Writing your vows
In the past, when the majority of couples married in a religious ceremony, the format of the marriage, including the vows and appropriate readings, was set down in the order of service. But in civil ceremonies, and even in many religious ones today, the bride and groom have a wide choice of what to say when making their promises to one another, and what readings are used as part of the ceremony.
In legal terms, the only requirement is a simple declaration from each of you that you agree to take the other as your husband or wife. While some couples choose to keep their vows short and sweet, most people want to take the opportunity to expand on the legal basics, personalising their vows and making the most of this important part of the ceremony. And while there is no legal requirement to have readings as part of a wedding ceremony, they are another opportunity to put your personal stamp on the ceremony and also involve other people in your special day.
making promisesYour vows are probably the most important part of the wedding service. The two of you are making promises to each other in front of your family and friends about the nature of your relationship and the life you plan to have together, and this is often the most emotional time in the ceremony. Vows are essentially what you are willing and able to promise each other into the future.
Don’t worry if the idea of writing your vows fills you with panic and you simply don’t know where to start: that’s normal. Most, if not all, celebrants will have examples of popular vows that you can either adopt or adapt to your own circumstances and personal tastes. Alternatively, they will help you put together something completely original.
When starting to write your vows, think about what you want to offer your partner: encouragement and support, being their best friend and confidante, treating them with respect and helping them to achieve their dreams and goals. This is your chance to say what the relationship of marriage means to you and how it will enhance both your lives through the love you have for each other. You can sit down together and put down your thoughts, or each write something separately then compare notes.
Remember, you don’t have to make exactly the same vows: some couples choose to start with the same basic vows, then add special, personalised promises to one another. You might choose not the share your vows with each other before the ceremony, and instead make it a delightful surprise on the day. If you want to try this idea, work with your celebrant – they can look at both sets of vows separately and make sure they are of a similar length, style and tone, coaching you without letting you in on the other’s secret!
Don’t worry about having to memorise your vows. Unless you are a star performer under pressure, it is best to read them or repeat them after the celebrant. The latter option also gives your guests the best chance to hear the words properly – despite your best intentions, you might become a bit too emotional to say them in a loud, clear voice.
words from the heartWhile there is no requirement to have readings as part of your ceremony, many couples see having one or two readings as a way of personalising and fleshing out the ceremony, and as an opportunity to involve special people. Some people want a really short, simple ceremony, but if you have a number of guests, especially family, these people are expecting to be part of an event, and the ceremony won’t last long enough unless you have readings. Readings also enable us to say the things we think in a more poetic way.
The selection of readings to choose from is vast and limited only by your imagination, and also, of course, what’s appropriate for a wedding! There are a wealth of options on the internet – search for ‘wedding readings’ and you’ll be overwhelmed by thousands of sites. Again, most celebrants will have a selection of readings that they have collected over the years for you to look at. Your celebrant will also work with you to decide how many readings you might like to have and the places where they fall to make the ceremony flow smoothly.
You might have a strong idea about a poem or song lyric that you have always loved, or maybe a reading you have heard at someone else’s wedding and thought particularly appropriate. Gather together a selection of pieces you like, then sit down and discuss them with your partner until you find one or two that are especially meaningful to both of you.
In terms of who should do the readings, there might be a close friend who couldn’t be part of the main wedding party, or a family member who would appreciate the chance to have a special role. Reading in front of a crowd isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, so ask the person well in advance if they would like to do it, and give them plenty of time to practise and prepare.
Choosing your readers might also help you select the pieces: a more traditional reading might be appropriate for an older relative, and maybe a simple or humorous poem for a younger person. Some couples ask the reader themselves to choose the piece they want to read, but make sure you are both happy and comfortable with it, and that it fits the mood and theme of your wedding.
Your vows to each other and the readings you choose to complement them are something you will remember for the rest of your life. Take your time, talk to each other and put your love into words.