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5 Beautiful Wedding Ideas & Rituals That Are Spiritual, But Not Religious

YourTango logo YourTango 4/20/2019 Deborah Roth
a group of people in a field: 5 Non-Religious Wedding Ceremony Ideas & Rituals That Are Spiritual, But Not Religious © getty 5 Non-Religious Wedding Ceremony Ideas & Rituals That Are Spiritual, But Not Religious

If the idea of having a non-traditional wedding ceremony that's "spiritual but not religious" is part of your vision, you’re not alone. According to Wedding Wire’s 2019 Newlywed Report, just 25 percent of weddings are held in religious institutions nowadays.

As an interfaith wedding officiant for over 20 years, when discussing wedding ceremony ideas with engaged couples, the phrase I hear most often is, “We want something that’s spiritual but not religious.”

Whether you and your fiancé come from different religious backgrounds or you simply want to create a personalized, non-religious wedding ceremony, there are so many directions to go that it can be a little overwhelming.

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Here are 5 non-traditional wedding ceremony ideas for a celebration that's spiritual but not religious:

1. Handfasting

This one is at the top of the list for a few reasons. First, it’s the origin of the phrase, “tying the knot”.

It’s also probably the most universal spiritual vs. religious wedding tradition, found in cultures all over the world. The word “handfasting” actually derives from the ancient Celtic practice of tying couples’ hands together with a ribbon during the ceremony to represent their bond.

In that tradition, it symbolized the marriage “contract” for a year and a day, and at that point, they would choose to renew their commitment or not. Kind of a fun way to celebrate your commitment to each other on your first anniversary, isn’t it?

But you can also see this “binding” symbolism in other cultures. In Mexican ceremonies, a wedding lasso (“el lazo”) of flowers or beads is draped around the couples’ shoulders to represent their union, and Filipino couples are wrapped in a veil or shawl. And if you ever saw the movie, My Big, Fat Greek Wedding, you know that in that tradition, the bride and groom each wear crowns (a “Stefana”) that are connected by a ribbon.

A nice bonus is that whatever you use to bind yourselves becomes a keepsake of your commitment since it’s imbued with all the loving intention from your wedding ceremony. Some couples have been very creative and used a braid made of their favorite colored ribbons, a rope from their sailboat, or even their Scottish tartan.

2. Sharing food and drink

Yes, most couples offer each other champagne and wedding cake during the reception but doing something like that during the ceremony has special symbolism.

Sharing food and drink can be particularly meaningful in a few ways. If you and your partner come from different cultures, you can honor them by picking favorites from each one.

One couple might share falafel to acknowledge the groom’s Middle Eastern heritage, and then share “cremace”, a traditional Haitian coconut liqueur the bride’s family made.

Another couple could offer each other the Greek anise-flavored aperitif, “ouzo”, and sugar-coated almonds, a tradition in Italian weddings.

Or, you might like this idea if you’re both foodies or just love to cook and/or eat together. If that’s the case, then offer each other things that are meaningful or represent who you are as a couple. Maybe the wine you shared the day you got engaged or a bite of dessert from your favorite restaurant.

A couple could also share a pretzel from Boston’s Fenway Park and beer from Yankee Stadium because they're both die hard baseball fans!

Whatever you decide to do, remember what makes this spiritual and special is that you explain the meaning behind the food and drink you’ve chosen. Then, your officiant can declare the food symbolizes all the ways you’ll feed and nourish each other in every way in your marriage.

And when you share a drink, your officiant can say something like, “May you never thirst, and may you always share joy and fulfillment from the cup of love.” A little sappy, but this is sacred play, right?!

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3. A sand ceremony

You’ve probably seen this in some wedding ceremonies, or maybe you even did it in summer camp! It’s becoming more common for beach weddings or just for couples who love the ocean and want to bring a piece of the beach into their ceremony.

At its core, the sand ceremony represents two separate individuals coming together to create a new, blended whole. You’ll need two small glass vases of colored sand (you can buy that at any crafts store) and a larger one to pour them into, alternating colors so you end up with a wavy, multi-colored sand creation, weaving together both colors.

There are now lots of websites, too, that sell sand ceremony kits since the idea has gotten so popular.

How can you make this ritual more spiritual and personal than others you’ve seen? The obvious way is to each pick your favorite sand color so the final product reflects a true mutual blending. And if either of you has kids, include them, too!

You can also mix some sand from your favorite beach(es) into each of your individual vases. Just be sure not to use too much natural sand since it’s generally more sticky and clumpy than craft sand and won’t pour as well.

You could even talk about some of the symbolic qualities of sand — that’s it’s used to make concrete which can stand up to all kinds of “weather”, like your marriage! Or that sand can be used to make sandbags which are a powerful form of protection … so your home and your relationship may be a "haven of protection from the stresses and burdens of the world.”

4. Planting a wedding tree

If you or your partner are gardeners, or if you feel a strong connection to nature, this is a beautiful ritual to include. The metaphor of planting and growing something together is a perfect one to symbolize the care and tending it will take to keep your marriage strong and healthy.

There are a few ways to handle the logistics of planting a tree during your ceremony, but probably the easiest (and least messy!) is to simply have a small sapling in a container to the side of your altar where you can each add some soil of your own and then water it together.

And of course, the type of tree you choose can have some powerful symbolism, too. For instance, wisteria and cherry trees represent love and romance, while birch trees represent new beginnings. For peace and blessings, consider a Japanese maple.

Do some research and decide what qualities you want to “plant” in your marriage!

And if you’d rather not risk getting muddy in the middle of your wedding, you can display a “wishing tree” instead. Place a small tree or bush on a table during the reception with a bowl of ribbons and small cards and invite your guests to write a wish for you on the card and tie it on to the tree. They’ll be imbuing your wedding tree with all of their love and good wishes and the cards will give you another tangible memento of their support as well.

5. Write your own wedding vows

When I started officiating weddings, I was shocked to discover that in virtually every religious tradition, there is never a place for the couple to speak directly to each other in their own words. You respond to the officiant with “I do,” or repeat the ring exchange wording, but you don’t get a chance to express what you feel directly to your beloved.

So consider taking some time to write down what you love about each other and what you promise to each other. You can add a little bit of your story, how you met, or your journey to your special day. But the most powerful way to make your wedding vows “spiritual but not religious” is to refer to your own deepest feelings and values and what you appreciate most about your partner.

You can certainly refer to a higher power or to your chosen religion, but the key to writing your own wedding vows is to make them personal, meaningful, and original. Whether you speak them out loud during the ceremony or read them to each other beforehand, I guarantee it’s the most powerful part of the ceremony creation process.

I truly believe that your wedding ceremony serves as the launching pad into your marriage. So the more thoughtful and unique you make it, the stronger your foundation will be!

RELATED: How To Write The Most Meaningful Wedding Vows

Life and relationship coach Deborah Roth is also an interfaith minister and has married hundreds couples from different faiths, or simply those who are looking for something “spiritual but not religious”. To learn more about how you can create a unique, personalized wedding ceremony, visit her website.

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