Ceremonies can vary greatly. However this part of your day is completely customizable to meet you and your fiancé's personalities and to reflect you as a couple. I am here share all the details of things I have learned from my experience to help you get your own plans together. I am sure some of this may end up being broken down individually, because it is a lot of information! However, we can get the basics in here so you can start to get an idea of it all.
Option #1 - Location
Ok, this might seem obvious. You of course need a location! However there are SO many options that provide so pros and cons I want to go over with you. To start, there are two popular options: A church or the venue.
The Pro's of this are obviously it makes you happy, it makes you right with god based on your beliefs, you are in God's house so your ceremony to you will be more valid . The only other Pro I have is that almost all churches are indoor so rain will not ruin your ceremony plans!
If you are doing a church ceremony because that is what you dreamed of then you should have that ceremony there! However if you are bouncing ideas around I want to provide some things to consider. So here are the Cons.. To start most churches are heavily outdated and don't have a getting ready or hide out area, so this can leave some issues with travel and time or getting ready photos not being what you had envisioned.
Additionally, Churches are usually DARK. Photographers will likely recommend using flash during your ceremony. This isn't ideal as it can be distracting to you and guests and even flash can't compensate perfectly. However if you prefer to not have the flash or the church doesn't allow flash the photographer will need to use a setting in their camera that makes your images more grainy. Although, most wouldn't notice the grain if it is being done properly, it will still create havoc on a photographer. Regardless of either of these cons, your photographer will make it work and will let you know about what limitations they are experiencing and what that will mean for your images. As for cons regarding your day in general, Travel from the church to the reception venue may create a limitation to which venue you can select or it can create a big gap to allow for travel. It isn't ideal, but many people have done this and it worked out just fine. Lastly, every catholic services I have shot at has been a full 1 hour mass. Many guests find this to be long and drawn out and the ceremony almost loses the beauty because of the repetition and sterile environment. I have shot MANY catholic ceremonies that the priest offers a 50 minute long mass and will only take a moment to acknowledge the couple's ceremony. Your typical mass will have a sermon, multiple songs song by a lead of the church choir, piano/organ played by a church member subject to their typical ceremony set list, a communion, and a gift ceremony to Mary. Most times the couple's ceremony takes place in the later parts of the mass and then they are asked to sit back down for the remainder of the Mass before being let down the aisle. Again, if the purpose and the beauty are there for you then you should do it! However I just wanted to provide some insight from an outside perspective.
I would say about 90% of my couples are doing their ceremony at their venue. It is a wonderful "on stop shop" experience that saves a lot of time and head ache in regards to travel, planning, and coordination of your day. So, Pro.. definitely easier and saves time with travel on your day! You won't be running from getting ready location to the ceremony or trying to figure out where to take your photos. It is all already planned out for you! The flow goes really well from ceremony to cocktail hour and the vibe holds well that way. You have much more flexibility with how your ceremony looks and feels and will be able to customize your ceremony more to match you and your taste.
Cons (depending on your venue some things you will want to consider): Many venues offer an outdoor space to have your ceremony. Some even offer a few outdoor locations. However, venues do not consider lighting when they place these sites. The sites are really placed for what is aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Many ceremonies end up in harsh sunlight with deep shadows. Ideally there is a cover or something blocking the light from being directly on the ceremony site. Or the ceremony time can be adjusted to avoid harsh lighting.
However, the biggest issue I find with venue ceremonies is a back up plan. Basically all of our local venues in South Jersey don't have an ideal space to offer an indoor ceremony. Whether for rain or for heat. Most are using the reception space as is or converting it over quickly from a ceremony to a reception. Every bride that encounters this can get really disappointed if she had a vision to use the outdoor space. So, when you are looking into venues this is something you will want to keep in mind when you are asking questions.
Option #2 - Decorating
The more fun topic, how will we decorate it! Venues and Churches a like will have some guidelines to follow regarding your decorations. You may find that you can't use real or fake flower petals or that you may not have the ability to hang anything up or use the wall spaces. However, where there is a will there is a way!
