Ceremony 101

Your ceremony is the most meaningful part of your wedding day – it’s when you pledge your love and commitment to one another, fulfill all of the legal requirements that permit you to be a married couple, exchange rings and, of course, share your first kiss!

The essentials

The first question to ask yourselves centres around whether you want religious or non-religious nuptials. This decision will have the biggest influence on the content of your ceremony. If you are religious, your faith may have specific structures, vows and traditions to which you must adhere. A non-religious ceremony will allow more flexibility.
Irrespective of your choice, all marriages need to be solemnised by a New Zealand-registered celebrant, and couples must abide by the wedding ceremony requirements demanded by law. This means you have to apply for a marriage licence, and marry at the place you specify on your application. You are also required to have two witnesses sign the register.

In order for your marriage to be lawful, you will need to say the following sentence, or words to similar effect, during your ceremony: ‘I [your full name] take you, [your partner’s full name], to be my legal wife/husband/partner.’

Once you have all the necessary legal aspects of your ceremony covered, more personal details can be included. Auckland-based wedding celebrant Julia Cameron says most ceremonies follow a similar format – parent involvement (such as the giving-away), readings, pledge, history of the couple, vows, ring exchange and kiss, followed by the signing of the register and the final blessing – and are usually about 20 to 30 minutes in duration.
‘The role of the celebrant is, first and foremost, to ensure the couple are legally married,’ she says. ‘Secondly, it is to make the ceremony as enjoyable, profound, important – and perhaps fun – as the couple would like.’

Personalising your ceremony

Every ceremony is as unique as the bride and groom getting married, so adding personal touches can make it even more meaningful. Consider the following:

Music: As a general rule, the processional music (played as the bride enters) is often slower and more emotional than the recessional track (played when the newlyweds exit the ceremony), which tends to be more fun and upbeat. There may be other opportunities for music too, such as during the signing of the register or at your first kiss. Choose music that has a special meaning for you both – it could be the tune that was playing when you first met, that song with lyrics you adore, or perhaps you would love to have a musician friend perform for you.

Readings: What reading, if any, is delivered at your ceremony is up to you. Julia suggests asking a friend or family member to give the reading, but you or your celebrant can do the honours if you prefer. Talk to your celebrant about selecting a suitable reading or seek inspiration online.

Unity rituals: These symbolise two families coming together as one. A popular option is to light a unity candle, where the bride and groom each hold a small candle and use them to light a big candle. Another ritual is the unity wine cup, where each family pours half a glass of wine into the unity cup, then the bride and groom take a sip. Coloured sand and water also make beautiful unity symbols – each family has a different colour, which merges together or creates a new colour in the unity vase.

Honours and tributes: If you have children or family members you would like to acknowledge in your ceremony, discuss this with your celebrant. The same goes for any deceased loved ones. ‘There is a variety of ways to do this, depending on the couple,’ says Julia. ‘Children should always be honoured, but this does not necessarily apply for those who have passed, as some may feel that a wedding ceremony is not the forum for sadness.’

Writing your vows

Your vows are the most heartfelt promises you will ever make, so getting them right is crucial. Traditional vows are required to be spoken in many religious ceremonies, however, in some instances, you may be able to tweak them. Your officiant will provide information on this.

If you are penning your own vows, these should reflect your personal feelings, your hopes and dreams, your beliefs and your values. As individuals, consider each of these aspects, and put your thoughts down on paper. Then sit down with your partner and compare notes – this will give you a good starting point for your vows.

Also discuss how you want your marriage to enrich your lives, what you hope to achieve as a couple, and what lifelong promises you will make to each other. ‘Find the words that come from your heart,’ says Julia. Once you are on the same page, you can write your vows together, or separately as a surprise on the big day!