How to Craft a Personalized Ceremony, According to Celebrant Amanda Brown
Ditch the cookie-cutter vows in favor of a ceremony full of laughter and tears.
The way she tells it, Amanda Brown seemed destined to become a wedding celebrant. After a copy of Yoga Journal unexpectedly arrived in her mailbox 11 years ago, she flipped through the pages until she landed upon an advertisement that read, “Be a celebrant.” “For whatever reason, I thought, ‘That’s for me,’” Brown says.
Brown went on to study at the Celebrant Foundation & Institute, where she learned about various religions, rituals, and the art of storytelling. Now, nine years later, she’s helped at least 300 couples write their vows, choose processional music, and select readings to ensure a truly special ceremony. “I have a front-row seat to joy,” Brown says. “To stand with couples and explain to their friends and families why they’ve chosen this person to be their partner—that’s a privilege I’ll never take for granted.”
What’s your role as a celebrant?
I help the couple create the ceremony that best reflects who they are and the promises that they want to make together. There are different ways to personalize a ceremony, but what I tell my couples is that the reason guests are there on your wedding day is because they love you. So let’s talk about how you met, what your first impressions were, what you do to make each other laugh, and why you’re better together. Including those stories in the ceremony makes it unforgettable, and that’s more important than picking the right unity ritual or music.
What’s a unity ritual?
A unity ritual is a fun and meaningful way to symbolize the joining of the couple’s lives. The most well-known examples are candle lighting, sand blending, and knot tying. Choose something that reflects who you are as a couple and follows the theme of your ceremony. My favorite ritual was when I married two bikers. Their favorite thing to do was to go to the bar. For their unity ritual, they exchanged shots of Jack. When I pulled out the bottle, I had to wait for people to stop applauding. If I had stood those two up in front of all of their friends and had them pour sand in a jar, I would have been launched out of that venue.
How can a couple personalize their processional?
We’ve all seen the viral videos on YouTube where people dance down the aisle. There aren’t any rules. Bring your dogs down with you. I’ve done ceremonies where the couple has made an entrance from [opposite] sides and met in the middle. That works if their parents want to escort them but the couple wants a little more equality. You may have to get a bit more creative with the seating, but that’s not an obstacle.
Speaking of seating, what are some different arrangements?
The most important thing in a ceremony is that your guests can hear. After that, can they see? If you do a ritual and your seats go 20 rows back, the people in the back can’t see what you’re doing. Suddenly, your ceremony is boring. So you can do seating in the round, which is when the ceremony takes place in the middle. For smaller weddings, I absolutely love when we all stand together—no seating at all—and conduct a ceremony. That’s powerful.
Do you think couples should write their own vows?
Yes. The promises that you come up with are far more powerful than any that you’d find on Pinterest. If you’re standing up in front of 200 people, your promises to love each other and to be faithful are implied. But what are the little promises? Do you promise to clean off your partner’s car in the snow? Do you promise to bring them coffee in bed? Those are more personal and binding promises than some of the lofty ones.
What happens if the celebrant gets sick the day of the wedding?
It might happen! Not only that, but it’s possible the celebrant could get into a car accident on their way to the venue or the highways could be shut down in the winter. I mitigate this risk by sending the couple the full script ahead of time. As long as you have someone who can read, you’ll have the ceremony that we wrote together.
How do you work with couples who want to elope?
An elopement can be as simple as meeting a couple somewhere and completing the minimum legal requirements to marry them, or as elaborate as the process I go through when the couple gets married with 200 guests. We write a full ceremony, but when it happens it’s just me, the couple, and maybe a photographer.
What trends have you been seeing?
One trend I really like is micro-weddings. They look a bit more like the average wedding but on a smaller scale. You go to the wedding venue and have the full ceremony with only five guests. It’s a way for couples to be more cost-effective but still get everything they dreamed about. I’ve also been drooling over flower grandmas [grandmothers who take on the role of the flower girls] for at least two seasons now. I love that they have this special, nontraditional role. When you think about whether those people will still be with you in 15 years, you don’t know, but you’ll have amazing photography from an awesome piece of your wedding day.
Amanda Brown reveals the dos and don’ts of writing your own vows.
Do use everyday language. Your vows are your promises to each other for your everyday life. The samples you find on the internet or Pinterest often use dated or flowery language that feels and sounds awkward. Write your vows as you would speak to each other in normal conversation.
Don’t forget to give your officiant a copy of your vows. Vows can be left in the limo, hotel, or the restroom. If your officiant or a trusted friend has a backup copy, there won’t be any surprises during the ceremony.
Do read your vows out loud several times before the ceremony. When you read silently, the brain smoothes over things that may actually be tricky to say out loud. Practice also builds confidence and helps you stay calm in the moment.
Don’t panic if you’re nervous speaking in front of a crowd. Make sure that you and your partner face each other during your vows. It’s okay if you’re a little emotional—so is everyone else!
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