Nowadays, it’s practically de rigueur to forgo a traditional wedding ceremony in favor of a DIY one tailored to you two. For second marriages and many mixed-faith, faith-unaffiliated and same-sex couples, it’s the best viable option. And other couples simply prefer the flexibility a DIY ceremony affords.
When there are no rules, you can create a ceremony that’s perfectly personalized to you and your soon-to-be spouse.
No rules also means no built-in processes or structure, which puts the onus on you to think of every detail. It requires effort and planning to design a ceremony that feels special, official and reflective of your relationship. Here are seven things you should consider:
When a couple wants to design their own ceremony, Syrie Roman, principal planner at Social Maven, advises them to choose a location first—preferably somewhere meaningful. It could be a park where you like to walk your dog together or a museum where you went on your first date. Wherever it is, Roman thinks it should set the tone for the rest of the ceremony.
“Let it speak to you,” she advises. “Sit there, look around you, take it all in and develop the personalization from there."
Wedding ceremonies can be performed by a variety of government officials, including mayors and judges. Simply contact your town or city hall for information on booking officiants for civil ceremonies where you live. The other option is to have a loved one officiate. Choose someone who knows you and your S.O. well, and then have him or her get ordained online. It’s quick, easy, totally legitimate and affordable.
3. Tone, length & structure
If you’re having a friend or family member officiate, work closely with him or her to create the ceremony. Decide the tone—like romantic, lighthearted, formal or casual—and length upfront. Roman acknowledges that many couples come into the planning process wanting a quick, 15-minute ceremony, but she recommends allotting it more time.
“The ceremony is still the most important part, so give it at least 30 minutes (but no more than an hour),” she says. “It’s why everyone is there. Your grandma doesn’t care about Cardi B playing at your reception. Grandma cares about seeing you get married.”
From there, outline all the requisite parts. Most ceremonies will have an introduction followed by readings, the exchange of vows, the exchange of rings, the pronouncement of marriage, the kiss and a closing. You can find lots of ceremony templates online.
In a traditional ceremony, readings are generally limited to religious texts. When building your own ceremony, you have latitude to be more creative but just as meaningful. Song lyrics, poems, a passage from your favorite book, journal entries, quotes—they’re all fair game. Roman suggests each member of a couple chooses one special person to perform a reading on their behalf.
What will your guests hear as they arrive? If you have a processional, what will everyone walk down the aisle to? What will play after the big kiss? You could go with traditional wedding music, or you can make it more inherently you. Roman likes hiring string quartets or live singers to play couples’ favorite contemporary songs. Or, if you have friends or family who sing or play instruments, consider asking them to perform the music you love.
Do you care if everyone can hear the ceremony? Are you hiring a videographer? If your answer to either question is “yes,” Roman says, you need a PA system. If you’re outside, make sure it’s wireless (unless you want to run hundreds of feet of cord). She says most DJs have the equipment and can set it up for you, if you ask.
7. Special details
Then there are the countless thoughtful touches you can incorporate to make the ceremony even more intimate. If there are religious or spiritual customs that means something to you—a unity candle ceremony, for example—add them in. Roman remembers a client whose mother handmade a chuppah, a traditional Jewish wedding canopy, for their DIY ceremony.
You might also consider meaningful ways to honor loved ones no longer with you.
“I had a bride whose father passed away,” Roman recalled. “At the ceremony, we saved a seat for him by draping a suit jacket of his on the back of a chair. It was really touching.”