One option for weddings that is becoming increasingly popular are symbolic wedding ceremonies.  In this blog post I explain  exactly what a symbolic ceremony is.  I also tell you why I think symbolic wedding  ceremonies can be a romantic, personal and authentic option for your marriage service.


Wedding Ceremony Options

If I were to ask 100 people what options there are for getting married,  most would probably say either a religious ceremony or a civil – registry office – ceremony.   Not many people know about symbolic wedding ceremonies, which are sometimes called celebrant led ceremonies.  For those of you who are marrying overseas, or at a venue with no wedding license, a symbolic ceremony is definitely worth considering.

Symbolic wedding ceremonies

What are Symbolic Wedding Ceremonies?

Symbolic wedding ceremonies typically have no legal authority.  To anyone present at the ceremony,  it would appear as if it were a genuine marriage service,  albeit a very personal and bespoke one,  but technically it is unlikely to be legally binding.  This doesn’t mean it should be ruled out, and I cover how to deal with this later.  Suffice it to say for now the term symbolic has been adopted as a way of describing a ceremony that has symbolic meaning but not necessarily legal and definitely not religious significance.

A symbolic ceremony is written specifically for you and consequently is very personal and bespoke.  It typically includes some or all of the following:

  • Your love story
  • Readings by family and/or friends
  • Personal vows
  • A ring ceremony and/or ring vows
  • Some form of conclusion which might involve releasing balloons, a hand fasting ceremony, or as we included at one of my recent weddings, a ceremony called “jumping the broom”. The options are endless for making this element of the service unique and surprising.
  • Signing of the marriage certificate

Symbolic Wedding Ceremonies

Who designs and delivers symbolic wedding ceremonies?

Symbolic celebrants (hence the term celebrant led ceremony) offer a service that includes both designing your ceremony and acting as officiant at your wedding.

The ceremony is designed in consultation with the couple, with the celebrant taking time to get to know you, to hear your story and to understand your vision for what you want ceremony to look like and to include.

On the day, the celebrant can  be present to officiate, but equally you can ask a close friend or family member to take on this role.  For anyone who is confident in public speaking, this is seen as a huge honour and is a way of involving a guest who might not otherwise have a role at your wedding.

Symbolic Wedding Ceremonies

When would you consider a symbolic ceremony?

If you are planning to host your wedding at a venue which does not have a license for civil marriage ceremonies, you should consider a symbolic ceremony.   This means you don’t have to allow for your guests travelling from one venue for the ceremony to a second venue for your reception.  If the venue has beautiful grounds or event spaces that you would like to use, this enables you to do so.

As you may know, I plan many overseas destination weddings.  Where these don’t involve a religious ceremony in a place of worship, I always recommend a symbolic ceremony.  Overseas,  a civil ceremony is likely to be difficult, for a number of reasons:

  • The legal documentation is often quite onerous and expensive to provide
  • The civil ceremony might need to be conducted in a foreign language, meaning it will lack meaning for you and your guests
  • The civil ceremony will most probably give very few or no options for personalisation

How to make it legal?

I mentioned earlier that a symbolic ceremony has no legal authority, and for most couples this is an important reason to marry.   Usually we deal with this by booking a small civil ceremony in a registry office a few days before your wedding celebrations.  You might feel  this is an unnecessary additional expense, but:

  1. The cost will be significantly less than what it will cost to handle all of the legal requirements for an overseas civil wedding ceremony
  2. Most of my couples have said that the civil ceremony does ultimately end up becoming something special as it represents the start of your wedding celebrations with a small event to kick everything off


Covid and Symbolic Wedding Ceremonies

I would like to end this blog post by talking about the current situation.  As a result of the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic, large scale wedding celebrations are not currently permitted.  Here in the UK, as I write this (and the situation may change in the coming weeks and months), we are allowed only wedding ceremonies with up to a maximum of 30 guests and no wedding receptions to follow.  This means that many of you have been forced to postpone or even cancel your weddings.

Personally I feel that symbolic ceremonies can play more of a role at present.   I am suggesting them to many of my couples who had either a religious or civil marriage ceremony planned:

  • If you have postponed your wedding, you can mark the original date with a small gathering of up to 30 guests for a symbolic ceremony.  This can be designed in such a way that it is more of an engagement ceremony, saving the official vows until your postponed wedding day.
  • Alternatively, if you wish to legally marry this year on the date originally intended, you might wish to go ahead with this wedding.  But you will only be able to have up to 30 people in attendance (and this includes your officiant, photographer and any other suppliers who need to be present). Having married legally, you can then plan a larger scale celebration for some time ahead once the restrictions have ended.  And at this later celebration you can include a symbolic ceremony so that all of your guests have an opportunity to see you become wed.

Symbolic Wedding Ceremonies

To Conclude: 

If you would like further advice or assistance planning your symbolic wedding ceremony please get in touch.  You can contact me by email, by phone on + 44 020 3930 9459 or by heading over to the contact page on my website.

And if you would like to see some examples of weddings where we incorporated symbolic wedding ceremonies,  head over to the portfolio section of my website:

Sicily wedding with views of the Isola Bella for New York based couple

Florence Wedding Planner

All of the weddings featured in this blog post were planned, designed and coordinated by Elegante by Michelle J.


David Bastianoni

Anna & Alex 

Ceremonies designed by True Blue Ceremonies