Symbolic Actions for family & community and symbolising the strength of your bond
Symbolic actions are a meaningful way to recognise family and community in your wedding ceremony. Or you can choose to symbolise the strength and permanence of the union you’re creating. In this third of three blog posts on symbolic actions, I share more ideas such as a symbolic ring-warming that reflects the importance of all your guests. And read on to find out more options including passing the heartbeat, and guests bearing pebbles! I conclude with some final ideas for symbolic actions such as oathing stones, planting a tree, a wine/memory box and the option to close your ceremony with a cheeky unity cocktail!
FEATURE IMAGE above: Alex Miller Photography
Symbolic acts for family and community
A ring-warming is a lovely way to recognise that a couple will rely on the love and support of friends and family for their marriage in the years to come. The wedding rings are passed through the hands of all the guests before the couple exchange them with each other. Their guests all have a moment to hold the rings, reflecting on their hopes and wishes for the couple and symbolically warming the rings with their love.
For practical reasons, I always recommend that the rings are either tied securely together with a ribbon or placed in a little bag or pouch so that they can be easily passed from guest to guest.
Passing the heartbeat
Another symbolic action with a similar intent is ‘pass the heartbeat.’ All the ceremony guests stand up and join hands with each other until there is one continuous chain of handholding linking all the guests and the couple. A bride or groom starts the ‘heartbeat’ by squeezing the hand of the family member next to them, who passes it to the person next to them, and so on along the line until it comes back to their soon-to-be spouse. It’s all done without words, so the moment is full of anticipation and everyone gets a little thrill when the heartbeat reaches them! For a variation that honours mothers, we ask the mothers start the process, by squeezing their son or daughter’s hand first, to symbolise the first heartbeat they gave them.
Well-wishing Wedding Pebbles
In this symbolic act, each guest chooses a pebble to hold throughout the ceremony. Then, at the close of the ceremony, guests bring their pebbles forward with their good wishes for the couple. You can give your guests the chance to write their well-wishes on the pebbles, or they can write their wish on a little card. In both cases, if you want to the wishes written down, I would recommend fore-warning guests, so that they don’t spend all the ceremony agonising over what to write! The pebbles can be collected in a bowl or vase, or dropped into water held in a barrel, and later fished-out to be kept by the couple. Or, if your wedding ceremony is taking place next to a pond or a lake, the wishing pebbles could be cast directly that water by each guest. Throwing wishing pebbles into water makes a really fun and memorable way to involve everyone as your ceremony finishes.
Family Candle Ceremony
This is similar to the unity candle ceremony described in my previous symbolic actions blog post. But the two candles lit at the start of the ceremony now represent your families that raised and guided you. You each ask a family member to light one of these candles. The lighting of the family candle can also provide an important moment to remember relatives who are no longer with you but are in your hearts and minds on your wedding day.
Later in the ceremony, each of the wedding couple light a taper from the flame of their family’s candle, and then using both tapers, they jointly light the final candle. This final flame represents the couple’s lives joined together in marriage. In variations of this ceremony, older children and more family candles can be involved as well!
Symbolic acts showing the strength of your bond
Planting a tree
A lovely way to symbolise strength and endurance in marriage is to plant a tree together. If you’re getting married at home, or if your venue allows, you can plant a tree directly into the ground. Alternatively, you could ceremonially plant a tree in a large planter that you transport back home with you. Later on, you can transplant the growing sapling into your own garden or another long-term home.
Oathing stones are an ancient Celtic tradition, a way of symbolising the permanence of the vows you make whilst holding them. Holding the weight of the stones in your hands adds a lovely tactile element when you say your vows to each other. The stones can be kept or ceremonially cast into water during or after your ceremony, or at a later date – perhaps on your honeymoon!
Instead of hand-fasting, you could choose to directly tie a knot together without binding your hands. There is some lovely symbolism to explore around knots. For example, you could choose an infinity knot to represent your unending commitment to each other, or a fisherman’s knot that grows stronger under pressure.
The bitter and the sweet.
Several different cultures incorporate tastes of food and drink to represent the breadth of experiences you’ll have in your marriage. Over the years, life will serve up both the bitter and the sweet. So, in your ceremony, you can have a symbolic taste of two food or drinks that exemplifies these opposite tastes, for example honey and lemon, or choose something that incorporates both qualities in one. For example, a very well-rounded wine, or some dark chocolate, incorporate both bitter and the sweet flavour elements.
Wine & memory box ceremony
This fun ritual involves creating and then sealing-up your own time capsule of your wedding day. You can choose a really good bottle of wine that will age well, add love letters that you write for each other, a copy of your vows, a photo of you both and some other little tangible mementos of the day. During the ceremony you (or someone close to you) dramatically seals up the box with a hammer and some tacks. Then put the box in a safe place and save it to open on a special anniversary – perhaps your 5th or 10th wedding anniversary.
Taking a drink from a two-handled quaich is a Celtic tradition, still popular in Scottish weddings. Sharing a drink from the same cup was seen as sign of trust and the two handles also make the cup more symbolic of unity and sharing. You could hold a handle each as you both take a sip. The quaich can also be used to symbolise the hospitality and bond between families. So, each of the couple could offer the quaich to their partner’s family to take a sip. Or pass the quaich around the bridal party to seal the deal!
Mixing it up
You could combine the best of both worlds of the unity symbolic actions and toasting, by mixing a long cocktail before you toast each other. Perhaps create your own unity cocktail recipe to share with guest later in the reception. You can choose ingredients that represent you both, some aspects of your relationship, or travels you’ve enjoyed together. And conclude your ceremony with a long, symbolic sip!
Cutting the sheet
This German tradition – shown in the feature image at the top of this blog post – is the cause for a little light-hearted rivalry and a fun way to conclude a ceremony. A heart (or other large shape) is drawn on the sheet, and both bride/s and/or groom/s are given a pair of scissors. Tradition holds that the first to finish cutting through their half of the shape, will be the boss in the marriage – so it can get a little competitive! The couple then symbolically step through the sheet into married life together.
Symbolic actions are the visual counterpart to the words that express our hopes and promises. There are so many creative and personal symbolic acts that you could use in your wedding ceremony. I’ve shared lots of these in this 3-part blog series and I hope some have inspired you. Or they might be the launchpad to create something entirely new. I’d certainly love to develop even more creative ideas on symbolic actions for you. Just contact me and let’s come up with something even more fitting and meaningful to you!