Many ceremonies do well with very little decoration. The ceremony above was just a simple floral banner wrapped and tied around a pretty tree on the property.. and how freaking cute?! You will see lots of Pinterest photos of heavily decorated aisles and arbors. When you are planning your decorations remember that your ceremony only makes up for a small portion of your day. Don't go crazy on the whole space unless your budget allows for it. Many couples chose to just have a space decorated to have a back drop for your vows and I have to say I think that is all that is needed. You are the main focal point of this part of your day
Option #3 - Vows
Some churches will limit you on these options. However if you don't have limitations, let me tell you some things about your ceremony. You will be surprised to find out there isn't a set script to follow. You can run it however you want! I will share ideas on what to add later, but for now let's talk about just the vows. I would say it is about 50/50 whether my couples share their own vows or use a script. I have to say the personal vows are AMAZING every single time. The personal touch really shows the devotion to each other and provides such a special memory. However many grooms are uncomfortable with the idea. Additionally I have noticed that many couples are not on the same page of what their personal vows will include leaving either the bride or groom to seem less prepared.
The couple pictured actually opt'd to do their personal vows on their own during their first look. It was so sweet and eased much of the public speaking anxiety. I really thought it was a great idea!
But, back to the ceremony itself. If you aren't thrilled with the personal vow sharing you can just go the I do route! The vows can be scripted from a traditional wedding script, which they offer all over online, or you can create your own to be read by your officiant. You can literally have your officiant say, "Do you promise to take out the trash and pick up all the dog poop?". Anything goes!
Whether you are using "I do" vows or reading your own you have lots of flexibility to make your ceremony match your relationship.
Option #4 - Officiant
This was considered one of the hardest things to figure out by one of my Milestone Brides when I asked what they wished they had more help on when planning. Honestly, I can see why. You typically think of religious leaders that can perform the ceremony. However, again you have many options and I am happy to provide lots of insight.
If you are a couple of worship you might find your pastor or priest can perform the ceremony offsite like this couple did above.
If you a couple that has connections to your local government you can ask a mayor to perform the ceremony.
There are also many officiant and officiant companies that you can hire to perform the ceremony for you. Even your DJ company might offer this as apart of their package.
However, I will say (and I know someone in the industry is going to come for me on this opinion) you are way better off asking someone you know. If you have someone you trust and that is willing to do your ceremony it really is the best and most cost effective option. Why is it the best? Because you can tell when the officiant knows the couple and has beautiful things to say about them vs. reading from a sterile script they use often. Someone that knows you can give history and personal perspective and share how happy they are for this moment. As for cost effective and legality. It is entirely to easy to legally marry someone. New Jersey law is that you just have to be affiliated with a church to sign the marriage license. You can "join" a church online for free in 10 minutes. My husband has performed a few ceremonies for friends and family and it was so easy to do that I researched it for days to try and make sure so those he married wouldn't have to find out later that it was all a hoax. The only down side to having someone who is not experienced with this is that they don't have any experience. You will need to work together to figure out what will be said word for word as opposed to some one who does this often who has the meat and potatoes already mapped out.
As long as you trust someone and it meets your needs you have lots of flexibility.
Option #5 - Special Touches
I have seen all kinds of personal touches in ceremonies that couples have added. I love seeing a couples story, heritage, culture, or personality come out in their ceremony.
Pictured above this couple used a lock ceremony which was explained by a story of the couple once had a date that included a lock being added to a bridge to signify them forever locked together. It was beautiful! The guests then added their own locks later during cocktail and the reception which made for an amazing display for their home.
You will find lots of ideas online to in cooperate depending on what significance you'd like to include. Many popular ideas are the sand ceremony, the knot ceremony, jumping the broom, breaking glass, Irish blessings, songs sung by a family member, and even confetti poppers for the ceremony recessional!
That may all be too involved for you, but adding special sayings and poems is a simple way to add a personal touch. Most people will also add music to different parts of their ceremony to provide a different feel or to play songs that are special to them which is an easy special touch to achieve with the help of your DJ.
The best part about this, you can make it whatever you want! You can opt out and go simple or go crazy!
However you decide to plan your ceremony the best part is after it is over you will be walking away from that alter with your new spouse to start your lives together!