Different Types of Unity Ceremonies

On Monday this week, I had a bridal session with an amazing bride named Megan. During her portraits, she asked me what she should be thinking about when it came to their ceremony. If she was going to have to script it up? If they had to write their own vows? If they had to do a unity ceremony and what were all their options for that? And in the midst of this conversation, I caught myself saying “I should really write a blog post about this…” so here I am… writing a blog post. As I started thinking about all of the ceremonies that I’ve photographed over the last ten years, I realized that the officiant is really the one who does the bulk of the work. The ceremony is the thing you have to plan for the least. The only thing that you really have to have in advance is the unity ceremony. So lets discuss all of your options as to what you can do for this piece of the day:

  1. The most traditional option is the unity candle. This will consist of three candles in total. Two of which will more than likely be lit by your mothers after they are escorted down the aisle. During the unity portion of the ceremony, the bride and groom will each grab one of the lit candles and then light the third candle together. Followed by blowing the two other candles out and replacing them back in their holder. This is a very simple option and doesn’t require too much forethought. However, if you are having your ceremony outdoors or anywhere that there is a breeze… this is not the best option ;-).
  2. This one is probably one of the most common unity ceremonies and it is the sand pour. This is where you get one pretty container (sometimes an engraved glass vase, sometimes a shadow box, sometimes other things) and two smaller vials of sand. The groom’s sand will be one color while the bride’s is another. During the unity ceremony, each of you pours your respective vial into the larger container. Some couples choose to pour at the same time mixing both colors together totally while others will take turns pouring to create a layering effect in the main container. But either way… this is an option that you will more than likely have to order online, so you have to think about it a little bit ahead of time.
  3. I would say this is just as common as the sand, and it is the unity knot. This is where you have three cords attached to a board of some sort. That board is sitting on an easel at the ceremony, and when it’s time, the bride and groom braid the three cords to represent their committed unity to one another being stronger as a couple vs. when they were by themselves. You can do different color cords and get creative with the board they are attached to. Most people will use this as decoration in their homes after they are married!
  4. This one is right up there with the last two in regards to commonality and it is the cross assembly. This is where the bride takes the inside, intricate detail of the cross and stands it up on a platform. Then the groom takes the shell of the cross and puts it around the bride’s piece, also standing it up on the platform. Then together, they take little pegs and put them into each arm of the cross locking the two pieces together. When this first became a thing, the crosses were designed like they came straight out of the 90’s, but in the past couple years, these designs have gotten MUCH cuter!
  5. This one is also used as a unity ceremony, but I wouldn’t describe it as having the same unity symbolization as the other four I’ve talked about so far. This one is the foot washing ceremony. Foot washings come straight from the bible. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples to show how far He was willing to go to serve them. In biblical days, washing someone’s feet was done by the lowest of low. For Jesus to have gotten down on his knees and wash the dirt off his disciples feet was a massive symbol of the master loving and serving his student even though he did not have to. In wedding ceremonies, the foot washing symbolizes your vow to serve your spouse even in the ways that you don’t have to but you do because you love them. When I see foot washing ceremonies, they typically do not also have a unity ceremony… instead this takes the place of that.
  6. I haven’t actually seen this one done in person, but it’s a really cool concept… it is the nailing ceremony. This is where you have a wooden box that you have put some letters into and anything else you might want to add (like a bottle of wine that you are having at your reception). During this time of the ceremony, the bride and groom will nail the lid onto the box sealing it up to be opened years later. Now, I would not suggest doing this inside anywhere because the nailing part will be very loud. So another option would be to have a box that locks and to attach a lock to it to seal it in a more quiet way. Also, if you choose to nail it shut, I would advise you to practice hitting some nails on the head first… it’s a little surprising how hard it can be to get a good swift hit without taking totally missing the nail ;-).
  7. I’ve only seen this one done once in my time, but it was ADORABLE… planting a succulent garden together. It was a bit of a messy option, but regardless, it was so sweet. There were two pairs of gloves, several succulents, some potting soil, and big pot. During the unity ceremony, the bride and groom came over and planted a little succulent garden together to symbolize that their love is coming together and taking root in the same pot of life. There were different little nutrients they put on the finished potted succulents that symbolized their promise to nurture their marriage like how the nutrients nurtured the succulents and they finished with watering it together for the first time. Now I would definitely not recommend this one if you don’t have a green thumb. It would be awful to do this and then get home and kill those succulents (a.k.a I could NEVER do this one in my own wedding because I cannot keep a succulent alive to save my life). But these two below went on to own a flower truck and sell really amazing florals, so I’m betting by this point, their succulents have quadrupled in size and had to replanted five times already!
  8. I’ve never photographed this one, but I’ve heard of it and it’s a liquid mixture. This could be a combination of two pretty colored teas that you like, two wines that you enjoy, dyed water, two different whiskeys, or something else you can think of!
  9. Another option would be to put together a unity puzzle together. This typically consists of just a couple chunky pieces that represents the two families becoming one. This are really fun to DIY or have custom made with the a pretty design on them!
  10. Last but not least, a key and lock. There are lots of different things that you can put the lock on… it could be a metal sign, a wooden box, a work of art, etc… You will put the lock on during your ceremony and lock it closed together. A lot of times, the couple will then drop the key inside the box they just locked to represent that the two pieces locked together will never be taken apart. Or you could give the key to the officiant or a family member.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of unity ceremony ideas, but a good list to get you started with traditional, non-traditional, unique, and frequent ideas!

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Knoxville, TN wedding photographer

I'm Amanda May and I'm pretty stoked that you're here. I'm a three on the enneagram, a smiler when things get awkward, and I would love for you to get to know me more over on my about page.


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