions for how to make the reception a fairly authentic medieval celebration.
- Other Theme Weddings
Theme weddings are becoming increasingly popular in the states since many modern couples are seeking to organize a function that is a true reflection of their personalities and in some instances, their backgrounds or culture. A well-planned theme wedding gives you a chance to inject a bit of yourselves, and have some fun along the way! And your wedding will undoubtedly be remembered as an unforgettable experience by your guests who will depart with sweet memories of how personal, different and interesting the event turned out to be.
Another great reason to have a theme wedding, is that it automatically works out, at least to some extent, much of the early planning questions and issues. Once you choose a theme, it will guide your decisions in most, if not all of the following areas: attire (both the wedding party and the guests in some instances), music, food, colors, invitation style, decorations and possibly even some of the ceremony elements.
- Commitment Ceremony/Same-Sex Weddings
The term commitment ceremony actually refers to any ceremony meant to publicly or privately honor/proclaim/celebrate/affirm the commitment a couple is making to one other. The only difference between this and a "regular" wedding is that a commitment ceremony does not create a legal marriage; there is no marriage license. This term was previously used to refer to the union of gay couples; however, since same-sex marriages are now legal in all 50 states, it simply refers to a hetero couple who doesn't believe in or for some reason chooses not to have a legal marriage.
Why have a ceremony at all if it's not legal, you might ask? Because it's an important step in a loving relationship. Throughout our experiences, we continue to be amazed at the power of the wedding ceremony to amplify and strengthen the bond between two loving partners. The power of this ceremony does not come from the fact that it is legal but from the ritual act of standing together, in front of family and friends and even deity, proclaiming your love and dedication, one to the other. It can also serve to show others the seriousness of your relationship.
A commitment ceremony can, and often does, look just like a regular wedding. There is no reason why every couple cannot have all the traditions and trappings, if that is what they wish. Or, you can go the opposite route and create a truly unique and non-traditional celebration of your love and unity. It's all up to you!
If you are considering a commitment ceremony, we can assist you with all aspects of planning your special day from the ceremony to the celebration or anything in between.
NOTE: Rev. Ari and the Associate Ministers at Alternative Wedding Services have been performing same-sex ceremonies in the DFW area for almost 15 years now. We perform these ceremonies because we believe in the right of every loving couple to join their lives in marriage. We have done so, even though we have encountered people who refused to work with us because we performed these ceremonies. Our point is that now that same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states, we want our community to remember that we have stood with you from the beginning and that we are not simply jumping on the bandwagon to make a buck off of you.
- Vow Renewals
Today, it is becoming quite popular for couples to renew their wedding vows, whether to celebrate a special anniversary, mark their transition through a difficult time, or just to recognize their love. With a vow renewal ceremony, the couple is affirming that their love has weathered the test of time. It is literally a renewal of the promises and commitments they gave to each other on their wedding day and have built upon over the years. It is saying, I would marry you all over again.
Vow renewal ceremonies look very much like first time weddings. However, they are often more intimate with only close family and friends present (although that is not always the case, nor does it have to be). If the couple has children, they are usually included in the ceremony. Most couples with children feel the ceremony is not only about the couple reaffirming their love for one other but for their union as a family as well.
The planning process is also usually the same in most aspects as a first time wedding. Regardless of whether you want a smaller, more intimate affair or a big blow out, you must still send out invitations, decide where you will have the ceremony, choose an officiant, decide if you will serve food, etc., basically all the same "trappings" of a regular wedding. The one thing you won't have to worry about is a marriage license. You already have that!
So, whatever the reason you would like to have a vow renewal ceremony, we can help you put together a truly meaningful ceremony that expresses all that you have been through together and all that is still to come in your relationship.
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